By Denja Yaqub
The recent exposé by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Mr. Ibe Kachikwu on a number of procedural violations at one of the firms under his ministry’s supervision, the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation; a major driver of our decrepit national economy which has been responsible both for our common wealth and our subsisting mass poverty, being the convenient conduit of the perpetual stealing of public funds by public office holders is clearly a proof that what is needed in the battle against corruption is beyond all that has happened so far.
The letter written to President Mohammadu Buhari by the junior Minister and the response from the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Mr. Maikanti Baru extensively provided more than enough proof that indeed, the anti-corruption battle can’t lead to any victory until it is targeted at the entire system rather than individuals. So far, individuals in key institutions that are known to either keep so much of our collective resources or susceptible to corrupt practices have been targeted, exposed, arrested and given sufficient media trials while those convicted are too few, served with ridiculous punishments and not enough to make stealing of public funds unattractive. Some of the accused were merely arraigned in courts and granted bail same day and since then nothing have been heard of their cases.
Some high profile cases, including the allegations of diversion of funds meant for the upkeep of the unfortunate citizens who have been abandoned in the Internally Displaced Persons camps, especially in the north east, against the interdicted Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Lawal Babachir as well as the alleged owner of the monies running into billions in several local and foreign currencies, Mr. Ayodele Oke, the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency are yet to be determined, several months after the panel, headed by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo submitted its report soon after the President resumed duties from his medical vacation in the U.K.
The NNPC, which was established 40 years ago on the 1st of April 1977 to manage the country’s only lucrative sector that keeps the country alive, has clearly been the central point for swindling the entire country by public officers, including heads of government during both military dictatorships and civilian regimes. It has been described as the ATM of public office holders; the central cord of corruption in Nigeria.
Though, the corporation is not new to scandals; the latest has exposed not just the systemic rot but a clear lack of depth in the battle against corruption, which seems to have lost steam and popular support following the flimsy body language being exhibited by the Presidency and the strong pro corruption presence at the National Assembly where most members, including the Senate President are either facing corruption charges or have been mentioned in corruption related investigations across the country. Even the reactions to the latest scandal at the tower of corruption by the Presidency and the ruling party, the All Progressive Congress, APC, strengthens the fact that the battle against corrupt practices is a bridge still far.
NNPC, we must recall, has consistently been fingered to have cheated the Nigerian people through its failure to remit appropriate funds to the appropriate government agencies as well as conniving with oil marketers to ferry subsidy funds to private vaults.
It should be recalled that late 2011, KPMG published an audit report which detailed several procedural violations; unlawful deductions made from funds meant for states and inability to give account of monies meant for the federation account. The report confirmed that subsidy claims running up to $28.5 billion which were over deducted between 2007 and 2009 remained unaccounted for till date just as officials of the corporation has consistently been accused by foreign contractors of receiving bribes in exchange for juicy contracts. One of the companies, Willbros Group, an American firm based in the United States openly claimed it paid $6.3 million to NNPC officials in 2008 in exchange for contracts on the Eastern Gas Gathering System just as another United States based firm, ABB Vetco Gray was reported to have paid over $1 million to NNPC officials in exchange for vital information on contracts and lobbies in 2004. In November 2013, a Switzerland based Non-Governmental Organisation, Erklarung von Bern exposed the disappearance of $6.8 billion from crude oil revenues while the immediate past Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, now Emir of Kano, lost his job obviously for exposing the non-remittance of $49.8 billion from sales of crude oil since the country’s four comatose refineries have not worked for years, leaving the over 170 million population with no option but contend with importation of refined petroleum products under global market fortitude just as the manufacturing sector excruciates in the absence of public energy that has compelled the few manufacturers yet to relocate to other countries with favourable conditions of production or outrightly closed shop.
The issues raised by Kachikwu as well as the reactions by the Presidency did not hide the fact that those in charge of our oil runs a system with more than enough loopholes that keeps them swimming in stolen wealth. There seems to be absence of checks and balances, if the Group Managing Director’s claim that he wouldn’t need the NNPC board’s approval before awarding contracts is taken as the correct approach. This probably explains why a Minister can steal as much as Dieziani has been alleged to have stolen. All a minister needs is a friendly GMD at the NNPC and the ears of the President. And that may also be the reasons why GMDs were frequently changed under Dieziani’s watch; afterall, she had President Jonathan’s ears.
Indeed, the lesson from these is the fact that Kachikwu’s worries may be genuine but perhaps a loud signal that access to the NNPC ATM has shifted to others without the minister and not necessarily to block flow of funds into private vaults since an individual can take decisions on issues as critical and important as contracts.
NNPC is the unchallenged base of corruption and any government determined to fight corruption will not treat the Kachikwu – Baro altercations with levity the way the Buhari Presidency has done so far.
What can be the role of a board headed by a minister if it lacks powers to give approvals for contracts? Even if the present chairman of the board is a junior minister as the case is, he is the chairman. This is not argument for Mr. Kachikwu but it’s about the office and the safety our oil money.
Everything that went wrong with NNPC under previous administrations will still go wrong under the Buhari administration until there is an overhaul of the system and its operating instruments. And the present administration has not proved itself clean from the mess oozing out of the Tower of Corruption.
Denja Yaqub is The Assistant General Secretary of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC)