Saturday, 29 March 2014
The other day I heard the NNPC Group Managing Director, lamenting that the image of NNPC was being tainted so much by constant accusations and negative press,that the group was losing credibility in the International Market and this was affecting their ability to attract foreign investments to the oil and gas industry where NNPC is the face of Nigeria. This got me thinking and I felt empathy for him and the organisation he leads.
When the National oil company was just called National Oil Company( NOC),it was a small organisation that Nigerians respected. Then we expanded its scope and mandate and changed its name to Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation(NNPC). It holds Nigeria's equity in all the joint ventures with International Oil companies(IOC), it has it's own independent upstream operations, it is the sole participant in the midstream refining and piping operations and it is involved in the downstream operations of importing refined petroleum products and distributing them through its pipelines and own filling stations. From asset capitalisation, it is the biggest Corporate organisation in Nigeria and I believe that it is also the largest employer and for all intents and purposes,it is the most significant contributor to our National economy.
Nigeria has assigned so much to NNPC and has made it a behemoth, that is at the centre of virtually everything in Nigeria- revenues, petroleum products provision, pipelines integrity, provision of gas- natural, domestic and liquified, electricity power, petrochemicals. With such concentration of power and relevance,it is little wonder that NNPC is on the news everyday, most times for the wrong reasons. Because when petrol and other refined products are flowing normally from the filling stations, nobody really remembers NNPC. But when there is revenue shortfall, or there is fuel scarcity, then NNPC will be in everybody's mouth. In all of this,it is important to remember that those who work in NNPC did not create the problem. They did not write the NNPC law. It looks to me that sometimes we take out our frustration with this behemoth with tentacles every where on those who run or manage the company including the political supervisors of the company.
Recently we have had the name of NNPC mentioned with missing monies. The outgoing 'governor- general' of CBN, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi opened with a written accusation that NNPC was withholding money belonging to the Federation account worth 49.5 Billion dollars. He later changed his mind that it was 12 Billion dollars and soon after changed the figure to 20 Billion dollars before, he went on suspension. I had written in this column a few weeks ago, that this would not be the first time such allegations had been made. Similar accusations against NNPC and it's officials we're made when Chief( now HRH) Edmund Dakoru was GMD, so was it when Aret Adams and Jackson Obaseki were GMDs. Even when Kupolokun ,
Oniwon and Yardua were GMDs,accusations against NNPC and it's leadership we're rife. Yet no one has proven any case of corruption against these men even after leaving office, but their image and reputation were tarnished while in office. Some times, it may have been the problem of reconciliation of records or accounts, especially given the complex way Revenue from oil is warehoused and accounted for between NNPC, DPR, IFRS,AGF and CBN.
The same fate seems to affect Supervising ministers of NNPC and the oil industry, Don Etiebet, Prof Tam David West, Prof Rilwanu Luqman,and Senator Jubril Aminu Were all smeared when they were ministers. Even our 'incorruptible' Muhammed Buhari was accused of vanishing with the oil windfall when he was minister of Petroleum. Because of the power the ministers wield or are presumed to have,they stand condemned even before they commit any crime. May be out of Jealousy of those enormous powers and the accruing benefits, they come under undue scrutiny and any matter can be held against them. In the last few weeks the issue of the current Petroleum Resources Minister, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke using chartered aircrafts or private jets has filled the air waves, attracting the attention of the National Assembly. I am personally taken aback by the interest this has generated.
Many Petroleum Ministers before her flew private Jets or chartered aircrafts and so do many of the current Ministers. Governors( past and Present),Senators, Hon members of the House Reps ,most fly on private jets or chartered aircrafts both on official and private trips within and outside the Country.Governor of Central Bank and some times the deputy governors fly private jets or chartered aircraft. Even Chief executives of Government parastatals like Customs NNPC and senior advisers to the government( federal and State) fly in chartered jets and some of these government owned institutions even own their own aircrafts. Of course many senior private sector CEOs and Business leaders in Oil & Gas, Telecoms, Banking and Industry,now travel in private jets or chartered aircrafts.
