How banks, govt officials aided marketers to loot subsidy billions

Fuel nozzle.

Fuel nozzle.

*And they are all walking away
*EFCC double standards exposed!

29 August 2015, Lagos – Impunity twerked naked at the market square. It is still not done twerking.Thousands of forged documents , outlandish fairy tales, pervasive conscience searing mendacity . The whole of an annual federal capital budget plundered by a few. Noises were made, scapegoats whipped out and paraded in courts, backdoor negotiations were held at night. Many made away with their loot ,smiling and twerking or rather gyrating.

Some say it is their luck. Many had metamorphosed into ‘transformation ambassadors’. Others now mount rostrums, exponents of the grass to grace phenomenon. A few plotted to govern their states. And why wouldn’t they? Government officials whose gross incompetence and willful negligence can only be explained by sleaze induced criminal conspiracy did not get even a mere rebuke.

Some were promoted. Before long, the grand criminal enterprise resumed, operators and regulators were allowed to continue what they hadn’t finished before they were apparently rudely interrupted – milking the country.
And how can you charge a man for forging a bill of lading, for forging form ‘M’, for manufacturing documents of fictitious vessel and stealing billions of naira in the process and yet you turn around the very following week and award the accused the largest crude lifting contract in the land? The prosecutors got the message.

2011 subsidy surpasses 8 years subsidy
In 2011 the nation spent more on fuel subsidy than it did in the entire eight years of Obasanjo’s leadership. The finance minister was same Ngozi Okonjo Iweala . She knew what real subsidy figures should look like . She was not perturbed. Or was she? No one resigned in righteous anger. Sophistries were regurgitated to explain the phenomenon, the aberration, its normality.

The economy was expanding rapidly they claimed, so the dramatic rise in fuel imports and subsidy payments could be explained. They lied. They brandished their their tales as cudgels so that any one who had a contrary opinion became an enemy of the government. Until the riots that pricked the house of representatives, who waded into the matter, and opened many cans of worms.

Large scale fraud crafted at the highest levels was perpetuated by government agencies, banks and hundreds of companies and persons . Goats were invited into the barn, they ate to their fill and strutted away with swagger , with yams loaded on their backs. People awoke to the revelation with their ‘tufiakwas’ . “ O lorun maje “ we had all screamed . Before long all the noises died down, we resumed our slumber.

They say we have a collective social pathology – amnesia. Those of them who were unlucky to have been charged to court , the sacrificial lambs, have the benefit of a reluctant prosecution and fatiguing state witnesses and the near omnipotence of plenty money . State witnesses have started disowning the earlier statements and affidavits. Time and money have a way of wearing out the resolve of such witnesses.

It’s four years and interests and moral resolves are dying or even dead. After 10 years as state witness no one could remember what versions of Sgt Rogers testimonies and recants was on the table in that long drawn out case involving Al Mustapha. Many who committed sacrileges, stole tons and billions of naira in collusion with federal agencies and principals of the state in broad day light have walked away. Case files thoroughly messed up. Strange and curious bargains reached with the EFCC on repatriation of stolen funds.

The public has been left out. No one knows who is returning what and what has been returned. What was once a public scandal, aired soap opera is now neatly shrouded in government mystery. We were told more would be charged to court , that the cases were being filed in phases. We now know better. Deals have now been struck .

How many have been charged ? And how did the prosecution select whom to charge and whom to bargain with since persons who committed similar offences have not been treated alike? Shouldn’t such bargains be plea bargains? If the Jonathan presidency constituted an albatross for investigators and prosecutors, are they still bound now? Are their hands still tied? Is the perfidy irreversible?

Nigerians resist Jonathan’s plan to check the monster he created
2012 began with an uprising against the attempt by the Jonathan’s government to withdraw subsidy on petrol. By the end of 2011 subsidy payments had literally destroyed the nation’s economy. Jonathan and company knew why and how the subsidy monster was created and unleashed on the people . Ordinary Nigerians were unaware of the damage that had been done and ignorantly resisted Jonathan who tried to rein in the monster he had unleashed.

Jonathan assumed the presidency after Yaradua’s demise . He had been everything in politics but he was politically unschooled.
He had been catapulted to the top fortuitously , never prosecuted his own election before 2011. Against a north for whom Yaradua’s death could not mean a return of power to the south, Jonathan’s dream of running in 2011 was headed into strong political headwinds. Without clout, without personal political structures, without charm and charisma, Jonathan would have to buy and rent. Close presidential aides decided money could guarantee everything.

The Petroleum subsidy fund was created in 2006 and was structured to pool funds from the three tiers of government to cushion the prices of petroleum products. The burden was to fall 50:25:25 on the federal, state and local governments. The states and local governments looked away and the federal government winked at the petroleum ministry and the NNPC and all hell broke loose. If the guideline of the scheme that stipulated the publication of monthly accounts had been followed then perhaps state governors would have been jolted out of their attitude in good time. Perhaps ignorance isn’t always bliss after all.

FG increases fuel importers from six to 140
In 2006 the country had just 5 fuel importers plus NNPC under the scheme but by the end of 2011, when the filth had hit the fan , the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) had a list of 140 companies who had been given import allocations and who had collected subsidy payments. Necessity they say is the mother of all inventions, good or bad.

The presidency needed money to prosecute the 2011 elections and the guidelines that restricted participants in the scheme to only depot owners had to be sacrificed. The door to the barn was deemed too small. They wanted to empower indigenous marketers , they claimed. They always had good reasons to cloak their evil motives.

The hard times for banks and oil marketers
The subsidy scam met other exigencies. 2008/2009 was a horrendous time for banks and oil marketers. The world economic collapse and the sharp drop in oil prices had crippled many oil trading companies and left huge holes in the books of banks. So for many of these companies and banks, morality could as well wait. As more entrants came and the stakes got higher, strategies and stratagems changed and changed until caution became a hindrance and was discarded altogether.

They went from the bold to the audacious to the down right ridiculous. It’s safe to think that they never imagined the forged papers they submitted would ever be dug up. Initially the vessels were off loaded into storage tanks and back-loaded into other vessels a couple of days after and sold offshore Cotonou or Togo. But later, even that became unnecessary wahala. Import nothing, don’t even bother procuring foreign exchange, those motions became unnecessary. Just forge everything and give everybody his “due” and dance to your billions in the bank.

A nation that does not plan is a nation destined for disaster. And without data not only can one not plan , his barns are vulnerable to leaders whom ambition have turned into scoundrels. We have a bureau of statistics that does not know how much petrol we consume daily. It is a key defence data but the military wouldn’t know either. Paucity of data makes the nation vulnerable in many ways.

Any petroleum minister can instigate and supervise unrestrained importation of petroleum products in place of a full blown fund raising bazaar. At some point marketers were asked to just deposit money, preferably in billions, and they were given allocations and contracts to recoup later and swim in profit. Little wonder the expo carried on even after the conclusion of the 2011 elections.

With six companies importing in 2006 the nation spent about 261 billion on petroleum subsidy. In 2007, 10 companies were engaged and total subsidy figures were about 278 billion naira. In 2008 we had 19 companies and we spent 346 billion on subsidy. The drama began in 2010 , after Yaradua. And by the end of 2011 we had 140 companies , it had become an all comers affairs.

Politicians turn middlemen for import allocations
As government fuel importers mushroomed, the demands made on them before they could be given allocations skyrocketed. The allocations were given by PPPRA but the ministry of petroleum resources practically wrote the list. At some point before the 2011 elections marketers wanting allocations for 15,000 metric tonnes of PMS parted with as much as one million dollars. And the money had to be paid in dollars. Little wonder the presidential committee set up in the wake of the subsidy brouhaha discovered that companies that had not been pre-qualified and registered by the PPPRA also received allocations. Registrations and applications were inconsequential formalities, dollar deposit was the main act. Prominent government officials and big politicians became middlemen and hawkers of allocations. Was the Presidency’s focus on the nation’s daily needs? The PPPRA allowed companies to import fuel so much in excess of the countries requirements.

And since the profit in bringing in 15,000metric tones at the time could not have been more than 300,000 dollars and marketers were made to part with about a million dollars in advance, in bribes, marketers got the message that the government was not interested in genuine transactions.

Apart from bribes making the cost benefit calculations impossible, logistical limitations didn’t help constrain the feelings that “deals” had become inevitable. Vessels were on interminable queues and tanks were filled, there was a massive glut yet more and more allocations were churned out. NNPC on its part spent billions in demurrage costs.

Involvement of the banks
Many banks trampled on extant financial regulations with impunity in the course of those transactions. Many others worked hand in hand with the marketers in the criminal enterprise. Some even helped customers doctor their accounts statements when investigations started. But all have walked away. Their sullied reputations ostensibly intact. But why did many of the banks participate so actively in the fraud?

Writhing from the pains of the economic recession of 2008 and the collapse of the stock and oil markets to which many of them where heavily exposed , the banks were riddled with bad debts. AMCON was in the process of cleaning them but the consequences of the sort of provisioning that CBN demanded was enormous . And we know Nigerian banks . When the push comes to shove, everything becomes permissible.

So you had a situation where many so called reputable banks received subsidy payments on behalf of customers who opened no form “M”s . In some outrageous instances some banks opened LCs for marketers in favour of international traders supposedly for the importation of petrol .

But a few days/weeks later the same customers received inflows of nearly same amount from the same foreign traders or poorly identified foreign sources. Cargo had been resold to the seller by the supposed buyer. The banks feigned ignorance. But the money laundering laws place a duty on them to know the sources and reasons of such huge inflows. The Financial Intelligence Unit exists but you wonder what they really do.

Then the rogue marketers sent in counterfeit documents and conjured approvals to support applications for fuel subsidy for cargoes they did not import. They will nominate their banks , as it is the practice, to receive the subsidy payment. The Banks received billions from the CBN for transactions they should have known and did know were fictitious. The duty the money laundering act places on banks cannot be satisfied by a plea of ignorance. Many of the banks colluded with their customers to defraud the nation and not a single bank chief executive was charged and not a single bank was blacklisted and not a single bank was punished. Now, that is impunity.

