65m Questions for Baru

The All Progressives Congress (APC) kicked up a storm about transparency and accountability during the electioneering and immediately President Muhammadu Buhari was inaugurated. Indeed, the government tagged nearly everyone who had held office in the last administration corrupt. It was the selling narrative and I must confess, it was appealing and convenient to the charge. With a believing public (or should I say a gullible public), it was easily a home run. It’s been three years since this government took over the reins of power, yet corruption has become even more pervasive despite all the noise of purportedly fighting the hydra-head monster, at least going by the Transparency International and US Country reports released recently.

While this government pretends that things have improved on all fronts, the evidence points to the contrary. I can clearly see that those who are basking in the sunshine of recovering looted funds and naming and shaming the looters will be called to account after this government leaves power. Too much sleaze is going on now not to warrant any inquisition. We may have to contend with the APC loot in the not-too-distant future just as we are contending with PDP’s today. I can see this clearly going by the level of impunity and the large-scale mismanagement of public resources going on today. All those who are hounding people into prison would themselves be escorted to jail in cold metal cuffs. Even those parading the landscape as political godfathers may end up as guests of federal penitentiaries.

Only recently, the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) and Zamfara State governor, Abdulaziz Yari, accused the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) of subsidy malfeasance and rejected the corporation’s outlandish claim of 60-65 million litres national daily consumption of petrol. The NNPC had blamed the “porous” borders for the humongous volume it claimed was being smuggled out of the country.

Interestingly, Yari made the accusation after a meeting of the NGF with Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo at the State House. Osinbajo you would recall has been all over town talking about corruption and the looting of the national treasury by the last government. I don’t know if Yari complained to him about his observation. If not, I suspect he must have seen Yari’s statement in the media. If he didn’t, then, I am drawing his attention to it. A man like him who professes to be fighting corruption cannot ignore the gravity of Yari’s complaint. Billions of dollars is being stolen daily right under Buhari/Osinbajo’s noses.

If they were genuine about their crusade of sanitising the system, or reforming it to avoid a repeat of what they condemned in the previous government, then they would have given attention to this even more, than what happened under Jonathan. I can assure Osinbajo that he would not have peaceful sleep until the EFCC probes this massive loss of public revenue. We cannot close our eyes to the massive looting going on now disguised as smuggling.

This government promised us reforms, especially in the NNPC and embarked on what has turned out to be a whitewash. Yari’s recent expose of the massive discrepancies in NNPC’s claim has further reinforced our belief that the more this government shouts about change, the more things stay the same, or even get worse. According to Yari, “When there was no cost recovery, the NNPC clearly gave us the number of 33 and 35 million litres per day as the consumption of Nigeria.

But now, with the new regime of cost recovery, NNPC is claiming a daily consumption of 60 and 65 million litres per day, which we rejected and said no. So many of our international partners are saying that even if we are feeding Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana and Niger, we cannot consume more than 35 million litres per day. So, we are wondering where the 60 million litres is coming from. We are trying to sort that one out, that one is not yet resolved.”

Therefrom, please try to compute what is being stolen on a daily basis under Baru in the name of smuggling. The figures are staggering. I recall that in 2015, the then Group Managing Director of NNPC, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu at a media parley with some senior journalists at George Hotel, Ikoyi disputed the 35 million litres daily consumption inherited from the last government, saying that their investigation found the daily consumption figure was far less. He urged the gathering to query where the excess was going to and who the beneficiaries were.

Three years after, the 30-35 million figures Kachikwu disputed (he put the realistic national consumption figure at 23-25 million litres at the time) have suddenly jumped to 60-65 million daily under his successor Dr. Maikanti Baru. How can that be?

Let us look at it more closely to understand the scale of what is going on: Under Jonathan, Nigeria’s daily consumption was said to be in the region of 30-35 million litres, Nigeria’s economy was among the three fastest-growing economies in the world, third to be precise. The economy grew at an impressive rate of about 7.5 per cent per annum.