From a business man's point of view, and with the situation of our local airlines( infrequent flights, limited routes, undue delays and safety records),it makes sense to own your own aircraft , if you can afford it or fly chartered aircrafts. For me it's no big deal for top private and Public sector leaders to travel in Chartered aircrafts, thats the trend globally and should really not be a justifiable reason to malign a senior public servant like a minister who superintends a global business- Oil & Gas,except there is abuse.
Having said this, we must return to the issue of corruption in our Country. It is a big issue and we must deal with it holistically. Blackmailing Public Servants or seeking escape goats can cause drama but it will not touch the root of our problem. One minister goes and another comes and we begin to attack or accuse him or her for the same 'offences'.My candid opinion is that we must continue to reform our institutions, instead of deforming them or demonising their managers as we have done over several years with little result. When Nzeogwu came in Jan 1966, he came to fight corruption. When, Mutala Mohammed came in 1975, he came to fight corruption, and when MUHAMMED Buhari came in 1983, he also came to fight corruption. Even when Baba Olusegun Obasanjo came back in 1999, he tried to fight corruption. Yet we are still 139 out of 174 Countries in the 2013 corruption perception index (CPI) published by Transparency international.
As long as Ants have access to sugar, they must climb in to lick. Flush them out with Shelltox, new ones will arrive next moment. As long as 'pupu' is exposed any where, flies must aggregate. Kill them with Raid, new ones will arrive soon. As long as there is meat with blood in the open,vultures must hover around, even if you shoot them, they will fly away and return the next minute. The only sustainable way to keep these animals away is to separate them from the 'attraction'. So is the animal called Man.
Our only hope of dealing corruption a deadly blow especially in the Public Sector is to REFORM.Time was when we talked of corruption in Nitel and the Telecoms business. As soon as we deregulated the sector, corruption in that sector died,and Nitel followed suit. Now that we have fully deregulated the power sector, who is talking of bribery and corruption again in NEPA or PHCN. I am certain that if the Petroleum industry bill (PIB ) is passed, NNPC restructured,and the deregulation of the down stream oil sector is completed, corruption or the perception of corruption in the oil sector will diminish significantly and over time will die.
Additionally, Nigerians will have to make effort to reform or transform themselves. There is too much hypocrisy. Many are steeped in corruptive activities and yet they are so oblivious or pretend they are not, but will readily join the chorus 'crucify him, crucify him' the moment somebody is accused,even without proof. Every Nigerian I meet, condemns corruption and claims, he is not corrupt. Then who is making Nigeria occupy the bottom place on Transparency International index year after year? Aliens or ghosts? . Let us humble ourselves and decide to abhor corruption in all it's ramifications and at all levels. I am for waging total war against corruption and profligacy in our Nation because they are stiffling development.But we must stop being hypocritical and just looking for escape goats or whom to blackmail.May God help us!
The first Challenge the new CBN governor has is to reframe the autonomy of the bank within the context of being an institution of the Federal government and indeed part of the Executive arm of the government. From the look of things, the outgoing governor expanded the autonomy of the bank beyond reasonable contemplation. He tended to act as a parallel government authority that was not accountable to the President and indeed seemed to be in competition with the President. This led him to rebut any attempt to make him accountable and he seemed to carry on as the lord of manor with the unquestionable power and discretion.
Second, is that he also must uphold the conservative nature of Bankers and especially that of a Central Bank governor. He must know when to speak and when to be quiet. He must not reveal all he knows and comment on every subject in the media. He must not overheat the system with off- cuff comments.He must restore the dignity of the central bank governor, who gets investors and market operators attentive any time he speaks, because his words must be weighty. He must depoliticise the CBN.
Thirdly, he must not be overbearing in determining monetary policies. He needs to consult more with the Finance Ministry and other economic managers of the economy before deploying new policies. The failed 5000 naira denomination project for example suffered from lack of appropriate consultations. Even in the meetings of the Monetary Policy Committee, his voice must not be over bearing.
Fourthly, he must maintain neutrality when dealing with the banks that he supervises. He must not give the impression that there are favoured or favourite banks while there are others who are not worth protecting. The outgoing governor got himself so emotionally involved in some of the bank reforms that he carried out.
Fifthly,he must focus his monetary policies to maintaining macro- economic stability, without imperilling economic growth and development. The current effort to liberalise credit to the SME sector, especially to Agriculture must be sustained. This is one area the outgoing governor has done well in my view.
