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via allAfrica.com: Nigeria: Looted Fund – How Buhari Arrived At $150bn – Garba Shehu.
By Fidelis Mac-Leva
President Plans Sweeping Reforms in the Oil Sector
President Muhammadu Buhari recently undertook a four-day working tour of the US. The much-talked about visit had been interpreted differently by various opinions in the country. In this interview, Malam Garba Shehu, a Senior Special Assistant on Media to the President spoke on the visit, oil theft and the ongoing EFCC operations.
Critics have postulated that the EFCC all of a sudden became active because Buhari wanted to impress the US during his visit. How can you defend this criticism of the government’s anti-graft activities lately?
Let me say that Nigerians should keep records. When he engaged the business community in Lagos in a town hall meeting in the course of the campaign Buhari said something that Nigerians ought not to have forgotten. He said if he came to office; if Nigerians voted for him he believed that 50 percent of the corruption in the country would go away on account of his being there alone. So we are talking about the arrival of a Buhari environment which signpost is anti-corruption. He believed that 50 per cent of people who engaged in official corruption would voluntarily abandon that path without prosecution, police arrest or anything. Now people say EFCC is working; it follows from the fact that Buhari said he would not stop EFCC from doing its work. If their complaint in the past was that they were encumbered by official restriction from carrying on their duty Buhari said he would not interfere. So if the EFCC and other agencies of government; SSS and others are doing their work as prescribed by law in the country why would anybody say it is to please America or to please anyone. People should come to terms with the fact that they chose this man and before they chose him he said this is what I want to do and he has given freedom to EFCC, Police, SSS and everyone to carry on with their duties. Buhari doesn’t have to know the details of everything that they are doing but if it is consistent with the law and the Constitution he would not stop them from doing their work.
The President is also accused of washing Nigeria’s dirty linen in public by disclosing the extent of rot in the system to the American public; how would you defend this position?
Those who say this do not understand the way the international system works. The dirty linen has been on display before the entire world. Who doesn’t know that crude oil is being stolen up to the tune of 250 thousand barrels per day? In the primitiveness of those who were doing these act they thought that the world doesn’t know. The international system has grown to a level that you cannot take that amount of crude oil in a tanker to Asia, Europe or wherever and sell it without anybody knowing and then you are paid in US dollar and globally the transaction go through New York and you think somebody doesn’t know? They are certainly mistaken and this is why Buhari has gone to America and Europe to say help us because they already know all these things. Like I earlier said it is like a big television screen and everybody is seeing it. It is they (the perpetrators) of the act who deluded themselves into thinking that the rest of the world doesn’t know. Now we have a President who says ‘I am not going to take that’ and the rest of the world is saying ‘Come, we will support you, we will expose these things and assist you to recover your stolen assets’.
How did the President arrive at the $150billion figure as funds stolen from the system in Nigeria; what are the sources of the statistics?
Like I said earlier, the international system has no place to hide for the rogue, whether he is a Nigerian rogue or South African or European. The world would see you and they will catch you. We just came from America and from the information that they gave the President they believe that Nigeria loses between $10 billion and $20 billion every year in the oil sector alone. Now if you are talking about a 10-year period, that money could well be over $150 billion. Buhari is simply saying, I am not begging the world for money; he did not go begging. He is saying help us to recover this money and we will be okay. So it could be well over $150billion.
Did the US give us any condition for supporting our military with weapons? Can we say, trips to the black market to buy weapons to fight the ongoing insurgency is over?
President Buhari took with him a compendium of military requirement to the US and he is going to give a copy to the G-7 through the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. For the US you know that there is a certain restriction on the procurement of weapons flowing from that country’s objection to this country’s human rights records dealing with Boko Haram. President Obama is not a military dictator; even if it is his wish he cannot just waive away these sanctions and say ok go and start. The sanctions came about through laws of the US government and their budgeting system which is also a law. So President Obama needs beyond his own part, he needs congressional support and this will take a bit of time. This is why from Day One you never heard them saying we will send this number of weapons; helicopters or ships. This will come as a matter of course; it is reassuring to Nigerians. Mr Obama’s parting words to Buhari were: I have just 18 months to go; see how you can make the best of this period, dealing with the US government and dealing with the US businesses and let me see how much we can help.
Why did the President backtrack on his earlier promise not to probe the Jonathan administration?
Jonathan is not under probe. If Jonathan is under probe, Buhari would have set up a judicial commission of inquiry or administrative panel of inquiry to report to him on the activities of Jonathan in office. But President Buhari has no powers under the Constitution to stop the Police from doing their lawful duties. Assuming they discover that something is missing from looking into it. He has no power under the Constitution to stop the Attorney General of the Federation or the DSS from inquiring into a matter that is of public interest or to stop the courts of law from adjudicating on any matter. He is not permitted by the Constitution to do these otherwise it would be a breach of his own oath of office. So people should understand that there is no probe of Jonathan going on but there are matters arising from some decisions of his government and law enforcement agencies are interested in inquiring into that, it would amount to an obstruction of the due process of law, a contravention of the constitution and a breach of his own office to stop public institutions from protecting public assets.
Why is the President not categorical on his policy on subsidy? At one point he said he didn’t believe there was subsidy; at another point he says if subsidy is removed it would cause dislocation across the social strata of Nigeria. What are the exact thoughts of this President on subsidy?
What is clear to me is that he has asked for the NNPC to go back to the drawing board to look at the entire policy of swap by which we send crude oil abroad where it is refined and all of that and all this question of subsidy. From his own point of view he needs facts to be put on the table on what needs to be done for him to arrive at a decision. So as it is now there is no decision yet on the issue of fuel subsidy. He merely was saying a few things that can give a pointer to the direction in which he is going. One, he made it clear that subsidy is a problem but perhaps it is not the biggest problem we have in the oil sector. He talked about sabotage of oil pipelines, gas pipelines, of crude oil theft, corruption in the sector and all of that. He believes that if these things are eliminated, wastages and all of that, Nigerians will probably be less burdened by the price petroleum products and in the end maybe subsidy might not even be necessary.
Two that he has learned from experience that they want to trigger inflation, cost of food, rent, public transportation and all that. What he is saying is that if you have to do that all of us as a country must be very careful so that we don’t subject more than sixty percent of the national population to unnecessary hardship. A decision will come but it will be after he has taken a look at all of the facts and their implications before he decides on subsidy.
Recently there was a suggestion by the Governor of Kaduna State for the scrapping of the NNPC; is the President given some thought to this?
That is for the President to decide. But I know that there will be reforms in the entire sector because it is very clear that the President is not satisfied with the happenings therein, especially as they relate to corruption, theft of crude oil and sabotage. Therefore people should expect changes in that area.
What is government doing to improve domestic refining of crude by the NNPC?
He has asked NNPC to go and talk to those who originally set up these refineries so that they will look at what is happening on the ground and see how they can help us to fix. The President has not stopped saying that he is amazed by the destruction that has been visited on the nation’s refineries. When he came he found the country with one oil refinery. By the time he left this country had operationally or about to be in operation; four other refineries and a dead one in Port Harcourt, the one in Warri as well as the one in Kaduna. They left a market which needs were being met one hundred percent by domestic refineries. In fact Nigeria was exporting the equivalent of 150,000 barrels of refined petroleum products after meeting domestic needs which was then about 300,000. So it is strange for him having found himself in government again that we have turned into a net importer of petroleum products and that he is determined to change.
It was reported that the President was furious to find some Nigerian businessmen in his entourage in the US, and that he scolded the CBN governor over this; what actually happened?
I was there in that hall and I must blame this on the lack of humour on the part of the Nigerian journalists. Nigerian reporters need to understand Buhari better. He is a man of humour and sometimes he criticizes not only others but himself; he throws jokes at himself and people laugh. When he was about to make his speech at the American Chamber of Commerce and the Corporate Council on Africa joint dinner he was making recognitions of eminent Nigerians who had come and he sighted this former chairman of a bank. He then said I believe that our friend the Governor of CBN brought him here and people laughed. The truth is that all of those businessmen were on the entourage but not on the official delegation. They were listed for that event and were officially invited to America in their own capacity not as members of the Nigerian delegation. They paid for their tickets, paid for their hotels and the idea being that they would go and meet their US counterparts so that together they would discuss business opportunities that would help this country. Now what Nigerians missed is that all Presidents of the world when they visit other countries they not only promote government business but promote businesses in their own country. So what did Buhari do wrong? He could not have said he had an objection on businessmen being there; it was his duty to make sure Nigerian businessmen explored the business opportunities in the United States of America and I believed that dinner had about 300 people in attendance-Nigerians and Americans. And members of the delegation were just a little over thirty. So there was no offence that he took from any businessman that was there. It was a mischievous interpretation of a line of humour but that is Buhari; he is a very humorous person.
