Lurid Details From The House Of Reps Probe —Peter Claver Oparah



In the heat of the annoying crisis engendered by the Jonathan administration’s increment of petroleum prices on January 1, I had maintained that the albatross of the government’s position on what it fancies as removal of fuel subsidy is that nothing new in form of enrichment to the argument is being brought to the table. The same jejune reasons the Babangida regime employed to cause increments in the price of petrol some neon years back, remained the same arguments the Obasanjo regime employed in his countless tampering of fuel prices. Sadly, it is still the same reasons the Goodluck Jonathan government used to muzzle its way to a thoughtless increment of petrol price to over a hundred percent on January 1, 2012. It seems that the country has run into a diktat with successive regimes on this issue such that every government duplicitously sells the lie that it would collapse if it does not tamper with the prices of locally consumed petrol, even with the many negative fallouts of such action and even with the expansive cash cow it has in the form of huge crude exports.

Whether you term it fuel price increment or deregulation or removal of fuel subsidy, the goal had been one; raise more cash for the operatives of government to play with. It has got nothing to do with the parlous state of the entire oil industry, the deprecation of infrastructures in the oil industry and the unleashing of corruption wild cat that ravages the industry and ensures it remains a wellhead of graft for operatives of successive governments. No increment, no matter how it is termed, has ever led to the improvement of anything and the Jonathan government has not convinced anyone that it will fare better than its notorious predecessors that have only approached the problem of the Nigerian oil industry from the prism of imposing higher fuel prices, which in turn, visit the citizens with increased hardship, widen the incidence of mass pauperisation and inflate the incidences of official stealing, which has seized Nigeria in a deadly grip at present.

Even in its argument on removal of fuel subsidy as a cure-all panacea to the myriads of problems that whack the country at present, the Jonathan regime fares worse because it commands the least citizen’s faith on its capacity to plug the corruption loopholes that are responsible for the decrepit state of the country’s oil industry, direct the abundant resources of the country towards improving the standard of lives of Nigerians, lead a renaissance of the oil industry as an efficient, less corrupt and responsible cash cow that can grow the economy. The regime suffers from a terrible lack of trust that is as a result of its well known penchant to lie comfortably in the same bed with putrefying corruption, shovel under the corrupt acts of its operatives and handmaidens and its annoying addiction to nauseating profligacy. It convinced no one that its almost suicidal commitment to increase the price of petrol was complemented by any modicum of good faith except for its notorious proclivity to finance the elephantine greed of government officials.

In the rancourous debate leading to the unilateral decision to impose a higher price regime on petrol, this government was confronted at every corner by Nigerians’ loud complaints of the government’s own wastes, the unwieldy size of government that has ensured that the country spends almost all it has on financing the ostentatious lifestyles of those in government, in detriment to capital and wealth generating investments, the ravaging corruption that reigns supreme in the oil industry, among many other myriads of complaints. The government and its agents never gave any satisfactory response to these demands and complaints. Rather it waxed so monotonous of how much it was spending on the questionable subsidy on petroleum importation-which is considered an insulting aberration by the Nigerian citizens in the first instance. It spoke of the abundant life it will secure with the increment, which is a staid rehash of the worn-out and unrealisable promises that informed several past increments.

What more, the government chose to play deaf to critical demands by Nigerians that it should carry out a drastic reduction on the size of government as well as the huge overheads in financing recurrent expenses, radically carry out an audit on the finances and operations of the oil industry with a view to cleansing the heavy stench of corruption that has succeeded in grounding the industry and made Nigeria a laughable contrast that depends on importation of petrol, when it should be a net exporter of the product. The argument was that the entire subsidy mantra is built on the wrong precepts of total dependence on imported petrol, pleading inaction to the ravaging influence of corruption in the industry and makes maximum protection to the forces that have sustained heavy graft in the industry and visit untold punishment on the masses, which are grand misnomers.

With the audacious increment of petrol prices sparking the kind of mass revolt it stirred in Nigeria, there was no doubt that Nigerians know the facts of the issue far more better than could be acknowledged by their leaders. Among the many questions that arose from the prurience with which the government reeled out projects it hoped to achieve with the increment in petrol price in a desperate effort to placate a peeved citizens, was what the government did with similar increments in the prices of diesel and kerosene. This poser remains unanswered till date and shows without doubt that there were no serious plans to ensure the recent price increment will positively improve life in Nigeria and not go the way of similar exercises in the past.

