Between Diezani’s Directives And Presidential Directives

Between Diezani’s Directives And Presidential Directives
Sam Nda-Isaiah
— February 17, 2014

It was quite fascinating watching the petroleum minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke, speak before the Senate committee last week. Obviously, she convinced no one, not least the Senate committee, culminating in the Senate agreeing to do a forensic audit of the NNPC. Tellingly, the Senate did not appear to trust the finance minister either in this matter. Even with the forensic audit, it is possible that some people will still attempt to suborn the auditors, but we wait to see. No matter what happens, no one will believe Diezani’s bogus story on the kerosene subsidy.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or get angry at Diezani’s assertion that a presidential directive does not have the force of law and so she had no problems flouting it. What she did at the Senate committee hearings was to finally confirm what people were already talking about: that Nigeria has more than one president and that she is the more powerful president. What Diezani told the whole world was that she would not take a directive from the president unless he took such a directive to the National Assembly and it was made a law. If President Umaru Yar’Adua as president issued a directive on kerosene subsidy, that directive should remain in force until he or any of his successors gave a counter-directive. A directive from the president of a country is a pronouncement that immediately becomes policy. So a mere minister, an appointee of the president, does not have the power to flout such a directive.

Diezani also spiced her statement with a few lies. She said President Yar’Adua was about to reverse the presidential directive before he fell very ill. That, of course, was a lie as Mansur Mukhtar, the minister of finance, and Rilwan Lukman, the minister of petroleum, and others linked with the issue are still alive to confirm. Diezani probably remembers the meeting of June 9, 2009, and the memo of June 10, 2009, signed by David Edevbie, Yar’Adua’s principal private secretary. In attendance at that meeting were President Yar’Adua, Vice President Jonathan, the secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), minister of finance, minister of transport, minister of petroleum, GMD of NNPC, chief economic adviser to the president and the principal private secretary to the president. The meeting decided on a proposal by finance minister Mukhtar to eliminate the subsidy on kerosene because the subsidy never got to the targeted beneficiaries. This meeting proved that President Yar’Adua consulted first before giving the directive. All of those who attended the meeting except the late president Yar’Adua are still alive, so they can be invited to shed light on the matter. President Yar’Adua didn’t just wake up one day and decided to give the presidential directive as Diezani would want us believe. It was not true that Yar’Adua issued a stay of action but fell sick afterwards. In fact, one of the members of the Senate committee expressed shock that Diezani, a minister of the federal republic, could so openly lie on such a very important subject.

But Diezani’s statement also gives a glimpse into how President Jonathan runs his government. The question that we should all be asking Diezani now is how many other presidential directives, including the ones directly issued by Jonathan, she has similarly flouted. If she said that a presidential directive to suspend the subsidy on kerosene was not law, is the payment of subsidy itself law? Which part of the Nigerian law says she should pay subsidies at all? The payment of subsidy itself is a presidential directive, not law; so why is she paying it?

The quality of governance has significantly declined since Jonathan became president. Were it not so, the petroleum minister would have been fired the day she made that declaration at the Senate committee hearings. And President Jonathan would, in fact, have fired any other impudent minister –except of course those like Diezani that share the presidency with him.

What logic is the petroleum minister trying to give about paying the kerosene subsidy anyway? In effect, she decided to flout the presidential directive because she wanted to maintain the price of kerosene at N50 per litre. Well, the bad news for her is that, the last time I checked, kerosene actually sold at over N150 per litre at 95 per cent of the sales locations. It’s the same reason, in the first place, Yar’Adua gave the presidential directive.

It is noteworthy that when the CBN governor said the NNPC did not remit more than N3 trillion into the nation’s coffers, the NNPC did not deny that. Instead, the NNPC said it spent the amount, that humongous amount, on the payment of subsidies and management of pipes. The CBN governor was very clear in his own explanation. The governor said that, of the $67 billion worth of crude shipped by NNPC between January 2012 and July 2013, the CBN has records of the remittance of $47 billion, leaving $20 billion unaccounted for. But even scarier is Sanusi’s other revelation. He said the NPDC, a subsidiary of the NNPC, and two other private companies – Atlantic Energy and Seven Energy – shipped $6 billion worth of crude oil from the nation’s oil wells but did not remit the proceeds to the federation account. Well, Nigerians will want to know whose personal account this $6 billion was paid into, and only the minister is competent to answer this question. There are lots of shady deals going on between the NPDC on the one hand and both Atlantic Energy and Seven Energy on the other. Since the forensic audit is not going to investigate the NPDC, Atlantic Energy and Seven Energy, it would be important for the Senate to set up another panel of enquiry to ascertain the exact amount that has been stolen from the nation by these companies. The details from the available documents are quite nauseating.

Everyone knows that it is the petroleum minister that should really be answering the hard questions and not the management of the NNPC. The petroleum minister has no powers to commit the nation to such expenses and certainly no one believes her story, as there is nothing to show for the expenditure of N3 trillion. If Diezani had flouted the presidential directive and we all saw the use of the N3 trillion in the Niger Delta, for instance, then, the nation’s anger would not be as serious as it is now. Note that $20 billion expenditure in the Niger Delta would have changed that region forever. By the way, the cost of the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in China, which is the world’s largest single electricity station with an installed capacity of 22,500 megawatt, is only $26 billion.

Nigeria has simply been looted. Anyone who thinks this matter will just die off must be a joker. A lot more will come up in the coming weeks.

Now This…

Police Commissioner Mbu’s Funny Achievement

In a newspaper report last week, former Rivers State police commissioner, Joseph Mbu, said his greatest achievement in the state was that he stopped political assassinations during his tenure. Coming from a police chief whose men shot a serving senator on his orders, simply to stop a political rally in a democracy, he must really be a funny man. I am still laughing.

EAR SHOT

Okonjo-Iweala Again

Honesty should be the most important attribute of a nation’s finance minister. Once the international community stops believing a nation’s finance minister, that country could be in grave danger. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s sophistry could soon put Nigeria in that position. The latest Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Research report on the Nigerian economy indicated that the current amount in the nation’s excess crude account – which was depleted from $11.5 billion in December 2012 to $2.5 billion by the middle of last year – was insufficient bulwark to cushion the economy against external shocks. One doesn’t need a genius to know that this is absolutely true. For a country the size of Nigeria, one probably needs more than the stolen $20 billion to act as a buffer against shocks. But Okonjo-Iweala who should know that this depletion, from $11.5 billion to $2.5 billion, is as a result of barefaced theft of the nation’s resources, started to defend the indefensible. She said the government was working assiduously to rebuild the excess crude account. Is the finance minister not aware that this depletion is mainly as a result of the president’s desperation to supplement the federal allocation to states, which is largely caused by the massive theft of the nation’s oil? Even with the supplementation of the shortfalls with the excess crude account, state governors, including pro-Jonathan governors, have been bitterly complaining that their monthly allocations have fallen by as much as 40 per cent.

With the kind of theft we see now, and NNPC not accounting for as much as $20 billion, from which sources does our finance minister hope to rebuild the excess crude account? Okonjo-Iweala also talks about $1 billion from the Sovereign Wealth Fund which was just started, which when added to the $2.5 billion, would give a total of about $3.5 billion to act as buffer for Nigeria in case of a precipitous drop in the price of oil. Is she serious? I think the finance minister should just resign to save what is left of her name.

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Time For Diezani To Defend Herself

Time For Diezani To Defend Herself
Sam Nda-Isaiah
— February 10, 2014
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The temperature in the country is at an all-time high as a result of the revelation of how the nation’s resources were being appropriated. The CBN governor, who is a trustee of the resources of the country, insists that more than $20 billion is still missing. This is about N3.5 trillion. Though the NNPC cheapened the whole discussion when its officials declared that the CBN governor was “ignorant”, Nigerians largely trust Sanusi Lamido Sanusi much more than they do the NNPC. And there are grounds for that, even though the government wants to sell the twaddle that the governor is mistake-prone.

Another problem the spokespersons of the NNPC have in this matter is that people think the entire management of the NNPC, starting from the GMD, is too small to be part of a scam as stupendous as N3.5 trillion. It is only the minister or even the president that should be speaking on the matter and not the pawns. Unfortunately, or rather very annoyingly, the petroleum minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke, does not think it is worth her while to be speaking to Nigerians. She has left that chore to lesser mortals, even though those mortals know next to nothing about what must have happened to the missing N3.5 trillion, precisely because they are too small to know.

Different people have their own postulations about why Diezani is not talking to Nigerians on such a very serious matter. The most predominant view is that she feels it would be infradig for her to speak to Nigerians. It would be totally beneath her. “Who the hell are they?” those who hold this view think she is likely to say. There’s the second group who say that the petroleum minister, whom the president is ready to defend with the life and existence of his government, cannot open her mouth to speak on the matter because she would be committing perjury if she dared that. And if she committed perjury, especially on an issue as serious as this, she would definitely get away with it under Jonathan but could spend a very long time in prison the moment Jonathan leaves office.

I do not know which of these two opinions to believe, but I think the answer must lie in-between. Diezani may not necessarily be guilty – and I am withholding judgement on that – but her conduct leaves Nigerians with no choice but to think that she’s hiding something by not speaking. She is the only one that can clear the air on the issue, not the NNPC GMD, not the GEDs and not the spokespersons.

The NNPC has no first-line charge on the nation’s revenues and cannot spend N3.5 trillion of the nation’s revenues without clearance from the National Assembly. If the NNPC people had that power on their own to spend N3 trillion, then, they must be much more powerful than the president, because even the president cannot spend that amount without approval from the National Assembly. And the “satisfactory” explanation the NNPC gave about spending about 80 per cent of the amount to pay subsidy on kerosone is the greatest scam that there is. Is the petroleum minister not aware that there is a subsisting presidential directive since June 2009 stopping the payment of subsidy on kerosene? And if she paid for the subsidy on kerosene to maintain it at N50 per litre, why is it that nobody gets it at that price anyway?

For telling us that she paid such a large amount illegally since there was a presidential directive against what she did, she should not only be fired immediately but tried by a competent court. Running a nation is too serious a business to be treated with such disdain and levity.

In a sense, the president is also on trial on this matter. He needs to take this very seriously. Does Diezani and her boss, President Jonathan, know what N3.5 trillion could do for the Niger Delta for instance, if that kind of money was genuinely invested in that area? The entire budget that President Jonathan is proposing to spend this year for the whole of Nigeria is about N4.5 trillion, a figure not terribly higher than the N3.5 trillion that has most probably been stolen. That must explain why the minister is one of the most disliked people in the Niger Delta today.

Diezani must defend herself now that she still can. If she doesn’t, she should not hold anyone responsible for what Nigerians could think of her person.

EARSHOT

What Game Is Okonjo-Iweala Playing?

I have found Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s changing positions on the national economy quite curious. Whenever she is abroad, or the audience is foreign, she raises the alarm about how the economy is in danger of collapse from corruption of which she famously said “we are not helpless”, meaning the government she serves can and must do something urgently about corruption that threatens to destroy us. But if the audience is Nigerian, she would speak as if the Nigerian economy under Jonathan is one of the best things that has happened to Nigeria.

Okonjo-Iweala remains one of the most respected Nigerians of this generation, but she is just about to lose that status. She cannot walk on both sides of the road at the same time.

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