By Obi Nwakanma
All things bright and beautiful; all creations great and small; all things bright and wonderful, Nigeria ruins them all. This is a twist on the song many of us sang in the Nursery and Primary Schools of yore. But the last twist was first made to it by the late eminent historian, and one-time Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Professor Tekena Tamuno, during his convocation address at the University of Ibadan in the late 1970s.
What he saw sitting down, many of us had not then seen standing up. But the auguries were there. Nigerians could recognize the handwritings on the wall. In the decades that I grew up and have experienced Nigeria, and I’m just rounding the first half of my fifth decade on this beautiful earth,Nigeria has always presented a challenge.
Every decade that I have crossed has seemed to be a bit more beautiful, a little better organized; somewhat more nurturing than the present. It might just be that I am trapped in the cycle of nostalgia, as the things of my childhood – the people, the landscapes, the conventions, and even the vital force of youth – begins to disappear. Yet again, when we cast even just a cursory glance, the visible truths of a gaping tragedy, which this nation seems to embody, seems absolutely clear and present. Nigeria grows worse with each passing decade. It never experiences progress. Nigeria is a clear and present danger to its citizens. But why?
How? Let me start from last week’s release of the National Honours list. A number of those who made the honours list speak to precisely the real problem of Nigeria. Nigeria is a criminal enterprise. It is not a nation under the care of public servants. It is a nation captured by criminal elements who disguise themselves as public servants and eff-up Nigeria royally, with little compunction. This is true. Many people honoured by this government should never be found in decent company. I am proud that the novelist Chimamanda Adichie once again expressed the courage and the self-respect to reject what could only be a Greek gift. Buba Galadima did say, and he should know, that 440 out of the 447 names on the National Honours List should be in jail.
Enough said on that. But it is not only the quality of people on the National Honours Roll that devalues the list, it is also the number of people. It is also about the occasion and the symbolic weight of the moment of investiture. This was an Honours roll which once, when it was announced, captured the imagination of the nation with its symbolic force. Just a handful of quality men and women were once honored. It had dignity and meaning.
You heard of them, and you bowed your head in reverence:Dr. Francis Akanu Ibiam; Sir Kashim Ibrahim; and that weight of people. Then of course the moment. Growing up, I always knew that the National Honours roll was released on Independence Day, the 1st of October, to commemorate the nation and its great aspirations, and to honour those who serve her honorably, selflessly, and extraordinarily.
Perhaps, even the Republic Day – November 16 – which also is the birthday of the founding President of the Republic, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe would do. But the Buhari administration has been haphazard; there is nothing organized and meaningful to the idea of the Nigerian nation inside its DNA.This ceremony that honours work,service, fidelity to nation, and the highest ethical conduct, is now a sham.
The symbolic weight of the nation also has no signifying power, and so recipients of this honour which they call the “National Honours” have received from the hands of President Buhari, a whore’s pay: One Pound, no balance. Why? Because Nigeria is – well, I would never use the words “shit hole” because that would so unoriginal. But dear reader, you must get my drift.
Think about a nation which steals from itself. It’s doctors are fleeing in great numbers even if to be cab drivers in other lands. Its Engineers and Technicians; its teachers and intellectuals; its youth – the life force that guarantees its future – are running from Nigeria and shedding her like a flea infested vest. But think about this:aChannel’s TV features report on the massive theft of Nigeria’s oil highlights the great tragedy that is playing out.
Oil bunkering has always happened, but the scale of it under President Buhari is industrial. The reports are mind-bending. The situation was first brought to serious public attention by Mr. Peter Obi, Presidential candidate of the Labour Party, who put it in some context. First, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) did not paya dime into the Federation Account seven months straight as at September 2022. How come?
How is this possible in a moment when the war in Ukraine is swelling the reserves of oil producing countries? Yet by Mr. Obi’s analysis, Nigeria is not evenmeeting up her own OPEC production quota. It is broke and borrowing money to service its debts. Yet,the total loss in daily sales of oil for Nigeria came to over N1.6 Trillion, just in August alone. To do the math is to get increasingly furious. But the other question is, what is happening to Nigeria’s revenue from oil sold in this period? Where is the money? The explanations by Mr. Mele Kyari, Group MD of the NNPC – or whatchamacallit these days – insults the intelligence of the average Nigerian.
