It’s already looking like the scandal over the unremitted $10billion will go the way of all scandals – under the carpet. Instead of dealing with the issue, Teflon Jonathan has been doing what his government does best: finding scape-goats for Christmas and buying time for a bigger scandal to break.
After the letter by the CBN governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, revealed that NNPC could not account for $49.8billion of crude oil sales for 19 months ending July 2013, the corporation quickly rushed to the press to say that Sanusi’s maths could not be trusted. Well, if there’s a problem with Sanusi’s math, there’s even a bigger problem with a system that allows billions of dollars worth of sales from crude oil to disappear from official records for months without any warning flag.
Accusing Sanusi of playing politics does not address the issue. Yet, if NNPC’s name-calling confirmed its status as the heart of Nigeria’s sleazedom, President Jonathan’s response was something else. He scrambled a face-saving meeting of the NNPC, the Ministry of Finance, the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and the CBN among others. The meeting narrowed the missing figure down to $10billion – or $12billion, leaving at least $2billion in different versions still unaccounted for.
The missing money was just one of the three other issues mentioned in the letter by Sanusi. He also expressed concern about a domiciliary account held by the NNPC outside the CBN; opaque oil lifting and swap deals; and fraudulent purchase of hundreds of millions of dollars by bureaux de change from the inter-bank market. In November or December 2012, a first-tier bank took a heavy blow when hackers, working with some bureaux de change, infiltrated the forex account of a leading oil company with the bank and cleaned out $6m. No one is talking about how that happened or tracking the end use of millions of dollars in fraudulent BDC deals.
The president has said nothing about why it took him three years after he got the first hint from the CBN governor and three months after he received a letter from him to respond. Instead, he is outraged not at those who could not account for the missing money but at the whistleblower.
There’s a lot to worry about Obasanjo’s letter to Jonathan but Sanusi’s letter is by far weightier. It doesn’t matter how you slice it – whose report you believe – all parties (Sanusi, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Diezani Allison-Madueke) appear to agree that at least $10bn (N1.7trn) of crude oil sales money could not be accounted for in 19 months.
This could only have happened in one or a combination of any three ways: 1) a conspiracy between JP Morgan Chase and the buyers of the crude 2) a conspiracy between JP Morgan Chase and the NNPC not to remit to CBN, and/or 3) a conspiracy between the buyers and NNPC to either under-remit to JP Morgan Chase or not remit at all. How can the president know this and still go to bed and sleep well?
We have had a long list of frauds, a number of them predating Jonathan. Yet from the petrol subsidy scam to the racketeering in the NCC spectrum licences and from the industrial-scale theft of crude oil to Stella Oduah’s N255m bulletproof cars, each scandal under Jonathan could have sunk a ship. The biggest scandal of all is not the serial scandals in themselves but the fact that the government has reconciled itself to these scandals and expects us to do the same.
And we’re almost there. That’s why the loss of $10billion from a resource that constitutes 90 per cent of the country’s revenue has drifted from the headlines and we’re happy to move on. Does the government seriously expect that stealing will continue this way without consequences? The missing N1.7trillion is the equivalent of the annual budget of at least half a dozen states in Nigeria; one-third of the 2014 budget; and the equivalent of N10,000 per capita of 170million Nigerians. How can Jonathan look Nigerians in the eye and say he cannot find this money?
Of all years, he has chosen a pre-election year – the time when even the most prudent governments play pork-barrel politics – to renew his pledge to fight corruption. I don’t know whether to cry or laugh it off. If he is serious at all, let him start with an independent audit of the NNPC at least under his tenure as president. Surely he does not expect us to believe that the current charade of reconciliation, which appears designed to put a spin on the numbers, will get to the root of the missing money.
The whole sordid drama is also a telling blow on the Department of Petroleum Resources, the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation and the National Assembly, especially the relevant oversight committees in both chambers of the federal legislature. If Nigeria were a company, not only would the board have removed the CEO by now, the company would have handed him over to the police for prosecution.
But Nigeria being Nigeria, expect that, in the next few weeks, Sanusi the whistleblower will become the hunted in a massive effort to bury the N1.7trillion scandal and every bit of the letter. Anything less would be a surprise.
Is Tribalism The Problem?
My friend and leading international columnist, Jonathan Power, wrote a recent piece in which he blamed tribalism for the crisis in the Central African Republic and across much of Africa. He cited Nigeria as an example of a country that is managing to contain this demon and urged others to take a leaf. Well, I disagree that tribalism is the problem here. I agree completely with Okwudiba Nnoli and Chinua Achebe that the problem with Nigeria – and indeed Africa – is squarely one of leadership. I am Ukwuani; my wife is Urhobo. My children – all born in Lagos – have no mush about tribe or tongue; they are a part of the 60 per cent of Nigeria’s youth population, linked to the netizens of the world. Poverty does not recognise tribe or tongue; politicians do and often exploit it to divide, rule and war!