Whom Do They Think They Are Fooling


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Whom Do They Think They Are Fooling?




Gary K. Busch




November 29, 2005 from http://www.ocnus.net



Nigeria is going through yet another crisis of governance. Obasanjo is seeking a third term and has taken his plans to the U.S. and Malta to try and convince the U.S. and the Commonwealth that his ‘fight against corruption’ must not be interrupted by anything so trivial as a Constitution. His well-publicised fights with the governors and with his Vice-President are depicted in terms of his anti-corruption efforts and he has announced that his heroic efforts has succeeded in reducing the level of corruption in Nigeria so that it isn’t at the bottom of the Transparency International table, but a few countries up from the end.
Obasanjo’s plan for a third term, and the reaction of many of the erstwhile leaders of Nigeria, is not founded on some great notion of anti-corruption. The answer is more simple. These leaders have to stay in power or run the risk that their successors will prosecute them for their crimes when their immunity runs out. Whom do they think they are fooling? Do they think that the rest of the world doesn’t know exactly what is going on in the country? Do they think that the average Nigerian has any illusions about the probity of his leaders or institutions? Is there anyone over the age of seven in Nigeria who has not been hassled by a policeman, an okada driver, a ! teacher or another authority figure engaged in some form of petty corruption? What kind of self-delusional arrogance assumes that the Nigerian people and the international community will put all this aside and call it ‘democracy’?
In recent months there has been a constitutional forum meeting to evaluate the way forward in pursuing Nigerian democracy (which has had its agenda hijacked). The Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nuhu Ribadu, has pronounced (in South Africa) that the former President Ibrahim B. Babangida (‘IBB’) cannot run for the Presidency in the next election in 2007 (without saying why). The head of the ruling party (‘PDP’) has been dismissed and has writen a letter attacking the President; the PDP has purged itself by denying registration to Obasanjo’s political opponents. Several governors are under pressure; some are barred from the U.S.; others from Britain; Orji Kalu has written an eight-page denunciation of the President which has had wide international circulation; and the battle between the President, Obasanjo, and his partner in crime, Atiku Abubakar (the Vice-President), is still the core issue at the centre of Nigerian national politics.
This is nothing new for Nigeria; it is all routine business. However, for some reason, the Nigerians think that the rest of the world doesn’t know exactly what is going on in the country; how much is being stolen; and where the money is going. This is a foolish conceit. Every day the Nigerian economy loses between 150,000 and 320,000 barrels of oil. These are stolen by ‘bunkerers’, who have small tanker vessels which load the oil in the Delta and tranship this stolen oil to offshore tankers which deliver this stolen oil to other West African states. Further inland illegal tanker trucks load their stolen oil and refined products and drive these into neighbouring countries for black market sale. At the current price of around $50 per barrel this amounts to a ‘leakage’ of around US$7.5 to US$16 million a day. On a monthly basis this amounts! to around US$365 million or US$4.4 billion a year.
This illegal trade was pioneered under President Abacha when Akhigbe, Victor Ombu and Ibrahim Ogohi perpetrated the smuggling of petroleum products from Port Harcourt and Warri to neighboring West African countries. Between the month of June and December 1996, Nigeria lost a total of 202,130 Metric Tonnes of petroleum products to smuggling with the connivance of Rear Admiral Mike Akhigbe, Victor Ombu and Ibrahim Ogohi. It hasn’t stopped since then.
Who are these bunkerers? Recently, an aerial surveillance of Lagos coastal waters revealed no fewer than 50 vessels and boats being used for oil theft. Minister of State for Transport, Alhaji Musa Mohammed said the survey extended up to 10 miles into Lagos waters. The minister, who expressed shock at the findings, said that operators had no license for the vessels and boats and that they were not manifested. There are even more vessels in the Delta. Earlier this year three prominent naval officers were reprimanded and one dismissed for their part in this illegal bunkering. Several vessels had been captured. There are fifteen such vessels arrested in the Delta. There is no mystery in Nigeria to whom these vessels belong and into whose pockets the revenues stream.
The most shocking bombshell was dropped by a ship owner and active stakeholder in the industry, Isaac Jolapamo, to the effect that 15 more vessels are currently roaming the Nigerian waters doing illegal bunkering. Testifying before the House of Representatives panel probing the missing vessel, Jolapamo alleged that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the Pipeline and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), major and independent oil marketers patronise these vessels which he said are "owned and managed by known international crooks."
According to Jolapamo, these vessels and their customers engage in round-tripping with refined oil and stolen crude oil w! hich they sell at rock bottom prices at the international market. He also revealed that the bunkering vessels change names at random in a bid to beat coastal surveillance by security agents. In this way, they are able to clandestinely carry out their illicit trade which oil companies in Nigeria claim has been costing the nation $ 100 million weekly.
Equally disturbing is the allegation that three Nigerian banks are being investigated for allegedly funding this bunkering. They funded the recently exposed MT African Pride bunkering activities to the tune of $ 15 million. In August last year, the Navy impounded a tanker reportedly laden with 15,000 barrels of crude oil. Also impounded within the same period for similar offence were five other vessels namely MT Jimoh, MT Efunyo, MT Cape Breton I, MT Destiny and MT Betty Nello. These are expensive vessels to charter and operate so bank assistance is welcome. This backing for this bunkering goes to the top.
It is widely believed that both the President and the Vice-President, as well as key members of the PDP, condone or participate in the illegal oil bunkering (stealing of crude and refined products) which represented almost 300,00 bbl/day in 2003. When a real effort at anti-corruption was undertaken by the jour! nalists of the “Insider”, retribution was swift and severe. The editor-in-chief, Chucks Onwudinjo, and Janet Mba-Afolabi, both executive editors of Insider, a weekly magazine, were picked up by men of the State Security Services. Their arrest and detention were on the orders of Atiku Abubakar, the vice-president. They were arrested on Monday, November 24, 2004
