Fuel Subsidy Scam: Where Is Team Jonathan?
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On Wednesday, the Honorable Farouk Lawan-led House of Representatives ad-hoc committee on fuel subsidy regime laid their findings on the floor of the House. Whoever that has read that report and is not angry with the government must either be one of
the indicted criminals or down with dementia.
â€¨We found out that the subsidy regime, as operated between the period under review (2009 and 2011), were fraught with endemic corruption and entrenched inefficiency. Much of the amount claimed to have been paid as subsidy was actually not for consumed PMS. Government officials made nonsense of the PSF Guidelines due mainly to sleaze and, in some other cases, incompetence. It is therefore apparent that the insistence by top Government officials that the subsidy figures was for products consumed was a clear attempt to mislead the Nigerian people.
To refresh your memory, I will take you back to December, 2011. The event was a town hall meeting organized by the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria. It was designed to create an opportunity for the government to engage the Nigerian people on why the administration needed to increase the pump price of fuel. Prior to that meeting, several key actors in government had argued that Nigeria was spending a staggering sum of N1.3 trillion to subsidize petroleum products; an amount they claimed was unsustainable. In the town hall meeting, this same argument was reechoed. The government was no longer ready to throw away money that should be for infrastructural development. They were set to build schools, hospitals, refineries, railways, and every good thing imaginable with the money. Nigerians were advised to endure the pains which would be for a brief period. After the pains would arrive pleasure.â€¨ â€¨That meeting was important to some of us, because it laid bare the real sides of people who hitherto were seen as populists. The Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, her petroleum counterpart, Diezani Allison-Madueke and the Central Bank Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi were those who came to represent the government of President Jonathan. On hand to lend them support was the governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, who unwittingly demolished the remaining of the goodwill he acquired during his years as NLC president, a goodwill which was, albeit, acquired on falsehood. Many discerning minds wonder why people still - at least up to that moment - believed he was sincere while in NLC.
In all their arguments in favour of the insensitive imposition of petrol tax on Nigerians, none agreed to acknowledge the role official corruption played in ballooning the amount paid for subsidy from the appropriated N240 billion for 2011 to over N1 trillion. Well-meaning Nigerians told the government in clear terms to get serious with the fight against corruption and block all loopholes through which money was leaking into the ready pockets of the criminals. The Jonathan team at that meeting created the impression of government as one helpless institution that had been overpowered by vested interests in the petroleum industry. Sanusi of CBN achieved a new grade in rabble-rousing when he argued that people smuggled fuel outside our borders because our neighbouring countries were buying the product costlier than we did, and that the difference in prices was 'big enough to bribe everybody from here to the border'. In his grand plot to deceive Nigerians, Sanusi didn't accept that people are paid to man our borders, and that it was an indictment on both government and those people on the borders that criminals successfully smuggle petrol out. He only took us to Greece and back, and then threatened us with a combination of the Greece and Italian experiences if we refused to take the punishment.
At a point in the debate, Okonjo Iweala told us to 'help them' catch the thieves. That was an embarrassingly irresponsible line dropping out of the mouth of a senior government official.
For Diezani, she didn't know how many litres of fuel Nigerians were consuming per day. But she knew we needed to save over a trillion naira. Her arrogance in the whole saga was particularly irritating.â€¨Adams Oshiomhole in his debate was lacking in finesse and sound logic. He told Nigerians that fuel was the only commodity that hadn't increased in price since 2007. That was enough reason to jack it up. For Adams, the prices of things must increase from time to time. I wonder where he learnt that from. He even ventured into the ridiculous, advancing the notion that Goodluck Jonathan was showing uncommon courage by going for a decision as unpopular as subsidy removal. To downplay on corruption, he told us how Nigeria will go up in flames if state governors were giving us the access to conduct post-budget auditing in their various states. Those whose post-budget auditing would stir up riots include Mr Oshiomhole himself, the reformer. That was a new low for the Edo Governor.
Although that team of mischief left the debate thoroughly defeated, and promised to 'consult further' before implementing their evil withdrawal of subsidy, they refused to further consult with anybody, and went ahead to stir an eruption that brought Nigeria to a halt, and pushed the country very nearly off the cliff. To quell the uprising, they deployed military might and ordered the men to kill and silence protesters, bribed and or intimidate NLC which has a history of sabotaging all the struggles they have ever led since the Oshiomhole years.
The rest is sad history, but the outcome is the Farouk-led committee's report. What many suspected has been verified by that panel: that the criminals are the same people in government; and that they were desperately pushing for the subsidy removal so as to free up enough money for the sustenance of their greed and avarice.
The chickens have come home to roost, and here's the time to ask further questions. Where is team Jonathan?
Of particular interest is Diezani Madueke, the petroleum Minister who, interestingly, is the head of the board of NNPC, that corruption exploration and refining outfit. In the heat of the brawl, she quickly assembled a group of Nigerians with proven integrity, christened them a task force and appointed Nuhu Ribadu its chair, all in a bid to sell the image of a reformer. Yet Diezani is sitting atop a government corporation that steals billions, daily, from the same government of which Diezani is a key member. Diezani was out to deceive the Nigerian people. And she almost succeeded, but for the doggedness of many. Is she still in this government presiding as a minister? Is she waiting for Nigerians to take over the streets again before she resigns and returns the billions in her possession?
Let's assume Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala wasn't part of the massive stealing and was defending the policy based on what she thought were legitimate figures. Now the truth is out. What is the honorable thing for her to do? Is she waiting to be reminded to tender her resignation immediately and apologise to the Nigerian people for making herself part of that wicked design to inflict untold hardship on the long-suffering Nigerians? It will be to her ultimate shame to continue in office now that it has been ascertained that fuel subsidy removal has nothing to do with unsustainability. Let us assume again that Mrs. Ngozi wasn't aware; now she knows, we expect her resignation tomorrow if there's any jot of guilt - or milk of mercy - still left in her conscience.
Malam Sanusi was recently quoted as saying the entire subsidy must go. He complained that 'they' had not saved anything yet from the one they removed. To save enough, he is proposing a blanket removal. Well, I think the stage is set for Sanusi to remove himself first. He presided over all the illegal withdrawals from the CBN to pay for non-existent subsidy. I had expected his letter of resignation to be forwarded to the president first thing Thursday morning as a way of apologizing to Nigerians, and informing us of his lack of knowledge in the earth-quaking stealing that characterized the subsidy regime. It is possible that he is yet to study the report in full. I still expect to hear, tomorrow morning, that Sanusi has removed himself from the CBN. He needs a place in the streets of Nigeria where he will learn that his statistics at the apex bank are divorced from the realities on ground.
As for Oshiomhole, I expect Edo people to reward him with an overwhelming rejection at the polls for the shameful role he played in impoverishing Nigerians under the guise of subsidy removal.â€¨And just for a brief reason why these people should leave immediately, here again, is the last line from the paragraph I started with:
It is therefore apparent that the insistence by top Government officials that the subsidy figures was for products consumed was a clear attempt to mislead the Nigerian people. I didn't say that, the Farouk committee report did. And I believe it in its entirety.
By Chinedu Ekeke