By: Israel Umoh
Nigeria appears to be one huge-joke community where corrupt practices are rampant. Nigerians are the players and foreigners are the collaborators. A public office holder who swears by the Bible or Koran is undeterred in defrauding the system. A roadside trader or Keke operator can abet the practice provided this puts food on his table. In fact, the ghost left by the British colonial masters in handing over inflated population figures and skewed political structure to Nigerian operators is still haunting the hitherto united entity coupled with the fact that the operators who are naively accessory to certain anomalies are helpless to pull down the atypical structures.
Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first Nigerian President, took the import of corrupt practice lightly. In 1944, a firm that belonged to Azikiwe and family bought a bank in Lagos and he became a chairman. But a report about transactions carried out by the bank showed that Azikiwe’s successor was his agent. The report indicated that most of the paid-up capital of the defunct African Continental Bank was from the Eastern Regional Financial Corporation. He became the first major political casualty investigated for questionable practices.
The return of President Muhammadu Buhari to power in 2015 had blinked hope on most Nigerians that he would fight corruption to a standstill; notwithstanding the 53 suitcases saga in 1984 during the currency change exercise as ordered by Buhari junta that everybody irrespective of status was checked. The suitcases were, however, ferried through the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos without a customs check by soldiers allegedly at the behest of Major Mustapha Jokolo, the then aide-de-camp to General Buhari. In his first shot at power as a military ruler, he introduced War Against Indiscipline, WAI, and the impact created by the arbiter still reverberated years after his exit from power in 1985. Buhari’s second coming to power was more aided by the success recorded by earlier corruption war fought but was later disparaged and sank by his military successors.
One day, Mike Ozekhome, SAN, told TVC NEWS interviewer that Buhari was not fighting corruption but was recovering looted funds. Give it to Buhari for recovering billions of Naira from looters; even though the loots are not properly accounted for, and utilised to, the overall benefit of most less-privileged Nigerians. Though corruption has grown, nurtured and matured in the country, it is not inconquerable. It took several years for the corruption to germinate, develop and reach its height. It will equally take more years to wrestle it to the ground before spectators will clap hands.
But then, how does an ailing tenant living in a sprawling compound remove a corruption tree that is daily watered by his gardener, trimmed by wife/children, nurtured by political associates, nursed by royal fathers, pampered by religious fathers, cherished by neighbours, patronised by academics, feathered by inlaws and caressed by kingmakers? How does an overwhelmed tenant who after failing to rent a comfortable house four times succeeded in renting one with all appurtenances be willing to chase the agent who aided him in getting the house? How does the tenant totally cleanse the Augean stable left by fellow tenants? This is a dilemma in the corruption fight.
Most Nigerians, on the other hand, abet the malady. Greed, ostentatious lifestyle, customs, and people’s attitudes are believed to have led to corruption. Another root cause is tribalism. Friends and kinsmen seeking favor from officials can impose strains on the ethical disposition of the official as these kinsmen see government officials as holding avenues for their personal survival and gain. From the political, economic, academic, social to religious class, most Nigerians have dipped their hands in the humble pie. For those who do not orchestrate the corruption game, they turn to co-conspirators. Like cancer, it spreads to other parts of the body. The society celebrates the rich not minding the source of their wealth. The poor are abandoned to their fate. When the guilty are arrested, tried and sentenced, some Nigerians will whip diverse political, tribal and religious sentiments to cover the misdeed.
In 2012, Nigeria was estimated to have lost over $400 billion to corruption since independence. In 2018 the country ranked 144th in the 180 countries listed in Transparency International’s Corruption Index. Nigeria is the 146 least corrupt nation out of 180 countries, according to the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International. Nigeria Corruption Rank – data, historical chart, and calendar of releases – was last updated in February of 2020 from its official source.
Despite the startling corruption status, the reality and shadow are still gnawing on many including public institutions owing basically to weak institutions to tackle the menace. Already, Philomina Chishe, the controversial official of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and five others are facing trial over alleged N36 million fraud. Philomena, a JAMB official in Benue State, became popular when she made an outlandish claim that a mysterious snake swallowed the cash arising from the sale of e-JAMB cards in the state. The controversial JAMB official is being prosecuted by the EFCC on an eight-count charge, following her refusal to furnish the management of JAMB the true information on the financial status of JAMB e-cards supplied to the Benue Zonal office between 2014 and 2016.
On tow of such hilarious story is the fact that the Nigerian Senate, Thursday, January 30 resolved to probe the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation over $396 million expended on maintenance of refineries in the country from 2013 to 2015.
The decision to investigate spendings on the maintenance of refineries by the corporation was reached after consideration of a motion brought to the floor by Senator Yusuf A. Yusuf (APC, Taraba Central). The lawmaker noted that the NNPC has four refineries: two in Port Harcourt (PHRC) and one each in Kaduna (KRPC) and Warri (WRPC).
According to him, the refineries were established to adequately supply and serve needs for Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), Dual Purpose Kerosene (DPK), Automotive Gas Oil (AGO), Low Pour Fuel Oil (LPFO), High Pour Fuel Oil (HPFO) and Aviation Turbine Kerosene (ATK) for both local consumption and exports.
He said, “The country through NNPC has in the past 25 years spent billions of US dollars in the maintenance of the refineries, the latest being over $396 million spent from 2013 to 2015 without meaningful result.
“The refineries have remained in the moribund state in the last 15-20 years and is almost reaching total collapse due to lack of proposer maintenance of the facilities with a poor average capacity utilization hovering between 15 percent and 25 percent per annum.
“Despite the huge spending on turn-around maintenance of refineries, NNPC recently announced a cumulative loss of N123.25 billion in 10 months (January to October 2019), putting the total revenue of facilities at N68.82bn, while total expenses incurred was N192.1bn within the same period. Such huge wastage and slippages amidst the nation’s tight economy, if not addressed, may lead the country back to recession.”
Again, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation swapped 150.4 million barrels of crude oil valued at N3.04 trillion for refined petroleum products from September 2018 to September 2019.
The swap scheme is known as Direct Sale (of crude oil) and Direct Purchase (of petroleum products).
Nigeria’s refineries are operating far below expectations in terms of crude oil refining and so the NNPC swaps crude oil with qualified companies, who in turn refine the commodity and supply refined petroleum products to the corporation. The petroleum products that are delivered by the qualified companies are usually equivalent in value to the crude oil received from the NNPC.
President Muhammadu Buhari earmarked N305 billion for petrol subsidy in the 2019 budget proposal. This payment is handled by NNPC. Since the withdrawal of the Federal Government from funding the subsidy in the previous year, the NNPC had been drawing from the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) dividend fund to cover the under-recoveries amounting to N40/litre in the importation of petrol. The NNPC utilised 1.05 billion dollars or N320 billion of the fund to cover the under-recoveries, according to its Group Managing Director, Mr. Maikanti Baru. In all, some critics view subsidy payment as a scam.
These financial malfeasances have made NNPC a sick behemoth in the Nigerian state. The humongous amounts the oil outfit is ploughing into unsubstantiated ventures are unfortunate and sickening to the psyche of financial rectitude and a corrupt-free society. It is alleged that oil bunkerers have built illegal refineries in the creeks where gas, Premium Motoring Spirit and kerosene are refined locally with local technology and PMS is said to be sold at N40 or N50 a litre to marketers who sell the same to dealers at N100 while the consumers buy a litre at N145, the official pump price. Kerosene is said to have gone for N280 a litre and gas at N400 a litre to final consumers.
A malignant tumour needs aggressive diagnosis and treatment. There is a need to unbundle NNPC which serves as a conduit for some key political office holders to always dip hands into the public till for electioneering campaign. Appraisals and approvals of projects by oil companies by NNPC are handling more than it can chew, whereas this duty can be given to another agency or department. The mindless spendings by the NNPC in the face of crushing poverty, inexplainable unemployment figure, insecurity and deficit public infrastructures staring at the government and Nigerians are unjustifiable.
Moreover, the Federal Government has to rejig the staffing and board of directors to make room for efficiency and productivity. The financial malfeasance is not done by the ghosts, but is being perpetrated by operators in the system. So, mopping up the system to shape up the amorphous organisation for the prosperity of Nigerians is paramount.