Sixthly, the effort to sustain the value of the naira must be backed with effort to promote productivity in the economy. Artificial propping up of the naira value will not be sustainable and may deplete our Foreign reserves to dangerous levels. The CBN must support the effort of the ministry of Industry, trade and investment to lift up manufacturing and promote exports. Related to this, he must resist the urge to return to undue foreign exchange controls which have not been helpful in the past. There should be free flow of foreign currencies into and out of the country, which helped to narrow the gap between official and parallel market rates in recent past.
Lastly, every effort must be made to keep interest rates low. The gap between lending and saving rates remain too high and discourages savings and investment in the productive sector. Today, businesses borrow at upto 25% while savings rate is still around 5%. To aid this, the CBN must drive to attract or create a pool of funds for long term borrowing to support industrial rejuvenation.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR
President, Nigerian American Chamber of Commerce(NACC)
Immediate Past Chairman, Nigerian Economic Summit Group(NESG).
Immediate Past President, Nigeria Employers Consultative Association(NECA
Wednesday, 26 March 2014
For nearly two weeks now, the fate of 239 passengers on the Malaysian Airline flight 307 travelling from Kuala Lumpur( Malaysia) to Beijing (China) has remained a painful conjecture.
What is certain is that the plane departed Kuala Lumpur about midnight and travelled to the edge of Malaysian air space about 1.30am, said good bye to the Air traffic Controllers (ATCs)in Malaysia. Just when they were being expected to receive welcome from the Vietnamese Air traffic controllers, the plane went silent, transponders switched off or cut off or malfunctioned and the plane disappeared into 'thin air' or ' deep sea'. In short the plane just vanished!
What happened? Thirteen days after, what we have are all conjectures, theories and guesses. After 4 days of bewilderment by Malaysian Airlines and the Malaysian government, the anxious families of the passengers and the watching world were told that the plane had turned back full circle, flew past the Malaysian territory for another 1 hour,10 minutes, arriving the strait of Marlocca at about 2.40pm, before it finally disappeared. The initial over 35 ships and 40 planes, contributed by the International community to the Search and Rescue efforts have been scrambling from one area to the other as conflicting directions are given. At the last account over 26 countries are involved in the search and the number of planes and ships involved has become difficult to determine accurately.
Few days later,after the 'intelligence' from the Malaysian Military on the turn back theory,we heard that Chinese Satellite had identified 3 large debris floating off the coast of Vietnam. Speculation returned that may be the plane came down at the point where it first went out of sight and out of sound, near Vietnam. Then People began to wonder what happened to the primary satellite picture that showed that the plane made a u-turn back to Malaysia flying for 1hour, 10 mins? It looks like it was all guess work. Soon after, a Wall Street Journal article indicated that from signals recorded from the engine of the Boeing 777 airplane, the plane flew for additional 4 hours after it lost contact with the ATCs.The only problem with this write up and 'revelation' was pthat it did not say in which direction? Did it continue through Vietnamese territory into China or did it fly back as previously shown on the Malaysian Military satellite?
My question is: Have Science and Technology failed us this time? Can Science and Technology fail in this digital age? But So it looks. First, two Iranians boarded the flight with stolen passports and I am thoroughly puzzled. If they could forge pictures or clone pictures or do facial surgery or make up, how did they get through with the finger prints? Can that be cloned or forged as well?. Science told us no two finger prints are the same. It is difficult to comprehend how these 'mystery' men beat the Malaysian Immigration security and how they evaded the Interpol as well with all the technology and artificial intelligence. The presence of these two mystery men in the flight has heightened speculations of possible hijack attempt or terrorist activity.
Late last week, the Malaysian government issued a statement debunking all the previous conjectures. They could not confirm that the plane turned back. The floating objects sited by the Chinese in the South China Sea turned out to be a mirage and the report by the Wall street Journal has been described as false. So we came back to square one, where we had been since Saturday 8th of March 2014. Flight 307 with 239 passengers just vanished and nobody seems to know where the plane is or what has happened to the crew and passengers. Since then, the World has been running round in circles. With the entry of American intelligence, the search has been extended to the Indian Ocean and virtually all countries in the region and beyond have joined in what appears to be the biggest search effort in modern history, now covering an area of 7.62 million square kilometres. What an apparent chase of the wind!
