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Editorial: Timipre Sylva`s promise to sanitise the oil sector

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By re-stating the federal government’s commitment to sanitizing the oil sector, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, was ironically pointing at the government’s own failure at identifying what is good for Nigeria and mustering the will to promote it, during the first four years of the Buhari administration. As the most notorious symbol of public corruption, it is a trite fact that the murky oil sector, symbolized by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is a national disgrace. That the NNPC operates like a parallel government, capitalizing on the nation’s dependence on oil to wantonly dictate the pulse of the federation, is a blunder in development that Nigerians have been saddled with for several decades. This unfortunate situation obviously cannot be in the public interest.

Speaking during a “Thank You” visit to his hometown in Okpoama, Nembe LGA in Bayelsa state, Sylva said part of his mission in the ministry is to halt massive crude oil losses and sanitize the oil industry. While bemoaning the loss of revenue to the federal government in crude oil bunkering, Sylva also announced that the government will promote vigorously an increase in oil production in the country. The former Bayelsa governor also promised to ensure the development of associated gas products in the oil industry so as to fully draw the benefits accruing therefrom to the country. He said: “First, we will need to sanitise the oil industry. I believe that we cannot condone losses in crude oil production. We must ensure zero losses. We must not lose any crude oil; we must also develop our abundance gas deposits in the sector and generally sanitise the sector.”

Sylva’s latest commitment was a mere restatement of all that Nigerians have heard before about a sector that, if properly developed and managed, can add immense economic value to the country, but over which little or nothing has been done. At the risk of stating the obvious, the repetitive expression of commitment by government, will neither sanitize nor diversify Nigeria’s mono-product economy. A number of fundamentals, including passage of the much-vaunted Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) are vital to sanitizing the sector. And in this, as in all else, the buck will ultimately stop at the president’s desk.

It is disheartening to hear Sylva speaking bombastically about his commitment to sanitize the oil sector within the anomalous arrangement with President Buhari who re-appointed himself as the substantive Oil Minister. It is also needless to state the numerous direct and multiplier benefits of a developed and sustainable oil sector – as well, of course, as the harmful impact of the pervasive corruption that seems to have defeated every promise from previous administration to clean the Aegean stable. However, talk is cheap. It boggles the mind that there have been, for years, so much empty talk -seminars, workshops, conferences and numerous other talk-shops – but little has changed in the sector. It does not require any special skill to appreciate the enormity of the challenges in taking on the vested interests that maintain the status quo. What has been lacking is the wisdom and the political will to effect real change.

Alas, government appears to lack the sense of purpose that can drive the change needed to take on the corruption in the oil sector. In total violation of the fundamental principles of federalism and subsidiarity, the federal government has arrogated to itself the ownership of oil blocks in the federation. The 1999 Constitution puts “mines and minerals, including oil fields, oil mining, geological surveys and natural gas” under the Exclusive List granted to the Federal Government. Furthermore, the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act, decrees that all lands in which minerals have been found in commercial quantities shall be acquired by the Federal Government in accordance with the Land Use Act.

The sad consequence of this unitary law is that oil producing states are denied direct and immediate benefits except as determined through derivation by the whims of a distant authority at the center. In specific terms, nothing indicates this faux pas better than the fiscal impropriety, irreconcilable accounting system, misappropriation and unauthorized diversion of public funds that characterizes the crude oil swap contracts. This situation defies logic and is out of tune with the way development-minded governments operate.

Over the years, there have been only token measures to holistically implement a plan that will benefit the national economy. Instead, the oil swap contracts and allocation of oil blocks has been for purposes of patronage through less than transparent procedures. Corruption in its many forms and at various levels has been a major obstacle. Politicians and well connected persons get contracts and are awarded licenses in collusion with foreign interests that carry on with scant regard for the local community. The result is environmental degradation and a severe damage to the livelihood of the people.

Some of these challenges are for the government to tackle.  In sum, to sanitize the oil sector is a task to which the new minister and other tiers of government and relevant agencies must commit themselves. The government must not allow a repeat of the bad experience when the immediate past Oil Minister of State, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, who doubled as NNPC Group Managing Director, refused to provide specific responses to questions by lawmakers, regarding the execution of the oil swap program. Appearing before a House Committee investigating the offshore processing agreements (OPAs) and crude oil swaps between NNPC, its subsidiary, the Petroleum and Pipelines Marketing Company, (PPMC) and oil traders, Kachikwu was evasive when asked whether the companies which participated in the swaps were selected through a bidding process, and whether the program was in Nigeria’s best interest. He claimed ignorance, saying he was neither the minister nor GMD at the time the swap contracts were awarded.

