One of the most passionate persons I heard speak about Nigeria’s oil wealth and the issues around it was Chief Harold Dappa-Biriye. Both in Port Harcourt and at his Peterside community in Bonny Local Government Area of Rivers State, I watched him give insights into oil, the wealth it is and how this precious gift from God should be administered in a country like Nigeria. In 1999, as a rookie journalist and soon a correspondent in a Nigeria that had just returned to democracy, many of them things he talked about were flying by me. However, I totally understood that the elderly man only wanted a fair administration of the crude oil and the wealth therefrom for a better Nigeria. He, like the egret flying around and perching on the cow, also wants his part of the country which he said he was the first to refer to as “the Niger Delta” to benefit from the oil wealth.
As I grew in journalism, I found that one of the reasons for the agitations of elderly people of the Niger Delta, including the likes of Chief Dappa-Biriye was the need for the Nigerian government to look in the direction of the Niger Dalta states of Nigeria with the payment of 13 per cent derivation for their various environmental and sundry troubles. The success of that sweaty agitation, among a gamut of issues around the Nigerian oil and gas industry makes recent reports emanating from the sector a painful episode. Enduring corruption cum confusion in the sector makes the struggles of the likes of Chief Dappa-Biriye, the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his kinsmen and the pillorying of the common Niger Delta people pointless.
The flagrant corruption in the Nigerian oil and gas sector has lived with us for a long time. We are so used to the sleaze in the sector that it goes without saying, and we are not really saying anything. We just live with it. However it is tantamount to killing the people and the environment again. Oil theft in the country reportedly led to the vast drop in our oil export quota for the month of August 2022. Government recently spoke about huge amounts lost in revenue due to criminal activities. Workers in the oil and gas sector have said they would bare their fangs to establish their anger and displeasure at what is going on. They angrily laid accusations at the doorstep of the high authorities in and outside of government. The PENGASSAN people said enough is enough.
In the midst of it all, the government appears utterly helpless. They have promised us action as always. While making the promises, it is also daily lamenting what could have been, and to top it all, it is acting like someone else is the holder of the reins of power. No less a personality than the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, blamed the huge amount of oil stolen from Nigeria as being the handiwork of saboteurs. The saboteurs we cannot name or arrest are operating freely and are chocking our economy. The president said “with the high price of oil in the world markets, producing at about half of our OPEC quota has deprived us of much needed revenue and foreign exchange. Government is working tirelessly to reverse this situation.” Our president hates the fact that we managed to export only one million barrels of oil in August as against the two million barrels quota OPEC gave us, but how are we going to stop those stealing our oil? They are just too powerful!
The most recent in the list of innumerable funny happenings in the Nigerian oil and gas sector was the query raised by the Comptroller-General of Customs, Colonel Hameed Alli, at the National Assembly. He told the House of Representatives Committee on Finance that the N6trillion quoted as being paid for fuel subsidy on premium motor spirit (PMS) in the 2022 fiscal year by the NNPC Ltd. was simply a fraud. In making this allegation, Alli might have spoken like a soldier – frank and brutally unsympathetic – but the message was clear. According to him, the NNPC Ltd. says that daily consumption of petrol stands at 98million litres and that this cannot be substantiated. To him, 38 million litres of the commodity was in excess of the actual consumption by Nigerians living in the country. He also queried the fact that the country would borrow to pay for petrol subsidy. It doesn’t sound logical to millions of other Nigerians too. Like Alli, we also wonder why we would incur N11trillion debt and use half of it to pay subsidy to some people among us.
“The over N11 trillion we are going to take as debt, more than half of it is going for subsidy. The issue is not about smuggling of petroleum products. I have argued this with NNPC. If we are consuming 60 million litres of PMS per day by their own computation, why would you allow the release of 98 million litres per day? If you know this is our consumption, why would you allow that release?” Now, we have an Alli speaking the mind of millions of Nigerians. In fact, Col Hameed Alli said of subsidy: “It does not exist.” I’m sure we have heard this statement before… The NNPC must have explained the discrepancies Colonell Alli observed and pointed out to them. The retired colonel even said it was not the first time he had noticed and shown the NNPC this.
Members of the House of Representatives Committee on Finance are gobsmacked at the amounts they are hearing from the Office of the Accountant-General. One of the committee members removed his glasses and seconds after replaced them across his eyes while querying some of the expenditure. The figures that were in the papers before him gave the committee members the ‘squeaky bum’ feeling, apologies to Sir Alex Ferguson. When the money in the NNPC subsidy payments are calculated and summed up, then, we might understand the message of Col Hameed Alli. Or is he not an insider in the same government?
All the news show that whatever it is our ‘heroes past’ like Chief Dappa-Biriye et al were fighting for are daily being rubbished by greed and covetousness. The acts of some Nigerians officials in positions of trust do not conform to “the labours of our heroes past shall never be in vain.”
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