Nigeria News

NIGERIA: Combating Corruption Through Institutional Reform

The other day I heard the NNPC Group Managing Director, lamenting that the image of NNPC was being tainted so much by constant accusations and negative press,that the group was losing credibility in the International Market and this was affecting their ability to attract foreign investments to the oil and gas industry where NNPC is the face of Nigeria. This got me thinking and I felt empathy for him and the organisation he leads.

When the national oil company was just called National Oil Company (NOC),it was a small organisation that Nigerians respected. Then we expanded its scope and mandate and changed its name to Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation(NNPC). It holds Nigeria’s equity in all the joint ventures  with International Oil companies(IOC), it has it’s own independent upstream operations, it is the sole participant in the midstream refining and piping operations and it is involved in the downstream operations of importing refined petroleum products and distributing them through its pipelines and own filling stations. From asset capitalisation, it is the biggest Corporate organisation in Nigeria and I believe that it is also the largest employer and for all intents and purposes,it is the most significant contributor to our National economy.

  Nigeria has assigned so much to NNPC and has made it a behemoth, that is at the centre of virtually everything in Nigeria- revenues, petroleum products provision, pipelines integrity, provision of gas- natural, domestic and liquified, electricity power, petrochemicals. With such concentration of power and relevance,it is little wonder that NNPC is in the news everyday, most times for the wrong reasons. Because when petrol and other refined products are flowing normally from the filling stations, nobody really remembers NNPC. But when there is revenue shortfall, or there is fuel scarcity, then NNPC will be in everybody’s mouth. In all of this,it is important to remember that those who work in NNPC did not create the problem. They did not write the NNPC law. It looks to me that sometimes we take out our frustration with this behemoth with tentacles every where on those who run or manage the company including the political supervisors of the company.

Recently we have had the name of NNPC mentioned with missing monies. The outgoing ‘governor- general’ of CBN, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi opened with a written accusation that NNPC was withholding money belonging to the Federation account worth 49.5 billion dollars. He later changed his mind that it was 12 billion dollars and soon after changed the figure to 20 billion dollars before, he went on suspension. I had written in this column a few weeks ago, that this would not be the first time such allegations had been made. Similar accusations against NNPC and it’s officials we’re made when Chief( now HRH) Edmund Dakoru was GMD, so was it when Aret Adams and Jackson Obaseki were GMDs. Even when Kupolokun, Oniwon and Yardua  were GMDs, accusations against NNPC and it’s leadership were rife. Yet no one has proven any case of corruption against these men even after leaving office, but their image and reputation were tarnished while in office. Some times, it may have been the problem of reconciliation of records or accounts, especially given the complex way revenue from oil is warehoused and accounted for between NNPC, DPR, IFRS,AGF and CBN.
  The same fate seems to affect supervising ministers of NNPC and the oil industry, Don Etiebet, Prof Tam David West, Prof. Rilwanu Luqman,and Senator Jubril Aminu were all smeared when they were ministers. Even our ‘incorruptible’ Muhammed Buhari was accused of vanishing with the oil windfall when he was minister of petroleum. Because of the power the ministers wield or are presumed to have, they stand condemned even before they commit any crime.

May be out of jealousy of those enormous powers and the accruing benefits, they come under undue scrutiny and any matter can be held against them. In the last few weeks the issue of the current Petroleum Resources Minister, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke using chartered aircraft or private jets has filled the air waves, attracting the attention of the National Assembly. I am personally taken aback by the interest this has generated.
Many petroleum ministers before her flew private jets or chartered aircrafts and so do many of  the current ministers. Governors (past and present), senators, members of the House Representatives, most fly on private jets or chartered aircrafts both on official and private trips within and outside the country.Governor of Central Bank and some times the deputy governors fly private jets or chartered aircraft. Even Chief executives of government  parastatals like Customs,  NNPC and senior advisers to the government (federal and state) fly in chartered jets and some of these government owned institutions even own their own aircraft. Of course many senior private sector CEOs and Business leaders in oil & gas, telecoms, banking and industry, now travel in private jets or chartered aircraft.
  From a business man’s point of view, and with the situation of our local airlines (infrequent flights, limited routes, undue delays and safety records), it makes sense to own your own aircraft, if you can afford it or fly chartered aircraft. For me it’s no big deal for top private and public sector leaders to travel in chartered aircraft, thats the trend globally and should really not be a justifiable reason to malign a senior public servant like a minister who superintends a global business- oil & gas, except there is abuse.
  Having said this, we must return to the issue of corruption in our country. It is a big issue and we must deal with it holistically. Blackmailing public servants or seeking escape goats can cause drama but it will not touch the root of our problem. One minister goes and another comes and we begin to attack or accuse him or her for the same ‘offences’. My candid opinion is that we must continue to reform our institutions, instead of deforming them or demonising their managers as we have done over several years with little result. When Nzeogwu came in January 1966, he came to fight corruption.

When Murtala Mohammed came in 1975, he came to fight corruption, and when Muhammed  Buhari came in 1983, he also came to fight corruption. Even when Baba Olusegun Obasanjo came back in 1999, he tried to fight corruption. Yet we are still  139 out of 174 countries in the 2013 corruption perception index (CPI) published by Transparency International.
   As-long-as ants have access to sugar, they must climb in to lick. Flush them out with Shelltox, new ones will arrive next moment. As long as ‘pupu’ is exposed any where, flies must aggregate. Kill them with Raid, new ones will arrive soon. As long as there is meat with blood in the open,vultures must hover around, even if you shoot them, they will fly away and return the next minute. The only sustainable way to keep these animals away is to separate them from the ‘attraction’. So is the animal called man.
Our only hope of dealing corruption a deadly blow especially in the public sector is to reform. Time was when we talked of corruption in Nitel and the telecoms business.

As soon as we deregulated the sector, corruption in that sector died, and Nitel followed suit. Now that we have fully deregulated the power sector, who is talking of bribery and corruption again in NEPA or PHCN?  I am certain that if the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB ) is passed, NNPC restructured, and the deregulation of the downstream oil sector is completed, corruption or the perception of corruption in the oil sector will diminish significantly and over time will die.
  Additionally, Nigerians will have to make effort to reform or transform themselves. There is too much hypocrisy. Many are steeped in corruptive activities and yet they are so oblivious or pretend they are not, but will readily join the chorus ‘crucify him, crucify him’ the moment somebody is accused,even without proof. Every Nigerian I meet, condemns corruption and claims, he is not corrupt. Then who is making Nigeria occupy the bottom place on Transparency International index year after year? Aliens or ghosts? Let us humble ourselves and decide to abhor corruption in all it’s ramifications and at all levels. I am for waging total war against corruption and profligacy in our nation because they are stiffling development. But we must stop being hypocritical and just looking for escape goats or whom to blackmail.
–– Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa,  is the former chairman Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG)

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