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Greed and corruption on Nigerian television

Public outrage over parliamentary report alleging $6 billion fuel fraud over past two years.
Nigeria fraud fuel 2012 4 24Enlarge
Nigerians protest against President Goodluck Jonathan's government for scrapping oil subsidy Wednesday, January 11, 2012. Jonathan reinstated part of the subsidy and now parliament is discussing a new report which alleges massive fraud in the fuel subsidy, with companies receiving government money but not bringing any gas into Nigeria. (Pius Utomi Ekpei /AFP/Getty Images)

Nigerians are glued to their television sets to see greed and corruption. No, they're not watching a Nollywood soap opera.

They are closely following the parliament debate on the new government report which charges that $6 billion has been stolen from the state fuel fund over the past two years, according to the BBC. It is being broadcast live on television today and tomorrow.

Corruption is nothing new in Nigeria and most people are used to hearing about scandalous examples. But there is outrage over the size of the alleged fuel fraud and the damage it has done to the Nigerian economy.

Nigerians rioted in January after the fuel subsidy was revoke and gas prices more than doubled. After several days of street demonstrations that shut down Lagos and other major cities, President Goodluck Jonathan backtracked and partially restored the subsidy.

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The 205-page parliamentary report had been leaked to the lively press and has dominated newspapers for a couple of days. The report describes details of a long list of alleged wrongdoings involving oil retailers, Nigeria's Oil Management Company and the state Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation.

According to one story from the leaked report, a total of 15 fuel importers collected more than $300 million two years ago without importing any fuel. The leaked report also says that officials in Jonathan's government benefited from the subsidy fund.

Many of the people named in the document have publicly denied any involvement in fraud, with some taking out full-page advertisements in local newspapers to claim their innocence, reported the BBC.

Many politicians are heeding the public anger and are vowing to be tough.

House Speaker Aminu Tambuwal said anti-corruption authorities should open immediate investigations into those alleged to have been involved in graft, reported the French News Agency, AFP.

"We are fighting against entrenched interests whose infectious greed have decimated our people," Tambuwal said during the debate broadcast live on TV. "Our only interest here is to mitigate the suffering of Nigeria by showing how the subsidy regime has been hijacked for the benefit of a few."

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The House Tuesday reviewed 35 of the controversial report's 61 recommendations and endorsed them all, according to AFP. The debate is to continue on Wednesday.

The committee recommended the immediate unbundling of the national petroleum corporation It also said that more than 126 oil marketers and top officials should be investigated and prosecuted by anti-graft agencies, reported The Nation newspaper.

Despite the public anger over the report, the House's endorsement carries no force of law and allegations must be investigated by officials.

Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer but it imports much of its fuel because it has not invested in refineries, a situation also blamed on corruption and mismanagement.

In order to keep fuel prices low for consumers, the government pays subsidies to fuel importers but the report exposes that many importers are taking government funds but not bringing in fuel.

Nigerians, most of whom live on less than $2 a day, view the subsidies as their only benefit from the nation's oil wealth.

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Jonathan and his finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, argue that the fuel subsidy must be removed and that corruption must be stamped out for businesses to begin building oil refineries to provide locally-produce gas and other fuels at low prices for Nigerians.

Kazeem Adebanjo, a leader of the Nigeria Bar Association, said the revelations in the report is good.

"This is a government that swore to fight corruption when it came on board. It is heart rendering; nobody expected it, but it has happened. I believe that what is left for this Jonathan government to do is for it to be courageous enough to enforce those recommendations of the House of Representatives panel," said Adebanjo, according to The Nation. "The culprits there must be unveiled and dealt with according to the law. ... Let me tell you, these are not the only federal agencies that are involved but we are shocked because their activities touch the lives of the masses."

Adebanjo suggested life imprisonment and banning from holding political office or any government appointment in the future for those found culpable in the subsidy scam. "That should be enough."

The drama on television may give Jonathan the power he needs to take the strong measures needed or it may be yet another Nigerian diversion. 

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