The point we must make on this, and it is quite simple is that nothing on this scale has ever happened to Nigeria until the administration of Mr. Muhammadu Buhari who also incidentally serves as Minister of Petroleum. Under President Buhari’s tenure as Minister of Petroleum, Nigeria has not had a proper, very transparent accounting for its oil revenue. The Nigerian Petroleum Ministry operates in secrets.
Under Buhari it remains the mostopaque, and Nigerians have very little idea what is going on. It used to be that in the cycles of boom, Nigeria would sell so much of its oil that the problem would not be money; but would be, as in the storyof the Oil Windfall of 1991, whose spending left much to be desired by the General Babangida administration, that much would be wasted, and some squired into private pockets. In this particular instance, it feels like NNPC is not selling at all. It is paying subsidies with it all, says Mele Kyari. There is nothing left to account. Now, that is a huge joke.
Well, it would be a huge joke, if it were not very serious, and actually unsettling.Mele Kyari did also make a very large play on the issue of oil theft. That brings me now squarely to the Channels TV story: Nigerians were shown a very complex and massive operation in the Niger Delta Creeks. It is of illegal tapping of crude from the oil pipelines which feed the terminals at various points. Daily, according to the estimations, the crude stolen illegally from the fields is more than Nigeria’s OPEC quota shortfalls.
So, if that much oil is stolen from Nigeria daily, and many people actually say the amount given in the report is just a tip of the iceberg, but if that much oil is stolen from Nigeria, then Nigeria is indeed a huge joke. For how long has these pipelines been milked of sweet crude? The NNPC Group MD, Kyari said, for about nine years. But what did the government do about this? Nothing. Until Mr. Peter Obi began to raise the issue.
It is quite remarkable that the Buhari government suddenly came to attention, and deployed Mele Kyari and the Chief of Defence Staff to the Creeks to ascertain the state of things only after Mr. Peter Obi began to talk about it. They put up a fine show of it too, with the Cameras rolling, but this was not before the Labour Party Presidential candidate had serially made a campaign issue of it at his various public talks and interviews. Mr. Peter Obi rightly described the so-called subsidypayment which Mele Kyari claims the NNPC is offsetting, and which accounts for why it is not paying into the Federation Account as “Organized Crime.” Yes indeed, it is.
But luckily Peter Obi has drawn attention to this, and the Buhari administration is now making a show of trying to get to the bottom of it. The President sent Mele Kyari and General Lucky Irabor to the Creeks. The government also is paying billions of dollars in security contract to a private security company in which Tompolo has interests for pipeline security.But Nigerians have been asking, with regards to the stealing of oil from the Creeks: where is the Nigerian Navy? Where is the Police? Where are the soldiers of the Amphibious Brigade in Port-Harcourt, who are supposed to be something of the equivalent of the Marines? What is the state of Nigeria’s Maritime Security?
These questions are urgent, because the stealing of Crude in Nigeria, and the magnitude of the operation, cannot happen without connivance at the highest levels of government. As Peter Obi quite cleverly puts it, Crude is not candy that anyone could put in the pocket and walk. It is unimaginable that a super Tanker vessel can enter Nigeria’s waters, load 3 million barrels of Crude illegally, and get off the waters within clearance by the Navy, and the National Security authorities. Nigeria is being stolen from the highest quarters, and this government knows who is stealing oil in Nigeria.
Oil theft is a highly organized criminal operation against the state. The National Assembly is dead of course, otherwise, it should have used its powers of investigations, since this is at the very core of its most important constitutional role, the control and security of Nigeria’s National Revenue, to summon all the facts and get to the bottom of things, and let heads roll. But it will not happen. Why? Because stealing Nigeria is part of what many of these folk see as their benefits in public office. It is a peculiar mess.