When the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Abuja last month promised to partner with the Nigerian Extractive Industries and Transparency Initiative (NEITI) in the fight against corrupt practices in Nigeriaâ€™s extractive industries, the agency actually meant what it said. Also, NEITIâ€™s quest for a dedicated desk in EFCC to facilitate seamless synergy between the two agencies, was also well intended, as in the mind of NEITI people, it would make it easier for the EFCC to enforce the NEITI Act and investigate complaints arising from audit reports. It would also facilitate prompt prosecution of offenders, information sharing, capacity building and building stronger inter-agency strength.
However, the problem is that NEITI is praying at the wrong altar and as a result, will either receive wrong answers or be outrightly defrauded.
It is unarguable that this country seriously needs a mechanism to thoroughly investigate, prosecute and ultimately impose sanctions on erring entities in the extractive industries particularly the most organized of all the extractive sectors- the oil and gas sector where corruption, fraud and opaque business transactions are being carried out with impunity even as we talk now.
Although the NEITI Act of 2007 empowers the organisation to impose sanctions on established erring business entities, it does not have the necessary capacity to investigate or prosecute offenders. The reports of the various audits so far conducted on the oil and gas sector appear ineffective tools against corruption because the agency has no powers to enforce proposed or intellectually- imposed sanctions on erring operators. And as reportedly said by Zainab Ahmed the NEITI Executive Secretary, â€śThis is why a stronger collaboration with other anti-corruption agencies like the EFCC becomes necessary.â€ť
Did it not surprise the NEITI management team to hear the EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde say â€śWe are aware that NEITI has always voiced its concern on the generated revenue from oil and gas and projects funded with such revenuesâ€ť?
Question: What was the EFCC set up to do in the first instance? Improper accounting of oil proceeds and fraudulent manipulation of joint venture budgets are these not economic and financial crimes? Was the EFCC not established to investigate and prosecute financial crimes including economic sabotage? So the agency has been aware that NEITI has been shouting over misdeeds in accounting for the nationâ€™s oil earnings but it refused to do something about it waiting for NEITI to come to it first? You see the politics!
And why is NEITI begging the EFCC to give what it does not have? The anti-graft agency as packaged today also lacks the capacity to investigate and prosecute even village thieves not to talk of sophisticated foreign oil multinationals and their collaborators at the Presidency that for a long time have practiced creative accounting, fortuitously fleecing the country of its vast oil fortunes. This is the real problem: NEITI as currently structured was merely packaged to feign aggressive transparency campaign despite its deliberate default setting and lack of teeth to bite.
Also, the organization either by omission or outright mischief was tied for its day-day sustenance to the mercy of the Presidency which also is the bigger accomplice if not the mastermind in almost all of the heinous corruption and financial crimes in the oil and gas sector. This is not a Goodluck Jonathan thing, as this callous default has been like that since NEITI was created in 2007/2008 in the days of President Olusegun Obasanjo. How do you prosecute somebody that sustains you? Itâ€™s not possible at all! You see the self-deceit?
We have been told how our collective wealth is being used to subsidize petroleum products that were not even supplied in the first instance. Who paid the monies? Was the payment not among the PPPRA; NNPC and its strategic business units; CBN; and the Offices of both the Minister of Petroleum Resources and Finance? And all these agencies and its people report directly to the Office of the President and cannot take a single decision or action without approval from whosoever sits there as the President.
It has been said severally that Nigeria does not actually know how much oil produced from oil wells and fields within its shores. Who is going to ascertain this on behalf of the country-the Department of Petroleum Resources and NNPC- the same people that take orders from the Office of the President? Who does the EFCC and ICPC Chairpersons report to? Both officials take orders from the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice who in turn reports directly to the President of the Federal Republic. And it is a very open secret that the bulk of corruption cases and opaque business transactions in the oil and gas sector ranging from fuel subsidy scams, blurred NNPC accountings for proceeds of produced oil and gas to transparent mis-management of even what they say they paid emanate and derive life from the Presidency.
This is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So how do you expect the EFCC to prosecute the President or a minister who was ordered by the President to take actions that gave rise to NEITI moving in to do its transparency business? This is pure wururu setting!
As far back as 2007 Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, as Chairman of the EFCC, at the â€śNEITI Road Show and North East Civil Society Interactive Session, expressed serious concern that the NEITI Act 2007 lacks the enforcement bite in law and needs to be amended. Ribadu had insisted that NEITI was a stakeholder in the anti-corruption fight and needed a strong legislation to back its operations. Five years after, rather than seek for the amendment and strengthening of the Act, NEITI is begging for help. We are indeed making progress as a nation, are we not? Today, this same Ribadu has been appointed as head of the 21-member Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force constituted by the Petroleum Minister, Diezani Allison Madueke.
The Special Task Force, according to the minister, was designed to enhance probity and accountability in operations of the Petroleum Industry while it is to work with consultants and experts to determine and verify all petroleum upstream and downstream revenues (taxes, royalties, etc.) due and payable to the Federal Government of Nigeria; take all necessary steps to collect all debts due and owing.
Part of its function is also to obtain agreements and enforce payment terms by all oil industry operators; design a cross debt matrix between all Agencies and Parastatals of the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources and develop an automated platform to enable effective tracking, monitoring, and online validation of income and debt drivers of all Parastatals and Agencies in the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources.
The task force is also to work with world-class consultants to integrate systems and technology across the oil and gas production chain to determine and monitor crude oil production and exports, ensuring at all times, the integrity of payments to the Federal Government of Nigeria; and submit monthly reports for Ministerial review and further action.
Question: Who should the EFCC now work with on issues of transparency in the extractive industries particularly the oil and gas sector- NEITI or the Ribadu-led Taskforce since the two bodies are performing the same functions? You see the politics- People deceiving people (pdp)!
The only proactive step for NEITI to take now is to first aggressively pursue an amendment to the Enabling Act that established it. This will help strengthen and statutorily empower the agency to prosecute culprits whenever they are identified. And whatever synergy it wants to establish with any other anti-graft agency should be hinged on the strength that NEITI on its own has the capacity to do things for itself. If not, let them go ahead and sign whatever MoU; that would not change a single thing. Mark my words!
(IFEANYI can be reached on: 234-8033043009; iizeze at yahoo dot com)
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