Tick tock trenching on awe, the clock’s slender hand clicks nigh on decision time. The omens are as bad as nagging. For the preferment of a mere eighty-eight persons, the Nigerian government had overthrown the country’s directive policy of State and replaced it with sheer thefts.
The people rose frothily to protest the evil in mid-January’s harsh and sultry weather but President Goodluck Jonathan had primly shadow-boxed the issue on the 1st of January by raising the spectre of Nigeria’s all but certain collapse unless the protesting populace agreed to 117% petrol tax.
President Jonathan at the time showed no financial account of the facts ringing his alarm. Or, as much as broached how ÔéŽ1.2 trillion in the Nigerian treasury dis-appeared. Jonathan had hedged and weaved, and like a political Cassandra foretelling the demise of his benighted barony, squelched the first questions of probity by instead focusing his direr statements on the 117% petrol tax needed to replenish what was by then Nigeria’s robbed treasury.
The people were not taken in by that artless talk. They heard Jonathan’s alarm, alright, but they shrugged it off. For by this time, the people had torn Jonathan’s sanctimony mask to judge him by stricter standard of suspicion.
Thousands of Nigerians demurred on the streets in protests, both in the north and west of the country; sloganeering in revolution-speak, and calling out amid the noise for the overthrow of Jonathan’s regime itself. “Monday the 9th January was the day of rage in Nigeria,” a lawyer wrote in two national newspapers of that day.
Without further wiggle room to dissemble by framing the 117% petrol tax as a demand and supply pricing matter, Jonathan caved in. Now, Nigeria’s government-organized theft of ÔéŽ1.2 trillion had to be publicly investigated and punished.
The people were far too bent to retake their country. On cue, the country’s House of Representatives entered the fray, quickly setting up a probe committee, but the committee was sullied in its tail-end proceeding over a $620,000 bribe offered by Femi Otedola (an indicted oil funds thief) and accepted by Representative Farouk Lawan; Chairman of the 8-member Probe committee. Yet, Farouk Lawan's criminalness notwithstanding, the people of Nigeria insisted.
The Committee Probe findings must be prosecuted as the true investigated facts, despite Farouk's bribe, the people said - almost to the discomfiture of General Olusegun Obasanjo, who, for likely business links with Femi Otedola, got ahead of himself a week earlier, to provide gravitas for Otedola’s later squeal of his bribe money to Farouk Lawan.
General Obasanjo chose his own moment. He lampooned the country’s Parliament as a whole in the likely wretched hope that by so doing, the people of Nigeria would rise to the bait and renounce their further demands for retribution for the oil subsidy thefts. But the people of Nigeria refused to rise to it or fall for the trick. They rather stood firmly on the probe result.
Better educated and wiser than General Obasanjo, the people intelligently separated Farouk Lawan’s personal conduct from the un-tainted reputation of the seven other members of the Oil subsidy Probe committee and gave credence to the investigation report by demanding arrests and trials.
Smartly saving the probe, as they did, by turning General Obasanjo’s artifice into a damp squib, the people of Nigeria pushed the wheels of the justice wagon to roll on, because what the committee Probe had un-covered was far more serious than General Obasanjo’s petty exaggeration.
The House Committee, for example, found as fact that the executive arm of government in Nigeria operated close to becoming a criminal organization under President Jonathan. A government-organized theft of ÔéŽ1.2 trillion, featuring the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the Petroleum Price Regulatory Agency (PPRA) and the Finance Ministry, was laid bare in details on the floor of the House of Representatives.
That troika of NNPC, PPRA, and Finance Ministry, schemed by conspiracy to execute Nigeria’s treasury raid through co-ordinated and intentionally false entries aided by negligent paper-work, all sounding in crimes.
“But i don’t manage the economy,” said President Jonathan, coyly pointing a finger at Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; his appointed Minister of Finance whom he’d publicly designated last August as the “co-ordinating Minister". “I myself don’t have the figures of how much refined petrol Nigeria imports daily to enable me cross-check the veracity of the invoices paid as fuel subsidy reimbursement”, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala later testified in her exculpation at the House committee probe.