It is difficult to believe that all this is happening in the second decade of the 21st.Century. So much has been made of Satellite Technology with even poor countries like Nigeria investing so much in acquiring satellites. So how come, non of the global satellites especially those of China, Japan and Russia and now USA have been able to locate the plane with any scientific certainty. What has happened to our Total Radar Coverage. I am told that every ICAO certified Nation is expected to have total radar coverage. Does that apply to Malaysia, Vietnam and China? And then, we are told that the modern airlines, the tripple seven inclusive have been installed with sophisticated communication and avionics equipment that are not only designed to make flying much safer but to assist rapid search and rescue mission. But all these seem to have failed or indeed have failed thus far. Even if we finally discovered the location of the plane which certainly can no longer be in the skies but some where on the ground or below the ground, of what use are all those gadgets and sophisticated technology. If this has happened in Africa, we would have been told it is because of our poor and obsolete technology. But Alas!. Or could they have ruptured? A friend of mine said no, that the said time for rapture had not come and that even it would come it will not start from Malaysia or with the Chinese. I warned him that the Lord said no one knew the date and time and that it could start from any where. But he countered that it was improbable that all the passengers and crew would all be ruptured at once, because the scripture said that only the righteous would be raptured and that he was sure, there were at least two unrighteous men in the flight, those two who used stolen passports. I stopped the discussion along those lines so as not trivialise an important spiritual reality. But what happened to flight MH 307 and its occupants? Are we at the limits of human technological capabilities?
I am impressed with our Scientific and technological innovations and breakthroughs. Iam a scientist myself, but it is clear that science and Technolgy has its limits and can fail as it has done in this case. Why would this happen every so often leaving us throughly frustrated, some sad and many angry. The point is that Technology is the creation of man and despite all the sophistication and sophistry, man is still severely limited. And therefore we must always remember that when we put all of our trust in man and his creations and devices.
I travel frequently by air. But each time I board an aircraft, I say my prayers. First I ask God to grant the pilot,co-pilot and crew divine wisdom to do the right thing at the appropriate time so that the flight will take off safely. Then I ask God to grant strength to the engines and to every part of the plane so that there will be no failure. Thereafter I request God to grant us good weather,that He should take away every rain, cloud, breeze, storm, lightening and thunder that would constitute any hindrance or danger to our smooth flight. Finally I ask Him to direct His Angels to bear us up in their arms so that we do not dash our feet against any stone. After which I will relax to enjoy the flight.
Immediately, the plane takes off, I say a short thank you prayer to God. Every time the pilot or the cabin crew makes an announcement reporting the progress of the flight or warning us of any bumps ahead, I say a short prayer. When the flight is about to land, I say another prayer asking for God's grace to make the plane land safely and that it would not overshoot the runway. And when the plane finally lands, I give a thank you Jesus praise and ask for safe disembarkment .
Often , I find that people around me join in some prayer as well. But I find also that most of the people in the plane just go on chattering, with apparently no care, perhaps trusting on the technological sophistication of the aircraft or the experience of the pilots. However the moment there is a sudden bumb, you will almost hear a unanimous Chorus of 'Jesus'. Which suggests to me that they realise that there is ONE who is able to save. But why they would not deliberately seek His intervention,except when danger threatens baffles me.
We must remain unceasing in our prayers for a miracle to happen. Though from human understanding and logic,there seems to be little hope. But as a community of humans we must not give up hope until, the matter is resolved one way or the other. At the same time we must also pray for the distressed families of the crew and passengers who currently do not seem to be getting a fair deal from the Malaysian Airlines. For now, only God can make the difference, man and his inventions and technology have failed as they often do.A pity!
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR
Wednesday, 12 March 2014
In the last week, fuel queues returned to a number of Nigeria's major cities including Lagos, Abuja, Owerri and PORTHARCOURT ,cities which I traversed last week. I personally spent hours in a filling Station in PH on my way to Kwale last weekend, forcing me to arrive late to the event I was attending in Delta State. And on top of that,I paid the market determined 'deregulated price'. Of course,that was not my real concern, I just wanted to get to my destination on time. And which I did not, even after paying above 'recommended' price and haggling and begging at the only filling station selling fuel,as many around were closed. Thursday this week, I missed my flight to Owerri, because the road to the domestic airport in Lagos was blocked. By who? you may ask. By Lagos drivers queuing and struggling to buy fuel!
