Jonathan’s Move Against the Cabal

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President Goodluck Johnathan

President Goodluck Johnathan

At last, good sense prevailed as Organised Labour and it’s civil society affiliates called off the strike it declared over the deregulation of the downstream sector of the Nigerian oil industry last Monday afternoon. As a country and individuals, we will continue to count losses to the six days strike for many weeks to come.

As a public analyst, I am still not convinced that the strike is unavoidable, especially on the part of organized labour. For one, the total shut down of socio-economic activities in certain parts of the country while the strike lasted can only make us poorer as a nation, just as the loss of lives and valuable property in areas where hoodlums hijacked rallies and street processions is an eternal wound in the minds of survivors of the deceases. While lives are unquantifiable, in Niger State, the loss to the national strike in terms of valuable property destroyed by hoodlums who took advantage of the street processions during the strike to unleash mayhem on law abiding citizens has been put at over N2 billion. It will be interesting to know what other state governments where there was similar mayhem will come up with if they are to evaluate their losses.

These are all avoidable losses, especially given the fact that the President had offered the olive branch of a committee headed by no less a person than Justice Alfa Belgore, a retired Chief Justice of Nigeria as negotiator with Labour on all the contending issues it has with the deregulation policy. My interest and the only excitement about the protests is the persistent demand for probe of the whole gamut of subsidy payments by some of the protesters. It’s worthy to note that some of the protesters even indicated that they have no problem with paying the appropriate price of petrol, but that they were concerned and angry that government seemed not ready to deal with the “cabal” benefitting from bloated subsidy payments.

The overwhelming call for action against the cabal was in itself a response to revelations before the Senate ad-hoc Committee probing the management of fuel subsidy payments late last year. Senator Magnus Abe, the Chairman of the Committee had read out names and amounts received by over 20 companies as subsidy payments and most Nigerians believe that there is something fishy about the payments that needed unraveling.

It is heartening that government has quickly responded to this demand for action with Mrs. Dieziani Alison-Madueke the Minister of Petroleum Resources inviting the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to immediately review and investigate all payments made in respect of subsidies checked against actual importation and to take all necessary steps to prosecute any person(s) involved in any incident of malfeasance, fraud, overpayments and related illegalities. Even beyond the demand of the protesters, government has asked the anti-graft agency to investigate subsidy payments to importers of kerosene. Alison-Madueke said the step was taken based on her conviction that the protests that followed the removal of subsidies on petrol on the 1st of January were indications that Nigerians were demanding better accountability and transparency in the oil industry.

Well said. But lost in the vociferous demands for a move against the “cabal” the is the fact that the complete deregulation which would have completely remove government and its agencies from the process of petroleum products importation is the biggest single blow that could have been dealt to corruption and other malpractices in the downstream sector of the oil industry. Also as somebody who has followed events in the oil industry, I know that President Jonathan has not been sleeping on the issue of corruption that many have fingered as the bane of our oil industry since he assumed office. Barely one month after he assumed office as the President, Jonathan had on May 2010, for example, ordered a comprehensive audit of the accounts of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and directed the then Minister of Finance, Dr. Segun Aganga, to hire a world class audit firm to carry out the exercise.

The probe was instituted then as part of the Jonathan administration efforts to block all the loopholes through which Nigeria lost millions of dollars through graft and contract inflation as well as in response to the call by the two major unions in the oil industry – the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria and the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers – the auditing of the NNPC accounts especially in relation to payment of subsidy to fuel importers. The unions had insisted on the auditing of the corporation’s accounts as one of the conditions on which they will accept deregulation of the downstream sub-sector of the oil industry.

The fruit of that effort is the KPMG report which unfortunately many critics, probably out of sheer mischief or ignorance are not ready to give the President the credit for.

Abubakar wrote from 20, Constitution Road, Kaduna.

 

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