Petrodollar, Forensic Audit and Endangered Publisher By Steve Ayorinde

imageNot a few people would have been surprised last Saturday, when Premium Times reported in its story the escape of a well-known journalist, Toyin Akinosho, from Nigeria after an apparent assassination attempt on his life.

Akinosho is famous in the Lagos arts and media circle as a critic with more than a passing interest in reporting the culture beat. Although he has written popular art columns in the past and published an art-centric newspaper, FESTAC News, thereby earning the sobriquet ‘Publisher’ among friends and admirers, he is actually a trained geologist with many years of experience at Chevron Nigeria Limited.

He has become even more celebrated in the past few years as the publisher of Africa Oil and Gas Report which focuses on issues affecting the petroleum industry across Africa. And as an award-winning writer, with unwavering commitment to investigative journalism and knack for routinely challenging the official line, for a good cause, he has amassed great followership.

I had spent the better part of last Tuesday evening with him at the Freedom Park on Broad Street, the new hub of cultural activities in Lagos. He was the moderator of the interactive session with the veteran iconoclastic actor, Olu Jacobs, together with whom we all later went to watch The Beatification of Area Boy, a stage play directed by Prof. Wole Soyinka, at the venue’s open ground. The play was part of last week’s Black Heritage Festival.

We did exchange a few banters about his unapologetic focus on the petrodollar industry and how he has always managed to unearth, in that juicy and ferociously tempting sector, the corruption others missed, or, more likely, disregarded. But not once did he betray any emotion about the ordeal he went through just over a month ago and for which he has had to flee Nigeria for a few weeks only to return unannounced last week.

Although it turned out that Premium Times’ story was somewhat delayed, more than a month after Akinosho had run for his life and later returned unintimidated, it was still a shock to have learnt of how suspected assassins trailed him for two days, damaged his car, harassed and physically attacked his driver for withholding information about his boss’ whereabouts.

Akinosho may have reported the incidence of March 20 to the Police and the State Security Service through a petition submitted by his lawyers, his ordeal, nonetheless, deserves more than a cursory look. Those gun-wielding five men inside the white minivan that trailed his car did not appear like they were kidding, from the account of the driver. They meant business and they were armed. The parlance “I will waste you” (meaning: I can kill you for nothing) which they said to Akinosho’s driver repeatedly is believed to be typically associated with those in the business of unlawful use of arms.

In the absence of any direct links or suspects, the general suspicion of why a journalist would be the target of assassins is largely on account of scathing revelations about the corruption in the petroleum industry that he has personally authored or generally published by his magazine. Akinosho may have written about his personal conviction that the Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Alison-Madueke, does not deserve to return as the supervisor in that ministry, if President Goodluck Jonathan had won his reelection bid, but he wouldn’t have said anything completely new; for not a few commentators have disparaged her ineffectual supervision of the fuel importation and subsidy regime as well as the lack of transparency in the management of the four refineries in Nigeria.

If indeed he has written about the rot in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the malfeasance that permeates its soul and structure, he still would not have authored anything new. The corruption that NNPC represents has, for many years, been the subject of journalistic and scholarly account of how not to administer a nation’s commonwealth. It is not unexpected, therefore, that the illuminating insight that such investigative instinct which journalists like Akinosho bring to the reportage of the petroleum industry will be disturbing to the guilty ones, the nation still owes it a duty not only to save courageous chroniclers of our recent history from the same marauders looting the treasury, but to also bring those lawless, anything-goes public officers to book.

It is for this reason that the outgoing regime, for the post-election honour it lays claim to, and the incoming administration that announces itself as the harbinger of change and commonsense revolution, should not let Akinosho’s petition to the security agencies be left unattended. A few people would be tempted to believe that because the suspected assassination attempt happened just before the last Presidential election might be instructive on the motive of the assassins, yet this should lend credence to why it is important not to let the imminent change of guard in government affect the need to establish the truth in this matter.

Already, providence is working in favour of Akinosho and those who believe that a good chunk of this country’s stolen wealth went through the oil and gas drainpipes; and that if that industry could be fixed and its subsequent revenues saved from its profligate managers and their thieving supervisors in government, Nigeria could indeed rise again on the path of true greatness and accomplishments.

The mere interest expressed by President-Elect Muhammadu Buhari to revisit the $20bn that allegedly got missing from the federal purse has confirmed not just the extent of corruption in the Petroleum Ministry but also the lies and apparent complicity of very top functionaries of the Jonathan administration who tried to misinform the nation about this horrendous mismanagement of resources.

The $20bn debacle is an onerous case that requires more than a feeble forensic audit. Its eventual outcome might be very damning indeed. And who knows, maybe this necessary probe can unmask those behind the desperation to silence journalists and the nation’s collective push for truth.

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