The central role being played by Petroleum Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, in the probe of corruption charges against the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) may have called to question the avowed commitment of President Goodluck Jonathan to the fight against corruption in the country’s petroleum industry.
The President, in his nationwide broadcast last Monday, restated the irrevocable commitment of his administration to tackling corruption as well as entrenching openness and accountability in the petroleum industry.
As a demonstration of his commitment to those objectives, he said he would prioritise the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), and implement the recommendations of the forensic audit on the operations of the NNPC, punishing all officials indicted for misconducts.
To give effect to the presidential pronouncement, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), acting on a directive by Mrs. Alison-Madueke, swooped on the NNPC and the PPPRA as well as the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), carting away volumes of official documents relating to the controversial N1.34trillion fuel subsidy payments as well as other transactions undertaken by the agencies.
The Minister also constituted two committees in her office headed by an independent auditor to review the KPMG and other audit reports on the NNPC and other parastatals in the ministry as well as undertake a comprehensive review of the management and controls within those parastatals.
But analysts believe that by taking a lead in the probe, Mrs Alison-Madueke, has put the entire investigation to question. A Benin City-based civil society group, Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) stated the obvious when it faulted the role Mrs, Alison-Madueke has assumed in the probes, describing it as absurd and a charade to fool Nigerians.
“I find this absurd and cannot understand what is happening in this country anymore,” ANEEJ Executive Director, David Ugolor, said in a statement. “It is an irony that the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, whose ministry is accused of corruption is the same person setting up the probe into her ministry. What will come out of such a probe?”
Mr. Ugolor continued, “The Minister is trying to be a judge in her own case. Nigerians cannot be fooled by this charade. It is in her interest for her to step aside for an independent body to look into the books she supervised. Our view is against the backdrop of allegations by the National Assembly that the Petroleum Ministry paid out more billions of Naira on PMS subsidy than was approved for it in the 2011 budget.”
Indeed, very serious corruption allegations have swirled around the minister in the past year, which appear to have strengthened argument by some Nigerians that she lacked the moral fibre to superintend over any probe of the oil and gas sector.
Last year, NEXT, one of Nigeria’s most respected newspapers, ran a series of investigative reports that linked the minister herself to monumental corruption. The government is yet to act on those allegations. In one of those reports, titled “Oil minister, her jeweller and their sweetheart deal”, the Minister was said to have discretionally licensed one Christopher Aire, a 47-year-old United States-based Nigerian celebrity jewellery designer and merchant, to be lifting crude oil.
Mr Aire’s company, Solid 21 Incorporated, which dealt strictly in jewellery and wristwatches, did not meet any of the criteria spelt out in the guidelines for prospective crude oil lifters. But, between July 9 and July, 2010, he incorporated two companies, Siseno Oil Nigeria Limited, as well as Caligeria Oil Limited. Both companies were to undertake the businesses of petroleum products sales and distribution.
A month after the no-address companies were incorporated, the minister reportedly directed the Crude Oil Marketing Division (COMD), the NNPC division in charge of crude oil marketing, to approve crude oil lifting contracts to them to lift 60,000 barrels of crude per day. That was done in clear violation of laid down guidelines requiring companies interested in lifting Nigerian crude to be bona fide end users, with established reputation as large volume traders with global network for at least three years.
In another report also published by NEXT, and entitled “Oil minister in N2.2b bribery scandal”, the minister’s name was mentioned in an elaborate scam which forced marketers to pay huge bribes in exchange for petroleum products import license by the PPPRA. There was also the allegation that she unilaterally assigned prospecting rights in some state-owned lucrative blocks to some briefcase companies without open and competitive bidding.
Irked by these allegations, for which government failed to act, a Lagos-based lawyer, Bartholomew Aguegbodo, sued the minister at a Federal High Court in Lagos. See Lawyer sues Allison-Madueke and “Last minute oil deals that cost Nigeria dear”.
Yet, there are several other allegations for which the minister has to answer questions. So, it appears bizarre that as tainted as she is by these allegations, the government has asked her to lead the effort to clean up the NNPC in particular, and the industry in general.
If government wants to be taken seriously in its bid to enthrone corruption in the industry, it must first probe Mrs. Alison-Madueke herself. It is only when she is found to be clean that she should be allowed to lead the reform of a sector fraught with monumental corruption.