Halting the craze for impunity
By Bayo Ogunmupe
THE rate at which impunity from prosecution goes on in Nigeria under the very eyes of President Ebele Goodluck Jonathan is alarming. Incidents of oil theft have assumed condemnable proportions which call for urgent attention. With an estimated 150,000 barrels of crude oil being stolen daily in the Niger Delta during the first quarter of 2013, and a global loss of 400,000 barrels of crude oil, it is clear, oil theft is an organised crime in Nigeria.
In fact, President Jonathan, during his media chat in September, confessed that government had watched the crime of oil theft go on for too long. He also told Nigerians that those involved in oil theft were rich, powerful and well-connected people in society.
A well-known militant –Tompolo recently shared the same view with President Jonathan when he said, “oil theft is a business for the rich.” Tunde Ruwase, vice president of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce recently accused the Federal Government of knowing those behind oil theft. He said only the rich and powerful could engage in oil theft, arguing that the equipment like barges, tankers as well as the manpower used in stealing oil cannot be bought by the poor.
Nenji James, chairman of the Civil Liberties Organisation accused politicians for the crime. He said it is high time security agents went beyond rhetorics and go for the real culprits. Mutiu Sunmonu, managing director and country chairman of Shell Petroleum Development Company said, “I believe the perpetrators of oil theft need to be arrested and prosecuted. Until there is deterrence, oil industry doesn’t stand a chance of survival against this illegal bunkering of the scale we are seeing today.”
Boniface Aniebonam, chair of the Board of Trustees of the New Nigerian Peoples Party, wondered how crude oil theft could go on without government connivance. He said something tells him that there is official endorsement of this large-scale larceny. In recent years, graft has flourished as unemployment. The impunity with which crime is carried out in the country is stunning.
Actually, criminality thrives because of impunity. Although Jonathan promised to check impunity during his last media chat, critics aver that the president’s hands are tied because oil thieves are people whom he cannot fight, they are his cronies. Moreover, Jonathan had declared in an Abuja church that he was neither a Pharaoh nor Nebuchadnezzar. He also said he was not a lion or an army general trained to do things with immediate effect.
However, going by recent reports, economists say that Nigeria’s revenue dropped by 42 per cent monthly since July because of the distruption to oil production caused by oil thieves who hacked into pipelines. Worse still, reports from the labour market leave much to be desired. Indeed, Nigeria’s unemployment rate rose from 21.1 per cent in 2010 to 23.9 per cent in 2011, so said the National Population Commission (NPC) in its website on October 10, 2013. The NPC said figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed Nigeria’s economic growth had not translated into job creation.
The NPC report said that NBS estimates Nigeria’s population grew by 3.2 per cent in 2011 from 159.3 million people in 2010 to 164.4 million people in 2011, reflecting rapid population growth.
In 2011, our unemployment rose to 23.9 per cent compared to 21.1 per cent in 2010. It said the labour force swelled by 2.1 million to 67.2 million people with just 51.2 million persons employed, leaving 16 million people jobless. The report added that unemployment was high in the rural areas at 25.6 per cent than urban centres where it is 17 per cent.
Thus, unless government takes decisive steps by clamping down on oil thieves, confidence in President Jonathan will be eroded. Government needs to openly dissociate itself from allegations that those in oil theft have its backing, otherwise people will continue to see as hypocritical, government preaching against the crime. Jonathan’s estimation in the eyes of Nigerians would be poor as he would be seen as an ethnic jingoist who is more interested in the affairs of his kinsmen than the good of all Nigerians.
Meanwhile, Jonathan’s persistent search for the saving grace may be found in steering Nigeria towards modernity. This can be achieved by strengthening the institutions meant to protect Nigeria from internal and external economic disasters. For example, the Excess Crude Account and the Sovereign Wealth Fund shielding the economy from declining oil prices are now in place. Jonathan should be shopping for a competent replacement for the meticulous and indefatiguable Lamido Sanusi the out-going Central Bank governor. For an active Central Bank (CBN), a transparent bond market and a stock exchange that is on the rebound are areas where we have recorded significant gains.
Our current financial boon has gone beyond oil and gas. The growth of our non-oil sector has been impressive. Agriculture, wholesale and retail trade and services have come to the fore to compete with petroleum. But the pace has been slow compared with the jousts between the president and the state governors over federal allocations. These fights are often dressed in the costume of true fiscal federalism.
Though both the states and the federation have tax-raising powers, both never exercise such powers. However, what we sorely needed now are institutions which ensure security of lives and property. Such institutions are hospitals, the police, the National Guard and financial independence for the judiciary.
On hospitals, the best hospital in Egypt is owned by Egyptair, Egypt’s biggest airline. Nigeria can imitate that by partnering with a private company to foster medical tourism by creating big and efficient hospitals. Jonathan should call on Globacom, Shell or Mobil to establish hospitals for the good, health of Nigerians. Two companies can partner with the government on 40: 30: 30 basis with a company becoming the core investor.
On security, government should increase the strength of our police force from 377,000 cops to one million men, because we need 1.7 million policemen to secure 170 million Nigerian population. In spite of our economic boom therefore, the Nigerian nation state remains vulnerable to factional disputes such as that of Boko Haram. Repeated outbreaks of violence show limited access to security, making the people vulnerable to instability arising from shifts in the dominant ruling coalition. Thus, it is essential for our democracy to build a strong, united and enlightened civil society to check the excesses of a predatory government elite.