Kachikwu had promised that when Nigeria starts operating its new Direct-Sale-Direct-Purchase (DSDP) crude oil arrangement next month, it will be able to net up to $1 billion through cost cutting measures. In a statement through NNPC spokesman, Kachikwu explained that the DSDP model was adopted to replace the crude oil swaps and OPAs, as well as introduce and embed transparency in the crude oil-for-product transactions by NNPC in line with standard practices. Kachikwu said under the old order, crude oil was exchanged for petroleum products through third party traders at a pre-determined yield pattern. He however noted that the DSDP option eliminates all the cost elements of middlemen and reduces gaps in the OPAs and the losses the NNPC incurred from it. The DSDP, he noted, would give other government agencies such as the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and Nigeria Extractive Industry and Transparency Initiative (NEITI) the opportunity to be a part of the bid process for transparency.

What Kachikwu did not tell lawmakers was that the NNPC has launched a new kind of short-term swap contract, offering staggered allocations of crude to oil companies in return for immediate deliveries of refined products. Only now, the swaps involve oil majors, notably ExxonMobil, Total and BP. These oil majors have large quantities of gasoline and diesel unsold in Europe because of falling demand from the glut in oil prices. As a result, they prefer to dump it in Nigeria instead of paying for storage to stock it.

Beyond talk-shops and woolly statements, a more fruitful solution is for Sylva to put a fitting end to this national shame. Just for the records, the OPA deals pre-date the Jonathan administration. Like many other transactions in the oil sector, the OPA is a multi-billion dollar racket involving corruption that includes market fraud, price manipulation, and suboptimal returns on the part of NNPC officials and their collaborators have, in proportion, gone beyond the unconscionable to the outrageous. The swap regime is not just one of the terrible features of the corruption in Nigeria’s oil industry but also one that makes Nigeria and its people look stupid. But most Nigerians are not to blame; indeed they are, in terms of the economic and social costs, victims of a parasitic and deeply unpatriotic ruling elite determined to conduct public business only for self-interest. The new swap with the oil majors is the same sad, old story of mind-searing plundering perpetrated by scavengers, who in concert with International Oil Companies control NNPC  activities by proxy, and turn the corporation into a honey-pot through which Nigeria is milked dry.

An audit by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) stated that, from 2009-2012, the nation lost $8 billion owing to incompatibility in the value of domestic crude allocation (DCA) swapped and the refined product delivered. It is worth-recalling that the joint Senate committee investigating the fuel subsidy regime also indicted the NNPC of operating an illegal account in the United States, where it kept proceeds from the sale of crude oil before transferring same to the Federation Account. These reports corroborate findings by Pricewaterhouse Cooper, which identified structural irregularities bordering on outright fraud in its audit of the NNPC. Irregularities include double payment on petrol and kerosene subsidies, undervaluing of crude oil lifted, computation errors, subsidy over-claims, amongst others.

The implementation of the OPA has always been dubious. All right-thinking Nigerians wonder just why, unlike every other oil-producing country under the sun, Nigeria cannot, or chooses not to process and add value to the raw product in order to maximize its earnings. If Sylva is serious about sanitizing the oil sector, the logical point of departure is to end the oil swap contracts regime. The onus of proving doubters and cynics wrong lies on Sylva. Nigerians want to see transparency in the oil and gas sector. And this transparency comes with a two-fold burden: one of ensuring professional best practices and due diligence in dealing with IOCs; and the other of allegiance and patriotism toward the national cause.

In this regard, local content, in the true sense of the term, must be deepened. Certainly, the economic and social costs of oil sector corruption are holding Nigeria down. If Nigeria must extricate itself from the strangulation of the exploitative cabals that have held the country prostrate, Sylva must help Mr. President end this crude for refined product deals between the NNPC and selected trading companies. There will never be transparency in the oil sector and no prosperity for Nigeria until these corruption networks are dismantled to remove the anti-Nigerian, counter-productive primordial patronages. Then, and only then, will the oil sector serve Nigeria and its citizens.

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UBA Continues to Innovate as RED Radio’s Podcast Now Live 24/7

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The United bank for Africa (UBA) is leading again through innovation as it launches a podcast, RED Radio, which is available 24/7. The dynamic and creative online radio channel, RED Radio now provides round the clock informative and entertaining content, bringing out the best of Africa.

RED Radio www.itsredradio.com  was berthed as part of the communication suite of UBA to provide real time content to listeners across the African continent and globally.

