Jonathan’s Moment Of Truth

By Comrade Timi Frank

By Mayjorh on September 2, 2014 (Olaitan Ajiboyes Blog, Published on Leadership Newspapers)

When President Goodluck Jonathan precipitously removed fuel subsidy, in January 2012, the country was wracked by protests, strikes and demonstrations. Prior to Jonathan’s miscalculation, most Nigerians had always argued that there was nothing like fuel subsidy. Rather, they asked the federal government to sufficiently and effectively man Nigeria’s porous borders and curtail the activities of smugglers who take the purportedly subsidized petroleum products across the borders for higher gains at the expense of the majority of Nigerians who queue endlessly at filling stations to buy the products at black market rates.

This is why the recent admission by the president that 60 per cent of subsidized petroleum products is smuggled out of the country by fraudulent marketers and their collaborators in government could be regarded as a rare moment of truth. The president, while speaking during the formal launch of the issuance process for the National Electronic Identity Card (e-ID Card) at the Presidential Villa in Abuja last week, was quoted to have said: “If you take the issue of subsidy of transport, what we do is subsidizing hydrocarbon (and) it does not go to the ordinary people. Government spends huge sums of money, hundreds of billions of naira every year in the budget; ask the National Assembly. Sometimes it is controversial subsidizing kerosene, yet it’s going very high in the market; subsidizing PMS (petrol) and so on. We are thinking, how do we subsidize transport of the person going to school, the person going to the market, the person moving from Lagos to
Enugu, or Lagos to Kano. Not paying subsidy that 60 per cent of that will be smuggled out of the country. And those who make the money will come and use that money to induce the people suffering to even riot against government.”

It is interesting that the president has come out of perennial denial to admit that 60 per cent of subsidized petroleum products “does not go to the ordinary people” but are rather smuggled out of the country by the “strong and powerful” in the system to the detriment of the people it is supposed to benefit. It is however curious and suspicious that the president should be talking like a new kid on the block after almost six years in office.

To what purpose has the president chosen to admit his own faults when it cannot be said that smuggling of the “partially subsidized” PMS has been completely eliminated? Has he just woken up from a prolonged coma? Who are the importers? Who are the marketers? Who are the smugglers? No system runs itself. It is the credibility of the people in positions of authority that ultimately determines the credibility of the processes of governance.

This rare moment of truth by the president is a vindication, at last, for patriotic Nigerians including those erroneously branded as “opposition”, civil society organizations and my humble self, who have consistently insisted that the fuel subsidy regime in Nigeria is not only fraught with monumental corruption but a phantom project at best designed to inflict maximum pain on the poor masses.

Is the president now ready to sanitize the system and ensure more credible processes to the common good, now that he has realized the truth? None of the oil marketers indicted by the Hon. Farouk Lawan fuel subsidy panel has been successfully prosecuted. The president is aware of this benumbing actuality.

He is aware that several panels constituted by the federal government to examine the operations of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) had arrived at similar verdicts and specifically indicted the NNPC of monumental corruption, especially between 2010 and 2013. It is worthy of note that the incumbent minister of petroleum resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, was appointed in 2010. Some of the other reports included the Aigboje Aig-Imokhuede committee report on fuel subsidy, Nuhu Ribadu committee report on NNPC and fuel subsidy, KPMG audit report on NNPC, NEITI report on NNPC and fuel subsidy and the report of the Senate Committee on Finance that probed the alleged missing $20billion oil revenue from the NNPC.

I cannot but recall that the Farouk Lawan committee had established beyond reasonable doubt that, between 2009 and 2011, the sum of N2.58trillion was used to subsidize petroleum products. Invariably, this means that over N1.6trillion worth of petroleum products, representing about 60 per cent of the above amount, were smuggled and sold outside the country.

If 60 per cent of the amount said to have been expended on fuel subsidy during the tenure of Mrs Alison-Madueke was smuggled out of the country, as implied in the statement of the president, what justification is there for retaining her as a minister?

Will the president rise to the occasion and, for once, prove critics wrong by embarking on a holistic sanitization of the “systems” and “processes” in the oil sector, especially the perennial fraud in the NNPC? One wonders why the president favours half measures rather than going the full hog in the fight against corruption in the NNPC. For instance, four group managing directors (GMDs) of the NNPC have so far been sacked between 2010 and now under the leadership of Diezani as minister of petroleum resources and chairman of the board of NNPC.

One cannot but be puzzled that even the allegation that the minister squandered N10billion in taxpayers’ money to charter private jets in two years and the alleged missing $20billion oil revenue in the NNPC have not been sufficient to provoke the president to take necessary steps to right the wrongs in the leadership of the Ministry of Petroleum. It is an acknowledged fact that the lack of an effective/efficient minister and the monumental corruption in the oil sector in the last couple of years has led the U.S., our biggest trade partner, to stop buying our oil while some international oil companies (IOCs) like Shell and others have taken similar approaches by divesting from Nigeria to the detriment of our people and economy.

Members of the international community would no doubt be curious to know what President Jonathan has done or will cause to be done to the “smugglers” and stealers of 60 per cent of imported and heavily subsidized petroleum products. The perpetual loss of 60 per cent of our oil resources to unintended recipients means that the grave unemployment, dearth of industries, epileptic power supply, the dislocation in the real sector, the social upheavals and, above all, the insecurity in the land can be traceable to this stupendous national wealth in private hands.

It is only under this president that someone being investigated is allowed to supervise the appointment of an audit firm, “Pricewaterhouse Coopers”, to forensically investigate the missing $20 billion that disappeared on her watch. The sack of Sanusi over alleged financial recklessness and the continuous retention of Diezani cannot but amount to a blatant form of contradiction and corruption.

Of what benefit, therefore, is this “revelation” from the president if it does not move him to ensure that Nigerians get justice for the years of impoverishment and servitude engendered by these musketeers in the name of oil marketers and their collaborators in government? Or, is this a mere 2015 campaign jingle from the president? The majority of Nigerians including me are begging for answers to this and many other questions.