Nigeria’s Missing Billions and Trillions


Anti-corruption tzar and head of the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force. Mallam Nuhu Ribadu

It used to be tens of millions of naira and occasionally, hundreds of millions of naira and when a corruption incident amounting to a billion naira was mentioned, we were stunned, disgusted and spoke about it intensely for weeks. Now misappropriation of public funds in Nigeria is recorded in billions and trillions of naira such that cases involving mere millions no longer elicit media scrutiny or a shocked reaction from the public. The increase in the scale of corruption has been followed closely by an increase in our disillusionment as we are becoming numbed to the mind-boggling figures.

The mass protests that accompanied the removal of fuel subsidy in January this year led to the inauguration of probe panels such as the Farouk Lawan-led House of Representatives Committee examining the fuel subsidy regime, the Nuhu Ribadu-led Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force (PRSTF) on the management of the oil sector, and to a lesser extent hastened deliberations on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).

These panels have all unearthed fraud of epic proportions in the oil sector: N1.3trn ($6.8bn) lost to fuel subsidy fraud, N1trn ($6bn) per annum lost to oil theft (bunkering), opaque oil deals short-changing Nigeria of billions of dollars by marketers and International Oil Companies (IOCs) through gas price-fixing deals and non-payment of royalties and signature bonuses, and other such cases where billions of dollars are lost to various vested interests. This is in addition to monies stolen in Ministries Departments and Agencies most recently, the physical theft of N2.1bn ($14m) in newly printed notes from the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Corporation (NSPMC). The list is endless.

An aerial view of an illegal refinery in Ogoni land, in the oil-producing Niger-Delta. Source: Msnbcmedia.com

An editorial of The Punch newspaper estimates that over N5trn ($30bn) has been misappropriated since 2010. The global audit firm KPMG rates Nigeria as having the “highest value of fraud reported” in Africa, at N225bn ($1.5bn). Nigeria is rated as the 35th most corrupt country, according to the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). The figures and the reports are revealing as they are damning.

The initial shock at the scale of corruption is gradually giving way to a numbness and indifference. Many like me perhaps, have given up on using calculators to convert the billions of dollars to whatever currency equivalents just to grasp the full scale of funds lost. We’re gradually drifting to a comfortable zone of intentional ignorance convincing ourselves that the $6bn dollars lost to subsidy fraud or the hundreds of millions of dollars lost daily to oil bunkering are mere numbers. The reality though, gnaws relentlessly in one’s subconscious knowing that the judicious utilization of these monies could significantly improve the ailing education sector, health sector, transport infrastructure and the fortunes of the whole country, yet they are diverted by a few.

As the quality of our public services and infrastructure continues to deteriorate, we have become numbed by the scale of corruption and decay and instead find it easier to seek lesser alternatives. This translates to outsourcing education to private schools at home and education institutions abroad; outsourcing healthcare to private hospitals whose exorbitant charges barely merit the quality of services they provide, and… well, private jets litter Nigerian airports for those who can afford to escape the pot-hole ridden roads or the domestic airlines ably described as “flying coffins”.

The inescapable reality though, is we’ll eventually have to wake up from our reverie and realize that playing the ostrich is not sustainable as we postpone the inevitable. The mismanagement of public funds has direct bearing on our collapsing infrastructure, insecurity, deplorable standard of education, unemployment and a host of other ills which are all interconnected – none is isolated from the other. If funds in every sector are constantly frittered away, then the efficiency of public services and ability of regulatory agencies to regulate the private sector will be affected, resulting in collapsing infrastructure and poor services with barely any maintenance or sustenance.

The crash site of the Dana Air mishap in June 2012, Lagos. Source: ChannelsTV.com

Feigning indifference means we will individually continue to seek opportunities (legally, extra-legally or illegally) to fund our ability to bypass or “persevere” through the infrastructural decay in order to afford the prohibitive fees and fares in private schools, private hospitals and air travel, and to tolerate the barely mediocre and mostly poor services provided. Hence, the vicious cycle of corruption persists. Ignoring these issues for convenient alternatives doesn’t confer immunity on anyone from the problems therein either.

This reality of our collective vulnerability is constantly drummed into our psyches with the frequency of deadly air crashes notably the Dana Air crash, the air mishap which left Governor Suntai of Taraba mentally incapacitated and the most recent fatal crash which claimed the lives of Kaduna state governor, Patrick Yakowa, General Andrew Azazi, their aides and crew members. Clearly, air travel is no longer much safer than travelling on the treacherous Nigerian roads in dire need of repair.

At some point we will have to ensure our cynicism not only translates to indifference but to collective action towards these issues that affect our daily existence by demanding for accountability and judicious management of public funds. Could a fraction of the national energy spent for the better part of the last two months vigorously debating Chinua Achebe’s polarising personal memoirs on the 1960s Biafran war be channelled towards some of these problems? A starting point could be DEMANDING for some concrete action from the government based on recommendations of the Ribadu report (PDF).

