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Opinion: Petroleum Trust Fraud

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By Ray Ekpu

It is not known to this column how close Brigadier Sani Abacha was to Major General Muhammadu Buhari by December 1983. It was Abacha who announced at the end of a few minutes of martial music on new year’s eve that the government of President Shehu Shagari had been thrown into the dust bin of history. Buhari became the fulcrum of that history as Nigeria’s head of state. On August 27, 1985, there was another game, the Revolving Doors’ game. Buhari was out, thrown out, while Ibrahim Babangida, was in, thrown into the pinnacle of political power in Nigeria. Babangida clamped Buhari into the dungeon for some months where he cooled his feet, while his colleagues were bestriding the Nigerian political and military firmament like they owned the world. Babangida left or was forced to leave the throne after eight years of dangerous foot work. He called Chief Ernest Shonekan, a successful private sector entrepreneur, to come and take the baton of leadership.

He took it and as he was trying to hold it in his hand firmly, Abacha who had been eyeing the coveted prize greedily grabbed it in 1994. He immediately increased the price of petroleum products. The public rolled out a series of protests. As an appeasement measure, he set up the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) as an intervention development agency to bring succor to the people especially in the rural areas. He made Buhari the executive chairman of the Fund which he ran for five years (1994-1999).

Why did Abacha appoint Buhari the Executive Chairman of PTF? Was it as an atonement for the sin of standing by while he was overthrown by the Babangida Boys? Or was he just sympathetic seeing that the man had been left in the cold by Babangida since his ouster on August 27, 1985? Or was Abacha simply looking for a fabled disciplinarian who didn’t love money too much or the dirty part of it? Buhari needed that rehabilitation, physical, financial and reputational. He was eager to come in from the biting cold and be seen as a man who, despite the overthrow and detention, had kept his dignity and integrity such that Abacha who was Babangida’s man, could trust him with the big-wallet job.

The Petroleum Trust Fund was to intervene in such areas as roads and waterways, supply of educational materials, rehabilitation of educational infrastructure, food supply, health, water supply, etc. Buhari set up a capricious management structure and appointed Afri-Project Consortium (APC) led by a 42 year old man, Salihijo Ahmad. This Consortium was the sole manager of the PTF projects. Ahmad had admitted to Newswatch in an interview published by the magazine in its April 19, 1999 issue that it was APC that wrote the proposal which defined the mandate of the PTF. It suggested the criteria, procedure for selection and appointment of contractors, consultants and suppliers. It also worked out the monitoring mechanism adopted by the PTF. The APC had some 620 consulting firms reporting to it. It was the sole management consultants to the PTF. Most Nigerians had no idea how the PTF was run. It was when President Olusegun Obasanjo took over in 1999 and set up an interim management committee (IMC) headed by Dr Haroun Adamu to wind down the PTF that the worms crawled out of the can. That Interim Management Committee appointed three technical consultants to investigate various aspects of the PTF management. Their findings conducted independently were damning. When I read President Buhari’s remarks a few weeks ago in which he crowed about the achievements of the PTF under his leadership, I decided to do a facts-check since I knew that Newswatch had done a cover story titled “How Buhari ran PTF” which was published in its March 13, 2000 issue. This story was the product of a thorough investigation into the mammoth fraud as discovered by the technical consultants hired by the IMC. Details of the IMC report are distilled for you here. The findings: N144.51 billion had been given to PTF by the Federal Government during its lifetime; A residential estate was to be built at Wuse, Abuja, for N703 million but the technical consultants hired by IMC put the realistic valuation at about N328 million; Between July 1994 and July 1999, about N25 billion was either stolen or improperly expended; Extension of PTF headquarters was to gulp N650 million; Expired HIV/Aids drugs and kits worth N28 billion was supplied to several hospitals nationwide. This was confirmed by the Nigerian Guild of Medical Directors whose Secretary, Mr. Rowland Ogbonna, asked the Federal Government to withdraw the drugs immediately from all hospitals in the country. Many projects were abandoned while the completion rate of other projects was put at 30%; the sum of N500 million that the PTF deposited in a bank disappeared as soon as the IMC was announced. The bank agreed to pay the money after President Obasanjo read the Riot Act to the bank officials. On taking over, IMC discovered that there were no contract documents, drawings or specifications relating to projects. The APC could and did award contracts and vary the pricing without any reference to the PTF. Mr. Ahmad had asked the IMC officials to come and collect some documents in connection with all the transactions. On the day of the appointment he collapsed and died. The other members of the APC team claimed that they were not in a position to supply the documents.

