Friday, April 24, 2015

No hiding place for NNPC looters - Buhari

FOR public officials and their cronies stealing the country blind through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the day of reckoning beckons. The thumping victory of Muhammadu Buhari in the March 28 presidential election was followed last week by the World Bank’s backing for his resolve to closely scrutinize the corporation. With persistence, the reign of impunity and unbridled looting will, hopefully, soon be over at the state-owned oil company. The incoming government must ensure that everyone involved in corrupt practice in the corporation is detected, investigated, prosecuted and punished.

Having coasted to victory on the promise to halt the pervasive corruption that defines the current administration and on his own reputation for accountability, Buhari has no choice but to, first, undertake a detailed probe and audit of the NNPC operations and account and, thereafter, break the corrupt monolith into a lean holding company. The executives, petroleum ministry and Presidency officials that have for so long gorged on the treasury through the NNPC should not get away with their loot. The World Bank’s backing should also put paid to some misguided calls that the in-coming administration should not “waste” time on probes. We disagree.

The magnitude of NNPC’s malfeasance demands one. Corruption is encouraged by both the incentives and opportunities to be corrupt. And so, the World Bank’s Chief Economist for Africa, Francisco Ferreira, said, “One norm that has to change is the norm of impunity.” A series of audits and reports has uncovered horrendous graft, unauthorised spending, alleged secret accounts and brazen theft. Described by The Economist of London as one of the world’s “most opaque” national oil companies, the NNPC unilaterally determines how much subsidy and other items it is entitled to and simply deducts. Global audit firm, KPMG, reported that between 2007 and 2009, for instance, it over-billed the government by N28.5 billion in subsidy deductions. In 2013, Switzerland-based non-governmental organisation, Erklarung von Bern, alleged that $6.8 billion was siphoned in crude revenues. The Finance Ministry complained in September 2007 that the corporation failed to remit $5.2 billion to the government.

For a company responsible for the country’s interest in the oil and gas sector that provides over 70 per cent of government revenues and 90 per cent of export earnings, this corporation must be made accountable. The NNPC has become a law unto itself and, as noted by Democracy Network, an NGO, “it is accountable to no one.” The veracity of this was confirmed by Petroleum Resources Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, who pointedly told a parliamentary committee that the NNPC had the right under law to spend part of its revenue without recourse to the parliament despite the constitutional provision that all revenues accruing to ministries, departments and agencies of the government must be remitted to the Federation Account.

An organisation rated by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2007 to be “a source of corruption and national shame” and in March this year, to be “among the most secretive oil groups in the world,” can only continue to be so only with presidential and ministerial complicity. Successive Nigerian presidents have, according to an analyst, turned the NNPC into their “personal ATM.” A former presidential media adviser, in his memoirs, detailed how the then President would simply demand money from the NNPC group managing director for activities that should normally be funded by MDAs. There are allegations that the NNPC partly funds the re-election campaigns of sitting presidents.

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