Lest we forget the power of collective action, the fuel subsidy protests aka Occupy Nigeria yielded some results – it led to the probe panels which have unearthed and confirmed the scale and depth of corruption in Nigeria’s golden goose, the oil sector. It might be up to Nigerians again to ensure tangible action is taken on these reports and they are not left to gather dust as usual. How about starting with the Ribadu report? Surely it shouldn’t be problematic for the government to implement a report it commissioned…

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16 thoughts on “Nigeria’s Missing Billions and Trillions

  1. We repeat, ad nauseum, the all too familiar fact of epic proportions assumed by corruption in Nigeria, almost as if we were telling an entirely new story unknown by anyone. This, in itself, is unwitting complicity in the ostrich attitude that we have adopted over the years towards corruption and which, more than anything else, has encouraged the perpetuation of this menace in Nigeria.

    The hypocritical & patronizing stance of our pseudo-intellectuals who regale us with prolific pedantry in the deliberately cosmetic elegance of literary writings, ostensibly intended to condemn financial corruption, whilst perversely promoting an equally despicable form of intellectual corruption by their academic pretensions, only compounds the larger moral tragedy that is Nigeria of today.

    Nigeria is captive to a ruthless cabal with tentacles in and out of government and across all ethnic, religious and social divides. Our “intellectuals” are not exempt from this perfidous group of pretenders and indeed constitute the ideological bastion that encourage its continuation. I refer to the Ngozi Okonjo-Iwealas, et al, and their sprouting alter egos like Zainab Usman, et al.

    • You said a lot of nonsense in beautiful English. How does Zainab encourage the corruption? For one, she isn’t a position of power. Beyond that, she’s making an effort for change from her small position as a blogger and writer. Thirdly, what have you done yourself?

      • I marvel at the level of your intellectual density.

        Revisit my comment and see that I took issue with the hypocrictical pretensions of our pseudo-intellectuals whose patronizing posture in the contrived and cosmetic elegance of prose style only perpetuates an equally despicable form of corruption that only mystifies rather than amplify the complexity of corruption in Nigeria. I further posited that such an intellectual cabal are in concert with the same corrupt class of those who have held the nation captive by disnoesry, arrogance and wickedness.

        Their lipservice in condemning corruption is itself corrupted by a perverse outcome where they only promote a similar evil to what they claim to detest.

        This intellectual sophistry categorizes then as an extension of the wider moral turpitude that is at the heart of the corruption narrative in Nigeria.

        At no stage did i imply that Zainab is engaged in financial corruption in Nigeria, a role she clearly, as yet, is incompetent to assume.

        But I prophesied that her ilk serve as the ideological bastion and recruitment embryo from where the titans of financial corruption inevitably emerge.

    • So what attention can one seek, much less find, on the blog of a student?

      “Nonsensense” is a much abused and corrupted word these days generally ascribed to whatever we dislike or simply lack the mental faculty to comprehend. But let lexicographers deal with that.

      I am consoled by the recognition that the unorthodoxies of today become the orthodoxies of tomorrow. Men were once hanged for insisting the earth was not flat. Prophet Mohammed was hounded from Mecca to Medina and Jesus was cruficied all for espousing truths once rejected but for which many today can rise to arms.

      I do not engage with pple whose comments and vocabularly go no further than the familiar terrain of their gutter language. No more comments from me on this blog.

  2. Great stuff!!!!Starting with the Ribadu Report is a good solution that can be successfully applied to all pending corruption reports awaiting action.

  3. It does appear that you are going for the sensational kill once again. You seem to often use dubious statistics from rather reputable sources, but when one looks at these figures at face value, they are exaggerated at best.

    If indeed Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa with a reputation of corruption that goes back as far as one can possibly imagine, then it is no surprise that KPMG states the obvious about the value of fraud in Nigeria.

    This article adds nothing new to the corruption debate, nor does it try to analyze the causes of corruption or offer potential solutions. Maybe you should spend a bit more time next time and write-up something more constructive. It will be interesting to hear your take on the causes of such endemic and entrenched corruption and your take on its solutions.

    Best Regards!

    • “Dubious statistics” you say. Did you follow the links I provided in the article? All of these figures are from: The just-concluded Ribadu Report, the House of Representatives report on Fuel Subsidy, the BBC and KPMG among numerous others. If all of these figures from such sources (which by the way, have been quoted/cited by Nigerian media and international media, and even government officials) are still “dubious”, then please be gracious enough to provide the whole world with less “dubious” statistics.

      As for what you think about KPMG’s report and ranking of Nigeria in the fraud chain, you can take that up with the KPMG analysts and senior management.

      “The article adds nothing new to the corruption debate…nor does it try to analyze the causes of corruption or offer potential solutions”. I stated a very obvious solution (or what I regard as a solution): ADVOCATING for the implementation of recommendations of the Ribadu Report as a clear starting point. We have so many excellent reports with practical recommendations. Nigerians need to start demanding that the recommendations of these reports are implemented. That’s a starting point in my opinion.

