The opacity in government spending during every election season is to have resources to conduct polls with pre-determined outcomes, Chidi Odinkalu, a former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, has said.
Speaking at the annual conference of the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers in Lagos Friday, Mr Odinkalu, a professor of Law, said irregular money movement always takes place in the period immediately preceding major elections.
“In 2006, for instance, the Excess Crude Account (ECA) had a net inflow of $29.614 billion,” Mr Odinkalu, the guest speaker at the event, said while speaking on the topic ‘Fostering a Sustainable Economy, Credible Elections and Security in Nigeria – What Role for the Online Publisher?’
“In the same year, President Obasanjo inexplicably authorised withdrawals from the account totaling the sum of $29.799 billion, resulting in a net negative balance of $184.404 million.
“Among the many withdrawals from the fund were ‘unusual’ payments totaling N12.176 billion, reportedly to fund the Niger Delta Power Plants and the National Independent Power Project (NIPP), sums that were never properly accounted for.
“In 2011, just ahead of the elections, Shell and Eni paid the $1.1 billion to the government for the rights to the massive OPL 245. Nearly all of this amount quickly left government accounts.”
Also, in the period between 2009 to 2011, Mr Odinkalu said, Nigeria consumed 35 million litres of fuel daily but was billed for the daily import of 59 million litres.
“In three years from 2008 to 2011, the number of companies importing fuel rose from 19 in 2008 to 140 in 2011, with the result that in the year before the 2011 elections, the country paid out an estimated $16.5 billion in petrol subsidy, more than half of the federal appropriations.
“The period before the 2015 elections was also a time of many shady money movements, many of which remain the subject of ongoing legal proceedings about which it is prudent at this time to say little.
“As the 2019 elections approach, there are suddenly stories about approvals for withdrawals from the ECA and draw-downs from of LNG dividends. It’s all so familiar.”
The GOCOP conference, themed ‘Online Publishers’ Role Towards a Sustainable Economy, Credible Election and Security in Nigeria,’ was attended by online journalists, editors, and publishers across Nigeria.
Mr Odinkalu said responsibility and good reportage should be part of the guiding principles of any corporate online publisher.
“One of the major issues that we will surely confront in the 2019 elections is violence and its consequences. With the armed forces now leading in security provisioning and deployed in all states of the country, security institutions are likely to be stretched very thin ahead of the 2019 elections.”
Ralph Akinfeleye, a professor in the Department of Mass Communication, University of Lagos, who was a discussant at the conference stated that “online publishers/journalists are not information traffickers, they operate in a technological and internet based environment, so, they should adhere strictly to explaining issues to the readers.”
Mr Akinfeleye said online publishers need to use the global market at their disposal to address concrete issues in the country.
“Media literacy, adherence to journalistic ethics, promotion and protection of the code of ethics are key points that online publishers should pay attention to,” he said.
“Online publishers need to coexist with offline publishers to guard against premature results of elections in 2019 elections.”
Leonard Shilgba, a professor of mathematics, saId although more than 50 per cent of Nigerians have access to the internet and online news, many people are ignorant of the provisions of the Constitution.
“We cannot build a country out of a horrible background of ignorance, online publishers have roles to play in provoking the nation towards building citizens that can become leaders,” he said.
The chairman at the conference, Olusegun Osoba, a former governor of Ogun State through a representative, Lanre Idowu, opined that the theme of the conference deserves serious consideration ”at a very important period in our national life”.