UBA’s Group Head Corporate Communications, Bola Atta, explained that the platform is an affirmation of the leading role that UBA is playing in the innovative space on the African continent as the bank keeps seeking more ways to reach out to and galvanise people.

She said, “RED Radio can be described as a meeting place. It is an avenue to discuss all kinds of issues that affect the youths on the continent, whether it be business related, health, relationships, sports, lifestyles.. anything. As we bring people together, we also entertain them with music from across the continent.’ ‘it’s such a cool and diverse platform with shows in different languages to appeal to a wide section of listeners.  I leave it on quietly on my ipad constantly, catching up with anything I have missed’ she added.

Some of the flagship shows on RED Radio include the Barbershop Chronicles – a talk show featuring Shody, Sess, Alhaji Popping and Femisoro who discuss life matters from the perspective of men; Diary of an Africana follows the journey of a young African woman as she manoeuvres through various obstacles whilst she explores her true self; The Red Pill which brings you exciting news and music from the Congo and so much more.

The shows are recorded in video format and are also available on REDTV.

You can access the podcasts via www.itsredradio.com

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WE’LL DELIVER SIX-LANE IBEJU-LEKKI-EPE HIGHWAY PROJECT FIRST QUARTER 2022 – SANWO-OLU

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Barring unanticipated event, the construction of 18.7-kilometre six-lane rigid pavement carriageway from Eleko Junction in Ibeju Lekki to Epe T-Junction in Lagos State will be completed and commissioned. This was the assurance from Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu when he and members of the State Executive Council went on an on-the-spot assessment of the project, on Monday.

Sanwo-Olu was excited by the pace of work on the road, persuading the contractor handling the project to increase its momentum in order to push the progress to an encouraging level before the end of the year.

The Governor flagged off the first phase of the expansion on the Lekki-Epe Expressway last November, kick-starting the rehabilitation of the 40-year-old infrastructure. The second phase of the project, which will start later this year, stretches 26.7Km from Eleko Junction to Abraham Adesanya Junction in Eti-Osa axis.

At the time of the Governor’s inspection, the contractor had completed a stretch of 3km on the lane from Eleko Junction inward Epe, while the right-of-way for the entire project has been fully cleared.

After communicating the work progress to the Governor, representatives of the contractor led Sanwo-Olu and cabinet members on legwork for assessment of features on the completed stretch, including drainage channels, kerb and segregated lane for heavy-duty vehicles.

The Governor was optimistic the project would be delivered on record time, charging the contractor to scale up the pace of work.

He said: “This exercise is an on-the-spot assessment to view the status of the 18.7Km six-lane rigid pavement road construction we are doing from Eleko Junction to Epe. The contractor has been active on site in the last six months, and they have touched every part of the entire stretch. We are currently assessing the project from the 3km lane already completed. On either side are three lanes. Two lanes are for cars, while the last lane is for heavy-duty vehicles. There will be 1.5km pedestrian walkway on both sides.

“We are happy with the progress of the project, because the contractor works day and night. I believe the work is on track. Residents on this corridor are also happy with the level of work done. They are waiting on us to hand over this important infrastructure to them in earnest.

“The beauty of the work is that it has reduced the journey time, even as the road is still being constructed. There is no hindrance on the road; motorists have the right-of-way for free movement. Not until when we finish the entire construction, we would have the full benefit of this investment. We are happy with what we have seen and we believe that the contractor should be rounding off the work by end this year or first quarter next year.”

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Lagos-Ibadan Rail Line: Amaechi, a Personification of Service – Eze

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Erstwhile National Publicity Secretary of the defunct New People’s Democratic Party (nPDP) and Chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Chief Eze Chukwuemeka Eze, has joined the lengthy roll of Nigerians and Nigerians in the diaspora, aliens and diplomats alike, who have felicitated with the President Mohammadu Buhari/APC-led Federal Government for the giant strides it has continued to record in critical areas of governance especially, the revival of the nation’s moribund rail infrastructure, covering a country mile and traversing the nook and cranny of the Nigerian territory and choreography.

Recall that President Buhari, Thursday, June 10, 2021, inaugurated the commercial operations of Lagos-Ibadan railway project at the Mobolaji Johnson Railway Station, Ebute Metta, Lagos.

In a statement made available to media houses in Port Harcourt, Eze said the efforts of the Transportation Minister, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, in driving the Buhari administration’s policy on infrastructural development is selfless, worth commending and cannot be overemphasized.

