…ex-navy chief Afolayan’s revelations on oil thieves, and advice on ‘topping’ used to steal crude in millions of dollars
• ‘My secret findings on Nigeria’s politics, security, economy’
• Narrates how he called Germans bluff over ‘Aradu’s’ refitting to which Nigeria would have lost N19bn
Vice Admiral Samuel Afolayan (rtd) assumed office as the Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS) barely two years after Nigeria returned to democracy in 2001 and retired in 2005. Afolayan closely worked with then President Olusegun Obasanjo to tackle the cartel stealing the nation’s crude oil on a massive scale. In this interview conducted in his Osi country home in Ekiti Local Government Area of Kwara State home, the retired naval chief reveals the people behind crude theft in Nigeria, saying they are not only powerful but also dreadful.
To end the theft, Afolayan thinks new laws must be enacted. He also speaks on the quota system used in the nation to appoint officials into public offices, saying it should be discarded because, according to him,” it pulls growth down. Let the system provide for the weak. But the weak must not draw the strong down”. Excerpts:
We hardly hear about you since you retired from service some 18 years ago. What has been happening?
I have been active in farming and in the stock market where I have operated for the past 32 years. Being in the stock market is like playing chess. I love it.
You should be around 75 years now, yet you still have the energy to walk up and down.
I walk a minimum of five kilometers every day except on Sundays. In fact, I stay as late as 6pm in the farm, working and supervising everyone, and standing on my feet. I have never been hospitalized in my life, not even for one day.
Since I discovered that all known vitamins are in Moringa, I decided to plant some in my house and make powder of it which I take as a tea. It has helped me so much that I don’t get sick.
Do you have any of your children in the military?
I have one of my children in the navy. I have a daughter who is a captain in the navy. I have never tele-guided my children to follow a particular career. One is a pilot, another is a public administrator. Another one is a finance management person who just finished at Bentley University.
Mine is to assist you to do whatever it is you want to do. When I decided in 1969 to go to NDA, nobody prompted me. I was the only son of my father, yet he never stopped me from doing whatever I wanted to do. So, I don’t have any reason to teleguide my children whatever they want to do.
Nigeria is in another election year which some say may make or mar the nation. How true?
When I was in War College in 1991, I researched a topic of political and economic reality that must shape our defence. For any nation that wants to develop, three issues must be well resolved because they are at the heart of national development.
Politics will determine your economy, your economy is going to determine your security and your security is going to support your politics (governance). They are all symbiotically connected and you cannot disassociate one from another.
You cannot develop if you fail to manage the three together successfully. The aspect of our politics must be well resolved before we can develop because it is human beings that determine others.
Also in Nigeria where we have about 400 tribes and tongues, there must be a solid agreement for there to be unity.
You cannot live with your wife without her consent. Meaning our foundation as a nation is faulty. That is why I think our founding fathers (Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikiwe) had to agree on the kind of government they wanted for the country. Yes, we want to be like other nations of the world but do we just jettison how we were before? Human beings are the most difficult (beings) to control.
There must be solid arrangements and agreement on how you want to live together. No human being wants to be subservient to another. I think we must borrow a leaf from our past in order to have a Constitution that will be able to govern us in peace. There are things we negotiate, there are things we leave and allow others to happen on their own.
For example, you cannot say we must live together and say the North that believes in Sharia shouldn’t practice it. Or the people of the Benin Kingdom, who have Omonoba as the paramount ruler and king who the people still respect till today, you cannot undermine his authority when the people have already made up their mind about their king and culture.
Are you saying the present Constitution is the problem?
Yes. We have a faulty Constitution. And I boldly say that. It’s delusional for anybody to think you can always force people against their will. Like in the military, there is structure and command from the top to the troops in the field. In Nigeria, with diverse cultures and tongues, you cannot rule them as if you are in the military. This is a minus for us as a nation.
If you want peace, you must do everything and seek the consent of the people you want to live with. We must practice it the way others practice it. There must be true federalism in the real sense of the word. What we are practicing isn’t true federalism. It is not different from unitary system of government. This system has rendered everyone lazy. And we all know it.
Politics is about interest. And that interest is to make other people do your will. In trying to do that, you must take into consideration what type of government you want to run in consonance with the aspiration of the people you want to govern. Going back to the original form of government our founding fathers proposed, true federalism, in my opinion, is the best. We ran into problems the moment the military came in and altered that form of government as espoused by our founding fathers. That was the beginning of where the word marginalization and resource control started creeping into our political lexicon.
And it’s simply because we jettisoned true federalism. When you have true federalism, you are able to develop with your resources and at your own time and you can then send your contribution to the centre for the common goals like defense, immigration, currency etc. But now everybody goes to the centre for resource thereby introducing laziness into our political life. Nobody bothers again to work hard to generate revenue to run his own enclave as everybody goes cap in hand to beg at the centre.
How about the coming election?
