Saturday, 25 May 2013
The Audacity Of A Rogue Regime By Chinedu Ekeke
On the highway to infamy, shame and conscience are two bumps you do not expect to see. Actually, there are no bumps at all. It’s usually a smooth ride propelled by impunity and an imperial feeling of invincibility. It was from the centre of that highway that Diezani Allison-Madueke, Nigeria’s petroleum minister, chided citizens, last week, for their lack of understanding. She wondered why it was difficult for people to simply comprehend how corruption makes service delivery easy and frictionless.
Descending from the chambers of their Federal Executive Council (FEC) – by the way the FEC has since last two years assumed the position of Nigeria’s highest corruption appropriation and shielding body, only awarding contracts for majorly frivolous projects that hardly ever get completed – meeting on Wednesday, Madueke sauntered into the presidential villa’s press corner and thundered to awaiting journalists; “We cannot eat our cakes and have it [sic]. We cannot keep calling out for transparency and accountability and pointing at corruption if we are not prepared to bear some of the hardship that will obviously come when you are trying to clean up a sector.”
But for my decision to not make this piece a long one, I would have been interested in knowing where Mrs Diezani schooled. I would have loved to know who taught her the rule of concord in English language, so as to understand the elegance of referring to ‘cakes’ as ‘it’. But she already earned my pardon even before the howler. She doesn’t have a PhD. And we know that it is tough for even those with PhDs (even if from the academia) to make coordinated and grammatically correct sentences in this regime. Dullness could be infectious. I’ve heard that from experts.
Back to her admonition. Those words aren’t difficult to understand. She said we ate our cakes the day we dared call for fiscal responsibility and transparency in the management of our oil, and so should not be that stupid to expect to have the same cakes back since they are trying to become fiscally responsible and transparent in the oil sector. Diezani implied that we should have known that lack of corruption and service delivery are mutually exclusive. Two things are mutually exclusive if they cannot happen at the same time. Diezani explained to Nigerians that there cannot be fuel if we do not allow corruption to remain. It is corruption that makes fuel available, and now that we have forced their hands into tightening the noose on oil racketeers, it is irresponsible of us to expect that there’ll be availability of fuel. So, if you want fuel, advocate for corruption. Full stop.
Now that is a minister in Nigeria; actually, a high ranking one. Why was she that bold to spew those lines of insult to a nation that has daily been insulted by her rulers? It is because she appreciates the premium the current administration she serves places on corrupt officers: they are protected like a hen protects its eggs. She understands that she is not supposed to remain a minister by now, in saner climes, that is. She should have long been explaining to the jury how a budgetary provision of N240b for fuel subsidy metamorphosed into trillions of naira under her watch. Since January this year, a consensus had long coalesced on the decency of sacking Diezani and prosecuting her for her role in the fleecing of Nigerians as the petroleum minister. On a daily basis, the call for her sack had intensified. But the man who appointed her, Nigeria’s cheerleader of the corrupt, has feigned ignorance of the need for
Diezani’s sack and prosecution. She has remained, and her continuous stay has emboldened her to ridicule us even further.
Consider how she constituted the Nuhu Ribadu-led Task Force and then secretly compromised two leading members of the committee few weeks later with appointments into the board of the NNPC without giving a hoot about what conflict of interest means. As you would expect, the two men punctured the committee’s report, right in front of the president, and declared that the recommendations of the Task Force were plain ‘unimplementable’ simply because the processes that led to the recommendations – not the recommendations themselves – weren’t satisfactory to them. It did not even matter that Mr Steve Orosanye, the leader of the team to rubbish the report, was not attending committee sittings. The melodrama worked out as planned, and a credible report which, by the way, indicted Diezani herself, was pooh-poohed by an administration that believes in the almighty power of corruption in hitch-free service delivery. But even before Ribadu’s report, Diezani and the industry players under her watch had been indicted by every probe panel, or audit firm, that looked at the oil industry books, for sleaze, sharp practices and opaqueness in operations. That she is still a minister today justifies her belief in the wonders of corruption and its ability to get things done – faster – in 2012 Nigeria.
It is therefore understandable why the federal government dismissed the recent rating of Nigeria by Transparency International (TI) as the 35th most corrupt nation as untrue. They discussed and agreed in their FEC meeting – where protection for corruption and the corrupt must be topping their weekly agenda – that the rating by TI was not a ‘true reflection’ of their regime’s ‘efforts’ at fighting corruption.