He said Amaechi’s display of rare dexterity in public administration has continued to break new grounds and discover and open up opportunities for Nigerians to sustain their livelihoods in the face of the harsh economic realities of the times, and called on those on whom the responsibility of leadership is saddled especially, in the public sector, to brace up and take a clue from the Minister.

The party Chief said aside priding itself as the first double-track standard gauge rail in West Africa, the 156km Lagos-Ibadan rail project is renowned for its peculiar status as the first Nigerian railway line to be started and completed by the same administration, since 1960.

With a holding capacity of over 6,000 passengers, Eze said the Ebute Metta Station, known as the Mobolaji Johnson railway Station, is the largest in the West African region.

Describing the feat as another milestone in the drive of his administration to revitalize the railway system and establish it as a choice mode of transportation for both passengers and freight, Buhari pledged his administration’s commitment in ensuring that priority is given to modern railway system as a transportation backbone that can transform industrial and economic activity in the country.

Reeling out the benefits of the Lagos-Ibadan corridor as well as other on-going railway projects across the country, President Buhari said the project establishes what he described as an end-to-end logistic supply chain in railway transport within its short corridor, Lagos – Ibadan, as goods to the hinterland would now be transported by rail directly from the Apapa port Quayside straight to the Inland Container Depot located in Ibadan from where it can be distributed to other parts of the country.

Lamenting the challenges posed to the nation’s economic growth by absence of strong and effective infrastructure, the President said in addition to other other ongoing railway projects, his administration has embarked on the completion of the outstanding segment of the Lagos – Kano railway, which is Ibadan – Kano.

He emphasized that the Lagos – Kano railway project when completed will link the Kano – Maradi line at Kano and a rail link from the Nigeria southern ports of Lagos to Maradi in Niger Republic will be achieved.

‘‘The connection through rail would position Nigerian ports as the choice for import and export business of the people of landlocked Niger Republic”

The project, Buhari said, would be beneficial to the economy through employment from new business opportunities and wealth creation.

Expressing delight that his directive to the Federal Ministry of Transportation and Ministry of Finance on reaching financial agreements with appropriate co-financiers to partner with the Federal Government for the development of the Ibadan – Kano railway was yielding results, President Buhari noted that Ibadan-Kano project would have a connection to the Tin Can Island port as well as the West – East Coastal rail line from Lagos to Calabar linking Onitsha, Benin, Warri, Yenagoa, Port Harcourt, Aba and Uyo.

‘‘From the beginning of this administration, railway infrastructure development has been given the priority it deserves and various milestones have been reached, right from when the Abuja – Kaduna railway was flagged-off for commercial operation in 2016 to this Lagos – Ibadan railway project being commissioned today for full commercial operation,’’ he said.

Commending the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, for his drive and tenacity in achieving the milestone recorded today, the President praised the ‘‘wonderful team in the Ministry’’ for a job well done.

“It is noteworthy to state that work commenced on the project in March 2017 and test-run commenced around December 2020 and today, what seemed a dream has come to full materialization under Buhari and Amaechi”, Eze said.

Similarly, Chief Eze hailed Buhari and Amaechi over the official launch of assists under the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure, also known as Deep Blue Project in Lagos.

The project which is the first integrated maritime security strategy in West and Central Africa is aimed at tackling the incidences of piracy, sea robbery, and other crimes at sea. With three categories of platforms to tackle maritime security on land, sea, and air, the deep blue project was jointly initiated by the Federal Ministry of Transportation and Federal Ministry of Defence, and being implemented by NIMASA the to secure Nigerian waters up to the Gulf of Guinea.

The land assets include the Command, Control, Communication, Computer, and Intelligence Centre (C4i) for intelligence gathering and data collection; 16 armoured vehicles for coastal patrol; and 600 specially trained troops for interdiction, known as Maritime Security Unit comprising personnel from the Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Army, Nigerian Air Force, Nigeria Police, and Department of State Services. The sea assets include two Special Mission Vessels and 17 Fast Interceptor Boats. The air assets comprise two Special Mission Aircraft for surveillance of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ); three Special Mission Helicopters for search and rescue operations; and four Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

Eze said Amaechi has manifestly justified the confidence reposed in him by  President Mohammadu Buhari and Nigerians and called on Nigerians to continue to support the Amaechi as more dividends are set to be delivered.

Emphasizing the need for Nigerians to imbibe the culture of protecting public infrastructure, the party Chief said it is grossly subnormal for countrymen, who should be proud patriots to engage in acts of vandalism, destroying critical assets and frustrating the efforts of government in putting the country on the right track.

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