The findings and recommendations of the Nuhu Ribadu Special Petroleum Revenue Task Force is the latest ammunition in the war against corruption
President Goodluck Jonathan shrugged aside insinuations trailing the leakage of the Special Petroleum Revenue Task Force led by Nuhu Ribadu to officially receive the report last Friday at the Aso Villa. According to a presidential aide, the President is more interested in what the report can help him achieve in the anti-corruption war than worrying about its leakage. The report had leaked to the media before the President ordered that it be officially presented to him. Many political reasons are being attributed to this but Jonathan appeared unruffled by this as he described the report as an additional support to the anti-corruption crusade.
The report, which covers the operations of the oil and gas industry in Nigeria between 2002 and 2011, alleges that Nigeria lost over N4.64 trillion, an equivalent of the 2011 national budget, in a decade to underhand deals between multi-national oil companies and government officials. It affirmed that oil and gas companies owe the treasury more than $3 billion in royalties and $566 million signature bonuses. In addition, it was found that the government handed out seven discretionary licences worth $183 million in signature bonuses not yet paid.
For instance, it alleges that Shell owes the federal government $946.87 million (N137.97 billion) gas proceeds from Bonga oil field. This was captured in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC’s, statement of account for the year ended December 31, 2009. Out of this, N17.33 billion is the tax payable which the Oil Major did not remit. Similarly, the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas, NNLG, was found to have underpaid $29 billion in the past ten years. This represents the “cumulative deficit” between the price of gas obtained in the international market and what NLNG paid for it.
The report may also help the government determine the solvency, or otherwise, of the NNPC which has been a subject of controversy for some time. The management of the corporation insisted that it is solvent while Remi Babalola, a former minister of state for finance, revealed during the Musa Yar’Adua era that it was bankrupt and could not pay its creditors. The Ribadu Report confirmed that NNPC’s audited financial statement of 2009 showed that the corporation and its 16 subsidiaries incurred operational deficits of N298 billion. That is its most recent audited account as there is none yet for 2010 and 2011.
Apart from this operational deficit, NNPC owes its petroleum products suppliers $3.6 billion (N565 billion), as against N27 billion owed it; $2.7 billion (N423 billion) of this debt was contracted between January 1 and December 31, 2011. This revelation is expected to aide President Jonathan unravel the fuel subsidy heist in 2011 as it is the same accounting period. The government paid over N1.7 trillion as oil subsidy as at December 31, 2011, more than 220 per cent increase over about N500 billion spent in 2010. If these claims are paid, it will take the subsidy paid in 2011 to over N2.1 trillion.
It also found that the NNPC made over N86.6 billion from forex round tripping in contravention of the Central Bank of Nigeria’s regulations. This is a major attempt in recent times by the government to find out the arrears of leakage in its coffers. Officials have therefore started to praise the courage of the President to probe into these areas without excising his regime. They see in it a rare determination to tackle the scourge of corruption in the land. For instance, Doyin Okupe, senior special assistant to the President on public affairs, said in a statement in Abuja last week that Jonathan should be commended for his increasing determination to find a holistic solution to the epidemic corruption in the country. According to him, it was notable that the President ordered the probe of the oil industry for the period of ten years which also includes the tenure of his administration: “No President in our history has gone this far and this explains why the rot in our system has persisted for so long.”
Against insinuations that the report was leaked by an unknown person for the fear that the petroleum ministry, which appears indicted by it, might try to edit or sit on it, Okupe said this should not arise as the presidency was well aware of Ribadu’s antecedents before giving him the job. “President Jonathan approved the appointment of a well-known anti-corruption crusader, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, who ran against him at the presidential poll on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN. It is also noteworthy that the secretary of the committee, Mr Supo Sasore, SAN, was a former attorney general of Lagos State under an ACN government. President Jonathan’s unwavering and commendable determination to fight corruption is clearly demonstrated by his approval of the appointment of credible Nigerians, anti-corruption crusaders and members of the opposition party in the committee.”
Okupe may have a point. Jonathan readily adopted the House of Representatives Subsidy report and promptly forwarded it to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for thorough investigation and prosecution. Almost simultaneously, the Ministry of Finance set up the Aig-Imokhuede committee to verify the subsidy payments. After the submission of its report, Jonathan retained the same committee to re-verify all the claims. The harmonised report has been submitted to the EFCC, which was also ordered by the President to carry out its own independent investigation on the matter. With the Ribadu Report, the coast appears now clear for Jonathan to go the whole hog by holding the suspects to account.
“The efforts of President Jonathan have also helped in exposing the fraud in the Petroleum Subsidy regime dug up by the Aig-Imokhuede committee. The indicted persons are currently being tried in various courts,” argued Okupe. “For the purpose of clarity, President Jonathan’s resolve to fight against corruption and dig out all the rots in the system should not be misconstrued or politicised by the opposition as if it is his administration that is guilty of corruption, rather, he should be commended for taking the bold step that will ultimately sanitise the policy and the system.”
However, Diezani Allison-Madueke, petroleum minister’s initial reaction indicated there may be a review of the report to come out with a white paper: “There will be some areas where the government may have a slightly different opinion and will put its point of view to the committee.” Such reviews in the past have been greeted with mixed feelings because of the suspicion that the review committee may end up watering down the report. But the confidence in the presidency appears to give the signal that this may be a shift from the old order. So, is Jonathan gearing up to confront the corruption monster? Time will tell.