EFCC BOSS, Ibrahim Lamorde
The last week release of what is now popularly called Ribadu report on the oil and gas sector has reinforced the need to tackle corruption headlong, writes Davidson Iriekpen
There is no doubt that in recent times, corruption has been a recurring issue on the agenda of many national public discourses, but millions of citisens whose lives are directly challenged by the negative impact of this pervasive malaise are hoping the war can be won sooner than later.
To be sure, a recent survey suggests that most Nigerians strongly believe that corruption is the greatest threat to the country’s corporate existence, ahead of unemployment, terrorism, and a poor infrastructural base.
One of the issues that dominated the fuel subsidy protests that rocked the nation in the wake of the fuel subsidy removal by the Federal government in January this year underscores the need for the Government to tackle the menace of corruption headlong if the country is to ever move forward.
For many a Nigerian, they don’t understand why the President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration lacks the courage or political will to tackle hydra-headed malaise that has eaten deep into the country’s foundation.
Speaker upon speakers who mounted the podium to speak at the various rallies held across the country during the protests either lambasted the President for lacking the courage to arrest and prosecute those who have been looting the country blind or accused him of connivance.
What really angered a lot of Nigerians was the revelation that the government spent N1.7trillion on fuel subsidy in 2011 when N240 billion was the actual amount budgeted for capital projects in the 2011 Appropriation Act. The difference they argued would have gone a long way in fixing the country’s dilapidated infrastructure. And yet, nobody was told how this came to be.
To many analysts, corruption is the greatest problem confronting the nation. At every forum where people gather to discuss how to move the country forward, its destructive impacts are always acknowledged in these gatherings. Yet successive governments have often turned a blind eye towards tackling the menace.
Last week, a confidential report issued by the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force set up last February by the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Dieziani Alison-Madueke, has found that Nigeria lost $29 billion dollars in the last decade to deals struck between corrupt government officials and the oil companies.
The special Task Force headed by the former Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, produced the 146-page study based on the Ministry of Petroleum Resources’ request. It covers the year 2002 to 2012.
Amongst other things, the report said that the Ministers of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Alison-Mdueke, between 2008 and 2011 handed out seven discretionary oil licences, but that $183million in signature bonuses was missing from the deals.
The feelings among a cross section of Nigerians is that the inability of government and its institutions to deal with those accused of corruption usually sends a wrong signal to the public that it is not punishable as long as the institutions could be compromised. This feeling has been given much credence by the upsurge in corrupt offences in recent time.
A paragraph in President Goodluck Jonathan’s October 1 broadcast to the nation seemed to have touched off a frenzied media altercation between government and the opposition. The President had stated in the contentious paragraph that: “In its latest report, Transparency International noted that Nigeria is the second most improved country in the effort to curb corruption. We will sustain the effort in this direction with an even stronger determination to strengthen the institutions that are statutorily entrusted with the task of ending this scourge”.
Swiftly, the opposition and civil society groups challenged the verity of this assertion. The opposition had insistently accused government of lacking the political will to fight corruption. It claimed that the anti-corruption fight never seriously moved beyond the rhetoric level or when it did, only minions and inconsequential offenders were punished. But, if the Jonathan administration felt the need to combat an unflattering representation as an unwilling crime fighter, it chose the battle theme and timing with commendable aplomb.
The recent arrest and detention of the Chairman of Capital Oil and Gas Limited, Mr Ifeanyi Uba, has added more impetus and a greater sense of urgency to the big fight it picked when it decided to investigate and prosecute oil marketers who fraudulently received subsidy on fuel imports between 2011 and 2012. At that point, President Jonathan assured Nigerians that the guilty will not go unpunished. “President Jonathan wishes to affirm, once again, that there will be no sacred cows in the matter and that any organization or individual found guilty of fraud or corruption will ultimately face the full weight of sanctions prescribed by the extant laws of the country”, a government statement announced.
The President was not alone; he had a strong support base. The Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on assumption of office, set a zero tolerance ringtone against corruption when she proclaimed that her primary mission in government was to fight corruption and improve efficiency. She would achieve this end by plugging wastages and ensuring more transparency and accountability in the management of public resources.
At a parliamentary hearing on the fuel subsidy scandal, Okonjo-Iweala warned that she was not going to invent answers to shield any suspect. The President, she reiterated, was irrevocably committed to fight corruption in the oil and gas sector. She revealed plans to re-introduce an oil and gas monitoring unit to watch over the sector and ensure strict compliance with extant laws and regulation as well as adhere to transparency principles. A similar unit which she set up during her previous stint as Finance Minister got some international oil companies to repay $1.2 billion to Nigerian government coffers following a study of their contractual obligations.
Uba’s arrest followed the arrest and arraignment of 21 oil marketers, including Mahmud Tukur, son of the PDP National Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, Mamman Ali, son of former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) National Chairman, Col. Ahmadu Ali, the immediate past Chairman of the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), and Abdullahi Alao, son of the strongman of Oyo politics, Alhaji Azeez Arisekola Alao.
