Subsidy Removal: Whose Interest Was the President Protecting? – By Frisky LarrArticles, Columnists, Frisky Larr, Goodluck Jonathan (2010-present), NNP Columnists, Presidency Monday, May 7th, 2012
By Frisky Larr | NNP | May 7, 2012 – The rude awakening on New Year’s Day is yet to be forgotten. The wounds have hardly healed and the scars are all too visible. Yet more insults are added to injuries thanks to questions that never get answered. Every passing day in the Presidency of Goodluck Jonathan is increasingly characterized by questions piling upon one another. They never get answered.
As the only public institution that has now moved halfway on the side of the common man, the House of Representatives added even more questions to the yet unanswered ones through its report on the Fuel Subsidy Probe.
For the avoidance of doubt, it may be pertinent to repeat a few old and almost forgotten questions on whose heap the report has now piled additional queries. The President has till today, failed to reveal to the world who the Boko Haram agents in his own cabinet are. The President is yet to tell the nation his reasons for removing Mrs. Farida Waziri from the EFCC just when she was beginning to gather steam and drive her job in the right direction. The President is yet to tell Nigerians just one reason for telling lies to his fellow citizens through proxies, in the run-up to the catastrophic removal of fuel subsidy on January 01, 2012. The nation is waiting for an answer to the President’s sudden and unexplainable breach of his own promise to PDP Governors in advance of last year’s presidential election that he would serve only one term as President. The questions could go on and on.
Credulous analysts believed in good faith that the removal of fuel subsidy was in the overall interest of the nation’s economy. Many carried out hypothetical and sometimes outlandish mathematical calculations. They trusted the President and believed he was doing his bit to move the country forward. The thought of some vested interests being in the focus of executive protection sounded just too remote. President Jonathan reaped the most praises from representatives of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund! Such protagonists believed that the President was opening the economy to the natural influence of market forces. They could be forgiven because they were non-Nigerians and could not know the depth of routine political romance with corrupt forces.
Sanusi Lamido Sanusi advanced several theories on “White Elephant projects” and sounded reasonable and intelligent. Diezani Alison-Madueke joined the chorus and hid behind the credibility clout of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Together, they sounded academically formidable and indomitable.
Now that the House of Representative’s committee probing the intriguing schemes of the petroleum sector has released its report, we are seeing the worms concealed in the can. Did Sanusi Lamido not have a clue that such underhand dealings were going on in the sector? Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala may know less about the extent of the rot in the sector due to her neophyte status in the Nigerian political arena. But what about the President at whose desk the buck stops? As a full-bred Nigerian politician from the Niger Delta, will President Jonathan claim innocence of all the crimes in the oil sector?
For a recap of the committee’s findings, please join me on a brief trip into the wild world of the oil sector. The very first fact that the committee unearthed was the vast array of misleading information to justify the quick removal of oil subsidy. People knew the truth and deliberately circumvented it preferring to buy praise-singers to drum up support in public protests and treacherous newspaper articles, all in the bid to remove subsidy quickly and smoothly. Beneficiaries were those who would have escaped prosecution since the prevailing atmosphere was growing increasingly volatile. The subsidy for the continued importation would have been further paid by the poor consumers of refined fuel. Refineries could not be fixed. The cabal was declared more powerful than the government. But when Farida Waziri got audacious and began to turn her attention to the oil sector for possible arrests however, she was called off by presidential absolution and removed unceremoniously. Unknown friends in the oil sector were amongst the beneficiaries.
People were aware of companies that claimed subsidy payments and yet imported not a single drop of fuel. The House committee counted 20 companies that received importation allocation even before they got registered with the PPPRA. A Texas company called Eco-Regen with office in Abuja reportedly claimed N1.9 billion for importing absolutely nothing. In the year 2009, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua removed subsidy on kerosene. The then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan was fully aware of the presidential directive. Retail prices for kerosene were hiked in the aftermath of the subsidy removal. Yet the NNPC had a total of N310.4 billion credited to its account as subsidy payment on kerosene for the period 2009 to 2011. NNPC characteristically made such illegal deductions from sales proceeds before paying the balance into the Federation Account. Was President Jonathan unaware of the directive issued by his erstwhile boss? Worse still, was Diezani Alison-Madueke the Oil Minister unaware of this illegality?