(Cuts in) I think, in my view, we should, first of all, reflect on the symptoms of the election, that is, the ENDSARS issue of about a year ago.
ENDSARS is a pointer and it will be too dangerous for us to sweep it under the carpet. The youth must be engaged productively. I think that should be the fulcrum of this election for all the candidates. When the likes of Azikiwe, Awolowo and others took hold of leadership then, they were barely in their 20s. Tony Enahoro, who initiated our independence, was barely in his 20s. All the leaders pre-independence were all in their 20s.
Those in their 40s now, how many of them are in government? In those days, young graduates were employed almost automatically in the civil service, the engine of any government. When last were vacancies advertised? But how many people are even devoted again? Except we are deceiving ourselves, if you go to the civil service now, find out how many of the staff are truly engaged? Some even do buying and selling in the office.
Some don’t go to office at all, yet collect salary. The decay in the system has created a civil service that can hardly support any government effectively and efficiently. Are promotions based on merit? For the nation to develop, the best has to serve the nation. Quota system cannot develop Nigeria. You need the brilliant to develop Nigeria. I don’t believe in quota system. I believe the weak should be assisted. If we must stay together, the strong should assist the weak, but not the weak drawing down the strong. That is why your best are going out of the country.
Yet we don’t see that as wrong signal? When I was CNS (Chief of Naval Staff), we said our biggest ship, Aradu, would be refitted (general repairs) in Nigeria because of what the Germans were asking for. They were asking for N19bn to refit Aradu while the entire navy wasn’t getting N15bn a year. I asked them would they get the money and they said I didn’t need to bother about that, I should just sign the papers, “we would lift crude”. I asked them that I hoped I was not going to sign any papers regarding that.
They said it was not possible if I didn’t sign. I told them that I would need to look for an alternative. In actual fact, I had an alternative because I believe in the capabilities of Nigerians, my people. I mobilized everybody locally that could contribute to the refitting (general repairs) of Aradu. The same Germans came to Portsmouth to come and check after the refit was done because they had already told the Royal Navy that it was impossible for Aradu to come to Portsmouth for sea review. They didn’t believe we could do it.
They even wrote and commended that Nigeria was gradually coming of age. What that tells me at the end of the day is that we don’t have confidence in ourselves. We have all it takes in terms of human resources to be a great nation. But we don’t trust and believe in ourselves. That I think is the biggest disease worrying us.
Why is that?
That is why I said I don’t believe in the quota system. Get the best hands to do the job. Let the system cater for the weak. Don’t for any reason discard your best for the 2nd, or 3rd class. It’s not always in the interest of the country ultimately.
Your tenure as CNS was dogged by controversies including the missing 11, 400 tons of MT African Pride ship. There was crude theft and it is even more pronounced now…
MT African Pride was under arrest for two years before it went missing. That I think speaks volumes. When it was under the navy we took a sample of the content. The FOC West then was Bob Manuel who took the sample of the crude in the ship for testing. We told the NNPC to take off the crude, suddenly the crude became water.
That was connivance which certainly was not from the navy. I know that there is a lot of connivance and, unfortunately, they always blame it on the navy but I know it is not true. Both the crude and finished product that we are unable to account for presently, there is a word called topping. I advised the country during my tenure that any ship coming to buy our crude should come with the exact size of the ship commensurate with the amount of crude requested. For example, a ship the size of one million barrels should not contain more than one million barrels of crude when loaded. Don’t come to Nigeria to buy one million barrels and go back with 1.5 million barrels. That is topping. Topping is stealing in large volumes.
It is the same thing with diesel and petrol. There are many ways we provide leakages that I think we need to enact laws that any vehicle or ship should be the exact size of what it wants or that you are charged according to the size of your container even if you are buying a million barrels and you bring two million barrels size, you are charged for two million barrels. That I think is one of the ways to checkmate all these malpractices.
Another way of curtailing this malfeasance is ‘physicalism’ of crude. There was a time they wanted the military to be physically present and at another time they said no need. Why don’t we have something that would be foolproof that can curtail this malpractice? Let me tell you the NNPC has an operations room where they monitor all that is going on. The pressure within their equipment can help them know what is happening at the loading point and if the pressure drops, what could that be? Is that not indicate that something is going on somewhere? Those connecting their pipes to that of the NNPC’s cannot be doing it without the connivance of those monitoring the pipes.
The big ships that carry crude must be monitored diligently so that what we charge them for and what they take out is the same. Crude stealing isn’t in the realm of the average Nigerian. Crude theft isn’t for ordinary Nigerians. It’s the business of the rich. I feel sad when blames are directed at the military.
• In the second part of the interview to be published next Sunday, Afolayan narrates how Obasanjo locked him in a room and told him why he must confront crude thieves, his encounter with then-Defence Minister Agunloye over 500, 000 dollars bribe offered by an oil cabal and the injustice he suffered in the military for 25 years
Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of Vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.