The companies involved are: Nasaman Oil Services, Eterna Oil and Gas Plc, Ontario Oil and Gas Plc, Nadabo Energy Limited, Pacific Silver Line Limited, Axenergy Limited, Fago Petroleum and Gas Limited and Capital Oil and Gas Limited. Also arraigned were Ezekiel Olaleye Ejidele, director of accounting firm, Akintola Williams Delloite, an accounting firm and Fakuade Babafemi of the PPPRA. The EFCC said the suspects it arraigned in court were some of the 140 individuals and organisations involved in ongoing investigations into the subsidy
payments and promised to bring more to justice.
The shake-up, described as unprecedented, is the logical follow-up to the submission of the report of the Technical Committee, whose forensic examination was completed by the Presidential Committee on Verification and Reconciliation of Fuel Subsidy payment between 2009 and 2011, headed by Mr Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, a banker and accounting professional of high repute. The Aig-Imoukhuede committee had a mandate to verify and reconcile all claims made in the report of the technical committee on fuel subsidy payments, properly identify all cases of overpayment and/or irregular payment, accurately identify all likely fraudulent cases for criminal investigation, and to review any other pertinent issues that may arise from its work and make appropriate recommendations. The committee indicted 21 firms and recommended their immediate prosecution. It made 22 recommendations aimed at achieving a more transparent fuel import administration and gave government a justification to demand a refund for N382billion from indicted marketers.
In the language of war, it was the Aig-Imoukhuede committee report which triggered government’s swift and decisive action. The Finance Ministry terminated government’s contracts with the accounting and auditing firms of Akintola Williams Deloitte and Adekanola & Co, over their failure to exercise due care in the audit of fuel subsidy claims which they were contracted to perform on behalf of the Federal Government in the management of the Petroleum Support Fund. The news of the sack of these two firms in itself sent shock waves through the financial system. They too were considered untouchable. With the array of politically-connected heavyweights arrested and charged to court for alleged fraudulent enrichment, government has demonstrated the level of seriousness that must earn a fairer and just reassessment of its commitment to fighting corruption. The arrest and prosecution of the children of the incumbent and past chairmen of the ruling party
indicates seriousness; as it stands even government’s most intractable critics would have a difficult time denying it the credit it deserves.
Besides the caging of oil and gas tycoons and sanitizing the industry through the introduction of more transparent and accounting procedures, the Jonathan administration has also earned bragging rights on other fronts against corruption. The banking and financial sector has been cleaned of systemic rot which threatened to wreck the larger economy. The successful prosecution of Mrs. Cecilia Ibru and the ongoing trial of Mr. Erastus Akingbola and Mr. Francis Atuche, indicate seriousness on the part of government to extend its anti-corruption battle to the private sector. The capital market too has been cleaned up and market capitalisation is on the upswing.
Many analysts have posited that while, the Federal Government’s sincerity and seriousness in prosecuting the war against corruption is no longer in doubt, there are lingering questions on the capacity of the nation’s judicial system to play its role as the dispenser of justice. Critics blame the judiciary for the trial of highly-exposed persons indefinitely. They made references to the on and off trial of former governors of Jigawa, Plateau, Abia, Nasarawa, Gombe, Ogun, Kwara and Taraba states, some of which began since 2007 without any hope of conclusion. Judges on the other hand blame defence lawyers, especially the senior counsels fot employing delay tactic to frustrate the trial of their affluent clients.
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), cognisant of this drawback, is seriously contemplating the establishment of an anti-corruption committee which its President, Mr Okey Wali, said will be discussed at the next executive committee meeting.
Wali had stated that, “We are aware, no doubt, that some of our colleagues, including very senior counsel and some eminent retired judicial officers go about offering their services as ‘consultants’, particularly in election cases, for incredible sums so as to act as conduit between their clients and the election court.
The result is to facilitate ready-made justice for persons they are acting for. Our members and members of the public should feel free to avail themselves of the services of the NBA anti-corruption body.”
The judiciary may indeed need to up their game to get into a war mood and deploy its entire arsenal against the corruption monster and its masterminds, while checkmating Judges to refuse frivolous requests for adjournment and impose harsh sanctions against prosecutors or counsel who seek to delay corruption trials.
The immediate past South West Coordinator for Zero Corruption Coalition and current Executive Director of Campaign Against Impunity, Mr. Shina Loremikan said that the delays in implementing anti-corruption reforms promised in the Programme of Government are potentially costing the economy billions of naira every year and frustrating a brighter future the founding fathers envisage for Nigeria in Africa.
“The continuous corruption unfolding in the country remains a wastage to the society. The corruption has not let us have value for social and economy that could benefit the country. Anyone with stolen money will have individual tendency to be extravagant, doing what ordinarily he couldn’t have been able to do in his or her normal life.
Corruption has taken us away from any dream anyone ever have for the country, be it founding fathers or Colonial masters. The life today compared to life in the 60s is so horrible and frustrating just because of corruption and delays by government to tackle it headlong,” he said.