THISDAY - - EXPRESSION - Abubakar wrote in from Kano

TAuwal Abubakar

he move by the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives to probe the fi­nances of the Nige­rian Na­tional Pe­tro­leum Cor­po­ra­tion (NNPC) from Jan­uary 2018 till date is noth­ing but a des­per­ate at­tempt by an ex­as­per­ated House to politi­cise what should have been a sim­ple routine of record-keep­ing done in a trans­par­ent and ac­count­able man­ner that en­gen­ders pub­lic con­fi­dence or trust.

The di­rec­tion that the House is com­ing from is un­der­stand­able. Its des­ti­na­tion is also very clear: to es­tab­lish pos­si­ble sharp prac­tices by the na­tion’s oil cor­po­ra­tion and to in­dict it in the event that it is cul­pa­ble. His­tor­i­cally, the NNPC has been sub­jected to pre­sump­tive in­dict­ment for run­ning what is con­sid­ered to be opaque man­age­ment of the oil sec­tor, es­pe­cially the earn­ings from the sales of crude oil and re­fined pe­tro­leum prod­ucts, par­tic­u­larly, the Pre­mium Mo­tor Spirit (PMS), also known as petrol.

There are so many con­tend­ing is­sues that yearn for oblig­a­tory res­o­lu­tion in the light of the crit­i­cal roles that the NNPC plays as a boot­strap of the na­tional econ­omy. Nige­ria is es­sen­tially a mono-econ­omy that runs on oil. This has been the tragedy of the coun­try for so many years now. Suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments since in­de­pen­dence had grav­i­tated largely to­wards the oil sec­tor, al­low­ing the other sec­tors of the econ­omy to suf­fer in­cre­men­tal ne­glect.

But the Buhari ad­min­is­tra­tion had, upon step­ping in the sad­dle and con­fronted by an eco­nomic re­ces­sion, de­cided and had, in­deed, taken steps to­wards di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of the econ­omy.

How­ever, di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion has not taken at­ten­tion off the oil sec­tor, which is seen as the real McCoy. It has be­come the ex­clu­sive pre­serve of the big, in­flu­en­tial and well-con­nected play­ers. Af­ter the pres­i­den­tial politics in Nige­ria, the next most crit­i­cal or sig­nif­i­cant politics is oil politics. This ex­plains the se­ri­ous­ness with which is­sues in­volved in it are treated. There are vested in­ter­ests to pro­tect. There are car­tels to ser­vice. And the com­mon de­nom­i­na­tion of all of these nu­ances is pe­cu­niary: ac­cre­tion of petrodol­lars. It is the al­lure of the game, which if won, sets the win­ners on the path to pros­per­ity. Hug­ging vic­tory in the oil politics is tan­ta­mount to wish­ing poverty eter­nal farewell.

This is the rea­son dis­man­tling the cul­ture of oc­cultism in the man­age­ment of the NNPC and pur­su­ing trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity in the pub­lic fi­nance is a hard nut to crack. But if and when cracked, it will ben­e­fit from an ex­pected regime of open­ness and an­swer­abil­ity. It is there­fore pre­pos­ter­ous to ra­tio­nalise that the state of af­fairs presently in the NNPC is a prod­uct of the lead­er­ship of the cur­rent Group Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor, Dr. Maikanti Baru. That is not and can­not be cor­rect. Rather, there is a con­scious ef­fort on the part of Baru to re­verse the trend to en­sure trans­par­ent and ac­count­able man­age­ment of the NNPC.

He has con­tin­ued to do this while main­tain­ing a del­i­cate bal­ance be­tween what is and what ought to be. I sin­cerely be­lieve that Baru is not op­posed to the idea of NNPC’s books be­ing taken through the mills or cru­cibles of scru­tiny. What is rep­re­hen­si­ble and ob­jec­tion­able is the de­lib­er­ate im­pres­sion be­ing cre­ated in the minds of Nige­ri­ans that the NNPC is ir­re­deemably steeped in un­to­ward prac­tices and li­cen­tious­ness.

This then raises the ques­tion as to the na­ture of the mo­tive be­hind the call for probe: was it gen­uinely in­tended or was it in­tended for the out­come to cause a col­lat­eral dam­age to the cur­rent NNPC man­age­ment and Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari, who is the sub­stan­tive pe­tro­leum min­is­ter?

If it is to achieve the lat­ter, to wit: dam­ag­ing Buhari’s ad­min­is­tra­tion as it was de­ployed to dam­age Jonathan’s gov­ern­ment, then the probe may as well be a wild goose chase that may suf­fer from its in­her­ent bad faith and dis­si­pa­tion of good­will. Be­sides, the hur­ried man­ner in which the House had re­solved to go about the probe is sus­pi­cious. The fear is that it may be im­pos­si­ble to get the true picture of the trans­ac­tion trails or fi­nan­cial records if the probe is re­stricted to the vol­umes of crude oil sales by the NNPC from Jan­uary 2018 to date. That was the point that Hon. Ab­dul­mu­min Jib­rin (APC, Kano state) was mak­ing on the floor dur­ing the de­bate on the mo­tion. He had ar­gued that the time frame should have been ex­panded.

That the time frame was not ex­panded has re­in­forced the im­pres­sion that the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives had its spe­cific tar­gets for vil­i­fi­ca­tion and had prob­a­bly pre­de­ter­mined the out­come of its probe. The House had also re­solved to in­ves­ti­gate the yearly pro­duc­tion out­put to de­ter­mine the im­pro­pri­ety or oth­er­wise of the claim of 2 million bar­rels of crude oil per day by the Cor­po­ra­tion. There is noth­ing wrong with this, though; the im­pres­sion should not have been cre­ated as if the claimed fig­ure is new and cu­ri­ous such that it presents a mas­sive dis­crep­ancy with pre­vi­ous fig­ures in com­par­a­tive terms.

The crude pro­duc­tion vol­umes have al­ways hov­ered around that fig­ure. When there was mil­i­tancy dis­rupt­ing crude ex­plo­ration in the Niger Delta re­gion, the fig­ure had fallen to as low as 1.1 million bar­rels. But sans mil­i­tancy, the fig­ure has al­ways os­cil­lated be­tween 1.8 and 2.2 million bar­rels per day. Nev­er­the­less, the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives is en­cour­aged to do its due dili­gent search to un­ravel what the fig­ure truly is. The probe should not be con­ducted to drive the nar­ra­tive that the re­cent un­der re­mit­tance to the tune of N100 bil­lion to the fed­er­a­tion ac­count by the Cor­po­ra­tion was re­spon­si­ble for the suf­fer­ings of Nige­ri­ans. This will be tak­ing pro­pa­ganda to ridicu­lous lim­its and pan­der­ing to sheer il­log­i­cal­ity that veils the mis­man­age­ment of gov­ern­ments in the states.

In­deed, pub­lic sen­ti­ments against the NNPC and the lead­er­ship of Dr. Baru should not be en­sconced in the ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the is­sues in­volved in the man­age­ment of crude pro­duc­tion by the Cor­po­ra­tion vis-à-vis the ten­den­tious probe, as that would de­feat the im­per­a­tive­ness of gen­uine in­ten­tion to ad­dress the ex­is­ten­tial prob­lems be­dev­il­ing our crude pro­duc­tion man­age­ment in the col­lec­tive na­tional in­ter­est.

Dog­ara, Speaker of the House

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