FUEL SUBSIDY SCANDAL PROBE: WILL IT MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE
FUEL SUBSIDY SCANDAL PROBE: WILL IT MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE
By Lanre Arogundade
When the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee probing the fuel subsidy scandal rounded off its public sittings recently, the committee’s chair Farouk Lawan boasted that “our recommendations will certainly bring about the running of a better oil industry in Nigeria. Some of the recommendations will have judicial implications. Some will require prosecutions and so on”.
Working class elements would not be impressed by such tough-talk given the history of Nigeria’s various ‘lead-to-nothing’ probes. Lawan himself anchored his optimism on the prayer “that the House will accept our recommendations and also that affected agencies will implement the report”.
But the Nigerian National Assembly is not known for and indeed is incapable of carrying through any fundamental anti-corruption measures. At least one Senate President and two Speakers of the House of Representatives have been removed over one form of corruption scandal or the other since the return of civil rule. The legislators live off fat salaries and allowances but were unwilling to approve a mere minimum wage of N18, 000 until mass pressure forced them to do so.
In 2008, a similar pledge had followed the highly publicized sitting of the committee on Power and Steel that investigated the $16billion scandal in the power sector. Then, as of now, shady deals were said to have scuttled the power projects as dubious contractors took money for jobs that were not executed. In the words of the committee’s chairman, Ndudi Godwin Elumelu, “a lot of people will go to jail with what we have seen and heard in this investigation. The EFCC will have its hands full because these people who have defrauded Nigerians will not only refund the money but they will also be prosecuted.”
The only thing Nigerians would probably remember about that power probe was that Elumelu himself almost ended in jail for being part of the scandal he was probing. He and nine others were charged for stealing about N5.6 billion from the Rural Electrification Agency from which their companies got contracts for electricity projects that were not done.
However, for the period that the oil subsidy probe committee sat, the magnitude of the rot and stealing in the oil sector again became manifest; confirming fears of working class elements who actively participated in the January strike and mass actions against the removal of fuel subsidy that Nigeria’s ruling capitalist elites merely wanted the vast majority of poor Nigerians to pay more for petrol and bear the burden of their corruption.
That is the implication of the IMF and World Bank’s imperialist agenda of deregulation, privatization and commercialization that the Jonathan regime has fully bought into, so much so that he now says he would have a World Bank desk in his office to vet all contracts.
The various revelations of fraud should therefore point in the direction that the ruling classes cannot be trusted to reform a system they have built for their self-serving purposes. It is all about preservation of the status quo, even if it means telling lies.
Take for example, the question of how much the government paid on its so-called subsidy regime in 2011. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Finance Minister and World Bank’s leading representative in Goodluck Jonathan’s government, said it was about N1.4 trillion; her co-cabinet member in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke put the figure at N1.1 trillion but the CBN Governor, Lamido Sanusi, said it was actually N1.7 trillion. With claims and counter claims over yet to be paid subsidies, the panel finally reasoned that the amount might hit N2 trillion.
And what is the assumption behind the supposed subsidy payments? That because the local refineries are not working, fuel had to be imported to meet domestic consumption! This then led to the question on the exact volume of fuel consumed domestically; but here again, the answer was astonishing. This is because according to Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) representative, 35 million litres of fuel were consumed daily throughout 2011 but government paid subsidy on 59 million litres per day in the same year. Ordinarily, this would have seemed like standing logic on its head but this particular logic is about some people collecting and putting the extra monies for the unused 24 million litres per day in their pockets or perhaps smuggling out the products to make double profits.
No wonder then that the number of fuel contractors almost tripled from around 49 in 2010 to 2011 when the fictitious subsidy payments were made. There were many other revelations during the probe that reinforce the fact that minus corruption, a litre of fuel should in fact sell far less than the old rate of N65 in the country.
Besides, both the power and oil sector probes have further revealed that Nigeria has enough resources to provide for all the basic necessities of her citizens but for the corruption ridden capitalist system that enables few millionaires to appropriate the collective wealth of the society.
What has been revealed by these probes is just the tip of the iceberg. Rather than seeking to root out the basic cause of these repeated scandals, all too often the official probes reflect infighting within the ruling class as different factions fight for their share of the loot or are simple attempts to find scapegoats that can be sacrificial lambs to divert public attention from their rival looters. This is why there is need to have genuinely independent public probes run by accountable and elected representatives of working Nigerians and the poor, including Labour and other genuine popular organizations, into what has happened to the country’s wealth, followed by determined action to reclaim what has been stolen.
However, probes on their own will not end corruption. No matter the reforms carried out in the oil sector today, it would still be a tale of one form of corruption or the other, unless the sector is publicly owned and run for the benefit of the majority of the working people instead of the current arrangement whereby a tiny elite, now called cabals, run the industry for their personal profits. Fundamentally the ruling class loots because it understands that Nigeria, being a backward economy cannot develop into an advanced economy on the basis of capitalism, therefore instead of investing in long term projects they loot or limit any investments to those areas, like food, where they can make fast profits.
This is why socialists demand the nationalization of the oil sector and other commanding heights of the economy under the democratic management and control of the elected representative of the workers, the trade unions, the professional bodies, the oil communities under a workers and farmers’ government committed to the socialist transformation of society.
Under such an arrangement important decisions on how to develop the country, including the building, maintenance and efficient running of refineries, allocation of fuel for domestic consumption at cheaper prices etc. will be democratically taken in the interest of the vast majority of the poor peoples as against the greed of few exploiters.