Date Published: 10/20/09
STRANGULATE CORRUPTION TO DEREGULATE OIL By Emmanuel Onwubiko
On Monday October 19 th 2009, the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) organized its second national Procurement Forum aptly titled “instituting good governance through best procurement practices”, and as expected, experts from around the world attended. Dr. Abiodun Adeniyi who extended invitations to concerned stakeholders, postulated that adopting best procurement practices would not only help in preventing corruption, but can lead to the institution of good governance.
Most people attended the forum with open minds hoping to hear from some experts. But little did we know that our sensibilities as rational Nigerians would be sufficiently insulted by Nigeria’s Attorney General Michael Andooaka who churned out some unsubstantiated and seemingly dubious statistics to confuse the audience to believe that the current administration is committed to the fight against corruption and that the rating or perception of Nigeria as a corrupt country has diminished.
The issues raised by Mr. Aondooakaa like the claim he made that a particular international agency rated Nigeria as one of the twenty world’s most favourable countries for investment through Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), did not address the question of whether this administration at the Federal level is committed to fighting corruption especially, the issues that border on seeking and collection of bribes by high profile government officials from multi-national companies before awarding very juicy oil, telecommunications and defence contracts as was the case with the United States based Halliburton Company where bribes running to several hundreds of millions of United states dollars exchanged hands between some top government officials and the foreign owners of that and several other companies.
The unresolved case of massive corruption linked to Halliburton will invariably compel a debate on the proposed deregulation of the down stream sector of the petroleum industry as contemplated by the Federal Government. After one of the executive Directors in the state run Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC) announced to the consternation of a majority of Nigerians that November 1 st 2009 is the take off date for the deregulation which automatically translates to the upward review in the pump price of premium motor spirit, the minister of labour Chief Adetokunbo Kayode, denied that government had scheduled any commencement date of the full deregulation policy in the oil industry but defended government’s position on the proposed deregulation.
As if he was addressing over fed kindergarten pupils, Adetokunbo Kayode said the deregulation policy would be implemented fully in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry because government has lost several billions of Naira meant for subsidizing the pump prices of petrol to persons who allegedly siphon these massive amounts into their private bottomless pockets. But come to think of it, what does Chief Kayode mean by this? Is he arguing that government is not able to arrest persons who pocket these huge resources meant to subsidize the cost of premium motor spirit for public good? If the answer is in the affirmative, then government ought to tender letters of apology and resignation for spectacularly failing to provide the enabling environment for the law enforcement agents to carry out their constitutional mandate of protecting law and order and preventing and detecting all dimensions of crime including the economic crime of corrupt enrichment.
Government has missed the point if it continues to insist that it wants to remove the subsidy for fuel because some cabals or certain mafia lords somewhere are cornering the huge chunk of the funds set aside for the subsidy. This line of argument is tantamount to standing logic on its head because it is pedestrian and puerile for a nursing mother for instance to argue that she wants to stop feeding her baby because the maid steals part of the baby’s food. Is it the fault of the baby that her foods are been stolen by the maid?
Secondly, the government has failed to tell Nigerians the whereabouts of the huge public funds released for turn around maintenance of the few but now heavily dilapidated refineries that the country built several years ago. Why has government failed to rein in these notorious contractors that cornered these huge funds to their private accounts and refused to maintain the refineries to operate optimally and stop Nigeria from depending entirely on importation of all the locally required premium motor spirit? Government must first regulate or fight corruption to deregulate oil. A case in point to prove that the current administration has no business talking about deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry even when corruption on massive scale that took place and takes place currently in the petroleum sector is not sufficiently confronted is the fact revealed by Duncan Clarke in his scholarly book “Crude Continent: the struggle for Africa’s Oil Prize”.
Duncan Clarke, a leading writer, thinker and speaker on geopolitics in Africa and strategy in the World oil industry disclosed that; “during Obasanjo’s eight year tenure as President, Nigeria earned $223 billion (United States Dollars) in oil revenues”.
“However, basic living condition worsened significantly for most Nigerians. Around 70% (seventy percent) remained in survival mode, living on $1 (United States Dollar) per day (80%) eighty percent of oil revenue benefiting only (1%) one percent of the populace”.
Clark also wrote that “in 1985, Generals Babangida and Sani Abacha toppled Buhari in a bloodless Coup, with Babangida hailed as a redeemer… Corruption, entered another phase as an estimated $12 billion (USD) went “missing”, mainly Oil Funds”.
Richard Dowden in his book “ Africa; altered states, ordinary miracles,” disclosed that; “in 1996, a commission of inquiry discovered that the $12 billion (USD) surplus revenue from oil resulting from the high price during the gulf war was missing”. Much of it was in offshore accounts controlled allegedly by President Ibrahim Babangida “. “None of it was ever recovered. When Babangida’s successor, Sani Abacha, died in 1998, his family were forced to pay back $12 billion (USD) allegedly stolen during his five year reign. But they were allowed to keep the $100 million (USD) that he allegedly stole before he seized power….”
Nigerians demand answers to all these allegations of corruption before government can begin to open public debate on whether to deregulate the oil sector or not. Why think of hiking pump price of fuel in an environment where most people can not afford two decent square meals per day? Even at grave risks to my person, I will repeat here that government must first regulate or rather fight corruption, fix the public infrastructures before a public debate on the proposed oil deregulation.
- Onwubiko heads the Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria.