Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Oil theft and theft of oil money

Nigeria typifies a country under a resource curse. A rich country of poor people. A country with abundant natural resources yet at the lowest rung of all development indices. The country has yet to meet any of the eight Millennium Development Goals even as we are on the eve of the 2015 target date.  In no other area is our resource curse more affirmed than in the country’s oil and gas sector. With over five decades of oil exploration, Nigeria has not been able to make optimal use of the revenue accruing from the industry. There are two broad thefts going on in that sector. The first is theft of money made from legitimate oil trade and the theft of crude oil itself.
For many years, what was in fad is the stealing of oil money. This is done through myriads of ways. One of them is the deliberate falsification of account of volumes of products explored and sold. This is very easy as multinational oil companies and even our own Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation are alleged to declare unverified figures. They are able to get away with their arbitrary claims due to the esoteric or very technical nature of oil and gas explorations. It will be recalled that when the suspended Central Bank Governor, Lamido Sanusi, wrote to the President last year that a sum of $49.8bn was not paid by the NNPC into the Federation Account, the latter claimed that the CBN governor goofed. The NNPC said Sanusi lacked the expertise to make any categorical statement on how computations were done in the oil and gas sector. The NNPC made the same claim on the recent allegation of missing of $20bn made by Sanusi, who had maintained that the NNPC account had not been audited since 2005.
When revenues from the oil and gas industry are shared by the three tiers of government and such monies are looted through over-invoicing, fund diversion, bogus, substandard or abandoned projects, “ghost” workers and pensioners, fraudulent subsidy claims on fuel import, and so on, what such public officials are indirectly doing is to steal oil money. This is because about 80 per cent of our national income come from crude oil and gas sales. Taxes, customs and excise duties and revenue from solid mineral licensing, agriculture and other sundry sources account for the remainder. The evidence of the theft of oil monies stares us in the face. It manifests in the infrastructural deficits, soaring unemployment, grinding poverty and concomitantly the high standard of living being experienced by a majority of Nigerians.
Because only a powerful few, perhaps 10 per cent of the Nigerian population have the access to loot oil money, others, particularly in the Niger Delta region where the oil and gas are being explored have decided to forcefully partake of the looting. While it is relatively easy to steal oil money, it is far more difficult and dangerous to steal crude oil. In spite of the attendant danger to lives and the environment, what started at artisanal level about a decade ago has today grown into a big industry.
Thisday of July 30, 2013 quoted the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative as saying the nation lost over 136 million barrels of crude oil estimated at $10.9bn through pilfering and sabotage from 2009 to 2011. According to the organisation, in addition to the total amount of products and revenue lost to crude oil theft by the country in the upstream sector, about 10 million barrels of products, valued at $894mn, were also lost to pipeline vandalism in the downstream sector within the period under consideration.
In its editorial of November 26, 2013, The PUNCH quoted a United Kingdom-based think tank, Chatham House,  September 2013 report which indicates that  the country lost  well over £2bn, twice the sum of £1bn it receives in aid from Britain each year, to oil theft alone.  “Nigerian crude oil is being stolen on an industrial scale. Proceeds are laundered through the world’s financial centres. In Nigeria, politicians, military officers, militants, oil industry personnel, oil traders and communities profit, as do organised criminal groups,” the report declares. It is also estimated that between 300,000 and 650,000 barrels of crude oil are stolen in Nigeria every day.  The country loses $40m to $60m per day to oil theft and vandalism or $1.2bn – $1.8bn per month.
The claim by Chatham House of collusion of military officers in the illegal oil trade was established by the October 2013 report of Stakeholder Democracy Network which accused top military officials and others of colluding with the oil thieves for pecuniary considerations. The report which was published after 12 weeks of field research in Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta states, a snippet of which was published in Thisday of November 22, 2013 noted that a major portion of the stolen crude oil is sold internationally, but about 25 per cent is kept back in the Niger Delta for refining and consumption. According to the report, at the apex of the oil theft chain is the tapping point, the most lucrative part of the business chain, in which some top officers of the Joint Task Force own shares alongside technicians and couriers. During the tapping process, the JTF ensures the surrounding waterways are clear so workers can install the tap without disturbance”. The report added that outside the tapping points, some members of the JTF and marine police collect cargo-by-cargo “transportation taxes” from boats carrying stolen crude or illegally refined products.
The SDN said in its report that its interviewees described illegal oil refining as an entrepreneurial, free market response to the local economic dysfunction, socioeconomic pressures and government’s failure to provide basic services. The Chatham House was on point when it observed that the greatest victims of the unending theft are ordinary Nigerians as “the (illicit) trade destroys the environment, weakens public institutions, swallows government revenue that could buy public goods, and imposes other social costs.”
Venezuela’s advice to the Nigerian government that there is the need to identify where the stolen oil is sold, track the money from the illicit trade and mobilise the public against the theft is very apt. It is in line with the solution proffered by the SDN that the Federal Government should articulate a strategy for dismantling the trade in stolen crude oil, including measures for interdicting shipments of stolen oil, following the money trail and tackling associated security and environmental concerns.
In addition, the SDN warned that, “Unless the economic and political drivers of crude oil theft are dealt with through a credible and more appropriate strategy, the stability of Nigeria’s oil sector could worsen. This risks a return to instability and the country’s primary revenue stream being locked in.”  Need I say more?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Nigerians pilgrimage to Ghana’s ‘Portakabin’ universities

“…Thousand and one one-block and many mushroom universities (are) set up to target Nigerian students yearning for education…. But, sadly, they are not cheap as Nigerians pay in dollars. These universities are just pure business ventures.”
–Ambassador Ademola Onafowokan, Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Ghana.
 I shook my head in disbelief as I read the report of The PUNCH’s correspondent, Temitayo Famutimi’s 10-day odyssey to Ghana to study the country’s tertiary educational facilities. The report published on December 19, 2013 edition of this paper and the subsequent editorial of The PUNCH on it on January 26, 2014 were an eye-opener. The report, in particular, details the parlous state of the facilities and how desperate Nigerian students seeking university education are yearly falling prey of many of these sub-standard universities. Records from the Nigerian embassy in Ghana have it that about 110,000 Nigerians are studying  in Ghana with approximately N160bn being paid by them according to Wale Babalakin, Chairman, Committee of Pro-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities.
According to the aforementioned The PUNCH editorial: “At one such one-block university — Accra Institute of Technology — which claims to be the equivalent of the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, there are about 2,000 students, out of which 1,200 are reportedly Nigerians. The school also runs a ‘doctoral programme’ in a rented and uncompleted structure, and charges between $1,300 (N202,800) and $1,510 (N235,560) per session, accommodation and feeding excluded. However, at public universities, fees for foreigners vacillate between $6,000 (N936,000) and $8,000 (N1,248,000) per session, while those studying Medicine pay as much as $18,000 (N2,808,000).”
Famutimi reported that apart from AIT, other institutions operating from a one-block structure include the Sikkim Manipal University, Accra campus; Radford University College, Accra; and  Mahatma Gandhi University, Accra campus. Out of the about 50 private universities certified by the Ghanaian Government, only one of them is a full-fledged institution chartered to award degrees — the Valley View University, belonging to the Seventh Day Adventist. The VVU reportedly awards degrees on its own, without recourse to any government-owned or foreign university. Invariably, 49 of these “private universities” are sub-standard affiliates, study centres, or satellite campuses of foreign universities.
The main attraction to these pseudo universities  in Ghana include the low entry requirements; flexible admission schedule as students are still being offered admission up until a month to the examination date; ability to complete an undergraduate degree in six semesters instead of Nigeria’s minimum of eight semesters if you’re not a direct entry students as well as the smooth academic session. According to the  report:” Investigations reveal that the processes involved in securing admission into these quasi-universities are rather too easy for comfort, because they only require the candidate to have a good Senior School Certificate Examination result. This is in sharp contrast to Nigeria where, in addition to scoring at least six credits in the SSCE, candidates are also required to sit for and pass the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination as well as the Post-UTME of their individual institutions of choice.”
The PUNCH correspondent also found out that a good number of these private institutions also admit Nigerian students with deficiencies in their SSCE for undergraduate programmes. However, such students are expected to make up for the deficiencies within a stipulated time, such that their credentials will then be attached to their files at the later date. However, it was equally reported that some Ghanaians hold the opinion that the influx of Nigerians in the country had shot up the increasing cases of cultism in their tertiary institutions.