      You could also suggest solutions you know, afterall, Nigeria belongs to all of us.

      • Yes I did follow the reports and articles you cited.
        I need not take it up with KPMG analysts or senior management – they are a business and their profit driven agenda is quite obvious. However, I question why you will use such a sensational statistics for a serious topic.

        Advocating for the implementation of a governmental instituted report sure sounds original! I mean this is exactly what @truthdetector was criticizing -your article is part of a vicious cycle.

        I believe there was a scandal involving one of the panels instituted. Maybe an analysis of the causes and nature of that corruption will explain why is it rather difficult to implement reasonable solutions.

        This is not a personal attack nor should it be seem as an attempt to discredit your intentions. But the substance of your arguments are cynical and would probably be best suited for a gossip column. I’d expect you to realize that despite the wide use of a particular news source, you are still expected to vet that particular source by all appropriate standards.

        My personal take – corruption is merely a symptom of socio-political failings of a society. These failings are manifested in best scenario through corruption and at worse through violence.
        GON post independence has vested most of its time and resources in merely keeping the country together. Development, accountability and nation building takes the back seat. The dynamics of politicized ethnicity had for most part created a manageable political system that was maintained by a network of ethnic patronage and elite compromise.

        Albeit corrupt, this was the best system they could come up with short of a political solution. But that compromise seems to be unraveling now. The level of corruption you describe seems like the price of a political compromise struck by ethnic elites. That is why corruption seems endemic and unsolvable.

        Understanding this phenomena is not only necessary but critical in offering any solutions. But hey, what do I know….You are the Ph.D expert!

    • @Mohammed: you still claim the statistics which the whole world is using are sensational, yet you haven’t provided alternative less “sensational” and more credible statistics. What exactly is “sensational” about what I have written that countless local and international media haven’t written about in the past few months, some with even more scathing headlines? Pls humour yourself and google phrases like “Fuel Subsidy Fraud Nigeria” “Oil Theft Nigeria” or “Corruption Nigeria” and then come back here and tell everyone what results turned up.

      You say my conclusion and recommendation that Nigerians demand for implementation of several reports, is un “original”, you accuse me of cynicism and discredit my write up as “best suited for a gossip column”, yet you haven’t provided an alternative solution yourself. Oh wait, your alternative solution is that we keep “analysing the causes and nature of corruption”.

      You are joining issues with “Truthdetector” above, I know who that person is, and why they posted such comments, which is why I refused to even reply to their comments. Their motivation should be pretty obvious….

      Then finally you claim your comments are not a personal attack, yet you make an ad-hominem reference to my qualifications….

  4. Zainab you have said it all.”As the conveyor belt of life passesby,the wise recognize and pick out the gems;the average picks indiscriminately;the unwise pick the stones,and the fools get onto the conveyor belt for thrills.”

  5. Demanding for implenting Ribadu report will not change anything. We have been there before or dont you see various groups going to the national assembly to demand for one thing or the other? what has come out of all there visits, nothing. And even the subsidy protests, it actually didn’t achieve a lot cos at the end of the day, the gov’t still removed half of the subsidy. The only thing i will say we have learned as nigerians during the subsidy protest was our right to come out & protest massively against the unpopular decisions of the gov’t of the day. Even in minna it shocked a lot of people that the youths were able to come out en-mass & protest against the wicked decisions of gov’t. What i think we can do to get things right in nigeria ones again is to make sure that people that are elected are given their mandates to work for the people & that inec should conduct e-elections for us in future elections in nigeria & make sure that rigging is eliminated or reduced to the bearest minimum. Our major problem is bad leadership and they come through rigged elections so if we could only check this rigging of a thing.

  6. It’s just a matter of time Nigerians would soon join the global revolution that has recently became the alternative to a true democracy in Africa. Nigeria is at least in my mind a time bomb patiently waiting to be ignited. The only Nation in the entire universe where justices are billionaires. They proclaim the rule of Law yet they pervert justice. Everybody wants to be a Law maker (House of Rep. Memner or Senator) with one goal in mind to share or pertake in the sharing of “The National cake” Last time I checked 5.4billion naira was recently approved for the construction of the Vice President Sambo masion who knows what President Goodluck Jonathan’s house would cost. Former speaker of the house of Representative Bankole stole more than10 billion dollars and vanished, Every single politician in Nigeria aspires to be richer than Dangote yet they do not own a single manufacturing firm. Bank officials are now the new jokers in town with billions here and billions there. They understood the game, We would not be proscuted, we are the elite few with the judiciary on our pay role. EFCC today was not what Ribadu envisioned. They are like toothless bulldog. That organisation should be scrapped. Now the question is, should Nigeria explore other avenue of governance?

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