by Wale Bakare
It’s hard to imagine a more esteemed piece of legislation in the last two years than the discovery of the nearly N1.2 trillion spent in 2011 on fuel subsidy payment to oil marketers as against the budgeted N240 billion ratified by the National Assembly and approved by the Appropriation Act. The motion raised in the chamber that eventually led to the exposure of the corrupt practices and the intricacies never before witnessed in the history of Nigeria’s downstream sub-sector is one that will linger on for times to come. During this period, the government was unable to come up with any meaningful reform with a staggering deficit that stood at over 6% thus diminishing the hopes of performing budget for the following year.
After a successful government shutdown to protest the hike in fuel pump price as a result of the nation’s wasteful spending, barely two years down the line the Federal Government announced a reduction in public spending on oil subsidy payments from N2.2 trillion in 2011 to N971 billion last year. Accruing about N1.2 trillion more that can be injected into the economy to provide basic infrastructure and other amenities.
We can at least heave a sigh of relief that the efforts of those who refused to remain silent by blowing the whistle on the subsidy scam is never in vain. The major character responsible for this act would be the National Assembly and special credit must be accorded to Senator Bukola Saraki for exercising his constitutional responsibility in the interest of the people. His timely intervention, today has saved us a whooping N1.2 trillion Naira in the excess crude account.
The minister of finance – Dr Ngozi Okonja Iweala, according to a press statement from her office stated that “This administration hired new auditors and put in place different checks and balances. As a result, last year, we brought subsidy payment down to about N950 billion, and we expect that this year, we will pay about N971 billion, this is a huge achievement for which the Jonathan Administration deserves some credit, something that should make Nigerians proud of their government”. No doubt more of such reduction can be achieved with more commitment from the government, and judicious use of the savings will determine the overall success of the sector.
While I agree to an extent that, it is indeed an honorable call to commend the Jonathan Administration for this feat, however, it is even more honorable to credit same for allowing the biggest corruption case in Nigeria’s history slip under his nose without anyone being prosecuted thus far.
The Walter Wagbatsoma’s connection with the fuel scam saga is never forgotten, the Ifeanyi Ubah of this world are still walking freely and can contest election without being harassed. The PDP National Chairman Alhaji Bamangar Tukur’s son unreservedly goes about his business and Alao Arisekola’s son also continues to show us the blunt side of our federal agencies in the discharge of their duties.
In the coming weeks, I expect the Petroleum Minister- Diezani Allison- Madueke to come out and claim a part of the glory in the reduced subsidy payment figure by telling us how her ministry introduced “stiffer” measures to curb fuel subsidy scam despite authorizing and offering importation contracts to companies indicted for fraudulent fuel subsidy claims. Since she has a grip of the ministry, the NNPC and other agencies in the oil industry such unwholesome practices were ordinary in her dealings.
Also, we’ll do well to remind Madam Ngozi Okonja Iweala, the coordinating minister of our economy how she came on air to make tons of promises, most especially on behalf of the Federal Government to persuade Nigerians on the need for the total subsidy removal and a pledge to turn around the economy and infrastructure with funds that will be saved from the withdrawal of fuel subsidies. Her mathematics must have also failed her since she has refused to publish the amount of money being saved from the withdrawal of fuel subsidy on a monthly basis as promised and what the funds were being mobilized for. The refineries, the 6 railways, the health centers for 3 million pregnant woman and the 8 major road construction are yet to take full effect. The SURE-P is also on the verge of extinction due to lack of funds to sustain it. This was one of the fears we allayed during the #OccupyNigeria deliberations; we came to a conclusion that our problem is not a lack of funding for infrastructures but implementation due to corruption.
So, what then is remarkable and extraordinary about the reduction in subsidy payment if it does not translate to better living? Which independent agency monitors government spending on the projects executed so far? How many of the identified fraudulent oil marketers have been prosecuted for their corrupt ways? What exactly is being done to curb about 100,000 barrels of crude oil stolen on a daily basis? Until all these questions are answered, the present administration deserves no commendation even if they save $2.5 trillion in Subsidy fund.