Mango people in a banana republic, By Garba Shehu

Have you ever seen anyone haggling over the price of hosepipe while his house is on fire? That’s the Federal Republic of Nigeria for you!

Mallam Mohammed Haruna, the very factual and influential writer who has mentored so many in journalism, described the issue as “easily the most important and most controversial of all assumptions of the year”. He is talking about the raging dispute between the legislative and the executive arms of the government on whether the price of crude oil, which is the chief source of revenue for the country, should be projected at USD75 per barrel in the 2013 budget as the government wanted or priced at USD 80 as the lower chamber of parliament insists. The Senate, which sought to close the gap between the two, benchmarked the crude price at USD 78. My issue is with the Parliament and the government. Is this the most important problem confronting the country as to warrant all this time and energy?

As if someone was determined to show the world that we live in shameless times and that corruption is our way of life, the major characters in a fact-finding committee on oil revenues chose the Council Chambers of the Aso Rock Presidential Villa to stage a play that tells the story of Nigeria’s decline in propriety and moral standing. By the way I hope that the bitter exchanges between the chairman of the committee, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and the the Vice Chairman, Steve Orosanye, will ring a bell to the President, Dr. Jonathan Goodluck that government officials, under his watch, are no longer ashamed of scams given the in-your-face debauchery in the oil sector.

Isn’t it simply amazing, compounding and incomprehensible that at the time the whole world was jolted by the leaked Ribadu reports of the mind-blowing corruption going on in the country’s oil sector, our officials seem not to care but are, instead, focused on inter-personal and ego wars and academic debates about whether oil should be projected at this or that price. Of what significance is this debate? If oil at USD150 did not deliver food, water, and basic infrastructure to the teeming masses, what benefit do the ordinary people expect to get with oil at USD75 or 80?  Does it make sense to anybody at this time that both parliament and the executive get engrossed in a shouting match on whether oil is sold for 75, 78 or 80 dollars when the proceeds of sale are lost, squandered, frittered, pocketed, or remain unpaid with the oil majors? Does it matter to the Nigerian masses at what price when 60-70 percent of every dollar is mismanaged or outrightly stolen?

Reports say that the Ribadu Committee of 21 produced a 141-page report which they earlier handed to oil minister, Alison Madueke. The Nation, in an editorial published on Tuesday, accused the Petroleum Minister of attempting to cover up these findings.

In that leaked report, first published from London by Reuters, the operations of the Nigerian government agencies charged with managing oil and gas resources have been “fraught with lack of accountability, weak legislation and huge losses as a result of oil theft, and short-changing of government by oil firms through unpaid royalties and signature bonuses”. Government agencies are required to refund a whopping sum of N2.8 trillion which they unlawfully removed or held back from the federation account.

The National Mirror, quoting from the report, said that there were inconsistencies in the pattern of allocation of 445,000 barrels per day to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC and prices paid for the allocation over the 10-year period covered by the investigation. In this area alone, government may have been shortchanged of five billion United States Dollars.

The Ribadu Committee found that the exchange rate used in arriving at the Naira equivalent of the amounts payable for the domestic crude allocation were different from the Central Bank of Nigeria’s official sales for six of the 10 years reviewed. The potential underpayment under this section is estimated at N89.6billion.

According to the report as quoted by the National Mirror, there are billions of dollars of unpaid debts from signature bonuses and royalties. It is unthinkable but yet true that international oil traders buy crude oil without any formal contracts. Multi-national oil companies, Addax and Shell reportedly owed Nigeria USD1.5 billion and USD874 million in unpaid royalties.

It is clear from the Ribadu report that a conspiracy exists between Nigerian officials and oil companies and such traders to help themselves to our oil assets. There is a free-for-all going on in the oil sector and no one seemed ready to do anything about it.

Deducible from the report is also the fact that in this country, both government and bureaucrats jointly plot to exploit the common people. They use agencies such as the EFCC to create some drama to fool the people and show the world that we are a mango people in a banana republic. This was until January this year when the Nigerian people poured out on the streets to protest the unilateral decision of the government to remove oil subsidies. The government, which set up the Ribadu Committee, along with two others upon the instinct of survival, had chosen to sit on the report and in our usual tradition do nothing about them until the sense of patriotism in one of the members led him to leak it to Reuters. Now, as it is, you cannot use your palm to cover the sun. The report is out there in the open and nobody should dare to cover anything of it.

This government is under the shadows of the Peoples Democratic Party, which claims that it instills probity and honesty and stands for such policies. So far, the ruling party has kept mute as its government continues to sidetrack reforms and policies that were once the hallmarks of the PDP. Economic offenders walk the streets free. Political leaders are accumulating money like skyrockets. Surely the party needs to explain these contradictions. As things stand, the average Nigerian man, especially from the village, thinks that the whole system, not just the oil sector, is in the hands of demons. Anyone in that party headquarters who wants to be taken seriously talking about reforms and change should pick up the broom (okay, mop if they dislike the broom) to start cleaning up the oil sector.

The Government and the legislature must stop their shadowboxing over the cost price of crude oil. It is of no use in a situation where the proceeds of oil sales are squandered and lost. Let them show their serious side by saving the country from the rapists and demons riding roughshod over the oil sector.

When he came hard on the former bank chief executives that were diverting depositors’ funds into their private business and engaged in heavy risk investments with customers’ money, Nigerians commended CBN Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s guts to deal with these seemingly untouchable bank chiefs. At an award ceremony to honour him for the banking reforms, which was organized by Silver Bird Communications, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi said it is only in Nigeria that you need courage to punish a crook.

Impunity is at the root of the growing corruption and government’s paralysis to deal with high profile crooks. It is not surprising why crooked businessmen and other offenders seek shelter under the roof of the ruling parties in Africa to avoid accountability by donating billions to the party in power. President Jonathan should, however, demonstrate courage to deal decisively with these scams in the oil sector, no matter how connected the perpetrators are. Can he? Will he?


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