By Ediale Kingsley
“If there is one person in Nigeria that believes that petroleum prices should not go up by one Naira, it is President Buhari,” Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, asserted earlier today at a public book presentation event in Abuja.
Explaining the difficult decision announced last week by the federal government, Prof. Osinbajo said the President simply had no other option.
Although the President did not want the fuel price to go up, the Vice President said “he is left with no choice. What can we do if we don’t have foreign currency, we have to import fuel.”
While observing the petroleum products are being imported today into the country, he asserted that even “if we repair our refineries today, we would still be able to refine 40% of our petroleum, so we still need to import.”
Prof Osinbajo then raised a rhetorical query: “in the absence of foreign exchange and you have to import your refined petroleum, what are you left with?
The Vice President who spoke at the public presentation of Anatomy of Corruption in Nigeria: Issues, Challenges & Solutions, a collection of essays edited by Yusuf O. Ali, SAN, asserted that “a lot of the problems associated with the refineries are corruption related.”
He also attended the public presentation of Prof. Ladipo Adamolekun, who just published his autobiography, I Remember.
According to the VP, corruption “explains why many States are owing salaries and continue to owe salaries.”
Furthermore he noted that “when we look at corruption and its deleterious consequences, we must relate it directly to what we are experiencing at this time.”
For example, he said “most of the States, since February 2016, many have been owing, some up to 6 months. When we came into office we tried to settle many of those debts but the Federation Account is lower and we are unable to find the resources to shore up the Federation Account.”
Driving home the point about the consequences of corruption, the Vice President said “When you consider that today, Nigeria’s reserves stands at about $27billion and we are investigating $15billion from one sector alone. That is over half of the entire reserves of the country.
“We are investigating cases which shows that over $15billion was lost in one type of contracts alone. We are not talking of oil contracts, we are talking of security related contracts alone. We have not talked at all about oil contracts, several billions.
“How we dimension the problem must be different. We can not look at it the same way as if it is just petty stealing. This is not just stealing the resource of the country, it is stealing the future as well.
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“Let me just state one clear example. All through the period when Nigeria was earning over 100 – 115 dollars in proceeds of oil for a period of almost 5 years, the external reserves of Nigeria remained much the same. It did not (significantly) increase at all despite the very high earnings.
“And that is why we have the situation that we find ourselves today. It is the external reserves that a country resorts to as a last resort in protecting its currency.”
Doing a quick international comparative analysis using another oil-producing country, the VP said “when countries were experiencing these high prices, some countries were putting money aside, Saudi Arabia saved over $700billion,-(as at last year) so when their currency began to suffer, of course they were able to shore up their currency with their reserves.”
In the case of Nigeria however, Prof Osinbajo lamented that “we are unable to do so. And the reason is because the reserves have been depleted. It is the same reason why it is difficult to do very very many other things that we should be doing as a nation.”
He then declared that corruption poses an existential threat to the country.
“I want to just very quickly say that corruption has no label. It is not just a social evil, it is an existential threat to our country. There is no doubt at all that this is unlike other countries, (where) people say that there is corruption everywhere, which is true.
“But I think the one distinguishing feature for Nigeria and for many other countries like ours is that it is a threat that directly affects the lives and livelihoods of everyone.
“It is not just an evil, it is not just an immorality, it is an existential threat because it could truly destroy lives and it has destroyed many many lives and has continued to destroy the Nigerian economy.”
Prof. Osinbajo then declared that “unless there is a determined effort to fight corruption at all levels, unless that effort is determined, unless we have the political, the judicial, even the religious will, we would find ourselves in a continuous cycle of corruption, economic adversity, more corruption, more economic adversity.”
“As I observed at another event, when you look at those who are accused of corruption in Nigeria, look at any typical case of fraud or corruption, you will never find three Igbo men (by themselves alone) or three Yoruba men or 3 Hausa speaking men, (by themselves alone) NO! You will find federal character, well-represented.
“You find the Yoruba man, you find the Igbo man, you find the Hausa man, the Fulani man. All different groups are very well-represented. Amongst them you will find Christians and you will find Muslims.
“All of the defenses that people put forward, that, oh! it is the Igbo man, oh! it is the Hausa man, it is Yorubas, and so on, none of that is demonstrated by the facts.
“That is why it is important that as a Nigerian elite, we have the special privilege of education, we have a special privilege of position. It is the responsibility of that privilege that we must fight everything that normally hinder and distorts our economy and kill our people as well.”
“That is why we must as an elite in leadership fight corruption. Some people suggest it is a matter of religion, It is not a matter of religion, I pastor a church. I pastor churches, so I know. What is important is that we must recognize corruption for what it is. Make no excuses for it and fight it with determination.
“I want to assure you that the government of President Buhari is determined to fight corruption, and that despite whatever those naysayers may say, we would fight it with everything that we have and we will leave a legacy in this nation of at least a government that chose to stand by principle and chose to stand by doing things right.”