The recent diatribe on petrol subsidy took me back to the President Goodluck Jonathan era. I remember the ruthless analytics of then Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi.
Sanusi spared no one. He accused persons in Jonathan government of using petrol subsidy to scam the nation.
Once upon a time on August 18, 2013, Sanusi spoke at a Tedx Youth programme in Abuja. He painted a graphic picture of how a few privileged Nigerians hide under petrol subsidy to loot the treasury. His thought nine years ago is worth reproducing here.
He told the audience: “In 2009, Nigeria paid N291billion as subsidy for petroleum products. By 2011, the number had jumped to N2.7trillion. Did we start consuming 10 times as many petrol or having 10 times as many cars or 10 times the population?
I didn’t believe these numbers and a number of people screamed and because we tried to remove subsidy, there was Occupy Nigeria protest.
“There have been investigations and we discovered that a lot of that money never went into fuel subsidy that was consumed by Nigerians.
There were people in this country that produced pieces of paper and brought it to Petroleum Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPRA) and somebody signed those papers and said they brought in petroleum products, and actually paid them subsidy because the paper said they brought in 3000 metric tonnes of petroleum products on a particular ship and we discovered that, that ship was nowhere near the coast of Nigeria on that date.
“We have seen vessels that did not even exist that had been retired on bills of laden and monies had been paid, and none of these people have gone to jail.
This is the only country in the world where you have oil theft, where vessels can simply come and take crude oil and literally just sail out of the country.
How can anyone just take oil from a country and leave, when we have the Navy, NIMASA, security services of the oil companies themselves and every day we complain about lack of development.”
That was vintage Sanusi: Blunt, no disguise.
Fast forward to 2022, the same petrol subsidy is tearing up the Buhari government. Sanusi disagrees with figures bandied by Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, NNPCL. He fell short of calling insiders in the petrol subsidy ‘business’ crooks. Sanusi is known for going full pelt on issues of the economy. He spares no one. At a Kaduna State investment programme recently, Sanusi said the 66 million litres of petrol average daily consumption quoted by the state oil company, NNPCL, is not factual.
“Are we drinking the petrol? We are consuming more than Indonesia, Egypt, Pakistan, Kenya and Cote d’Ivoire on a per capita basis.
“In Nigeria, we are consuming almost six litres a day per vehicle, more than Iran. Iran is three to four times as rich as Nigeria on a per capita income basis,” he said.
But it’s not only Sanusi that is shouting foul at the petrol subsidy staggering stats.
The Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali (retd.), last month accused NNPCL of being economical with the truth on the matter of petrol subsidy. Ali said NNPCL cannot justify the volume of petrol being consumed in the country daily to warrant the over N6.34 trillion subsidy payment on the commodity annually.
While making his presentation to the House of Representatives’ Committee on Finance at the hearing on the proposed 2023-2025 Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper, Ali argued that the NNPCL cannot scientifically prove the 98 million litres/day consumption it was claiming. He alleged that NNPCL was supplying an excess of 38 million litres of petrol daily.
The committee had asked Ali his opinion on the deficit of between N11trillion and N12trn in the 2023 budget as proposed in the 2023-2025 MTEF/FSP.
Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, had earlier told the committee that the government might be unable to provide for treasury-funded capital projects next year because of dwindling revenue receipts and annual payment of N6.34tn subsidy on petrol.
It was on the basis of this that Ali faulted the NNPCL claim. He told the committee: “I remember that last year we spoke about this. Unfortunately, this year, we are talking about subsidy again. The over N11trillion we are going to take as debt, more than half of it is going for subsidy. The issue is not about smuggling of petroleum products. I have always argued this with NNPC.
“If we are consuming 60 million litres of PMS per day, by their own computation, why would you allow the release of 98 million litres per day? If you know this is our consumption, why would you allow that release? Scientifically, you cannot tell me that if I fill my tank today, tomorrow, I will fill the same tank with the same quantity of fuel. If I am operating a fuel station today and I go to Minna depot, lift petrol and take it to Kaduna, I may get to Kaduna in the evening and offload that fuel. There is no way I would have sold off that petrol immediately to warrant another load. So, how did you get to 60 million litres per day? That is my problem.
“The issue of smuggling: if you release 98 million litres in actual and 60 million litres is used, the balance should be 38 million litres. How many trucks will carry 38 million litres every day? Which road are they following and where are they carrying this thing to?”
Both Sanusi and Ali have raised very fundamental issues. It’s obvious that neither NNPCL nor the Ministry of Finance can tell categorically what is happening in the petroleum industry with regard to daily average consumption of petrol. It’s hard to believe that subsidy pay out could jump from N291billion in 2009 to N6.34 trillion in 2022/2023. Even more curious is the claim that Nigerians consume an average of over 60 million litres of petrol daily. Neither science nor logic supports these claims.
NNPCL leadership should in the spirit of TAPE (Transparency Accountability Performance Excellence) introduced by Mele Kyari, the Group Managing Director investigate these figures. Are they paper claims as alleged by Sanusi? Who generates these figures and the equivalent monetary claims? Because NNPCL is now a private equity, it must wean itself of the old ways of doing business, the type graphically captured by Sanusi in which vessels that never made it to Nigerian waters were claimed to have berthed at our ports laden with petrol.
Nigeria has bled so much in the oil and gas sector since Sunday, January 15, 1956 when the first oil well was discovered in Oloibiri, Bayelsa state. It is time to stop the steal. We have accused the white man, rightly so, of stealing our crude with large body vessels and barges. How can we explain to the next generation that since we couldn’t stop the crooked white man, we had to join him in the theft using the conduit of subsidy? President Buhari is the minister in charge. Let him act now! This country is bleeding.