by IK Muo
The year 2012 started for Nigerians on the wrong footing as President Jonathan gave us a poisoned chalice as New Year gift. The shock and angst across the land was palpable as budgets were thrown into disarray and people were stranded. A mother of all protests followed and lasted longer than our usual fuel subsidy protests which have become regular ‘tourist attractions’ since the advent of SAP. The protest suffered a ‘sudden death’ because while we were still at the war front, the generals signed an armistice. And there was nothing tangible to hold on to except the government’s take-it-or-leave-it offer of N97/litre, a promise of a definitely unsure SURE programme and a threat to ‘we, the people’. We were thus in a situation in which the government felt that it conceded so much while the people felt that the government was wallowing in wickedness. That was surely a foundation for future crisis because none of the parties was satisfied with the outcome. Now, six months after, the question is: How far with the promises, expectations, outcomes and the future?
The president immediately issued a ‘force majeure’, arguing with a straight face that since the price of fuel was kindly reduced to N97, there was no money for the SURE programme. So, apart from few SURE buses which some of us see occasionally and the religious release of the SURE figures by the Ministry of Finance, not much has happened. The same goes for the committee that supposedly provided the window for organised labour to ventilate its grievances about subsidy et al. All you hear on that front is a loud silence! The government also promised to tackle corruption and the cost of government. On these two issues, we are still playing the waiting game, but it is noted that government recently sacked the management of NNPC while the bosses at the ministry, PPPRA and DPR – the big masquerades in the subsidy magic – are still unshakable like Mount Zion. It will also be recalled that immediately after the subsidy wars, the EFCC invaded the PPPRA, DPR and Ministry of Petroleum. As at today, we are still waiting.
The government also enthroned MBC (management by committees). This is ‘comitology’ at work, which Northcote Parkinson defines as the tendency to continually expand government business into a complex web of committees and commissions which causes the decay of the supra-system. The resort to committees and endless expansion of the bureaucracy is a measure of the incapacity of the operators; the ‘coefficient of inefficiency’ of the system (See Abraham Ogbodo, ‘A government by committees’, Guardian, [February 26, 2012] and C. Northcote Parkinson, Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress, London, John Murray 1958). In any case, the government set up two PIB committees, and others on governance and controls at NNPC, forensic audit of NNPC, restructuring the Ministry of Petroleum, petroleum revenues and debts and diagnostic report of refineries. Only the PIB Committee 1 has submitted the draft report and we do not know how far others have gone.
Another key development is that the Senate and the House of Representatives separately decided to probe the operations of the subsidy programme. Why these two arms of the NASS will be wasting their time and our resources duplicating efforts and complicating matters is what baffles me, but methinks it is about sitting and standing allowances. Anyway, while the Senate which started earlier is yet to complete its work, the House has done so, opened the usual can of worms and the controversies have not ceased since then. There is the $620,000 bribe which both Otedola and Lawan agreed exchanged hands. Both of them, however, claim to have ulterior motives for the exchange. We can leave the motive alone and charge both for giving and receiving bribes and Otedola for attempting to pervert the course of justice. Secondly, there is a police report that more than $10 million exchanged hands between the Lawan committee and several marketers. Thirdly, a marketer has gone to court and obtained an injunction: no arrest, no investigation, no detention, no prosecution; indeed, no nothing! There have also been comments in the media to the effect that the House report on subsidy has been compromised because of the Otedola-Lawan tango.
It appears that there are concerted efforts to ‘rubbish’ the Lawan committee report. But another committee set up by the FG has established another $450 billion fraud against the same oil marketers; the minister of Petroleum had admitted openly that the subsidy regime was manipulated; there were proven evidences of deliberate fouling of the process by individuals and institutions including under-payments, contracts to unregistered firms or those who did not even apply, ordering about 20 million litres more than we need daily, the extant audit report, etc. So, what should be done now is to prosecute all who have cases hanging around their necks, including the Lawan-Otedola duo and those who gave or received bribe in the entire probe process. Those who were cleared because there was a handshake with the committee should also be brought in.
My opinion is that six months after the 2012 subsidy wars, it has been all motion and no movement. Government’s promises have fizzled out and it appears they were just to get people off the streets. The opportunities to take a definite stand against corruption, whic h this subsidy war and consequent revelations have provided, may have been lost by the president, whose brand-rating has diminished since January. But it is not yet late; something can still be done, and the only thing to be done is to bring the culprits to book. Rubbishing the subsidy probe report, or even grand-standing about new refineries when the existing ones have become cesspools of corruption and inefficiency, is not in our national interest. And, for those who steal the country dry, beware! The crime against humanity is still an evolving concept. Before long, it will include naked corruption, and those of you who think they have escaped the Nigerian system will face the International Criminal Court. Even without ICC, the Ibori case has shown us that one day, ‘monkey go go market, e no go return’. As for those on ‘this side’, it is now obvious that we rather retreated so early – and in a disorderly manner – in January. There is no monitoring arrangement and no standing ‘occupy force’ to strike whenever necessary. Even the alliance partners and commanders were thrown into confusion and enmity because of the way the ceasefire was announced. That is why the victors have forgotten the promises of those days and have started treating us with disdain again. This is a lesson for another day.
*Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija. This piece was originally printed in Business Day.