EFCC’s N5bn and the race against oil thieves

August 28, 2014

Steve Ayorinde

As far as the knotty issue of petroleum subsidy fraud is concerned, Nigerians cannot afford to take their eyes off the ball. Apprehension and prosecution of fraudulent persons and organizations, in addition to recovering the loot from them, should be important components of any effort aimed at sanitizing the oil sector. These are crucial as indeed the urgent need to determine the true daily consumption of petrol and urgently improve on domestic refining capacity.

We have the Africa Network of Economic and Environment Justice (ANEEJ) to thank for drawing attention to the impunity that still exists in the oil sector and the seeming lethargy that is slowing down the pace of justice.

In electing to review how the anti-corruption agencies and the judiciary have fared in investigating and prosecuting indicted persons and companies in the fuel subsidy regime, ANEEJ has done well to wake the nation up from an apparently induced slumber, through its recent town hall meetings. It is just as well that this renewed interest in the monumental fraud in the name of fuel subsidy is coming just after yet another shake-up in the top echelon of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC). It is the fourth of such ‘cleansing’ in the tenure of Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke as Petroleum minister, and it is instructive that the endless malfeasance in that sector deserves ceaseless focus.

However, part of what came out of ANEEJ’s programme was the unsurprising admission of frustration by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), one of the partners at the town hall meeting. “Investigation and prosecution of fuel subsidy cases have not been easy for us,” says Wilson Uwujaren, the Commission’s Head of Media and publicity. From reports, you could glean EFCC’s hands-in-the-air frustration in prosecuting the indicted persons fingered in the scam. And this is in spite of the creation of a “full-fledge section” charged with investigating oil subsidy and other extractive industry matters.

The irritation is understandable, so is the subtle plea to the media and civil society not to relent in beaming the searchlight on that sector. When you are dealing with persons and organizations that are powerful, often having the ears of those in authorities and with huge resources for litigation, you’ve got to rely more on charge-and-bail approach. More depressing is the announcement of N5bn as the total sum so far recovered from those indicted. The details are not yet clear as to the source of the fund; nor is the nature of the retrieval, either through seizure or plea-bargaining, explained. What is undeniable, however, is the fact that N5bn out of the trillions of naira believed to have been stolen is just too paltry an amount after about two years of investigations.

The figures involved and the impunity associated with them are staggering. According to an analysis of fuel subsidy figures between 2006 and 2012 published recently by Business Day, a whopping N4.9trn may have been spent by the Federal Government to subsidize importation of fuel. Amazingly, that figure alone is more than Nigeria’s 2014 total budget of N4.6trn.

I will choose to ignore the rhetoric, but my prayers are with the EFCC in its avowed resoluteness “to ensure that we push all those cases to logical conclusion.” But which heart of stone would not bleed at the bone-faced lies, the impunity and the profligacy that bedevil the NNPC, and the other state agencies like the Petroleum Product Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA). Knowing that internal culprits within government establishments may be as guilty, if not more, than external suspects being paraded, is the EFCC asking the right questions and going after suspected public officials; or is seen to be pushing same into the court of the media and public opinion?

Granted that there has been a bit of ‘name and shame’ tactics, where it affects suspected culprits like Mamman, son of a former chairman of the Peoples democratic party, Dr. Ahmadu Ali and Abdulai Alao, son of the late businessman, Alhaji Abdullazeez Arisekola-Alao, we are still witnessing a scapegoat treatment of the back-end culprits. The accessory to crime, often the well-entrenched establishment person, is often untouched and would either fund his collaborator’s litigation or surreptitiously provide bailout terms.

Where then are the serving and retired generals, serving and ex-ministers, phony ex-militant warlords, political stalwarts and sundry security chiefs, with their moneybag accomplices, who are believed to be neck deep in profiteering from oil theft and subsidy scam in the list of suspects that EFCC hopes to pursue their cases to a logical conclusion? Is it no longer actionable that certain public officers would approve subsidy payments outside of budgetary allocation?

If the Directorate of State Security can get away with its dramatic, almost flamboyant manner of drawing attention to state security matters though Marilyn Ogar, how come the EFCC is no longer as vociferous as it used to be in pushing its activities to the public domain?

The stupefying reality that fuel subsidy could grow from N151.9bn in 2006 to N673bn in 2010 and to an unbelievable N1.3trn in 2011, only to slightly come down, to N971bn in 2014 budget shows that all is still not well.

We should commend post-January 2012 good governance bodies like ANEEJ and the January 9th Collective (J9C) and urge them not to be weary of vigilance as another election year beckons.

Steve Ayorinde