In contrast, the Nigerian economy grew at 1.9 per cent in the first quarter of 2018. The question we should all ask Baru is how come Nigeria’s daily consumption has jumped to 60-65 million litres when the purchasing power of the average Nigerian is at an all-time low, due to the prevailing economic situation? Does this make sense?

What are the factors driving such an extraordinary increase in consumption in an economy that only recently emerged from recession? Well, Baru blamed it all on smuggling. How strange, when Buhari only recently commended the comptroller general of customs, Hameed Ali, for doing a fantastic job of reducing the incidence of smuggling through the borders? Please note that the government did not credit the staggering increase on widespread “economic prosperity” as a result of its economic policies. Instead, it is blamed on smuggling. Is it not curious that despite the humongous volume of petrol that is purportedly smuggled out of the country daily, no one has been arrested by the customs or DSS? If no one has been arrested, is it not safe to say that there is widespread complicity going all the way to the very top? At least this was the logic given by Adams Oshiomhole in his heyday as a labour leader.

Let me further state here that the sizes of the economies of our neighbouring countries make it abundantly improbable for them to absorb such huge volumes of smuggled fuel. Even more preposterous and vexatious is that their purchasing power and their combined populations of just a little over 100 million make the argument more unlikely. How come these countries, besides their individual official fuel imports arrangements, are still able to absorb 30-35 million litres of fuel smuggled from Nigeria everyday?

Baru’s justification for such staggering volume losses – that the petrol price differentials between Nigeria and neighbouring countries in the West African region makes it attractive for smugglers to use the frontier filling stations to siphon petroleum products across the borders – is therefore hollow, pathetic, pitiful and fails spectacularly to make logical economic sense, because those filing stations have always been there. The implication of that massive increase in “smuggling” through our land borders is that Nigeria is losing hundreds of millions of dollars daily.

In March, Baru, told a bewildered nation that he had spent an alarming $5.8 billion importing petrol in just two months. Baru’s out-of-control spending binge is frightening. Going by that figure, Baru would spend about $34.8 billion per annum on fuel imports. Is that not crazy? Which nation can survive this way? Yet, Baru is accountable to no one.

Particularly instructive, going by Yari’s statement, is that this massive increase in daily consumption started when the NNPC reintroduced the payment of subsidies under the new banner name called “under-recoveries”. The name change from subsidy to under-recovery was actually designed to hide the fact that the APC-led government, which was the arrowhead of the vociferous attacks that trailed subsidy payments under the last government, has itself been caught in the same mess. So, the use of the phrase “under-recovery” or whatever is simply meant to fool the public that it is not in the subsidy racket!

But as figures now show, it is even paying more now than the last government. And to rub salt into the wound, everything is done in secrecy. The methodology of payment is as opaque as the $25 billion contracts awarded by Baru without the approval of the Board of the NNPC, or the benefit of transparency or due process. As for that scandal, the Senate pretended that it would probe how Baru came to award those contracts but quickly backed off after the probe committee chairman was invited to the Presidential Villa for a meeting with the president.

Baru also invited “members of the National Assembly” who were supposed to probe him to a “special dinner” at the Congress Hall, Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja on Tuesday, October 31, 2017. The dinner was interpreted by concerned Nigerians as a bribe to derail the investigation. Well, if you ask me now, I would say, it worked because nothing has been heard about the investigation since then.

Now, let’s go back to the earlier referenced submission by Yari as it cannot be overemphasised. It contains important information that was shockingly lost on many Nigerians. It should have outraged our collective anger against those who think we are fools. But it did not. Not even a whimper of protest from our so-called anti-corruption crusaders and self-appointed custodians of public morality. Let me repeat it here for those who tell us that this government is not corrupt. This was how he said it: “Many of our international partners are saying that even if we are feeding Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana and Niger, we cannot consume more than 35 million litres per day. So, we are wondering where the 60 million litres is coming from.”

Every sensible Nigerian should be asking this government where the 60-65 million litres Baru now claims as the new daily consumption is coming from. By Baru’s preposterous claim, we are losing about the same volume which Kachikwu insinuated in 2015 was rigged. How can that be? Is Baru telling us that the smuggling of petrol spiked to such unprecedented levels as to double the national daily consumption? And is it not curious that this is happening at the same time the NNPC reintroduced the payment of subsidies? Interestingly, the NNPC accounts for more than 90 per cent of petrol imports consumed in the country.

