23 Apr 2008
The Nigerian House of Representatives has adopted a motion for a public hearing on the operations and activities of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation NNPC and its subsidiaries from 1999 to 2008. The motion aims at "uncovering the causes of the apparent rot, sharp practices and looting that have permeated all facets of the operations of the sector as well as to unmask the perpetrators of these economic crimes against the nation." From the tone of the debate on the floor of the House prior to adopting the motion, it was clear that there was a foregone conclusion that there is certainly fraud in the oil sector and that there was no proper way to determine how much oil is lifted from Nigeria. The 26-member commission has no doubt that the task before them is both sensitive and Herculean. One newspaper article referred to it as “the mother of all probes”. The speaker of the House was strenuously trying to tell his colleagues not to use the probe as a witch hunt against an individual but it will be difficult to convince supporters of the former president that this is not directed at their man especially as the probe period largely corresponds to the time that Obasanjo was president of Nigeria.
Most Nigerians generally believe that there is stinking corruption in the oil sector and the step being taken by the House of Representatives to redress the situation, though salutary is more of a gamble given the powerful nature of the interest groups and individuals that are wrapped in the financial melee at NNPC and Co. The history of shady deals at NNPC is long.
Back in the late 70’s there was an outcry in Nigeria when it was reported that the sum of $2.8 billion oil money got missing. A commission of inquiry was set up to investigate the allegation and the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti figured prominently among the citizens that tried to convince the commission of the theft of the oil money. The commission concluded that there was no money missing. An exasperated and frustrated Fela had to use his music titled ‘Army Arrangement’ to castigate the then Obasanjo military regime for the alleged cover up. In 2005 two rear admirals of the Nigerian army were court-martialled for their alleged involvement in the attempted theft of thousands of tons of Nigerian oil by an international crime syndicate operating from Eastern Europe.
In August 2007, the president of the Corporate Council on Africa, Stephen Hayes said that Nigeria was losing $14 billion annually to oil bunkering.
Public edifice lost to fire
The oil industry is at the centre of the corruption that has stalled Nigerian development for decades. No matter from which angle you analyze the issue of corruption in Nigeria, you will not fail to see it emanating from and gravitating around a nucleus centered in the oil industry.
The oil boom of the seventies enabled Nigeria to embark on mega-projects that produced many millionaire contractors overnight. The get rich syndrome fueled uncontrolled corruption and many people that eventually emerged on the political scene in Nigeria had had their hands soiled with illegal money. As time rolled by, money increasingly became a sort of deity for Nigerians and there was unrestrained scramble to amass wealth and equally unrestrained methods to cover up illegal deeds. Nigeria has lost important architectural edifices to fire of likely criminal origin. It is generally believed that the buildings were burnt to destroy incriminating fraud documents. Some memorable buildings that were victims in an alleged cover-up that became pronounced in the eighties include the Cocoa House Ibadan, the NET building in Lagos, the Federal capital accounts office in Abuja and the Independence building at Marina, Lagos.
The elected representatives may be unaware that they are tackling an awesome object that has a long history and deep seated tap roots. In most of Africa, some of these sectors are treated as state secrets and as such ordinary citizens can never know how much resources are taken from the continent. You need to gauge your country to be sure that it is stable enough to withstand the earthquake associated with such probes and the resultant aftershocks. No wonder the Speaker of the House of Representatives asked the members whether they had any idea of what they were about to start? And a member contributing to the debate summed it up like this; "We are going to open a can of worms. By the time we do that, this chamber will not be able to accommodate big and small worms. By the time the exercise is successfully completed, we will be making history." I wish them good luck.
Njei Moses Timah