There were more sordid revelations. The Afenifere did an analysis of the siting of the projects. The consumption of petroleum products by the South was 70% while that of the North was 30%. However, the distribution of the PTF projects was a reversal of the consumption pattern: 70% to the north and 30% to the south. All southern states had 4,440.43 kilometres of roads rehabilitated (24%) while states in the north had 13,870.47 kilometres rehabilitated (76%). Teaching Hospitals’ rehabilitation: South 38%, North 62%; Specialist hospitals: South 29%, North 71%; Food supply: South 17%, North 83%; National Health and Educational Rehabilitation Programme (NHERP): South 0% and North 100%; Vocational Programme: South 3%, North 97%; Primary School rehabilitation: South 12%, North 88%. Haroun Adamu acknowledged the gross imbalances in the sharing of the projects but regretted that his committee could not do much to remedy the situation since by the IMC mandate they could not embark on new projects.

From the findings there was massive fraud in PTF, fraudulently masquerading as achievements. The institution was a government intervention agency but run without the regulatory checks and balances that undergird the implementation of government projects. The Afri-Projects Consortium was just on its own, a loose canon with no authority to check it. Buhari was the Executive Chairman but he was absent-minded and had capriciously surrendered the operational powers of the PTF to APC without diligent supervision. The boys looted the place dry and there was no evidence that Buhari had an inkling of the huge corruption under his feet. Sometime before the IMC takeover, a newsmagazine, TheWeek, had interviewed him about the swirling corruption allegations. He said allegations of corruption against him were false. “My integrity is intact.” His friends said so too and even insinuated that Dr. Adamu was going after Buhari because the former dictator had detained him in 1994. Adamu told Newswatch: “I am not here to probe Buhari, No, that is not our mandate. Whatever happened when he was head of state is long forgotten. He is my friend.”

Buhari’s personal integrity was not soiled by the Petroleum Trust Fraud but he displayed supreme incompetence as a manager. As an Executive Chairman the buck stopped at his desk and no matter how you want to slice it he takes vicarious responsibility for the humongous fraud that took place in that institution. Secondly, the grossly lopsided distribution of the PTF projects between North and South is an awful testimonial for a man of his national standing to whom the nation through the coup makers had given the highest position in the land. His lopsided appointments today constitute a déjà vu.

When I read what he said about Abacha I was sorry for him. He said to a delegation, Buhari Support Group led by Comptroller General of Customs, Hameed Ali. “I don’t care about the opinion you have on Abacha but I agreed to work with him and we constructed roads from Abuja to Port Harcourt, Benin, Onitsha and so on. We also touched education and health. One of the former Heads of State was bragging that he spent $16 billion on power in Nigeria. Where is the power?” The emerging confrontation between the two former dictators, former friends and former allies and now fierce foes, Obasanjo and Buhari, will receive the attention of this column in due course. For now, I think President Buhari’s open veneration of the kleptocratic and autocratic Abacha is a cause for nausea. At the 10th anniversary of Abacha’s death Buhari had given the fantastically corrupt Abacha a clean bill of integrity. Even at that time, Nigeria was running all over the world trying to retrieve the billions Abacha had scattered in several banks in several countries and several continents. The horrifying stories of the elimination of prominent politicians and businessmen by Abacha constitute a notorious portion of our national narrative. No matter how hard Buhari tries, no matter what he thinks of the despicable, despotic Abacha, no matter why he thinks the man was a saint he will never succeed in winning Nigerians to his side. He will only wake up with fleas since he chooses to be in bed with dogs

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You’ve Nothing to Offer Nigerians, Only Insults, Akwa Ibom Gov Slams Tinubu

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Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel, on Monday, replied the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu, saying that he (Tinubu) always resorts to abusing and insulting people during campaigns because he has nothing to bring to the table for Nigerians.

