Some of the world’s great political, business and technology leaders share one thing: The ability to innovate and forge new paths in the face of daunting challenges. Against conventional wisdom, many of them dropped out of school or supposedly peak positions to pursue their dreams. A few upset society by upturning age-old ways of doing things while others had audacious, almost brazen ways of achieving their targets.
Nigerians are known to be innovative and have demonstrated that much in many fields, not the least of which is the sheer ability to survive in the face of incredible odds. Now, that spirit of innovation is being applied to the art and science of looting public resources. And it is done so innovatively that law enforcement agencies and the judiciary – those that have not been compromised – are left with no tools to curb them.
To begin with, there is an assumption that graft in government only occurs when contracts are inflated and the extra money shared among contractors and officials. The fact however, is that in the highly innovative graft sector, anyone that still engages in contract inflation is a small time crook and has no sense of dignity. The modern way of doing things is to inflate contracts by several times the actual amount and then refuse to execute it (after collecting full payment, of course). Bolder ones actually get upward reviews of the contract never executed – a kind of bonus for audacity.
As the most important foreign exchange earner and driver of the Nigerian economy, the petroleum sector has recorded some of the most fraudulent deals even in the customarily greasy oil business. On account of having connections to the political leadership, an oil block was an easy path to billions of dollars. Contracts for the repair of our permanently broken-down refineries used to be keenly contested because it was another way of making hundreds of millions of dollars even if one never mobilized to site.
But innovations have also reached the oil sector; only a jester would want an oil block – it can be revoked by an unfriendly government. Also, nobody wants multi-million dollar contracts for repairing our refineries because it would involve too much effort. The new way of making money is simply to have a link to the occupants of the House on Aso or the PDP apparatchik. With that in hand, simply produce a company letterhead – whether it is registered or not – and ask for payment of billions of naira for ‘imported’ fuel under the subsidy regime.
It does not matter if you have never seen a wharf or climbed the decks of an oil tanker. By doing that alone, some inventive Nigerians took home a staggering N2.6 trillion within a year or two. Forget the public sideshow of arresting a few of them; EFCC has to be seen to be doing something.
Even the effort of submitting plain papers to receive billions of naira for doing nothing proved too much for some people. Why go through all that hassles when you can access the loot from source? So some of our more ingenious countrymen have opted for another innovative way of making money – what we (very innovatively) call oil bunkering – or oil theft.
According a Reuters report, Nigeria’s oil exports have fallen to a four-year low as a result of crude oil theft and resultant facility closures by some oil companies. It is estimated that Nigeria’s oil exports may be as low as 1.76 million barrels per day, the lowest since August 2009. The innovation here is that by bunkering, there are no records and nothing to share with lowly pay officers at government offices or any accounting and auditing staff and certainly no busy-body CBN governor to trace cash movements.
And talking of government agencies; gone are the days when officials had to kowtow to office-less briefcase carrying contractors for a share of loot. No self-respecting official goes through the effort of arranging three different companies, then recommending one of them for contracts – even if all three belonged to them. The world has gone beyond that as well.
The new thing to do is imply to lift the money from source. No approvals or contracts or the distraction of the Bureau for Public Procurement is needed. As a famous advert says, ‘just do it’. And so they just do it. Ask John Yusuf of the Police Pension Scheme how he managed to ‘do’ N26 billion all on his own. Innovation! Meanwhile, no one should have any pretentions that anything worthwhile would come of the legal sideshow involving pension linchpin Abdulrasheed Maina; it is merely for our entertainment.
All that said, the most innovative aspect of Nigeria’s graft is how the proceeds are shared: remember how the Halliburton and Malabu ‘egunje’ were distributed? Who assumes for a moment that the fuel subsidy scammers ‘ate’ alone, or that oil ‘bunkerers’ and pension magnates ‘chopped’ unaided? You see, this thing about ‘innovation’ goes all the way to the top.