Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani) is the Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Head, Transparency International (Nigeria) and Chairman Board of Amnesty International (Nigeria), in this interview with e360 he speaks on governments seemingly disinterest towards NEITI audit findings. He also talks about the benefits of the recently passed PIGB. Excerpts
Are you concerned that the recently released NEITI audit report on the oil sector for 2015 again revealed issues of under-payments, under-remittance and process abuse in the industry just like others before?
One of the major problem we have is that the last and present administrations don’t seem to appreciate the importance of an agency like the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) in terms of helping the nation curb corruption in the oil and gas sector. Second the last administration of President Jonathan and the current administration of President Buhari, does not also appreciate the fact that if you want to have more transparency in the oil and gas sector, you need to encourage the NEITI process. With the regular audit reports the citizens would know the state of the oil and gas sector in terms of the revenue, in terms of the losses and in terms of those sabotaging the sector. That relevance and importance did not register in the mind of the last administration and also the current one. Particularly, when you look at the National Assembly, it has only once tabled and discussed the NEITI audit report. In the history of NEITI audit reports, only once has the National Assembly debated it can you imagine that? And by the law establishing NEITI, the parliament must receive and discuss the issues of the report. Unfortunately, the legislators don’t seem to be interested in that and if they are not able to discuss and come up with the remediation measures, then definitely what we are seeing will continue to happen. So the lack of attention by the legislators to the NEITI audit report account for the continuous occurrence of the problems we are facing in the sector. The reports brings attention to lots of issues around underpayment, sabotage in the sector, refusal to pay appropriate tax among others, but proper attention is not given the reports. This is sad despite the fact that we rely largely on the sector for the country’s revenue. Now if you want to fight corruption, NEITI audit reports and NEITI process generally will help to minimize corruption in the oil and gas sector by making the process to be transparent, prudent and the resources better managed. But because the Nigerian political class are not interested in dealing with these issues, they abandon the NEITI reports, so it is business as usual despite the mobilization and advocacy by Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). So I think Nigeria will be better if we begin to pay more attention to the NEITI process because it deals with the processes that will help improve the sector. The second concern I have is that because the government – both the executive and legislature – does not take the report seriously, sometimes there’s no money for timely audits, leading to backlogs. How can government not provide resources for the audit of a sector that is the cash cow of the country? We have intelligent people in NEITI who are ready to do the work but funding is a major issue.
Given the picture you just painted, is NEITI losing relevance? Do you see Nigeria going the way of countries that recently exited the EITI?
Nigeria cannot pull out of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) process, and even if some people want to do politics to pull Nigeria out of the EITI process, the law establishing NEITI in Nigeria is not a pronouncement of anybody, it is a law of parliament. We foresaw such a likely development, which is why the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and other CSOs advocated for the enactment of a law for the protection of the EITI process in Nigeria. So it is not at the mercy or instance of any leader, and no one can abrogate a law just like that. The crux of the matter is that without functioning EITI process, we will continue to swallow in corruption in the oil and gas sector, we will continue to swallow in poverty and conflicts because we have discovered that resources like oil and gas have become the cause of violent conflicts not only in Nigeria but in other extractive rich countries. Therefore, if you want to have a stable, prosperous country with developmental agenda, you cannot run away from the EITI process. Because the process gives you a roadmap which you can utilize and harness your natural resources for the betterment of the country and for eradicating poverty. Unless you are anti-development, anti-transparency and pro-poverty then you can exit Nigeria from EITI. But as long as CSOs and the media who have seen the benefit of the EITI process in managing our oil and gas sector are concerned, we will not allow any mischievous politician to undermine the process, we will continue to mobilize and sensitize Nigerians on the importance of the NEITI process.
What does the recently passed PIGB mean for the oil industry?
It is a welcome development because we have said several times that we need to unbundle the sector, we can no longer allow government to be operator, regulator, operationalizing agency and contracting agency. You cannot have efficiency and effectiveness if you allow this to continue. That is why for years it have been a battle of survival, those who do not wish for us to have a functional oil and gas sector in Nigeria have held the passage of the PIB because it is like an ATM for them to steal, siphon, divert and misappropriate resources. Therefore, for me it is absolutely important that we pass the PIB. The PIGB that has been passed is good, but we need the other components to be able to have a holistic reform approach in the oil and gas sector. So I call on the National Assembly not to waste further time, in view of all the challenges going on. The continues fuel scarcity scandal and corrupt award of oil wells in the country to mention a few are issues that must be checked, and the PIB is the tool to help us checkmate them. So we will continue to advocate for the passage of the entire component of the PIB.
Describe how the PIB passage will impact directly on Nigerians?
If properly implemented it has the potential to impact positively on the lives of Nigerians because there will be more transparency and accountability in the sector. As it is now the oil and gas sector is a cartel, shrouded in secrecy and people are resisting the passage of PIB because they don’t want transparency in the sector. In other places, people know who contractors in the sector are, who manages the process and exactly what quantity of oil is being produced and what it is sold for. But in Nigeria of today we are still not in the position to say this is the metering process we have adopted and be able to measure how much oil is being taken. So the passage and the implementation of it would definitely help to bring development, eliminate corruption, vices, and violence. With this law in place all the criminalities in terms of hijacking or vandalizing of oil facilities will come to an end and impunity will cease. It will impact on the wellbeing of Nigerians because there will be increase in resources for development, resources to carry out environmental protection and cleanliness, resources to revitalize our health sector and our collapsed educational sector. We will equally put in place needed infrastructure that every Nigerian would benefit from.