Now, wait a moment, is Baru telling Nigerians that, the borders are more porous under this saintly, tough-talking government? Why is this purported rise in smuggling happening so close to the general election? Why is the government raising its hands in surrender to the problem instead of tackling it head-on?

There is this suspicion in some quarters that elements in the government are using this “massive spike” in consumption to amass slush funds for the 2019 elections, and that they are merely using the smuggling narrative to fool Nigerians. You see, Nigerians must hold Baru to account. If we keep quiet, this guy would get away with murder.

Now, can someone compare what was spent annually on subsidy payments under the “very corrupt” government of President Goodluck Jonathan, and what we are spending today on the same subsidy? The federal government recently stated that its annual expenditure on fuel subsidies had risen to over N1.4 trillion and rising. So what did the last government do wrong on this particular score?

Nigeria’s Dark Age

Nigerians again, woke up last Sunday to the despicable killing of over 200 people in Plateau State. The latest killing spree was a throw back to my consistent warnings that President Muhammadu Buhari’s inaction on herdsmen killings poses a clear and continuing danger to Nigeria, but some people don’t want to listen. Tinubu and co. are riding on a train in joyous rhythm with Buhari all for selfish reasons. In the fullness of time, they would regret their betrayal of Nigeria. They are blind to the carnage going on in the country.

Please make no mistake, the menace of killer herdsmen in the country is largely fuelled by Buhari’s reluctance or refusal to act decisively against the marauding killers. His heart and soul supports the activities of herdsmen. He initially denied that the killings were being carried out by Fulani herdsmen; instead, he alleged that the killings were done by marauders from Mali that cross our porous borders to perpetuate the heinous crimes and disappear.

He later changed the story blaming the atrocities on militias trained by the late Muammar Gaddafi of Libya; his top officials have been doing the same. Warning state governments to suspend anti-open grazing laws for peace to return. The president’s reaction to the killing of over 200 people in Plateau State leaves no one in doubt that Buhari is living in an alternate universe. While he blamed politicians for taking advantage of the killings, the Chairman of Miyetti Allah, North Central Zone, Danladi Ciroma admitted that Fulani herdsmen or cattle rearers carried out the killings as revenge for the stealing or killing of 300 cows. By this admission, it was clear without a shadow of a doubt that the attacks on Plateau villages were premeditated, organised killings by a set of people protected and pampered by the government.

To make matters worse, Adams Oshiomhole, the freshly-minted chairman of the All Progressives Congress showed that he was in a hurry to do battle with those opposed to Buhari’s second term quest. Recently, he has gone back to his trademark khakis to go on the offensive. He wanted to prove that he was the right man for the job Buhari just gave him and was desperate to please Mr. President. Fresh from being sworn in, he delved headlong into politics by making false statements about the $16 billion allegedly spent on the power sector by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the state of the economy, in the hope that he could push back against Buhari’s most formidable opponent. He asked Buhari to order Obasanjo to return the $16 billion to the federal government.

Again, his claim that the country has made progress under Buhari flies in the face of the facts on the ground as corroborated by the Washington-based Brookings Institution – that Nigeria has overtaken India as the country with the largest number of extreme poor as of 2018. So which progress is Oshiomhole talking about? People are being killed like flies everyday by above-the-law herdsmen, families have turned to begging to survive, Nigeria now has one of the largest refugee crisis in the world during peace time. Which progress is Oshiomhole referring to?

One would have thought that Oshiomhole would postpone politics for just one second in honour of the victims of the Plateau massacre. Nearly 200 people were massacred by Fulani herdsmen with Miyetti Allah telling the whole world that it was a reprisal for the theft of their cows.

Oshiomhole was not outraged by such callous vandalism of human lives. He was not outraged by what clearly was a crime against humanity. But why should he? He is now the chairman of a party that places a higher premium on the lives of cows than the lives of humans. May God help us through this dark age.

By Shaka Momodu

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