In contrast to the sad story in the Ghanaian private universities, the country’s nine public universities are said to be operating on international standards. Investigations show that securing admission into any of the nine universities is highly competitive, as a prospective candidate must present his academic transcripts from his or her  home university, the original WASSCE result, while he also has to sit for an internal examination relevant to the intended course, the overall result of which will determine whether or not he or she will be offered admission.
The institutions are the University of Ghana, Legon; Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi; University of Cape Coast; University of Education, Winnieba; and University for Development Studies, Tamale. Others are the University of Energy and Natural Resources, Ahafo; University of Mines and Technology, Tarkwa; University of Professional Studies, Legon; and the more recently established University of Health and Allied Sciences, Ho, in the Volta Region.  All of these tertiary institutions are said to have standard facilities and structures.
There is an adage that if you must blame hawk for wickedness, first scold the mother hen for exposing her children to danger. The fault does not lie with Ghanaians making a brisk business out of Nigerians; the blame is with us. It is with government that will allow its university academic staff to go on strike for 169 days in 2013 (July 1 – December 17, 2013). In the first place, if there had been adequate funding of Nigerian tertiary institutions, the various unions will not be going on perennial strikes. As I write this, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics has been on strike for upward of seven months while its Colleges of Education counterparts commenced an industrial action on January 15, 2014. For as long as there is labour unrest in Nigeria’s ivory towers, for as long as Nigerian tertiary institutions continue to have low carrying capacity (out of the 1.7 million students that applied for admission in 2013, only 520,000 got admission to universities, polytechnics and colleges of education.), so long will there be an influx of students desperate for academic laurels to foreign institutions be they fake or genuine.
The most preposterous thing is that parents and guardians of students who are jetting out to many of the foreign tertiary institutions for further studies do not bother to verify from the Evaluation and Accreditation Department of the Federal Ministry of Education or the National Universities Commission or the Nigerian Embassy in those countries if the institution they are about to send their children has genuine certification or accreditation.
I ask, what are the students, on graduation, going to do with such worthless certificates? First and foremost, they will not be moblised for the mandatory National Youth Service Corps scheme while their chances of securing paid employment are also very slim. At the end of the day they realise too late that they had embarked on a wild goose chase, a fruitless adventure.
I must say in closing that the phenomenon of fake or illegal universities is not limited to Ghana or any foreign universities. Even in Nigeria, the NUC has been having a running battle with some scoundrels who have established unaccredited and uncertified private universities.
In May 2013, the commission closed 41 illegal universities out of the 67 operating in the country. Nigerian students, “shine your eyes”, a short cut is sometimes a wrong cut and schooling in illegal institution is one of such. A word is enough, only for the wise.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What are your plans for St Valentine’s Day?

On February 14, that is in the  next 48 hours,  it will be Saint Valentine’s Day, also known as Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine, a day set aside worldwide to celebrate love. According to Wikipedia, “A popular hagiographical account of Saint Valentine of Rome states that he was imprisoned for performing wedding for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. According to legend, during his imprisonment, he healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius. ….before his execution he wrote her a letter signed, “Your Valentine” as a farewell”.  Valentine’s Day has been celebrated for centuries since the 1700s. According to the Greeting Card Association, about 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are purchased each year.
In Nigeria, we do celebrate in myriads of ways. Already, radio, T.V and newspaper adverts are running per second on musical concerts, films and comedy shows scheduled for the day across the country. Hoteliers and restaurateurs are not left out; they’re also offering mouth-watering offers for their customers. Some are giving heavy discounts on rooms and meals, particularly dinners for couples and families who come to patronise them.  Many traders in gift items have also gone to stock their shops with branded gifts that could be purchased as souvenirs or mementoes.  Some folks are also heading for their fashion designers to have them sew a new cloth usually with a touch of red, which is the official valentine colour, in order to celebrate the day.
