The One Thing President Buhari Must Do By Simon Kolawole

imageIncredible. That was my first reaction to a recent article written by Zik Zulu Okafor on the intrigues going on at the sea ports. In April 2015, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) had issued a directive asking LADOL Integrated Free Logistics Zone Enterprise to relocate its $500 million fabrication and integrated yards in Apapa, Lagos State, to Agge, Bayelsa State. I thought it is such a big project that cannot be moved overnight and I paid little attention to the undercurrents. But I was soon hearing of court cases, and when the media began to churn out a series of articles on the directive, it dawned on me that there must be more to it than meets the eye.
Two issues raised by Okafor caught my attention. One, he alleged that the relocation order would favour INTELS, the oil and gas logistics concessionaire at Onne Ports. This, he said, was evident in the fact that the NPA, aware that Bayelsa, the home state of the then President Goodluck Jonathan, does not have the facilities to accommodate the gigantic Egina Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) project, further directed that “it can be conveniently located at any dedicated oil and gas terminal”. And, by the way, the only dedicated oil and gas terminal is Onne Ports, is firmly under the control of INTELS. In other words, NPA was apparently working to an answer.
Two, the NPA directed that all oil and gas related cargo must henceforth be handled only at the designated terminals at Onne, Warri and Calabar ports. Again, all these terminals are under the control of INTELS and its partners! You don’t have to be a genius to suspect that there could be an agenda against other seaports operators. Of course, there are always two sides to a story and the NPA may have its justifications, but most of the ingredients of hidden intents are in the mix. Most worrisome to me, however, is the way existing agreements were violated and terminated by NPA. Even if there was no corruption involved, this is nothing but impunity.
If President Muhammadu Buhari would have just a one-point agenda, it should be an all-out war against impunity. In place of War against Corruption, I would propose War against Impunity. There will always be corruption in the system. There is no corruption-free country in the world. However, what gives Nigeria the gold medal is impunity. Impudence. Effrontery. The audacity with which laws are violated and corruption is practised in Nigeria is incredible. I have just cited the impunity with which the NPA bypassed contracts and agreements in ordering the relocation of a $400 million project to Bayelsa, but I could list a million more examples.
For instance, anybody who is familiar with the budgetary process in Nigeria will agree that it is not just the corruption that stinks, it is the audacity with which the figures are arrived at that should get us all enraged. It got so ridiculous that in recent years, lawmakers started going directly to contractors, asking them to come and defend the provisions for projects handled by them. The committees took rooms at Abuja hotels where they met with contractors for “budget defence”. They usually laid out the terms in plain and direct language: go and bring so much billion naira and we will appropriate the provision for your job. Such audacity!
Ministries, agencies and parastatals were being told to bring some huge sums in cash before their budgets could be approved. I was told an agency budgeted N15 billion for its operations but the committee promised to jack it up to N30 billion on one condition: give us N5 billion cash in advance. This should not be surprising. That is why the president will send a budget of N1 trillion to the National Assembly and by the time it is approved, the figure has jumped to N1.3 trillion! President Olusegun Obasanjo frequently threatened not to implement the Appropriation Acts, but he was always reminded that it is an impeachable offence.
This impunity is ever present in the ministries. After huge sums of money have been paid out in the name of monetisation, you will still see ministers buying “official cars” for “official duty”. They will later take these cars home. That is double jeopardy for the treasury. Some will direct contractors to rent houses for them. Political appointees and their wives leave office with government vehicles — and they honestly think they deserve these “perks” having served the people so “meritoriously” for four or eight years. A recent report said the four wives of a former governor made away with 22 vehicles. That is not just corruption. That is impunity.
One more example and I will be done. There are a lot of phantom contracts that agencies award on a regular basis. Some of them deal with consumables — meaning producing evidence of purchased goods may be virtually impossible. An example is stationery. Some are services, such as road repairs and maintenance as well as clearing of drainages. God only knows the billions of naira that disappear every month under these subheads. In many instances, these jobs are not done at all and it is difficult to prove. Money is simply brought out of the treasury and shared. This is audacity. Corruption alone does not explain these acts of man’s inhumanity to man.
I would tell President Buhari that the war against corruption cannot be won in four or eight years, but he would be a great success if he can combat impunity. Even if people are going to steal or break the law, it shouldn’t be with audacity. People should be afraid, very afraid of violating the law. Lawmakers should be afraid of asking contractors to come and defend their budgets. Ministers should be afraid of awarding contracts to fronts. Government officials should be afraid of allowing their spouses to make away with official vehicles. A society where people think they can do anything and get away with it is heading for destruction. The impunity hurts more than the corruption.
I must sincerely apologise to my readers that I am completely off-topic today. I’m aware the most important issue in the last one week remained the majority leaders and chief whips of the National Assembly. Here I am distracting attention with some talk on corruption and impunity. But anyone ever wondered if there will be so much infighting in the National Assembly if it was a volunteer job? If there are no billions of naira involved in occupying all those positions, do you think anybody would be fighting and holding all-night meetings? My prayer is that more Nigerians will come to see through the drama and understand that these politicians are not on the same page with us.
In my opinion, we should be fighting these politicians, not taking sides. They know where they meet. They are friends, associates and partners who are only temporarily divided by a little friction over how to share their spoils. Our worries are not their worries. Our problems are not their problems. Our priorities are not their priorities. They live in their own world. We should be more interested in how to destroy the impunity that is destroying our beloved country. That is why I advocate that Buhari must fight impunity with all his might. If he succeeds in this only one thing, just watch and see how every sector and every segment of Nigeria will change. Impunity kills.

A list was making the rounds on the social media last week on the appointments made by President Buhari so far. Ten out of Buhari’s 11 appointees are northerners. I would have been surprised if this did not become an issue in a very sensitive political environment like ours. Although there was a little bit of mischief in the list (one or two positions were filled purely by institutional mechanism not political appointment), there’s nevertheless a compelling case for geo-political balancing in appointments — which Buhari must be very conscious of. But there are least 1,000 other appointments still coming. Relax.

A lot of dust is being raised by the entry of “Radio Biafra” into the airwaves. I have read comments by concerned people who think we may have another big problem in our hands with the “hate” message being disseminated through the unregistered station. I understand that many south-easterners are worried about their fate in the Buhari dispensation, but no group should take advantage of genuine concerns to promote sinister agenda. When things like this start, there is every tendency that they can spin out of control. The message of equity can be preached without descending to this level. Dangerous.

I love the PDP response to the renewed Boko Haram attacks. Its acting chairman Uche Secondus said “the time has come for all Nigerians, irrespective of ethnic, religious and political affiliations to be in one accord in the fight against terrorism in our dear country”. This is the same position I’ve been canvassing for years while APC and PDP politicised the tragedy. I’ve always maintained that Boko Haram is an enemy to all and should be confronted with one voice. With Jonathan out of the way, it is becoming clearer that neither APC nor PDP was behind the insurgency. Hindsight.

Many people are worried about the seemingly unending APC crisis. Permit me to say it is no big deal. It is a storm in a tea cup that has been turned into a Tsunami. People have not learnt how to accept defeat and move on to fight another day. That is at the centre of the so-called crisis. As bad as the PDP was, its leaders knew how to lose. In 2011, Aminu Tambuwal rebelled against them. Even though they felt humiliated, they were wise enough to let it go and allow the will of the house members prevail. Lessons.

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