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EDITORIAL: Buhari: A Regime That Fuels Corruption

EDITORIAL: Buhari: A Regime That Fuels Corruption

Tragically, cronyism and nepotism in Buhari’s key appointments have conflated with the working of government agencies at cross-purposes to fuel corruption.

Overwhelmed by challenges of governance, President Muhammadu Buhari has said that he is eager to leave office. He made the confession when governors of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) paid him Sallah homage in Daura, Katsina State. “It has been tough,” he quipped. The president has just 10 months for his wish to come to pass. One of the issues that have constantly gnawed at his government has been corruption. He had pledged to cripple it during the 2015 electioneering with his well-known refrain: “If we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria.” Sadly, the epidemic has become so contagious that some argue that it has now reached fairly overwhelming proportions.

Tragically, cronyism and nepotism in Buhari’s key appointments have conflated with the working of government agencies at cross-purposes to fuel corruption. A House of Representatives ad-hoc committee is currently conducting a probe into the controversial fuel subsidy regime, which has haemorrhaged the national treasury for years. It is ridiculous that no public entity, including the President, as the substantive minister of Petroleum Resources, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning or the National Assembly, with oversight powers over public expenditure, can state with certainty the quantity of fuel consumed daily in Nigeria. And hence the rightful amount of subsidy payment required for this volume.

The House estimates that Nigeria consumes between 40 and 45 million litres daily, but is worried that the NNPC Ltd uses between 65 and 100 million litres per day to determine subsidy charges as contained in its monthly reports to the Federal Accounts Allocation Committee. As such, the huge incongruity between these figures is indicative of the massive corruption that Buhari’s government has condoned for the past seven years, despite what have also been recurrent public demands for accountability over this enormous discrepancy, which have largely been to no avail. Besides, a weak regime and its complicit security personnel at our land borders cannot contain illegal petroleum product marketers, who often smuggle the subsidised fuel into neighbouring countries. This contributes to debilitating perennial shortages and inflated costs of the commodity at home.

In a motion that set the stage for the inquest, Hon. Sergius Ogun said there is evidence that subsidy charges on petrol are duplicated: “Subsidy is charged against petroleum products sales in the books of NNPC Ltd, as well as against crude oil revenue in the books of NAPIMS, to the tune of over N2 trillion,” he noted. Yet, without any empirical template, the President sought, and received legislative approval in April that hiked petrol subsidy to N4 trillion for this year. Inevitably, another Pandora’s Box will be opened at the end of the probe, as a similar investigation unfolded in 2011. Out of N2.5 trillion claimed as subsidy then, a total of N1.7 trillion was discovered to have been paid illegally to fraudsters who never imported any fuel. The key actors involved included government agencies, such as the NNPC. The revelation had then compelled the government to review subsidy payments downwards to N971 billion, as the 2013 and 2014 budgets evinced.

In addition, crude oil is still “stolen on an industrial scale” on Buhari’s watch, as the United Kingdom think-tank, Chatham House, characterised the heist in 2013. Consequently, Nigeria cannot meet its OPEC production quota of 1.8 million barrels per day, and is struggling with an output of 1.25 mpd. The Nigeria Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), Oil Producers Trade Section, and Independent Petroleum Producers Group reported an estimated $3.2 billion worth of crude oil theft between January 2021 and February this year alone. The Bonny Terminal that should receive 200,000 barrels of crude per day, had instead received a measly 3,000 barrels per day, which forced Shell to declare a force majeure in the first quarter of this year. This act of economic sabotage is perpetrated by both locals and foreign nationals, with the assistance of complicit military personnel, who have the responsibility to avert oil theft and secure our porous maritime spaces. Nobody has been held to account for this illicit trade till date.

Nigeria’s floundering anti-graft campaign is why the country is now on a fiscal cliff. Debt services gulped N1.9 trillion in the first four months of this year — exceeding the N1.3 trillion revenue within the same period. Government revenues go into private pockets, dodgy accounts of ministries, departments and agencies of government and collusive banks that have side-tracked the Treasury Single Account introduced to checkmate abuses in revenue generation. This fact came into bold relief with the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed’s revelation that N5.2 trillion of public funds are with ten MDAs. Only N53.5 billion of the amount was recovered as of April, after an 18-month effort.

With no political will to push policies through and the MDAs working in opposite directions, bureaucrats and political appointees see their offices as vast acres of diamond to be mined for personal benefits. A penal regime that allows a former Comptroller of Nigeria Customs Service, who stole N40 billion, to return just N1.5 billion in a plea bargain makes a mockery of President Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign. Again, fiscal governance that allows an Accountant-General of the Federation to allegedly siphon N109 billion is clearly ineffective.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) could have made more progress, it seems, but for the serial interference of the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN). This sparked the dissonance between the AGF and the former Chairman of the Commission, Ibrahim Magu that set the chain of events leading to Magu’s suspension and an inquest for alleged abuse of office by a panel chaired by retired Justice Ayo Salami. Strangely, the findings of the panel have not been made public. Instead, Magu was promoted to the rank of Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG) and then retired.

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