Before subsidy scam report stirs controversy

There is, arguably, no other way the current Administration in Nigeria could prove to many anxious Nigerians and members of the international world, that it really means business in tackling the endemic corruption seriously retarding the progress of the country than implementing the recommendations in the Fuel Subsidy Report. The document recently, was submitted to the House Leadership at plenary of the House of Representatives, Lower Chamber of Nigeria’s National Assembly (NASS), in Abuja.

In other words, with the appalling level of financial scam being revealed in the subsidy scam report, it is obvious that all eyes are, indeed, on President Goodluck Jonathan Administration to, as matter of urgent national importance, apply the suggestions contained in the said report to the letter, at least to serve as a deterrent to potential subsidy fraudsters in the future.

Many were dismayed at the manner in which subsidy-induced corruption was perpetrated by some top Government officials and their business cronies thus far. It is equally more annoying to many Nigerians, particularly when the distasteful development is considered against the backdrop of the fact that same controversial subsidy issue had sparked a week-long strike by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC), and street protests embarked upon at the instance of the civil rights groups in January 2012.

Thus, the January 2012 unprecedented, complete shutdown of the nation’s economy must not be allowed to happen again. The Government, through the anti-corruption Commissions, should prosecute all indicted agencies and companies in order to put the nation’s sloppy past behind it once and for all. Sadly, during the industrial action and attendant nationwide protests, means of livehood of many were destabilised; a number of precious human lives were lost; scores of others experienced outright social dislocations as they couldn’t rejoin their relations and loved ones as virtually socio-economic activity was grounded at the time.

In the heat of the subsidy protests in January, the House of Representatives in demonstrating sheer responsibility as the people’s representatives had set up a committee to probe the Petroleum Subsidy Fund management and purported irregularities involved in same from 2009 to 2012. Subsequently, the Hon. Farouk Lawan-led House Ad-hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy Management had alleged a gross misappropriation of the juicy subsidy fund to the tune of N1.070trillion, of the reported of about N2.4trillion apparently disbursed as subsidy in the era under review.

For example, Government agencies such as the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), and about 72 fuel marketers were indicted and ordered to refund billions of Naira inappropriately paid to them via the trio of the PPPRA, Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation and Federal Ministry of Finance.

According to the report, their alleged financial irregularities were predicated on illegal subsidy payments ranging from over-invoicing; collection of foreign exchange (FOREX) for fuel importation from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) without utilising it for same purpose; payments to firms hitherto unregistered with the PPPRA prior to first fuel supply allocations; and outright payments with no fuel importation neither ownership of tank farms/storage facilities among other indentified infractions during the subsidy bazaar.

Unfortunately, one of the striking features of the Report, which still infuriates many a Nigerian was an instance in which the PPPRA supposedly recommended the payment of “N999million in 128 times within 24 hours between 12th and 13th January, 2009, to ‘unknown entities’ ”, totalling N127.8billion by the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (OAGF). However, after much hue and cry by the public, the PPPRA has revealed the identities of the hitherto “unknown entities” in a published advertorial in the media.

Though a nation battling with apparently weak institutions to support the entrenchment of democratic culture, ideals and good governance towards institutionalising values-based leadership, the likes of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) must rise to the occasion by taking the report further through a thorough investigation and possible prosecution of agencies and organisations so recommended for refunds and possible trial.

As the nation waits the completion of the Senate’s investigation of the subsidy scam and its version of the report, this is the auspicious time for the Presidency to muster the needed political will by supporting the prosecution of these supposed subsidy fraudsters.

Nigerians certainly expect the President to walk his talk of real transformation from the existing depravity in the national life into a new lease of life for the populace. He should not be seen shielding any of these individuals, agencies and organisations from their much-deserved prosecution for corruptly enriching themselves with tax payers’ money. After all, Senator Joy Emordi, Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, has said point-blank that the President Goodluck Jonathan had vowed that anybody found culpable in the large scale theft of fuel subsidy would be dealt with “in accordance with the laws of the land.”

There must not be interference from the Presidency in executing the recommendations the House of Representatives has advanced in the subsidy report: that anti-corruption agencies as EFCC and ICPC should investigate further and prosecute all those involved in the large-scale subsidy fraud.

As scores of ostensibly pained and aggrieved Nigerians, and even the international community impatiently await the Government’s next move in addressing the deep-rooted rot in the petroleum sector of the nation’s economy through the implementation of this report, it should be restated that under no circumstance should the current Administration create an veritable avenue for the Labour, Save Nigeria Group (SNG) and other civil rights groups to mobilise Nigerians en masse for fresh, sustained strike and protests. They severally, have warned the nation’s leadership against any undue hindrance in punishing those who have pillaged the people’s commonwealth and impoverished them the more. It is time to enthrone probity and values-based leadership in Nigeria’s entire system.

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