Truly, I have been through this scenario very many times in my life that I can not even begin to count,though the frequency has been largely reduced in the last two years or so. But must we go through this at all?Why can't we just drive or walk into the filling station and just fill our fuel tanks or buy diesel, kerosene or cooking gas without hassles. Why can't I have the same experience as walking into a Supermarket, a restaurant, a Pharmacy, a bank, or a market and coming out with my needs with minimum wahala? Why? Why?
When I tried to find out the cause(s) of this round of disruption of economic activities across the Nation,the reasons were familiar. Many importers of Petrol claim they have not been paid their subsidy rebates or they have been short-paid for their earlier imports . Others claim, they did not get early approval from Petroleum Pricing and Regulatory Agency(PPRA) to import. Others blame NNPC and PPMC. Everybody is blaming somebody, while Nigerians go through pains buying fuel at inflated prices( when they find it) and from doubtful sources( jerry cans-carrying fuel marketers on the highways) and the economy suffers as productive man- hours are lost in Petrol queues. My question again is why must we be subjected to this seasonal malady?
It seems to me that this regular disruption of our National Economic life will not end until we end this fuel subsidy travesty. And it is clear also,that the fuel subsidy will not end until we fully deregulate the down stream Petroleum sector on one hand and pass the Petroleum Industry Bill( PIB) on the other hand. The Federal Government and it's agencies have been struggling over the years to maintain regular supply of PMS at great cost to the Federation, but their best efforts( as we have seen in the last two years) will not guarantee unbroken supply as long as we have this Subsidy reimbursement scheme and as long as we need any body to grant anybody permission to import fuel. It has not worked any where and import controls of essential commodities or utilities will always lead to broken supplies. Look at what is happening with supply of Kerosene. It is pitiable to see women, children and old men spend days in long queues looking to buy a bottle of kerosene. Why must we allow this spectacle to continue for so long and then keep supporting regulation and price controls? What is the cost of staying in queues for days and abandoning productive work?
What is more, this subsidy regime is unsustainable and is the cause of many of the maladies we are facing in this country today. First, it is consuming a disproportionate percentage of our National Income, some times reaching nearly 50% as we saw in 2011. Even after the 2012 partial deregulation, our Country is still 'wasting' between 1-1.5 TRILLION Naira in paying subsidy claims to importers of Petrol . I hope Nigerians realise what 1trillion Naira can do for our infrastructure- economic or social. The approximately 1 trillion naira budgeted for fuel subsidy in 2014 is about 24% of the total FGN budget of 4.6 trillion naira and compares favourably with the entire capital budget of the Nation which is only slightly higher at 1.2 Trillion naira and only 26% of the total budget. This is one major reason our Recurrent expenditure is eating up the entire budget at 74% in 2014.
If we compare the impact of only about 300 billion naira ( equivalent to 30% of the 1trillion naira budgeted for fuel subsidy payment in 2014 alone) of the subsidy savings utilised in the last two years by the Federal SURE-P Committee to accelerate completion of the Abuja-Abaji-Lokoja dual carriageway, the Kano- Maiduguri dualisation, the Benin-Ore- Shagamu expressway reconstruction, the Onitsha-Enugu highway reconstruction, and the East- West Road dualisation in the Niger Delta, it may become clear to Nigerians what one Trillion Naira dedicated to infrastructural development can achieve in a short while. Now when we realise that the the same 300 billion naira has been used to support the rehabilitation of the Lagos- Kano Western rail line and the ongoing PH- Makurdi- Maiduguri Eastern rail line rehabilitation, and the counterpart funding for the standard guage Abuja-Idu- Kaduna modern rail line,the value becomes clearer. And then when it is fully realised that the Same 300billion naira has been used to procure over 800 Mass Transit Buses running across the Nation; fund the ongoing Loko-Oweto bridge construction, provide initial counterpart funding to the 2nd Niger bridge, then the value becomes much much clearer. But when Nigerians realise that beyond hardcore Roads,Bridges and Railways, the same 300 billion has enabled the provision of Jobs for over 150,000 youths and Women( including the disabled) through the various Safety Net programs of SURE-P, such as the Community Social,Women and Youth Employment ( CSWYE) Program, the Graduate Internship scheme(GIS), the FERMA Public works program then the impact becomes overwhelmingly obvious. Or are we talking of the drastic reduction in maternal and infant mortality rates occasioned by the Maternal And Child Healthcare(MCH) program that has provided jobs for over 9000 midwives,and village Health workers who are spread over nearly 1000 Newly renovated Primary Healthcare Centres(PHCs), across the 36 States,plus the FCT, providing antenatal and primary health services to over 250,000 pregnant mothers and infants( as at end of 2013) including taking deliveries of new born babies in areas where hitherto, pregnant women delivered at home or in quack maternity centres, with dastardly consequences. The impact of only 300 billion Naira! Can we then begin to imagine what can be done with an additional 1000 billion naira a year if we stop this subsidy travesty now!