He also said that despite being insulted by the former Lagos State Governor, he would prefer to allow peace to reign by ignoring him and focusing on helping install good governance to rescue Nigerians from their present woes.

Emmanuel spoke on Monday evening at Government House, Uyo while inaugurating newly appointed Permanent Secretaries, Chairmen and Members of Boards and Commissions, as well as a Transition Committee to ensure the smooth transition of power to the next administration.

Recall that Tinubu had during his rally in Uyo Monday afternoon, reportedly said, “Akwa Ibom, that boy wey bring Atiku here, wey de call himself Governor, tell him enough is enough! He lives in my backyard in Lagos, If no be say we be one, I would have driven him home. You see that mansion he is living, I would just use lizards, pigeons and scorpions to put him inside.“

But reacting few hours later, the Akwa Ibom State Governor said, “for the country to remain in peace, one party must ‘play saint’ and that is why he would refrain from replying Tinubu.

Emmanuel who is the Chairman of the PDP presidential campaigns said, “I also go to other states, and if you watch our campaigns, my principal (Atiku Abubakar) has never spoken about any Governor, he has never spoken openly about Asiwaju before.”

He added that it was unfortunate that Tinubu, who was granted state-owned facilities such as the airport, security, stadium, and a good atmosphere to come in and sell his manifesto, ended up coming to insult the integrity of over 7.9 million Akwa Ibom people.

The Governor wondered if it is possible for any Akwa Ibomite to go to Lagos that Tinubu stays or the actual state that he hails from, to insult Tinubu in like manner and still be allowed to safely return home, “but here our people at the stadium including some state governors just laughed and applauded him.”

“What makes him think he will govern Nigeria? If I reply him now, people will call me and say, haba oga you are not like that. But I will reply him one day. There is nothing like ‘emilokan’ (it is my turn) here, Nigeria is in God’s hands.”

He maintained further that despite being the highest revenue contributor to the federation account, Akwa Ibom State has not gotten a single kilometre of road from the APC-led Federal Government for nearly 8 years adding that the poor response from the Federal Government also caused the delayed commencement of the seaport in the state.

Meanwhile, the governor thanked the newly appointed Permanent Secretaries for accepting the onerous task of service, and urged them to see themselves as ambassadors and work towards raising the bar of leadership which would encourage productivity and promote good working relationship with subordinates in the service.

“This is one thing I promised Akwa Ibom people that appointment of Permanent Secretaries shall be totally on merit and not by mercy, let those that can do the work be given the opportunity. Permanent Secretary is not a promotion, it is an appointment on merit.

Governor Emmanuel also reiterated his commitments towards enhancing efficiency within Civil Service, noting that during his administration civil servants have been promoted on yearly basis.

He assured that before he exits office more Permanent Secretaries would be appointed into the service to fill vacant positions left by the ones who retired.

Addressing Chairmen of Boards and Commissions, Governor Emmanuel who described them as pillars in government, acknowledged their commitment particularly, Chairman, Akwa Ibom State Environmental Protection & Waste Management Agency, Prince Akpan Ikim, for winning laurels for the state through his outstanding performance in keeping and making the state the cleanest in Nigeria for five consecutive years from 2018 through 2022, and tasked others to create an impact that will stand them out.

In the same vein, the Transition Committee members were handed the task of ensuring a seamless transition of government to an incoming administration, and also verify all projects executed by the present administration.

The newly appointed Permanent Secretaries are; Mfon Inuaesiet Edemekong Esq., Dr. Stephen Effiong, Atim Chelly Okoko, Iquo Okon Abia Esq., Uwem Sunday Andrew-Essien, Isaiah Robson Ntekim and Emaeyak Nyong Akpan as Auditor-General for Local Government.

