“Not less than $7 billion was hidden and taken out in cash last year through Nigeria’s airports,” the country’s Central Bank said alarmingly in July, confirming a wild scramble by Nigeria’s government officials and their criminal business accomplices to hide their stolen assets in “safe jurisdictions” ahead of Nigeria’s possible implosion.
Altogether, not less than 500 billion dollars is estimated by the World Bank to have been stolen and spirited away from Nigeria through official signatures appended to fake or inflated invoices.
Last year, another $6.7 billion dollars was stolen and taken out of Nigeria into private bank accounts overseas - aided by official signatures appended to forged bills of lading by the troika of the Minister of Finance, the Governor of Central Bank, and, the Accountant-General of the federation.
Barely 5% of that stolen $6.7 billion has so far been recovered - with the remainder likely to remain stolen, since Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) lacks legal power to sequester a private bank account overseas.
Crude oil royalties, imports and exports, remain the major leaky sieves for thefts of Nigeria’s money.
The London Guardian newspaper indeed reported last month that “300,000-400,000 barrels of oil per day, or more than 10% of all Nigeria's production, is being lost at a cost to both Nigeria and the oil companies of around £1billion (roughly equal to $160 billion) a month – more than is spent on education and the health of the nation's 168 million people”.
Global Witness, a United States policy watch group, had early on screamed at another $1.1 billion of Nigeria’s oil money placed in J.P Morgan bank in the United States by Shell Oil Company of Nigeria on the instruction of President Jonathan.
That money was later passed into the bank account of Nigeria’s Malabu oil, from where it was shared out between a Russian broker and five other Nigerians - including Chief Dan Etete, Nigeria’s past Petroleum Minister. No tax was paid to the Nigerian treasury, even on the back of the pretext that the $1.1billion was payment for OPL 245 by Shell Oil company, and despite Nigeria’s existing law prohibiting 100% ownership of an indigenous oil block by an international oil company.
“If indeed, as Nigeria’s Attorney- General Mohammed Adoke suggests, Shell and ENI knew that the ultimate destination of the US$1.1 billion paid by Shell and the Italian energy company ENI for a Nigerian oil block - OPL 245 - would be Malabu Oil and Gas company and Chief Dan Etete, then, this transaction might well fall foul of anti-bribery legislation in the United Kingdom, the United States and Italy - for the reason that a substantial monetary ’reward’ ended up being paid to a company controlled by an individual, who had arguably abused his public position to obtain OPL 245 in opaque circumstances during the General Sani Abacha dictatorship in Nigeria,” Global Witness declared in its public petition to United States and European governments on November 12, 2012.
Perhaps on cue the United States Justice Department at mid-year un-publicly issued a summons to counterparty to this OPL 245 oil deal. The counterparty under investigation has not been disclosed, but it is believed the investigation aims to un-cover likely violation of America’s wire fraud and money laundering laws.
If this investigation pans out, Nigeria risks being in a mess because President Jonathan was said to have approved the money transfer, whereas United States laws do not grant foreign immunity to any head of state over corruptive financial crimes occurring on American soil.
“Though Shell and ENI paid the Nigerian government, the funds were then transferred shortly after to Malabu Oil and Gas company controlled by ex-Oil Minister, Dan Etete, who in 2007 was convicted in France of money laundering. According to the current Nigerian Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr Mohammed Adoke, Shell and ENI were fully aware, and in agreement, that the money would be transferred to Etete’s company, Malabu Oil & Gas,” Global Witness had petitioned.
Nigeria’s 160 million citizens still believing they have a country may just have a flag left as another plan is now being hatched by the Federal House of Representatives in Abuja to further ease the spiriting away of the country’s financial resources into overseas private bank accounts outside the reach of Nigeria’s tax authority.
“One of the bills comes with the title, A Bill for an Act to Amend the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, 2004, so as to make the leave of the bureau necessary for a public officer to maintain or operate a bank account outside Nigeria.” Its Sponsors are Honorables Bamidele Faparusi, (APC-Ekiti), Oluchi Ibeji (PDP-Abia) and Emmanuel Jime (PDP-Benue), the Vanguard newspaper reported on November 22nd.
The bill has since passed second reading and now promises to progress to conference with the Senate for concurrence and harmonization into law - which will then have the effect of neutralizing the EFCC’s confiscatory powers, in extent the EFCC is not authorized to obtain interim forfeiture court order on a bank account located overseas.
As the means for official thefts widen in Abuja and in each of the 36 states, Nigeria’s pillars weaken - and the society fails to assure anyone of convenience or safety, as instead, the oppressed youths are arming at a rate that may shortly put Nigeria on the cusp of an imminent armed struggle, not just for the youths’ existential needs, but so also for them to meet up with the “stolen standards of success” set by the country’s roguish public officials.
For a country earning about 57 billion dollars a year but where 7 billion dollars of it is illicitly money-laundered through its national airports in a single year, plus another 7 billion dollars stolen a year through its oil subsidy reimbursement process - involving fake bills of lading - plus, another 7 billion dollars stolen annually from its oil wells and pipelines - according to Shell Oil Company in Nigeria - not to mention the billions stolen in each federal and state ministries, Nigeria is being severely asphyxiated by official thefts.
Workers’ salaries are now irregular as cash flow problems beset the country’s Finance Ministry, which fiddles limp-fistedly over its failing macro-economic benchmarks, following a rapid devaluation of the Naira in the last two weeks at a current street exchange rate of ₦170 to a dollar, from the ₦160 maximum rate set by the Central Bank.
“There’s no single leader in Nigeria today - since a leader can’t also be a thief, for that will be a contradiction of terms”, a journalist once described the country’s worsening leaderless distress.
In that leaderless meltdown into anomie, Nigeria’s future no longer depends on the country’s politicians - who besides being roguish and thievish – lack moral standing to steer the country from floundering, as likely.
But because stealing is a zero-sum crime, a small number of Nigerians is having the best time ever, all at the expense of millions of others without access to steal or to gain from inflated public contracts. The net effect of that zero-sum crime is the resentment loosed on the country and causing armed militias to sprout in revolt. Violent robberies too have sprouted alongside and touched every neighbourhood in the country with increasing death toll, in a country now looking more like a lawless jungle where anything goes in a deadly struggle for the national currency.
Some foreigners in Nigeria are however quick to say “Nigeria is looking promising for business”, but that’s only because leaky treasury typically oozes free cash for increased demand with no regard to cost. At any rate, it is not the foreigners’ business to enquire into their customers’ sources of income or into the opportunity cost of their customers’ cash, even if known to have been wangled from the treasury by virtue of office, or, simply by their acting as proxies for officials who steal directly.
Despite its house of mirrors - of riches and poverty reflecting at once - Nigeria totters.
The elephant in the room is the deadly official thefts asphyxiating a country whose public civil servants don’t even reply letters from those they claim to administer. That arrogant tyranny further alienates Nigerians from their government by now setting both on a collision course.
Without a doubt, the means of wealth-acquisition by Nigeria’s supposed elites are not right.
That realization by the people fosters violence, as the people seethe in anger and refuse to sit on their hands any longer. They see billionaires but don’t see the factories or the products where the billions were productively earned. That’s why the future of Nigeria now solely depends on the coming reaction of country’s angry populace – who violently refuse to forfeit their own lives for Nigeria’s thievish elites to continue to live in luxury or safety.
…Seyi Olu Awofeso is a Legal Practitioner in Abuja