It is simply amazing the level of graft that was visited on Nigeria’s oil sector under the supposed watchful eyes of former Petroleum Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke. The revelations in a civil lawsuit, brought by the United States of America Department of Justice (DOJ’s), Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, can only be described as mind boggling. In that lawsuit, that US agency is seeking to recover $144 million in assets, including a $50 million luxury condo apartment in New York and the $80 million yacht. The yacht, Galactica Star, a 65-meter luxury yacht, owned by Kolawole Aluko which he acquired for $80million is proof that something evil went on under the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. This money that was splashed on one luxury item was from an oil deal Nigerians were made to belief will alleviate the hardship they experienced then as a result of the inadequacies of local supply of petroleum products.
Oil swap contracts, as they were called in the last dispensation, were supposed to be barter arrangement between Nigeria and some refineries abroad. As usual, corruption brought in middlemen who saw it as an opportunity to lace their private pockets with money belonging to the nation. That deal was ostensibly programmed to sell crude oil in exchange for refined products. The deals assumed a controversial hue and came under severe scrutiny when the former Central Bank Governor now Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II, described them as not properly structured, monitored and audited. Then, most saw it as a personal fight between him and the Petroleum Minister. Now, with this lawsuit abroad, the Emir has been vindicated.
For instance, between 2010 and 2014, with Diezani as minister, Nigeria was estimated to have pushed over 352 million barrels of oil worth a total of $35 billion into oil swap deals. Most of it was under shady arrangement and reportedly caused the country to lose more than $900 million in crude oil swap deals between 2009 and 2012. These oil swaps were intended as stop gap measures put in place to shore up the local refineries which were at the time under-performing as well as meet local demand for petroleum products.
According to the US Prosecutors, those assets were proceeds from bribes paid by two Nigerian businessmen Aluko and Olajide Omokore for lucrative Nigerian oil contracts to the colluding top hierarchy of the nation’s oil conglomerate. The lawsuit by the US initiative, according to reports, is seeking the forfeiture of both assets. To Nigeria of course. The basis of their argument in the legal battle is that the businessmen allegedly laundered money through the US by purchasing lavish assets for themselves and their collaborators in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
This is not the first time that this kind of sleaze is being brought to the attention of Nigerians. Earlier, we were informed of how some banks were used to make illegal transfers. Some top management staff of one of the banks was actually arrested, incarcerated and later released. At another time, it was a former Group Managing Director of the corporation who was caught with cash in millions of hard currency.
The unfortunate part of the embarrassing development is that this time round, a foreign agency is in the fore front of efforts directed at recovering the money or the assets. The intriguing angle to the saga, in our view, is the amount of money that these persons splashed on these luxury items. Such lavish display of stolen money betrays the mentality of the culprits who, instead of investing in worthwhile ventures so that the money, though stolen, can have a multiplier effect in the economy decided to make fools of themselves in such brazen manner.
Some international donor agencies are delisting Nigeria as part of their areas of interest. This massive looting of the treasury by a few is likely to be part of the reason for such decisions. One cannot blame them. Why try to help a country that operates a system that makes it possible for such outrageous misappropriation of public funds. And instead of making stringent laws that will protect the country from kleptocrats, the National Assembly is proposing legislation that will actually embolden them to steal even more. The lawmakers are seeking for amnesty for the treasury looters. It appalling as it is disgraceful. But it represents a sad commentary on the international image of the country.
In our opinion, there may be some glimmer of hope as to the possibility of bringing those thieves and kleptocrafts to justice especially as this US agency famous for its no nonsense disposition towards graft is making good efforts to show Nigeria the path to tracing our money and bringing it back.