Why was the President’s son on the entourage?
Again that is another thing that our people need to understand. By tradition every president of Nigeria is entitled to three persons that he would place on his delegation by his own discretion. In this particular instance the President preferred that his wife who should have been there stayed back for some other matters that he considered equally important; so she didn’t come. Now was he the first to take his son on such trips? People should recall very well the late Umaru Yar’Adua he had done the same thing. I am not saying we are copying from Umaru but I am just illustrating this as an example that he had carried his children on his official trips because as I said that the president has that discretion to name three persons on his delegation whoever they are and he just utilized it. So there is nothing unusual because Buhari was not doing something that had not been done in the past.
Can you elaborate more on Obama’s parting words to Buhari during the visit?
He said I have 18 months to go as US president; see the much that you can make use of this period in terms of dealing with US government and businesses. He also said he had a tight agenda leading up to the end of his administration and didn’t think that there would be a chance for him to visit Nigeria; but he might visit afterwards when left office. But President Buhari’s position was that no we want you to come as President; do the best that you can and squeeze out time to come to Nigeria. So they left it at that.
So are you optimistic that President Obama will visit Nigeria?
We are optimistic that he will before he leaves office and Buhari will continue to press for this.
What do you consider to be the tangible achievements from the US trip?
What was objective of the trip? President Buhari went there to press the “reset button” of the Nigeria and the United States relationship. To many in our two countries, this relationship was broken and needed to be fixed. As far as this is concerned, we have succeeded in unlocking all the doors that were locked against us in this relationship. In all the discussions we had, all matters were openly and honestly discussed, and I must add, with overwhelming clarity of views and commonality of positions. If there was a gap between the U.S. and Nigeria, and we believe there was one before President Buhari came into office, that gap has been bridged.
Overall, the clamour for President Buhari was astounding. He was gone after by every member of the United States establishment. He met Secretary of State Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden and the President of the United States, Barrack Obama.
I am not sure there was any past Nigerian President who met as many a number of Secretaries of U.S. departments as Buhari did and in all of these meetings, the personal integrity of President Buhari came through.
The resoundness of the success of his meetings include the fact that even on the sore issue of gay or same sex marriage, which is a law of the United States, our American hosts didn’t pressure Buhari as many had speculated. The issue came up in only one meeting and as reported by the Special Adviser, Media Femi Adesina on his Twitter handle, the President Spoke forthrightly on the issue. Not only did he say he was opposed to it on account of his culture and faith but that it is against the Nigerian Law. A recent poll showed that 98 percent of Nigerians of all faiths were opposed to it. This is the second highest opposition to same-sex marriage among all the countries that were polled.
It is equally significant that the offer to assist Nigeria by almost every U.S. agency was clearly and unambiguously made to the Nigerian President. In this, there was not a single one with a hesitation to help, be it in the area of training, logistics, equipment, you just name it.
It is however important to state at this point, that Buhari did not go to the U.S. with a begging bowl. We don’t need foreign aid, he told everyone so long as you can help us plug all the loopholes that had been used to steal our assets. The Americans hold the view that between 10-20 billion Dollars is annually lost through the crude oil sector alone. “There Is no organization or government that can give us 5 billion dollars. If we plug our loopholes and recover stolen money from abroad, Nigeria will do well by herself.”
Some of low-hanging fruit’s President Buhari plucked included the World Bank which has literally placed USD 2.1. Billion at his disposal and it is for him to decide which sector to deploy it to. In the area of agriculture, there is a group in the U.S. which met the President on their intention to bring in five billion U.S. Dollars by way of investment.
In the health sector, we have U.S. Dollars 1.5 billion coming and there is no counter-funding required. In line with this, Dr. Pate, the Chairman of the Bill Gates Foundation is coming to Nigeria shortly. It is equally significant that both the World Health Organisation, and the Bill Gates Foundation have added four States, Kaduna, Sokoto, Borno and Yobe to their polio campaign with a view to bringing it to an early end.
In the area of power, there is also coming $5 billion investment and this, too, is without counter-part funding.
Now, if all these do not represent success, let us know what success is. From our point of view, no past President of this country has ever netted these for Nigeria from a single U.S. trip. Overall, it is a resounding, resounding success.