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NNPC presents the Maikanti and Emmanuel Show

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The Group Managing Director of NNPC, Maikanti Baru PHOTO: TWITTER/NNPC

The most incredible thing about the ongoing NNPC drama between the Group Managing Director (GMD) and the Minister of State is that, for once, money is not actually missing. Most of the complaints by the minister are about ‘point of order,’ as Nigerians like to call it, as well as the GMD hurting his feelings. But this does not make the whole spectacle any less amusing, because it reveals something important about the NNPC and Nigeria in general.

“Corruptissima replublica plurimae leges,” said the Roman Senator and historian, Publius Cornelius Tacitus. That is, ‘the more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.’ The NNPC’s response to the minister quoted laws and acts and processes put in place to guide an organisation on the right path and prevent money disappearing. This is where we pause for a laughter break. The NNPC letter listed seven steps that a contract has to go through for it to be valid. It then proudly declared that ‘all contracts in NNPC follow the above procedure.’ There are also six different sets of regulations that govern contracting in NNPC one of which is the ‘NNPC Ethics Guide.’ The idea that a document titled with ‘ethics’ exists in the NNPC, sounds like a joke taken too far.

The minister was annoyed that NNPC contracts were not passed to the board for approval. NNPC claimed that approving contracts is the responsibility of the NNPC Tenders Board (NTB). It claimed that it went to seek ‘clarification’ as to the composition of the NTB several times from the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP). Of course, it was ‘clarified’ that the NTB should be made up of the GMD and other senior officers of NNPC. What is most important about this is that the minister is not part of the NTB. Is it not interesting that the NNPC didn’t seek to clarify if at all the Public Procurement Act of 2007 superseded the NNPC Act of 1977 which puts such powers in the hands of the board? There are very many laws in Nigeria and once you have an answer you are working to, you can always find one law to back up your position.

This is the key point to understand about the current stage play they are producing to entertain Nigerians – the law cannot stop anyone in NNPC from stealing. If anything, the law is there to help them steal more efficiently. The law is also a very useful weapon to show your enemies pepper. This is not to be taken as a defence of the minister – I’m sure he did the same thing when he was GMD, as the NNPC letter stated, and will do so again if he was returned as GMD tomorrow. None of the main actors is innocent here.

Another thing to understand about how the NNPC, the ground zero of corruption in Nigeria, works is that when the law is not on your side, you simply keep quiet and wait for everyone to forget. The minister accused the GMD of making appointments without recourse to the Board Services Committee, another legal or regulatory requirement. The NNPC letter kept completely quiet about this accusation. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone – the PwC report from a couple of years ago showed that in January, March and November of 2012, NNPC paid a total of $20m in salaries to people it could not identify. The appointments may not even exist as real human beings, just as salaries.

Finally, there is the question of approvals for Joint Venture financing which the press has erroneously labelled as contracts. This has diverted attention away from the main issue – that Nigeria’s and NNPC’s finances are so bad they have to borrow to fund JVs. The arrears currently run into billions of dollars so the borrowings are only a way of postponing the evil day. But this arrangement is also a clever way of making money disappear. Based on the PwC report from a few years ago, the NNPC repays these loans with crude oil i.e. an SPV is created and funded with the loans to finance production. Once the production happens, crude to the value of the loan is deducted. The last time $20bn went missing, NNPC claimed $2bn of that amount was accounted for by that arrangement. Who can tell whether it is true or not? Yet, the NNPC letter proudly stated that “Section 8 sub-sections (1) and (4) of the NNPC Act CAP N123 requires that all NNPC borrowings must be approved by Mr. President.” Is the president going to count the repayment barrels himself?

No one should be fooled by this NNPC film show where the minister and GMD are quoting sections of the law at each other like the most upstanding citizens in the country. NNPC remains the reproach to the nation that it has always been. A few years down the line, we will surely hear of how billions again disappeared while all these laws, regulations, acts and guides stood watching like statues. The real issues are fundamental to the very existence of NNPC – why does it exist? Should it exist? I don’t believe it has any useful purpose for Nigeria. Not only is it a deeply corrupt organization, it corrupts anything and anyone who comes in contact with it. And every time we get a scandal about money going missing, it always manages to escape without having to change anything about itself.



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