Opinion: On the kind of money Jonathan permits people to steal

by Emmanuel Ugwu


This relentless plundering, this progression from stealing in thousands, to stealing in millions, to stealing in billions and now to stealing of trillions, represents a dozen opportunity costs.

President Goodluck Jonathan received the forensic audit report on the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation on February 2, 2015. It was served like revenge – cold! – almost one whole year after the Federal Government commissioned the audit in response to public outcry over the claim made by then Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Lamido Sanusi, that $20 billion was not remitted to the Federation Account by NNPC.

The submission happened a day after former CBN governor, Charles Soludo, released a clincher on the state of the economy, a highly charged riposte to the judgment of his person and his tenure by Madam Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy.  Soludo estimated that a lot of money has disappeared under Okonjo-Iweala’s watch : 30 trillion naira! (Don’t imagine the zeroes, please!).

Soludo wrote, ‘’now add the missing $20 billion from the NNPC. You promised a forensic audit report ‘soon’ and more than a year later the report itself is still missing’’.

The submission of the report reawakened embers in the memory. Only very few people still remember that there was a shakedown of the NNPC, the holy of holies of corruption in Nigeria. We had moved on, not in the least because we supposed that meat will come out of the eater. There was a more current and important missing, the missing of human beings. Chibok girls and others taken into captivity by the death cult named Boko Haram. The submission had a necromantic effect. It recalled the ghost.

On the day Okonjo-Iweala announced the appointment of PriceWaterHouseCoopers for the auditing, she said the investigation would take 16 weeks. PWC does not have a reputation for clumsiness. If anything, it has an almost unblemished track record professionalism and integrity. It is arguably the best pick anyone could make for such tasks. So why did the submission of the report take so long?

Perhaps there were too many books to examine. Or the PWC people were confronted by a byzantine accounting culture that first had to be deciphered by outsiders.

Some reports say the audit was completed on schedule and was ready for submission. The only problem was that the Jonathan administration did not want to glimpse the picture of the secrets of its painted sepulcher.

The submission was apparently arranged to extinguish the Soludo question. It is less than two weeks to the Presidential polls. This is the time you need weighty endorsements. Not a red capped Professor overseas stoking excitement in your challenger’s camp.

At the submission, the Nigeria Country Senior Partner of PriceWaterHouseCoopers, Uyi Akpata, told the President, ‘’it is a privilege for us to have carried out this exercise on behalf of the government and I hope that you will find this report useful.’’

President Jonathan responded with a very instructive statement: ‘’I assure you that this is a precious document that the Accountant General will keep and I will have my own copy, because even if I leave office, maybe when I write my memoir I will use some part of it’’.

So this audit report is a keepsake. And it will be kept because of its potential value as reference material- just in case the retired President Jonathan of the future decides to gift us his own version of My Watch.

Jonathan’s response is not strange. It would have been out of character for him to speak firmly, to pledge to bring justice to the plunderers.

President Jonathan has set up more committees than any Nigerian leader but he is not known to have implemented the report of any. The sole exception, of course, is Femi Okurounmu’s committee, which was set up to recommend modalities for the National Conference jamboree. That’s the kind of Jonathan is disposed to acting on. One that indicts no crony: one that instead furnishes him an excuse to dispense patronage. As we witnessed, he awarded himself the privilege of nominating the bulk of delegates. And were the pockets of his favorites fatter for participating in the talkshow – even if some of them made news by sleeping through it!

But when the issue is filth, when it is grand heist, President Jonathan receives the report and drops it quickly, like a redhot horseshoe,  into the hands of a smaller committee for filtering and that’s all we ever hear of it.

Why? President Jonathan refrains from committing himself to accepting that somebody has merited indictment even when all the evidence is out in the open. Even if you are Abba Moro, the man who authored the Nigerian Immigration Service job scam and bloody stampede, you are still okay. You remain Jonathan’s minister.

In his campaign rallies, Jonathan talks up his capacity for leniency. While seeking to contrast himself with his apparently stern rival, Jonathan introduces himself as the hater of jails; the one who would rather shield you than permit you to get your deserts. No, I won’t send you to jail because some valuable was guilty of tempting you to make it disappear!

In my own city of Enugu, President Jonathan, a PhD, asked a rally of thousands, ‘’how much did Jim Nwobodo stole? Money not up to the price of a Peugeot and Buhari regime send him to jail. Is that good enough?’’

Now Jonathan has a sense of proportion that is difficult to calibrate. While you reckon that the theft of a coin makes a thief, Jonathan believes and propagates the idea that there is some threshold, a magic sum ostensibly known only to him, that someone has to labour hard to appropriate before they qualify to be numbered among transgressors. That concept of relativity spewed forth that viral and virulent wisecrack,’. “stealing is not corruption’’.

This paradigm shift of sort, this transformational departure from logic, should have precipitated the evacuation from Nigerian prisons of all pickpockets and petty thieves who, for want of more courage or better opportunity, stole small stuff. But President Jonathan has yet to start opening the prison gates. He is yet to demonstrate his distinct magnanimity by granting a sweeping pardon to all imprisoned lowly thieves nationwide. His pardon is reserved for the likes of Alams, the cross dresser.

So the odds are that if the amount established to have disappeared in the audit report is in the realms of stealing, that is, not equal to or greater than corruption, the audit is a wasted venture. The white paper will reach his desk and then end up in the disused part of his library labeled WHITE PAPERS.

Seriously, these brazen thefts and dizzying figures speak to an uncontrollable hemorrhage.

It’s a testament of the absence of a sense of ownership on the part of the taxpayers that they feel no loss even as the robbers escalate their pen operation  and it is a testament to the resilience of the Nigerian state that it has so far managed to withstand the concerted effort of bandits in high places to bankrupt it.

This Lugard country has taken an incredible journey. After 100 years of statehood and 54 years as an independent nation, we have recorded the most progress in raising the bar of public theft. We have so succeeded that our monies go missing but we don’t miss them. How can we miss our stolen money when we don’t miss our stolen daughters? That is why an incumbent President faced with a tough re-election bid markets his elastic tolerance for national robbers in order to gain votes.

Now, the theft of “money not up to the price of a Peugeot’’ in the eighties has evolved to the  procurement of two bulletproof BMW cars at 225 million naira. The generation that stole ‘’money not up to a Peugeot’’ has begotten a much more ambitious one. The children sent to rob by their fathers are not sneaking in: they are kicking the door open!

This relentless plundering, this progression from stealing in thousands, to stealing in millions, to stealing in billions and now to stealing of trillions, represents a dozen opportunity costs.

It is the reason our rural folks drink from streams in which they bathe and do their laundry. It is the reason our public schools, the refuge of the children of the poor fleeing illiteracy and ignorance, lack twenty first century laboratory equipment. It is the reason our hospitals perform life-saving surgeries with candlelight. It is the reason hunger has trumped human dignity, the reason why alms now served as arms of politics, the reason why stomach infrastructure brings the young and the aged into scrimmage.

President Jonathan said that ‘’ the kind of figure people bandy in the papers look so ridiculous’’.

The kind of money he permits people to steal without consequence is anything but ridiculous. But when you have a warped sense of humor, you can see comedy in the figures that are reported stolen in the country you lead!


– Emmanuel Ugwu tweets from @emmaugwutheman

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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