The conveyor of the message, Labaran Maku, who mistakes the Information ministry he heads for the lying arm of a joke of a government, said the TI rating, as well as a recent poll by Gallup that placed Mr Jonathan’s regime as the world’s second most corrupt, were products of interactions with Nigerians and synopsis of ‘negative media reports’.
It is difficult to understand, as much as the members of FEC do, the pivotal role corruption plays in the prompt availability of goods and services in a society and not frown at whoever condemns it. This present administration has hands-on experience in the goodness of corruption, that’s why they don’t even think it should be demonized as much as detractors and opposition do.
But in a bid to create the impression of a people on the same page with the rest of the world, they have joined in pretending that corruption is equally evil, but not until they argue out how corrupt the world sees them to be. For the FEC, Nigeria should have been declared to be corruption-free, going by the ‘efforts’ they are making in the ‘fight’ against the monster. Remember that the president had openly lied to us during a statewide broadcast that TI had ranked Nigeria immediately after the United States amongst the countries that demonstrate indubitable resolve in the fight against corruption. Such are the kind of stories the regime wants to hear: concocted lies and half-truths. They seek flattering statistics, but daily fertilize corruption which is alien to impressive human development index anywhere in the world.
I never knew that it could be possible for a meeting of over 50 men and women to not have even one soul who still has conscience. Yes, I understand the power of free mega money – the type that comes with just being a Nigerian government official, but I never imagined it could so freeze up people’s humanity to the height of denying every verifiable fact around them.
Here’s a government that budgeted N240b for one year for fuel subsidy (based on prevailing trend of subsidy spending in the previous years), and then expended over a trillion naira on the same item before nine months without blinking an eyelid. When they sensed the inevitability of bankruptcy at such stupid spending rates, they did not bother to probe the subsidy regime or question the relevant agencies. They simply understood what happened, and then chose to push their irresponsibility to the already impoverished masses through fuel tax. Nigerians refused vehemently and showed visible willingness to bring down their rogue regime. It was at that point that the House of Representatives quickly commenced a probe of the subsidy regime. Yet as that was going on, the government used the president’s closest oil dealer, Femi Otedola, to rubbish whatever would be the report of that probe. Otedola set up and bribed Farouk Lawan, the Chairman of the House Committee handling the probe. As we talk, Otedola is seen everywhere around the president. He hasn’t been prosecuted for bribery. He hasn’t been prosecuted for economic sabotage. But Jonathan’s government’s claim to fighting corruption is the prosecution of subsidy fraudsters. So the question is: when did this government begin their prosecution of the subsidy scammers? After we botched their plans to cover up the fraud through fuel tax? Why didn’t they prosecute them before our anti-subsidy removal protests?
And when you hear prosecution, you almost want to believe it is the first time the government is trying to prosecute people. We know their second strategy of growing their pet-monster. My bet is that this government will bungle the fuel subsidy cases to create room for judges to quash them on technicalities. We’ve seen all that before.
It is laughable to hear the government, through Mr Maku, blame the media for the TI ratings. This is a government that has presided over the highest cases of treasury looting since the birth of this country. Punch Newspaper helped us out with a clear summation of how much has been stolen under the watch of Mr Jonathan’s government: N5 trillion naira. That is a whole annual budget! To be clear, I think the Transparency International rating for Nigeria was too fair. I can’t imagine any other country in the world with more criminally-wired public servants. That country must be hell, the abode of Lucifer himself.
But I do perfectly understand why it is possible that a government could be this bad. Their destination, infamy, especially in African rulership, has a reward in excess money that unborn generations cannot exhaust. This reward, like a magnet, sits at the end of the highway, waiting patiently. From there, it pulls their vehicle, already racing at high speed, to that realm where petro-dollars matter more than the millions of Nigerians who die before 50 because no life-sustaining social welfare is in place and functional.
It is such realization, that fame isn’t worth as much as the dollars of infamy, that fuels the arrogance of members this government. And it is that financial reward that we must target if we are serious about putting a halt to the sustained and determined effort by a few men and women of dead conscience to convert Nigeria’s public wealth to private cash.
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