A story in the June 26 Sunday edition of the NEXT newspaper must certainly have given Diezani Alison-Madueke some headache. That is against the backdrop of her preparation for screening by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The essence of that story written by Musikilu Mojeed was enough to give any public officer cause for concern, especially someone like Alison-Madueke who was the nation’s erstwhile oil minister. Titled ‘Oil Minister, Her Jeweller, and Their Sweetheart Deal’, the story revealed how a Christopher Aire, Nigerian jeweller based in the United States, registered two companies Siseno Oil Nigeria Limited and Caligeria Oil Limited with the Corporate Affairs Commission, shortly after Alison-Madueke became oil minister last year. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. The directors of the two companies were exercising their fundamental rights to do business in Nigeria.
However, the twist in the tale is that shortly after these companies were registered, they started lifting between them 60,000 barrels of crude oil per day. And the newspaper’s story shows that this is a gross violation of the guideline in respect of the lifting of crude oil by any company. The guideline approved in June 2010 by no less a person than Alison-Madueke states that any lifter of crude oil must show that it is a “bona fide end user”, must be established and globally recognised large volume trader, “with evidence of their global network, their activities and volumes of crude oil handled in the last three years.” Besides this and other provisions too, the guideline clearly states: “The NNPC further wishes to emphasise that there is nothing like ‘Presidential’, ‘Task Force’, ‘Ministerial’, ‘Diplomatic’ or any other form of privileged allocation, which can be peddled by hawkers or anyone”.
Many people who read that story looked forward to Alison-Madueke’s date with the Senate last week. The entrance of the “most beautiful female minister” drew jeers and banters from the senators. Her grilling, however, was very tepid. Although Alison-Madueke was asked about allegations against her in the media, she dismissed them as the handiwork of her detractors. Perhaps, none of the senators read the NEXT story more than three days after it had been published. If they did, the details of the story should have prompted more probing questions. The slap on the wrist given to the new minister is a telling statement of conspiracy among the nation’s political elite on the anti-corruption war. Yet this is a Senate, which is largely composed of new members.
Having now been confirmed by the Senate for a ministerial position, we can safely assume that Alison-Madueke will be returned to the oil ministry by President Goodluck Jonathan to continue the ‘good work’ she has been doing. But this issue of her “Sweetheart deals” is not going to fade away in a hurry, especially when she refused to state her own side of the story to NEXT. Of course, that is a normal practice with the nation’s public officers, who think they owe the citizens no explanation on how they manage our affairs. The buck, however, stops on President Jonathan’s desk. If the Siseno and Caligeria oil deals are true, he will do well to ask Alison-Madueke some questions on our behalf; or before long many Nigerians will wonder at the kind of “transformation agenda” the President is executing if he condones violations of due process in a crucial sector like oil, a la Diezani Alison-Madueke.
The Less Benefits We Get
When subsidy was removed from kerosene shortly after late President Umaru Yar’Adua got to power, many Nigerians thought the perennial scarcity that was the lot of this commodity was forever settled. How wrong they were. Kerosene is one of the many by-products of crude oil with which the nation is abundantly blessed. And it is the preferred choice of the average Nigerian home for domestic cooking. And in a bid to save the environment from deforestation through using firewood, even the Federal Government encourages the citizenry to embrace the use of stove fuelled by kerosene. Yet the product has forever become a scarce and expensive commodity. It is supposed to sell for N50 per litre at designated centres. Wherever it is available these days, it sells for as much as three or four times that sum. And we are talking of the cities. It is a usual sight nowadays to see long queues of kerosene kegs at filling stations. And when per chance any of the stations is expecting the scarce commodity, it is besieged by an unimaginable human armada. At the end of the day many of them will return home without kerosene. The situation has been like this for many months.
The erstwhile oil minister who may shortly return to the portfolio declared before she left office last May that she was unaware of the scarcity. She immediately ordered the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC “to flood the market” with the product. What we are treated to these days is the laughable buck-passing between relevant government agencies and independent marketers. In spite of the dire situation, not a few are surprised that the incidence of fire outbreaks due to kerosene adulteration has been minimal. That is not to say those who do it have completely repented. Perhaps, Nigerians are more circumspect.
One underlying reason for the kerosene headache is the rising price of crude oil in the international market. That is the irony. The country is earning millions of dollars daily from this God-given resource, yet the citizens are suffering because of the ineptitude of our leaders. Today, our oil refineries are in a shambles. These are some of the refineries that were sold on the eve of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s departure from power in 2007. Shortly after Yar’Adua came to power, there was a groundswell of opposition against the sale. It was largely initiated by top officials of the NNPC. The latter vowed that if the sale was reversed, the refineries would roar back to life in a few months. The government did just that, and four years down the line, we are still waiting for the refineries to start roaring. At her screening last week, Diezani Alison-Madueke told the senators that the Turnaround Maintenance done on these refineries were done by companies, which had no knowledge of them. What a revelation! Who approved such contracts and when they were bungled, what penalties did we exact and from whom? Against the backdrop of the Nigerian factor, many people will conclude that the contracts were nothing more than sweetheart deals that were not meant to be executed. And that is why a nation blessed with crude oil imports the finished products, some of which are in turn sold to the citizens at subsidised rates. Many foreign airlines flying into Nigeria no longer refuel here, they do that in neighbouring Ghana because Jet A4 is said to be cheaper there. That country only joined the league of oil exporting nations last year. So, why are we so blessed?