While the nation enjoyed Ed-el-fitri public holiday, the trio cooled their heels at the Panti Police Station in Yaba, Lagos where they were detained for a story the Insider ran in its November 24, 2004 edition. The story, which made the magazine's cover alleged that Abuba! kar and a close colleague were behind a bunkering ring recently smashed at the Forcados and Escravos Creeks.
Specifically, Atiku was accused of being behind three of the vessels, MT Gloria. MT Tina and MT Sara, which had about 4,000 metric tonnes of crude oil aboard, while his colleague was allegedly linked to two vessels, MT Berinelo and MT Breton 1 with 17,800 metric tonnes aboard. The eight ships captured in the bunkering deal collectively had about 124 million barrels on board valued at N35 billion.
On August 30, security officials attached to the Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, attacked and beat into coma, Akintunde Akinleye, a photojournalist with the Daily Independent newspaper. He was eventually compensated in a face-saving mission by the Vice President. He received $1,900 and N56,287.00 cash. There is a widespread belief that Atiku and his front men are major figures in oil thievery in Nigeria and Sao Tome. This is the type of corruption which is very hard to confront.
It should also be noted that there are no provisions in the Nigerian constitutio! n or laws which empowers the Vice-President to order the arrest and detention of journalists because he felt they had defamed him. There is due process in Nigerian law and this isn’t it. However, it serves as a warning to all who want to fight corruption that if they mention the names of the members of the inner circle of corruption, e.g. Atiku, they will likely face extrajudicial attack and arrest.
Recently Atiku’s name came up with the arrest of several more vessels engaged in the bunkering trade. His partner, this time, was Audu Ogbeh, the erstwhile head of the PDP national party. Ogbeh wrote a public letter to Obasanjo complaining about the catastrop! he in the state of Ananmbra, where the Governor (‘Ngige’) had a falling out with his ‘godfather’ (Chief Chris Ubah) and the police and the godfather kidnapped the governor and forced him to resign. Of course, when he was freed, he renounced the resignation. This became an important case because each side agreed that the last election was won by fraud and bribery; only not everyone paid the full value of the bribes. The last election in Anambra was the deteriorating relationship between a different Governor (Mbadinuju) and his ‘godfather’ (Emeka Offor). The end was the same, an imbroglio over who was entitled to which corrupt payment and which government contract.
The head of Naval Staff reported daily to the President’s office of the bunkering activities of the Vice-president and the head of the PDP. Apparently, according to the Navy, this duo made off with over $400 million in the last two and one-half years. When things came to a head the pair were warned off and no public exposure or anti-corruption charges filed. No one expects any charges to emerge as this process is part of the battle for the 2007 election in which Atiku claim! s the right to stand. The head of the EFCC, Ribadu, has filed no suit. Perhaps he is too embarrassed by the news that his mistress in Accra is living in a mansion with chauffeurs and servants paid for by the anti crime commissioner. The Deputy head of the senate is not likely to bring charges as his multimillion dollar hotel holdings in the Gambia have become public knowledge. The Oil Minister is not likely to press charges since the Oil Minister is the President.
The Nigerian leadership struggle is characterised by the mutual blackmail of one corrupt politician threatening the exposure! of the other. The next election is being fought over who can be elected who can be safely allowed to take the job without indicting the current leadership. None of this is a mystery to the Nigerian public. They suffer from no electricity, polluted water and air, ethnic and religious violence, failing public services, dangerous hospitals, closed universities and an income of less than $1 a day. Nigeria’s claim to a write-off of its debt is more than ludicrous – it is preposterous. Nigeria is producing (officially) 2.35 million barrels of oil a day at around $50 per barrel or around $115 million a day. Its budget was set at a price of oil at under $30 a day, so there is a windfall profit of at least $20 a barrel per day from high oil prices or $46 million a day or $16.8 billion a year. This ‘rainy day’ fund is kept in a special accou! nt in a number of private banks which helps fund their liquidity ratios.
The Nigerians say that this money, or at least some of it, should be returned to the Nigerian people in terms of improved services, better roads, better schools and a better life. Experience says that this in unlikely, with or without a coup. The gap between the agbadas (the powerful people in fancy dress) and the Nigerian people is too wide to even contemplate. Instead there will be more of the same; grinding poverty, destroyed opportunities and the destruction of hope.
This doesn’t count the vast wealth accumulated by the politicians and generals from the granting of oil leases; in Nigeria and in the Joint Development Zone with Sao Tome. All the famous names are there, and their wives and children. There is no point listing them because the whole world knows who they are. When the Nigerian governors and officials show up in London or Potomac, Maryland to buy their multi-million pound houses, or their children buy expensive apartments for cash, no one is so naïve to think these vast millions come from their salaries or pension cheques or the sale of regular quantities of palm oil. This is oil and gas money and no one is fooled. How they got their ! private hands on this money is the shame and pity of Nigeria.
So, when the Nigerians roll up asking for help from the West in reducing their burdens, the answer should be that these burdens will be eased when the burden on the Nigerian people is lifted. When Atiku complains that he is being unfairly treated perhaps he will answer the question asked of him in America by a congressman after the FBI raided his house,”How did you, as a customs officer, accumulate sufficient wealth to endow an American style university (about £350 million) in Nigeria?”  When Obasanjo lobbies for a third term he should be asked if he wouldn’t just ! be satisfied with immunity from prosecution for what was done in his first two terms. Or, as they say “Bí a bá tọ̀ sílé, onípò a mọ ipò” (If someone wets the bed, each person should know where he or she slept.).

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Dr. Gary K. Busch is the editor of ocnus.net and a keen eye on Africa.



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