Politics Plague Nigeria's Oil Subsidy Probe
A parliamentary report claiming major governmental corruption in Nigeria's oil subsidies has launched an country-wide investigation into the guilt of the alleged wrongdoers and the oil industry's practices.
Many of those named in the report are some of President Goodluck Jonathan's closest allies. If he drops them, the political ramifications may be severe -- a fact some think will impede justice.
"I don't think we're going to see high level officials in jail ... that would imply his regime had imploded," said Patrick Smith, editor of Africa Confidential, told Reuters. "The government didn't want this to come out. It isn't hard to track back some of this to the top people in government."
So far, Jonathan has said he will not change his cabinet.
In late April, a 205-page report by Nigeria's parliament accused government officials and national oil organizations of defrauding $6.8 billion from subsidy funds over the course of three years.
Soon afterward, Nigeria's justice ministry said it would investigate and prosecute any who were found guilty, regardless of governmental status.
But officials were quick to emphasize that the probe may take some time.
"Nigerians must however appreciate that in discharging this onerous responsibility, government must be guided by the dictates of the rule of law and due process as required of any democratically elected and responsible government," the ministry said in a May 3 statement.
So far in the investigation, only one importer, Nimex Petroleum, has been suspended after failing to produce documents proving shipments of oil. It accounts for $10 million of the missing subsides money.
Many of those named have denied involvement, even going so far as to advertise their innocence in local newspapers.
Among the accusations outlined in the report, officials are accused of mismanagement, theft and fraud. As an example, the report outlined how some importers were paid for 59 million liters of oil per day even though the country was only consuming 35 million. And many of those firms were only companies "on paper" with no actual oil.
Many Nigerians are skeptical of their country's management of its oil industry. When Jonathan tried to end public gasoline subsidies on Jan. 1, widespread protests and strikes forced the government to reinstall the discount. Many Nigerians call the cheap fuel the only real benefit they receive from their country's main industry.