I call it subsidy travesty because it looks to me like Nigerians are burning candles on both ends. Except in some parts of Lagos and in the Abuja metropolis, hardly is Petrol sold at the recommended price of 97 naira per litre. In most parts of Nigeria especially in the North and East of Nigeria, there has been full deregulation long time ago. At normal times, every filling Station sells Petroleum products at their own prices. Some are even bold to advertise their prices on notice boards,damning DPR threats, while some others only use calculators to calculate prices and it is only after you have paid that you can determine cost per litre. Many commercial drivers including Okada riders keep no damn about literage. They just deal on Naira value and care little about price per litre. So,many Nigerians like me are exposed to double jeopardy. My country uses the money it would have used to build roads and run good schools and hospitals to give to importers of Petrol and then I still end up buying fuel at the deregulated market price, as if there was no subsidy.Is this not double jeopardy?Who then is benefitting from the oil subsidy? Is it the Licensed importers of Petrol, or the retailers( filling station owners), or the Government (officials included) or the citizens? I am certain that not many citizens( ordinary,I mean), are getting the intended benefit. For the others, I suggest that they answer for themselves!
We speak of monumental corruption in the subsidy regime. The catastrophe of the 2011 and earlier years scams have not yet been resolved. It is alleged that the fuel subsidy payment for 2011 exceeded 2 trillion naira and after all the razzmatazz and drama of investigations and threats, including that involving Otedola and Lawan Farouk, not much seems to have happened. Most of those accused are walking about freely.So why must Nigerians allow themselves to be fooled over and over. And yet some people are threatening that if the deregulation is completed, fully removing all forms of subsidy, they would set the Nation ablaze or commit suicide! I do not understand the logic at all! How do we end the corruption if we do not stop what causes the corruption! By preaching only?, by talking only?, by complaining only or just by criticising the government? Let us discontinue this subsidy travesty and let this oil subsidy corruption and waste cease!
Often I have heard People who oppose deregulation wonder why our refineries are not working. Some ( like the NLC) even suggest we should first get the local refineries working before we embark on deregulation. But I have always told them that they did not understand the fundamentals of economic behaviour. I followed with asking them why all those who got licences to build private refineries several years ago have failed to build. The simple reason the local refineries can not work, is that NNPC or whoever runs the local refineries are being forced to sell the refined products below cost, with a promise to receive Sudsidy rebates, which they only receive in a disjointed manner, sometimes over one year after selling the products at loss. Then when the scheduled maintenance time is due, they can not execute, because they are waiting for the government to pay, and so they keep managing until the equipment breaks down. This would happen even in a corrupt-free environment. And then we go into the politics of Turn around Maintenance (TAM), with the Minister or some politician deciding who does the TAM ! If we want the Refineries to work fellow Nigerians, then let us allow NNPC to refine and recover its cost at the pump station.Otherwise, we shall continue to accuse NNPC of deducting at source! If new refineries will be built, it can only happen when the investors have an assurance that they can build their refineries and recover cost without having to sell at loss or below cost and then wait for a government agency to pay subsidy rebate, which no body knows when it will be paid and which will ultimately be enmeshed in corruption laden practices! Nigerians let us be wise and persuade the government to complete the deregulation. That will be the ultimate game changer for our economy which at the end will benefit the ordinary citizens of Nigeria in a holistic and sustainable manner.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR