If well utilised, N2.6trillion (N2, 600, 000, 000, 000) could change the fortune of Nigeria forever. It could complete projects capable of employing 10 million jobseekers and lifting 100 million Nigerians out of the cesspool of poverty.
There would be no terrorist gangs and dare-devil robbers to create hell on earth for law-abiding Nigerians. The life of the average Nigerian would no longer be “laborious, nasty, brutish and short”.
But this huge amount, which has been stolen and shared by perhaps fewer than 50 people, is about to be forfeited because the thieves have invented another scandal meant to kill the report of the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee on the implementation of the subsidy regime. Nigeria, indeed, is a unique country.
The fuel subsidy report presented to the House by the panel’s chairman, Hon. Farouk Lawan, on Wednesday, April 18, 2012, recommends that all the indicted oil marketing companies that collected almost US$400million but failed to import any fuel should refund it within three months.
Two months have now passed. Yet, all the civil society and labour groups including the Save Nigeria Group and the Nigeria Labour Congress that hailed the Lawan-led committee’s report and threatened mass action if the federal government failed to implement it fast have not taken any step forward. Anti-graft agencies also assured the public that they would speedily prosecute the suspected oil thieves.
Now, it appears that what will be left at the end of the three months prescribed are allegations and counter-allegations of bribery hanging on the necks of Lawan and his co-panel members. The leadership of the legislative body has not been spared in a scandal probably manufactured to discredit the House committee’s report. How low can we get?
We cannot be part of this dance of shame - a needless and totally unwarranted sideshow. Let’s remind Nigerians of the essential ingredients of the Lawan report that is being rubbished through a web of intrigues and conspiracy:
* Within 24 hours in January 2009, N999million was paid 128 times (N12. 872billion) to “unknown entities”.
* 18 firms that did not honour the panel’s summons were asked to refund almost N42billion.
* 15 phantom firms were paid $337, 842, 663 for doing nothing.
* NNPC fraudulently claimed N310billion, N285billion and N108.6billion.
* Fuel subsidy payments amounted to N261.1billion in 2006, N278.8billion in and N346.7billion in 2008, but, even after the subsidy on diesel had been removed, the “subsidy” payments jumped to N2.587.087trillion in 2011, more than 900 per cent of the sum appropriated for the year (N245billion).
* In 2006, only five companies including the NNPC were involved in fuel imports, 10 companies in 2007 and 19 in 2008; in 2011, there were 140 fuel importers.
* Accounting firms Akintola Williams, Deloitte and Olusola Adekanola & Partners were found guilty of professional incompetence. These are not fairy tales. And those who wonder where the N2.6trillion flew to need not look far.
We believe that a substantial part of it – likely up to N2trillion – constituted funds shared among politicians for the prosecution of the 2011 general elections. Most of the unknown “directors” and “managers” of phantom companies that were seen during the House committee’s hearings were merely fronts for the actual beneficiaries of the loot.
Although President Goodluck Jonathan promised, in April, to act on the House panel’s report “in the best interest of all Nigerians”, he does not appear to mean it. The signs that he would, once more, break a pledge were visible in the comments of his henchmen early on.
Presidential adviser Ali Ahmed Gulak said the Lawan report was not thorough. Justice minister Bello Adoke said the federal government was not in a hurry to implement the report. Another minister asked why the committee did not invite some former petroleum ministers and NNPC bosses.
It was not surprising, therefore, that a close friend of the president’s and owner of one of the oil marketing firms indicted, Femi Otedola, has come up with some bribery allegations. The target, of course, is to consign the report to the dustbin of history – the same fate that befell previous enquiries into government corruption.
We find it curious, if not embarrassing, that the president would be more interested in setting up those who unravelled the theft of N2.6trillion than in bringing the thieves of that humongous amount to book.
Even as the House of Reps meets today to take a decision on the bribery scandal, we can guess the outcome: it’s either that Farouk Lawan and some other members of the panel would be suspended or another probe into Otedola’s allegations would be launched. In the end, however, the anti-corruption agencies that have been falling over themselves to probe the lesser scam would achieve nothing.
And the vicious circus continues? At press time yesterday, we were authoritatively informed that Farouk Lawan would be detained by the police. That is just as well if, at the end of the day, justice is served. But isn’t it a sad tale that not one of those involved in the N2.6trillion loot has even been invited by any of the security agencies?
It’s bad enough that Nigeria has become a laughing stock on account of the president’s lip service to the fight against corruption. A worse fate awaits the country if the N2.6trillion oil thieves are not brought to book: the world would simply ignore us!