Among the youths, particularly boys, it is also that time to go “toast” the “babe” they have been eying. I once did, while in school. I remember buying a lady I admired a “Be My Val’s card” while at the Ogun State Polytechnic, now Moshood Abiola Polytechnic. Usually, the lover boy will go buy a romantically worded “Val’s card” and gifts such as perfumes, wristwatches, mobile phones, flowers and any other things they can afford and assume will catch the fancy of the lady. These gifts are either sent through a third party; a family friend or a friend to the lady, or personally presented to the lady at an agreed rendezvous which might be the lady’s house or restaurant. It does work for a lot of people as ladies in need of suitors look forward to this expression of love which sometime culminates in marriage. However, nothing stops a lady who admires  a guy to ask him out this season and pamper him with gift and sumptuous meal. So, it’s another opportunity for lovebirds struck with Cupid’s arrow to make their feelings known to each other.
Valentine celebration is however not only for the youths. It’s for all – young or old, male or female, Christian or Muslim, black or white, literate or illiterate, able-bodied or physically challenged, married or single.  We all can share in the joy of Valentine season. Couples have another chance to rekindle their love for each other. A visit to the cinema or a musical show followed up with a private candle lit dinner will just be an ideal way to celebrate the day. Exchange of gifts between couples as well as between them and their children is also in order.
I must however say that it will be inappropriate to borrow to celebrate this day. He who goes a-borrowing, goes a –sorrowing, says the adage. We should all celebrate within our means.  Wives should not put pressure on their husbands to buy them expensive gifts or take them out to exclusive restaurants when they know they cannot afford it. It is not the price of the gift or food that should matter but the motive.  Even if there is no money to buy gifts and eat out,  you can still make the day memorable for your family by sending your spouse romantic text messages and preparing the family’s favourite dish. You can, as a family, watch interesting movies together and end the day with a candle-lit dinner at home. It’s not a rule that you must celebrate Valentine’s Day out. Each one should do according to the level of grace.
The day should however not be about self-indulgence alone but should be another opportunity to show love to the less-privileged and the needy. It is a chance to do charity work. Individuals, families, groups and organisations can gather resources and pay visit to orphanages, hospitals, prisons, and rehabilitation centres to make cash and material donations that will help other people to solve or alleviate their problems. Even, community service such as offer of free counselling, legal representation (legal aid), clearing neighbourhood of refuse, filling potholes on community roads, and repair of public utilities like community schools and health centres are part of good deeds we all can do in this season of love.  As the saying goes, there is love in sharing and anyone you’re capable of giving a helping hand is your neighbor.
 In the spirit of this season of love, I also challenge us to demonstrate our affection for this suffering motherland. Let us pray for the welfare of Nigeria and shun all vices that have contributed to her underdevelopment. Our political, economic, religious and cultural leaders should use the opportunity of this year’s Saint Valentine’s Day to reflect on how we can make this country a better place to live and resolve to put those thoughts into practice. We the followers too should show love by eschewing acts of brigandage, sabotage and all manner of evil deeds that have pulverised the country. We should remember that the country belongs to all and we all owe it a duty to seek and promote her welfare.
Valentine’s Day is not only for toasting, boozing and other acts, it is also for sharing, caring, praying, and resolving to work for public good. Happy Valentine’s Day, in advance.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

National conference or national confusion?

When President Goodluck Jonathan and Senate President David Mark, who were known antagonists of national conference, suddenly did a volte face and began to canvass for the much spurned confab, I smelt a rat.  I had earlier articulated my position on the conference in an article published in this column on October 16, 2013. The piece titled, “National Conference: The right thing at the wrong time”, articulated my support for the national dialogue but warned of the wrong timing for holding the conference. Well, unfolding events seem to be proving me right. There have so far been four important dates to note in this journey to national dialogue. October 1, 2013, when the President announced his intention to hold the conference; October 7, when the 13-member Presidential Advisory Committee led by Senator Femi Okurounmu was inaugurated; and December 18, when the Okurounmu committee submitted its over 4,000 page report to the President.
Another date to note is January 30, 2014 when the modalities for the holding of the conference were released by the Secretary to the Federal Government, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim. No sooner had this been made public than “confusion break bone” a la Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. About five critical points can be distilled from the cacophony of voices expressing their dissension to the government procedures for the conference. These are the composition, timing, duration, legal status, and what becomes of its outcome.
