The move by the House of Representatives to probe the finances of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) from January 2018 till date is nothing but a desperate attempt by an exasperated House to politicise what should have been a simple routine of record-keeping done in a transparent and accountable manner that engenders public confidence or trust.
The direction that the House is coming from is understandable. Its destination is also very clear: to establish possible sharp practices by the nation’s oil Corporation and to indict it in the event that it is culpable. Historically, the NNPC has been subjected to presumptive indictment for running what is considered to be opaque management of the oil sector, especially the earnings from the sales of crude oil and refined petroleum products, particularly, the Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), also known as petrol.
There are so many contending issues that yearn for obligatory resolution in the light of the critical roles that the NNPC plays as a bootstrap of the national economy. Nigeria is essentially a mono-cultural economy that runs on oil. This has been the tragedy of the country for so many years now. Successive governments since independence have gravitated largely towards the oil sector, allowing the other sectors of the economy to suffer incremental neglect.
But the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari had, upon stepping in the saddle and confronted by an economic recession, decided and had, indeed, taken steps towards diversification of the economy. Commitment to the philosophy of a diversified economy largely helped the economy that slumped into recession in 2016.
However, diversification has not taken attention off the oil sector, which is seen as the real McCoy. It has become the exclusive preserve of the big, influential and well-connected players. After the presidential politics in Nigeria, the next most critical or significant politics is oil politics. This explains the seriousness with which issues involved in it are treated. There are vested interests to protect. There are cartels to service. And the common denomination of all of these nuances is pecuniary: accretion of petrodollars. It is the allure of the game, which if won, sets the winners on the path to prosperity. Hugging victory in the oil politics is tantamount to wishing poverty eternal farewell.
This is the reason dismantling the culture of opaqueness in the management of the NNPC and pursuing transparency and accountability in public finance is a hard nut to crack. But if and when cracked, it will benefit from an expected regime of openness and answerability. It is, therefore, preposterous to rationalise that the state of affairs presently in the NNPC is a product of the leadership of the current group managing director, Dr Maikanti Baru. That is not and cannot be correct. Rather, there is a conscious effort on the part of Baru to reverse the trend to ensure transparent and accountable management of the NNPC.
He has continued to do this while maintaining a delicate balance between what is and what ought to be. I sincerely believe that Baru is not opposed to the idea of NNPC’s books being taken through the crucibles of scrutiny. What is reprehensible and objectionable is the deliberate impression being created in the minds of Nigerians that the NNPC is irredeemably steeped in untoward practices and licentiousness.
In order to validate this perception, a series of attempts had been made in the past to probe the books of the NNPC. The opposition parties had always been in the vanguard of such advocacy. Their belief had always been that the ruling party funds its presidential and other elections through the instrumentality of the NNPC. The All Progressives Congress (APC), before it came into power, made a political capital of the controversial $20 billion that was not remitted to the federation account by the NNPC under Diezani Alison- Madueke as petroleum minister.
Perhaps, the ballyhoo by the opposition then was responsible for the decision by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) under President Goodluck Jonathan to resort to the use of security votes to fund the 2015 presidential election. Now, the fact that a member of the PDP in the House of Representatives, Hon. Ossai Nicholas Ossai (Delta State) moved the motion for the investigation of NNPC’s alleged current under-remittances to the federation account is instructive in the appreciation of the political undertone of the probe. This then raises the question as to the nature of the motive behind the call for probe: was it genuinely intended or was it intended for the outcome to cause a collateral damage to the current NNPC management and President Muhammadu Buhari, who is the substantive petroleum minister?
If it is to achieve the latter, to wit: damaging Buhari’s administration as it was deployed to damage Jonathan’s government, then the probe may as well be a wild goose chase that may suffer from its inherent bad faith and dissipation of goodwill. Besides, the hurried manner in which the House had resolved to go about the probe is suspicious. The fear is that it may be impossible to get the true picture of the transaction trails or financial records if the probe is restricted to the volumes of crude oil sales by the NNPC from January 2018 to date. That was the point that Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin (APC, Kano state) was making on the floor during the debate on the motion. He had argued that the time frame should have been expanded.
That the time frame was not expanded has reinforced the impression that the House of Representatives had its specific targets for vilification and had probably predetermined the outcome of its probe. The House had also resolved to investigate the yearly production output to determine the impropriety or otherwise of the claim of two million barrels of crude oil per day by the Corporation. There is nothing wrong with this, though; the impression should not have been created as if the claimed figure is new and curious such that it presents a massive discrepancy with previous figures in comparative terms.
The crude production volumes have always hovered around that figure. When militancy disrupted oil exploration in the Niger Delta region, the figure had fallen to as low as 1.1 million barrels. But sans militancy, the figure has always oscillated between 1.8 and 2.2 million barrels per day. Nevertheless, the House of Representatives is encouraged to do its due diligent search to unravel what the figure truly is. The probe should not be conducted to drive the narrative that the recent under remittance to the tune of N100 billion to the federation account by the Corporation was responsible for the sufferings of Nigerians. This will be taking propaganda to ridiculous limits and pandering to sheer illogicality that veils the mismanagement of governments in the states.
Indeed, public sentiments against the NNPC and the leadership of Dr Baru should not be ensconced in the appreciation of the issues involved in the management of crude production by the Corporation vis-à-vis the tendentious probe, as that would defeat the imperativeness of genuine intention to address the existential problems bedevilling crude production management in the collective national interest.
– Abubakar wrote from Kano