In an obvious cover-up of impeding consequences following the uncontrolled intrigue of a mob-gone-wild, the President’s government resorted to using the wrong figure on the total amount of subsidy spent in 2011. Having massively and illegally exceeded the budgetary limit on fuel subsidy after satisfying cronies, allies and collaborators on payback time, the President’s government began to panic. They had to pull the trigger in the face of virtual insanity. A high figure had to be announced to the public that should be high enough to scare the wit out of ordinary Nigerians and convince them to embrace subsidy removal. It was however not to be so high as to attract any inquisitive probe from the legislative arm of government. The government simply needed a figure that was moderately high enough to appeal to reason without creating complications for itself.
It thus declared having spent N1.3 billion on fuel subsidy in 2011. In the course of the probe however, the Accountant-General claimed to have disbursed a total of N1.6 billion for fuel subsidy. We all wondered what happened to N0.3 billion. The CBN added another twist to the drama by admitting that it paid out N1.7 billion to the Accountant-General for the same purpose. We wondered what the Accountant-General did to N0.1 billion. At the end of the day however, it was a bombshell. The committee ascertained that well over N2.6 billion was spent on fuel subsidy in the year 2011. This prompted speculations that a part of the money may have been used illegally to finance undeclared political activities. A clearly impeachable offence on the part of the President if proven to be true!
While Nigeria had only 19 registered fuel importers in 2008, PPPRA’s register showed a record number of 140 importers in 2011. An ominous increase of almost 740% in just three years! Questions abound on how many refineries the amount of N2.6 billion (paid to marketers) and N310 billion (paid to the NNPC on kerosene) would have built for Nigeria since 2008. A total of N230.184 billion was paid to marketers that did not import or supply any fuel at all. President Jonathan ignored all these facts and sought to bleed the peasants deep from their heart. The question then arises why the President has never been keen on probing corruption within the Nigerian system. Who are these importers and marketers? What relationship do they have with politicians? Why did the government prefer to punish the masses rather than justifiably prosecute these blood-sucking vampires?
The report of the committee probe further reveals that the Accountant-General who was in charge of payments for the period covered by the probe paid N999 million for 128 times in a single day. The committee was unable to ascertain the names of the recipients of this horrendous payment. This Accountant-General is today the elected Governor of Gombe State.
So badly have pecuniary interests become interwoven with politics in this diabolic project of sucking Nigeria dry that presidential foot-dragging on the implementation of the committee’s recommendations is all too comprehensible. After all, humans are naturally reluctant to bite the fingers that fed or still feed them.
As usual, President Goodluck Jonathan is unable to read the writings on the wall. Nigeria is undoubtedly drifting helplessly into the administrative era of a leader who has little or no talent in leadership. A President basking in the delusive safety of security provided by government functionaries and militants from the Niger Delta! It may do well to insert the footnote that Alison-Madueke was reportedly appointed as Minister of Petroleum Resources only after the intensive intervention of a militant. The political island of the Niger Delta with which the President has surrounded himself will quickly fade into a powder keg if he unwittingly triggers a revolution to engulf the land. He may end up unable to contain the stream of human blood that will color his hands when the toll is taken of the victims of his acts. In a nation where honor counts, the President by now, would no doubt have addressed the nation apologizing to the masses in humility and revert the pump price of fuel to its original state of N65.00 per liter while he sets out to cleanse the sector once and for all.
The time is now ripe for labor unions, students’ unions and other civil society movements to swing into action yet again. Mass action looming for the second time in just six months in the middle of a spate of mindless terrorism! This time though, blood will be spilled from the very start since government will seek to protect strategic areas of demonstrations by the force of arms. As usual, President Jonathan is apparently oblivious of the strength of the inferno that he is choosing to handle with kid’s gloves. Fire that may consume the entire edifice of his political existence! Kill the probe report and wait for the consequences. That’s the only warning that anyone may wish to sound to the President’s ears since a word, as they say, should be enough for the wise!
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