Before going to examine each of these points, let us take a look at the highlights of the framework. 492 delegates, representing all shades of opinion and interest groups nationwide, shall participate in the National Conference, and the nomination of delegates will begin from January 30 to February 20. It shall tentatively last for three months and shall discuss any subject matter, except the indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria; decisions at the conference shall be by consensus but where this is not achievable, it shall be by 75 per cent majority; the conference shall advise the government on the legal framework, procedures and options for integrating the decisions and outcomes of the dialogue into the constitution and laws of the country. An estimated N7bn has been set aside to bankroll the conference.
The modalities released by the Federal Government seem at variance with what the Presidential Advisory Committee proposed last December.
Thisday newspaper in a story published on December 23, 2013 said the PAC had proposed 545 delegates for the conference, 360 of them are to be elected based on equality of constituencies of the House of Representatives to allow for wider participation of the grass roots. In addition, the report allegedly recommended another 185 nominees who would comprise representatives of special interest groups and appointees of the federal and state governments as well as the Federal Capital Territory to reflect socio-cultural diversity.
With regard to the agenda of the national conference, the committee was said to have recommended, inter alia, that the delegates should examine the political structure and system that would best suit Nigeria given its complexity and whether or not Nigeria should adopt political federalism or fiscal federalism and what form the federating units – states or geopolitical zones – shall take. On the political system for the country, it recommended that delegates should decide whether Nigeria should operate a presidential or parliamentary form of government as well as whether the legislature would be unicameral or bicameral. The delegates are also to decide whether lawmakers would operate on a full-time or part-time basis.
Other issues to be discussed include state creation or merger of states; revisit the ceding of the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon; and whether or not Lagos, Nigeria’s former capital before the movement to Abuja should be conferred with a special status that would enable the Federal Government pay more attention to its development. The PAC also advised that the delegates should consider other issues like the secularity of the Nigerian state, federal character and virtually all other issues in the constitution.
Given the open cheque the conference had been given to discuss any issue with the exception of the disintegration of the country, one tends to believe that three months will be insufficient to do justice to all the volatile issues plaguing the country.
What then should be the upper time limit for the conference to deliberate, write and submit its report and still give sufficient time for the implementation of its recommendations ahead of the 2015 polls slated for next February?
This is where the booby trap lies. Elder statesman, Chief Olu Falae, has said there is nothing sacrosanct in holding elections on scheduled dates and if need be, the polls should be shifted by six months or a year. I disagree with this notion and the President should resist any urge to have the elections postponed. Why? Should that happen, it will confirm the hidden agenda haunch some of us have about the timing of this conference. Postponing the elections beyond April 2014 will be in clear breach of the extant constitutional provision which had given Independent National Electoral Commission power to organise polls not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days to the end of the term of office of the last holder.
Thus, to avoid constitutional cum political crisis, the 2015 elections should be allowed to hold as scheduled. Again, if the proposed national conference should be unduly elongated, the N7bn earmarked for the dialogue will become inadequate and sourcing more funds for the project, which may end up as a white elephant, if care is not taken, will become imperative.
On the nominations, the Nigerian Bar Association has kicked against the one slot given to it. The Conference of Nigerian Political Parties has also taken a swipe at the Federal Government for giving slots only to five political parties with representatives at the National Assembly when there are actually 25 political parties duly registered and operational in the country now. Other groups like the Concerned Igbo Leaders of Thought and the Pan-Yoruba Socio-Cultural Group,  Afenifere, expressed their preference for a conference of ethnic nationalities that will produce an entirely new constitution and not one in which the outcome will be integrated into the existing constitution as currently being envisaged.
Many human right activists and groups have also called for the National Assembly to give legal backing to the conference and for the outcome of the conference to be subjected to a national referendum.
The Federal Government, however, is not favourably disposed to this idea. It will be recalled the Jonathan had last October said the outcome of the confab will be sent to the National Assembly to legislate on.  Incidentally, this conference is being mooted after billions of naira had been spent by both chambers of the National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives) on constitutional amendment exercises planned to end in July 2014. How I wish Jonathan had thrown his weight behind this project immediately after his election and inauguration in May 2011.
Whatever misgivings I and many other Nigerians may have about the composition, timing, duration, decision making process, legality and  utility value of this proposed conference, the government seems to have made  up its mind to go ahead.
So be it! However, beyond charting a course for Nigeria’s post-centenary, I strongly feel this conference, desirable as it is, should have held after the 2015 elections when politics will not be a major distraction and time will not be a pressure point.