For decades, Nigeria has had a notorious reputation as a country rife with graft. In the early 2000s, it ranked among the top three most-corrupt countries in the world for several consecutive years.
According to a BBC expose published this week, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan wants to change the image of his country, Africa’s largest oil producer. The government has gained mixed results in its efforts to repair its reputation by tackling Kleptocracy in the country so far, and observers wonder whether Jonathan, himself, is part of the problem.
Last year, Jonathan pardoned a politician found guilty of pilfering public funds, The New York Times reported. The U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, posted on Twitter that it was “deeply disappointed” in the decision.
Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, former governor of Bayelsa State, which holds substantial oil reserves and refineries, was convicted in 2007 after jumping bail in London and sneaking back to Nigeria dressed as a woman, The Guardian reported in 2005.
Before ascending to the Nigerian presidency, Jonathan had worked under Alamieyeseigha as a deputy in Bayelsa State, The Times noted in 2013.
The Times furthered stated that Alamieyeseigha embezzled “about $55 million in public funds and acquired real estate all over the world,” but his “luck ran out when the London police found more than $1 million in cash at his home there.”
A presidential pardon of a convicted embezzler isn’t likely to instill confidence in foreign investment firms, but now there’s another issue hindering reform in Nigeria: allegations that billions of dollars in energy reserves have simply vanished from state accounts.
Former Central Bank governor Lamido Sanusi recently accused the government oil company, Nigerian National Petroleum Company, of losing, or not accounting for, $20 billion in oil revenues. After launching these allegations, Jonathan fired him, The New York Times reported in February.
“Oil yields 95 percent of the country’s total export earnings, and Mr. Sanusi has been saying for months that a substantial portion of the money was missing from public coffers,” The Times noted. “So when oil money goes missing — and Mr. Sanusi has said that as much as $50 billion could be unaccounted for, a figure since revised downward — it touches a nerve in Nigeria.”
Nigerian Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has called for an audit of the NNPC, the BBC reported.
Sanusi said in a BBC report that a parliamentary investigation should be carried out to see why what is known as the country’s Excess Crude Account had plunged from $11.5 billion to under $2.5 billion in one year, adding to the perception that things are spiraling out of control, not being reformed, as Jonathan wants the international community to believe.
In addition to the oil scandal, problems are swirling around kerosene. Kerosene is a huge commodity in Nigeria, as most citizens cook with it. But the average Nigerian buys kerosene on the open market at two to three times the rate it should be because the government subsidizes the fuel, but an unscrupulous scam has been played out on poor citizens buying kerosene, the BBC reported.
The NNPC has billed the state treasury to recollect the money spent on subsidizing the price of kerosene, the BBC said, so why aren’t regular Nigerians buying it at the reduced price?
“The Central Bank report suggests that, by not passing on the benefit to the consumers, a consortium has been collecting $100 (million) a month in a scam,” the BBC said. “At (a) parliamentary hearing, Oil Minister Diezani Alison Madueke and state oil company officials denied allegations of malpractice and said all the ‘missing’ money would be accounted for.
But when Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala stated that the kerosene subsidy was not provided for in the country’s budget, the alarm bells went up a few decibels.”
Having worked as a managing director at the World Bank, Okonjo-Iweala has a stellar reputation and many thought she would bring credibility to Nigeria in her position as finance minister. But she is in a difficult position, caught between competing interests, the BBC noted.
“I know why I’m here,” she told the BBC. “I gave up a comfortable career to come here and do my bit because I recognise that nobody but us Nigerians can clean it up.”
Only time will tell whether Nigerians can, in fact, “clean it up,” but recent government actions fail to paint a picture of reform.
Nigeria marked the beginning of its centenary celebrations last month and Jonathan handed out a few awards, but when some people found out that former Nigerian leader Gen. Sani Abacha was on the list, they boycotted the event — and in some cases, rejected their awards.
Why celebrate a military dictator who robbed the country, the BBC asked?
“As if people needed reminding, during that same week the United States announced that it was freezing $458 million that had been stashed away in foreign bank accounts — part of at least $3 billion that Abacha is believed to have looted during the 1990s,” the BBC noted.