The presidential committee on subsidy had two prominent and reputable bank chief executives as chairman and secretary . They did a wonderfully detailed and meticulous job . But how did banks and officials that connived with these people to bleed the treasury escape sanctions?

And where was the CBN?
The CBN governor then , the Emir of Kano, shouted himself hoarse as the nations’ subsidy payments ballooned. By the end of 2010 Sanusi was going literally berserk. But did he do enough? I don’t think so. He should have resigned. NNPC learnt to deduct its own subsidy payments from crude costs. Yes, they wouldn’t even wait for the CBN. There was a budgetary allocation for subsidy but no one was really constrained by those formalities.
But there was more. The CBN paid marketers who had not sourced any foreign exchange to import fuel. If it were more vigilant it could have declined the payments until such marketers proved their sources of funds. The CBN helped the investigations by the various committees with copious evidence , exposing many fraudulent marketers . Very good but not enough.
Many will wonder why the CBN which was the only agency that was altruistically enthusiastic of bringing those involved to book and stemming the subsidy leakages did not investigate and punish erring banks and their managements. The CBN failed woefully in that respect. But its not late to make amends.

THE PPPRA – A regulatory or thieving agency?
Under the PSF scheme the PPPRA is the agency to regulate the importation and pricing of petroleum products. It is supposed to collect data, prequalify and register marketers , decide on the volume to be imported and allocate import quotas to marketers.
The PPPRA is mandated by law to monitor imports’ arrival , documentation, verification, certification, storage and distribution. It is supposed to work out under recovery or over recovery costs.

The PPPRA under the weight of executive influence and manipulation from above and heavy monetary inducement and pull from below collapsed and abdicated its responsibilities. And surrendered wholeheartedly to temptation and filth . The PPPRA deliberately dismantled the hedges of the barn and joined in its despoliation. They relaxed the requirements for registration in 2010 and in many instances handed out allocations to companies that were not even registered.

In the words of the House of Reps committee that investigated the subsidy scam, PPPRA engaged in a series of abuses of due diligence process. Their actions were fraught with a glaring lack of transparency and deliberate opacity. In sum , according to the committee , there existed a synergistic criminal enterprise between the operators and the regulators.

The Aig Imokuede presidential committee also had many unkind words for the lepromatous PPPRA. PPPRA verified , certified and approved for payment cargoes whose mother vessels were fictitious , imaginations of poorly thinking thieves. Without approval of external inspectors and auditors, the PPPRA approved billions for the con men.

And when called upon to provide their documentation for such scams they turned up with photo copies of forged documents and muddled presentations. The PPPRA’s conduct spoke eloquently of willful collaboration with people who raped our economy. But how many agents and officers of the PPPRA have been charged or convicted? It’s four whole years after. Please don’t ask me.

PPPPRA never recovered any over recovery costs for the nation . In instances when the cost of importation fell below approved petrol prices the agency was supposed to work out the over recovery and extract same from the marketers. The nation got nothing from over recovery even though such instances existed.

Subsequent to the revelations and the investigations by the House of Reps , the presidential committee and the EFCC, indicted marketers and even those already facing criminal prosecutions continued to participate in the scheme. Marketers who had stolen billions of naira in the petroleum subsidy scheme continued to be awarded import allocations. Wonders they say will never cease! Well they are innocent until proven guilty, I guess. Pathetic.

A top shot at PPPRA at the time went on to become part of Jonathan’s campaign. None in PPRA left in disgrace and none is in jail.

THE DPR – a sleeping or colluding policeman?
The Department of Petroleum Resources is mandated by law to regulate the petroleum industry in general. With regards to the petroleum subsidy scheme the DPR is supposed to issue a permit to prospective importers, certify the quality and quantity of imported products and monitor their discharge into tanks. They are also empowered to monitor the distribution alongside the PEF(M)B and make sure they are sold at approved prices at approved fuel stations.

Like the other regulatory agencies , the DPR compromised under the weight of monetary inducements and allowed all manner of atrocities. Vessels that were in the far east were signed up as having discharged off shore Cotonou or in tank farms in Apapa. Some vessels came in with products , hoses were connected and after two or three days of idling , hoses were disconnected , no products discharged and vessels were cleared to leave as if they had discharged .

And the DPR signed the papers of the marketers who went on to collect billions in subsidy only to transship such products, once they were out of Nigerian waters, to other traders who would bring them in again as fresh products for fresh subsidy. DPR officials like all other persons involved in the subsidy scheme at the time filled their bank accounts with dollars. Officials collected their hefty filthy dues in hard currency.

How many of the DPR officials are being prosecuted? Has any been convicted? How many were dismissed? Impunity is still twerking. Many of them are still in their positions monitoring the subsidy scheme and many have since been promoted. The bosses of the DPR walked away , not in shame.
*Dr Ugoji Egbujo

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