By Omoh Gabriel
For a while, I stopped my column “Broken Link in Vanguard”. This was as a result of people not wanting to hear the truth. When this government came into power with the mantra of change and anti corruption war, many were carried away and bought into it hook, line and sinker. I had my doubt about the sincerity of the effort. My doubt came from the fact that the entire exercise was being built on the honesty and integrity of one man, Mr Buhari.
Nigeria forgot the fact that this man will not operate in every sector of the economy. I hold the view that the war on corruption in Nigeria will be won if the nation builds institutions and allow them to function as they should without political influence. Those who are vilifying Diezani Alison-Madueke are missing the point. Was she so powerful that no one in the NNPC board could stop her? Was she acting alone? If the NNPC had a normal board that is accountable to the nation, will she have had the effrontery to steal so much? Where were the EFCC now showing how much she stole at the time she was in charge? Is the EFCC not an institution set up to fight economic crime, why did it fail to act when it mattered most? If the NNPC and EFCC were allowed to work as institutions will what happened have taken place.
Nigerians are not asking the question why in the world will their President or minister be the chairman of the board of NNPC if not for political reasons. Are we saying that there are no worse thing going on at the NNPC and other arms of government now that the President is away for this long? It is shocking how in a nation of 160 million people one woman could be said to have had such tremendous influence as to carry out what she is being accused of without the compromise of the institutions that were set up to check mate such unwholesome practices.
At a workshop in the Presidency, I was privileged to attend, I asked the question of handlers of the the economy, is this government building institutions or individual personality cult? Rather than answer the question, it was ignored and I was frowned at seriously. I am worried to hear that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has suddenly woken up to say it has traced at least N47.2 billion and $487.5 million in cash and properties to former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke. This they say followed painstaking investigations by operatives of the EFCC. The former Minister is also being investigated for corruption and money laundering in the United States and the United Kingdom. The article, written by Tony Orilade and Aisha Gambari of the EFCC Media department reads:
“A search of one of Mrs. Alison-Madueke’s palatial residences in Abuja, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) turned up boxes of gold, silver and diamond jewellery, worth several million pounds sterling. Apart from the jewellery, the EFCC, Nigeria’s foremost anticorruption agency, has traced N47.2 billion and $487.5 million in cash and properties to the former Minister of Petroleum Resources in Ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. The former minister who has been in London since the birth of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, has however continued to deny any financial misdeed. She insists she is being severely maligned and persecuted by the EFCC. But, on the strength of weighty evidence placed before Nigerian courts, there are a string of judicial pronouncements ordering the forfeiture of all allegedly ill-gotten wealth to Mrs. Alison-Madueke’s former employers, the Federal Government of Nigeria”.
What Nigeria is doing in the name of anti-corruption crusade is medicine after death. The point to start from is to prevent the several Diezanis currently in the service of Nigeria from taking out common resources. When President Muhammadu Buhari came into office he sacked the board of the NNPC and appointed a new Managing Director. The appointment drew applause as usual from ever-ready Nigerians to sing the praises of those in power. Many did not look closely at the process involved in the appointment and the implication for the future of NNPC and the Nigerian oil and gas industry. The new Managing Director, many said at the time, hit the ground running because on the first day of his assumption of office, he fired the existing executive directors and brought in new persons.
What he did at that time was not from his management insight but an order that has to be carried out. Nigerians were fooled to believe that it is the old hands at the NNPC that were the problems of the country, certainly not. The problem at the NNPC is government interference with the operations of the corporation. The sacking of the directors then, to Nigerians, was good enough to get rid of the perceived corruption in the NNPC. To any management consultant, what happened was just a mere replacement of personnel and the culture of impunity continued.
The NNPC Group Managing Director was appointed and given a mandate on what to do. Nigerians did not react to the fact that up until this moment the President is the minister of Petroleum Resources and the former NNPC boss Ibe Kachwuku has transformed from being NNPC GMD to a junior minister. The big question is in the absence of the President who has been on medical vacation for over 90 days now, who is in charge of the ministry’s day to day activities, knowing fully well that in the civil service their are approval limits.
The man appointed by the President reports to the president and does the bidding of the president. Under a working environment that follows due process and laid down procedures, moving funds out of an organisation is not a one man show, how come then that Diezani a minister had so much access to the nation’s purse and could steal so much without other institutions of government stopping her.
The thinking is that the change the President and his party talked about is about bringing new ways of doing things. The expectation is that this government will give under take institutional reforms to give them free hand to run and perform their constitutional responsibilities. The NNPC is a sad example of how one man can take so much out without any let or hindrance because he or she was appointed by the President and is accountable to the President alone is the old Nigerian way, an out right invitation to steal. That is why those in such positions owe their allegiance to who appointed them or recommended them for such appointments.
What is wrong with NNPC is lack of good corporate governance and institutional failure.
The issue with Nigeria is that things are done behind closed doors. Nigeria needs transparency in its political and economic life. For NNPC to deliver on its mandate, it must be free from political interference and operate under a good corporate governance culture. Nigerian Liquified Natural Gas has performed creditably and deliver handsome dividend to stakeholders on regular basis. This is so because government has minority shares and there is a functional board that follow due process and financial regulations. NLNG is an institution that is governed by corporate ethics and code of conduct. Can this government learn a simple lesson from NLNG that institutions are the best legacy a government can leave behind for generations and strengthen all institutions of government and allow them to perform their statutory duties.
The President must learn from his past mistakes. When he came into the Nigerian political scene as a military leader in 1984, Buhari instilled fear in the hearts of Nigerians by introducing the War Against Indiscipline. While in office, the nation attempted to imbibe the culture of taking their turns, but because the war was prosecuted on the person of Buhari/Idiagbon, it failed as soon as they were overthrown. Nigeria needs strong leadership no doubt. A strong leadership without strong institutions will face terrible frustration as things will never work out the way he wants.
If Nigeria has leadership without institutions, it is a huge joke to expect things to fall in place. If you have the President who is Mr. Clean and the institutions around him are manned by corrupt individuals, the President’s idea of a changed nation will not be realised, he will end up being very frustrated and then not getting anywhere. What Mr. Buhari should do is to ensure that the institutions of governance are given the support and political backing to function under his watch as the leader with out fear or favour, then things will fall in place. The fact is that there are institutions that are not empowered to function constitutionally but to act according to the whims and caprices of who ever is in power. This is the problem of Nigeria.
The change that Nigerians are looking up for from Mr. President is that the NNPC and other institutions should be free from political interference in their everyday activities. They must be open in their operations. There must be transparency in daily activities. Nigerians are entitled to know what the financial situation in the company is in the case of NNPC. This should be made available to the Nigerian public on regular basis. Its account must and should be rendered to Nigerians and not to the few who sit in judgment over every other person and then enrich themselves with the fortunes of the NNPC. The report must contain full disclosures in the format of International Financial Reporting Standard.