The Transition Committee has Mrs. Ekereobong Umoh -Chairman, Uko Udom SAN, Prof Augustine Umoh, Dr. Ini Adiakpan, Mrs. Nsemeke Daniel, Dr. Nathaniel Adiakpan, Mr Elijah Udoiyak, Mrs. Esther Inyang, Pastor Uwem Andrew-Essien, Mr. Isaiah Ntekim, Mr. Effiong Ekpenyong and Mrs. Bella Akpanya as members.

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PDP Condemns Attack on Buhari in Kano, Blames Tinubu, Ganduje

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The Peoples Democratic Party Presidential Campaign Council, has blamed the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and the governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Ganduje, for the attacks on the convoy of President Muhammadu Buhari, during a visit to the state on Monday.

The spokesperson of the campaign council, Dino Melaye, who shared one of the videos from the reported attack, wrote, “The fight between Tinubu and Buhari is entering a new dimension. The attack in Kano was properly coordinated and funded allegedly by Asiwaju.

“The meeting to push Buhari to submission or face sponsored attack in the north was said to be hatched in Bourdillon. Me, I am busy with Atiku.”

A political activist, Deji Adeyanju, who shared another video of the reported attack, said, “They are showing Buhari and APC Shege in Kano and many northern states.”

Similarly, the PDP in a statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, on Monday also blamed Tinubu and the Governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Ganduje, for the attack.

According to the party, the attack was designed to undermine the Presidency, cause confusion, trigger violence in the country, disrupt the conduct of the 2023 general elections “and derail our democracy having realised that he cannot win in a peaceful, free and fair electoral process.”

The statement read in part, “The PDP invites Nigerians to note how Governor Abdullahi Ganduje attempted to abridge President Buhari’s movement and even tried to stop him from visiting Kano State.

“More disquieting is the fact that the APC Presidential Campaign sought to humiliate and harm President Buhari while performing his official duties in Kano.

“It should be noted that the APC presidential candidate has been displaying open aversion and making inciting statements against President Buhari since Mr President’s declaration, in line with democratic best practice all over the world that Nigerians should freely vote for any candidate and party of their choice in the 2023 general elections.

“The apparent frustration of Asiwaju Tinubu to resort to encourage or condone violence is fueled by his entitlement mentality, that it is his turn to be President, despite his numerous ineligibility and disability baggage.”

Ologunagba reminded Nigerians about Tinubu’s infamous statement in London where he declared to his supporters that “political power is not going to be served in a restaurant, it is not served a la carte.”

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Organ Harvesting: Ekweremadu Battles for Freedom, Appears in Court Tuesday

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A former Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, will on Tuesday appear again in court in the United Kingdom where he has been accused of human trafficking.

The lawmaker was in June 2022 arrested at Heathrow Airport in London after Staines Police Station received a report from a young man claiming to have been trafficked into the UK.

The young man, who made the report shortly after arriving in the UK from Nigeria, also alleged that he was made to undergo some medical tests, none of which he consented to.

Ekweremadu was immediately arraigned before a Magistrate’s Court for bringing a child into the UK to harvest his organs.

While the lawmaker had been in custody since June 23, his wife, Beatrice, who was arrested with him, was granted bail by a criminal court in London shortly after their arrest.

Monday (today) makes it 221 days since Ekweremadu was placed in the custody of UK authorities.

The case against the lawmaker which had been slated for May was later scheduled for January 31.

The 60-year-old, who denied the allegations against him, will again appear before High Court Judge, Mr Justice Johnson.

His daughter, Sonia, had on November 7, 2022, appeared in court to defend the accusation of trafficking a homeless man into the UK to harvest his organs for herself.

According to Daily Mail, the 25-year-old, who is battling a kidney-related illness, pleaded not guilty to the charge level against her when she appeared again in court on January 13.

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