For sure, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala does not know many useful things. “I don’t know the details of NNPC off-shore bank account at JP Morgan in the United States,” she also publicly confessed last week, to update Nigerians on the un-ending list of what she does not know.
For a Minister assigned by President Jonathan to co-ordinate the economy, Ngozi Iweala’s publicly confessed ignorance of the finances of NNPC - which accounts for close to 80% of all of Nigeria’s yearly income - says all there is to know about how Nigerians are mis-governed into poverty.
By an almost criminal design, no one else in government has better than Ngozi-Iweala’s bare knowledge of Nigeria’s finances. “General Obasanjo had issued a memo in 2002 through the then Finance Minister, Mallam Adamu Ciroma, forbidding the Nigerian Customs from boarding berthing oil vessels in Nigeria to verify actual oil quantities shipped”, said the Head of Nigeria’s Customs Department, rather tearfully, to the House Probe Panel.
“In effect, the Customs Department cannot ascertain anything other than what these oil suppliers present through their mostly forged bills of lading, since their mother ships were very often berthed either in Cotonou or Lome,” he added.
As soon as this scam burst, the country’s Minister of Petroleum, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, fretfully sought self-exoneration amid a scrimmage of internal probes she had herself set up to sort of bolt the stables after the horses have bolted. Whereas, she still can’t account for Nigeria’s daily oil imports, or, produce tank-farm verified audits of the quantities of petrol trucked out inside Nigeria on each day.
And so, tick tock trenching on awe, the clock’s slenderer hand clicks toward Nigeria’s decision moment. A committee set up by President Jonathan to list the indicted persons and distil the investigated facts found by the House of Representatives, was ordered to deliver its findings to President Jonathan at 5.30pm on July 13, 2012. A certain Mr. Aig Imoukhuede heads that committee which is scheduled by that presidential order to submit the list of oil subsidy funds indictees.
“We will prosecute all the indicted oil thieves,” said Nigeria’s often-suspected attorney-general, Mohammed Adoke. But not a few would hiss at Mohammed Adoke’s oral assurance. The people stoutly define this ÔéŽ1.2 trillion theft as the worst ever in Nigeria’s 52-year-history, occurring in a country where a High Court Judge sentenced a man to death by hanging last week, for stealing a mere two thousand Naira (ÔéŽ2,000), whilst armed.
Without a doubt, the people of Nigeria are right. For this government-organized theft of ÔéŽ1.2 trillion in Nigeria is equivalent to six (6) years of the total national earnings of neighbouring Republic of Liberia, at 2004 figures.
For that staggering amount of thefts in Nigeria, the suspicion with which President Jonathan is now held on the streets is high. In truth, this is the largest-ever theft recorded in all of Africa in a single financial year. The cynical belief is now that Jonathan’s government will likely fiddle the investigated facts. But fiddling will be dicey. President Jonathan himself sorely needs acquittal of the liability for presidential negligence - at least for not having discovered this quantum of theft before the House of Representatives did.
To acquit himself cleanly, President Jonathan would ironically end up on the horns of a dilemma. For he would need to throw his close business associates to the trial courts for condign punishment, if he is to look good as a straight arrow President of Nigeria. Several of Jonathan’s (PDP) political party associates and sponsors have been indicted; including the oil company of President Jonathan’s past Minister of Interior, Capt. Emmanuel Ihenacho, and, the now recurring duo of Femi Otedola and Mike Adenuga.
For so long as the House of Representatives’ theft probe findings point only inwards, at the inner government circles, President Jonathan now has a shorter leeway for manoeuvre, but instead, a greater hurdle to cross.
He must know that by now, and, likely mulling his Hobson’s choice. He has either to sack and dock the triumvirate of Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Mrs Dizeani Allison-Madueke and the accountant-general of the federation, or, just quietly forfeit presidential authority and respect for all times by only looking for minor government officials to arraign in court as the sacrificial lambs in what is doubtless Africa’s biggest government-aided theft to date.
At 5.30pm, July 13, 2012, President Jonathan shall have started to ponder his choice, by dipping his governing reputation into an ominous beaker of acid for a genuineness test in days to come.
…………..Seyi Olu Awofeso is a Legal Practitioner in Lagos