It is pertinent to acknowledge that, buoyed by the loud protests of Nigerians against the attitude of government to corruption in the oil industry, which is alleged to have sustained the huge corruption complex in the oil industry, the House of Representatives has launched into a probe of the operations of the oil industry in general and the subsidy regime in particular. The probe is as revealing as it is confirmatory of the allegations of Nigerians that there is a clear cut official connivance in the big rot in the oil industry. What is even most curious in the entire probe is the cacophony of voices and statistics on the industry, as being reeled out by those that should be trusted to give the true picture of what is happening in the Nigerian oil industry. It is as if every government official has his or her own statistics on the oil industry in Nigeria. Let us take a glimpse;.

On the question of Nigerian daily petroleum consumption, there were varied answers as there were queried officials. From the Minster of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Allison Madueke: 52 million Litres, from the NNPC Managing Director: 35m litres, from the DPR: 43m litres, from the PPPRA: 24m litres, from the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: 40m litres.

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On the question of the subsidy for 2011, we got the following answers; Petroleum Minister: N1.4 Trillion, from the Finance Minister: N1.3 Trillion, from the CBN: N1.7 Trillion.

On the audit report carried out by KPMG a world reputable audit company on the Nigerian oil industry, we got the following answers; from the Finance Minster; I have to go through the report first, from the Petroleum Minister: I have not seen the report. On What is the production capacity of our local refineries, we have the following answers; NNPC: 30%., PPPRA: 20%, DPR: 13%,Petroleum Minister; 15%.

On the question of whether Nigeria pays subsidy on locally refined products, we got the following answers; Petroleum Minister : it depends, from the NNPC: The lay man cannot understand how it’s done, from the PPPRA: yes, from the DPR: No.

On the question of Why Kerosene is still scarce, we got the following answers; Minister of Petroleum: Because it’s used by the aviation industry as aviation fuel, from the NNPC: Because there is no subsidy so NNPC over stretched its resources, from the PPPRA: it’s not properly deregulated.

On the question of what the balance is in the subsidy accounts, we got the following answers: Minister of Petroleum: it’s a virtual account, from the NNPC: there is no account in existence as the lay man will look at it, from the PPPRA: The account is a technical one, from the CBN: There is no account with us for subsidy, from the Minister of Finance: The account exists but not with a bank.

This drama is not fictional as it appears. It is real and happens in a regime that is asking for our trust while sentencing us to mass poverty and want. It leaves one to wonder where the government and its agents happened on the figures they were callously throwing on our face, so disgustingly as the subsidy war ravaged. It leaves us to wonder what value this government attaches to statistics or whether statistics is a mere figure jumbled together to serve the convenient purpose it is meant for and no more. It leaves one to wonder what is left of a government that operates in such a manner as to play truant with such vital indices as statistics. It leaves one wondering what remains of a government where facts are no longer sacred and are mere forgeries that serve temporary purposes to confuse and obfuscate. What the probe has succeeded in revealing is that what passes as government in Nigeria is a sick joke! It confirms that we are being tossed about by a band of jokers who are playing Russian roulette with our collective fate.

The bottomline in the present probe of the oil industry by the House of Representatives is that the Nigerian oil industry is a huge mess, as has been feared by most Nigerians. It stinks, it reeks so horribly. It is a scammers‘ haven and serves the corrupt intents of those in government. It needs serious audit, it yearns for clean air, it requires urgent fumigation to free it from the dirty ends it is programmed to serve to government and its hirelings and play its original role as the driver of the Nigerian economy. There is no half measures required here. It should be holistic for it to be effective. The Nigerian oil industry is a cesspool of the rot and decay that has afflicted Nigeria and almost completely grounded it. It yearns seriously for redemption and not the half measures the present government is feeding it now. This must form our minimal demand as Nigeria stutters through a very difficult period in its life.

 •Opara writes in from Lagos. E-mail: [email protected]

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