Subsidy probe triggers cold war in Jonathan’s cabinet

President Goodluck Jonathan

President Goodluck Jonathan

There is uneasy calm in the cabinet of President Goodluck Jonathan over the probe of fuel subsidy management and ongoing trial of some oil marketers.

Some of the marketers are facing trial for the alleged mismanagement of about N382 billion while a few others are being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Some of the marketers being probed were granted bail on Thursday, pending the filing of charges against those that are found culpable.

Investigation, however, revealed that the ongoing probe by the EFCC has triggered division in the Federal Executive Council (FEC) with the indictment of some oil marketers by the Presidential Committee on Verification and Reconciliation of Fuel Subsidy headed by Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede.

It was learnt that some ministers are unhappy with what they consider as overbearing influence of the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on the investigation of the marketers and her insistence that they should be punished when there could be room for restitution.

It was gathered that some ministers favour refund of illegally paid subsidy funds than full-scale trial of marketers which Okonjo-Iweala has been championing.

The aggrieved ministers also complained against alleged ‘blanket stigma’ given to marketers including a few ones that had been ‘helpful’ to the administration of Jonathan.

According to findings, some of the ministers also faulted Okonjo-Iweala for going about the probe as if it was purely her initiative without the input of other cabinet members.

The aggrieved ministers were said to have been covertly working to undermine Okonjo-Iweala, with some of them pushing for her exit from the cabinet for proving to be “too know.’’

But the President is said to backing the Minister because he believes she is guiding the economy in the right direction.

A source, who spoke in confidence, said: “The truth is that some ministers are unhappy with the way the probe into the fuel subsidy scam was handled by Okonjo-Iweala. Their argument is that the process of investigation and trial could paralyse the oil sector, particularly the fuel supply system.

“But the Finance Minister insisted on bringing transparency into governance instead of giving soft-landing to the ‘untouchable’ marketers.

“In fact the release of the report of the Presidential Committee to the public and the uncovering of the 25 indicted marketers deepened the crack between Okonjo-Iweala and the ministers.

“There are handfuls who are engaging the Minister of Finance in cold war, which is apparent to cabinet members. They pretend to be tolerating her, but if they have their way, they would want the President to drop her.”

Responding to a question, the source added: “I think some oil barons are desperate to create a wedge between Okonjo-Iweala and other cabinet ministers.

Another source added: “All is not well between some ministers and Okonjo-Iweala for not protecting some interests. She stepped on powerful toes without looking back. That is why she has been receiving threats. My position is that it is normal in any Executive Council.

“You can imagine what will happen to the image of Nigeria if no action is taken against the fuel subsidy syndicate. What is important is that she is enjoying the confidence and trust of her boss.”

A source close to the minister, who confided in our correspondent, said: “I think I can only say that some cabinet members have not come to terms with the ongoing reforms of Okonjo-Iweala. But they are gradually being integrated to appreciate it.

“The war against those who benefited illegally from fuel subsidy funds is not personal. It is also not aimed at undermining the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, or any cabinet member as being insinuated by some people. I can tell you that the Finance Minister is only complementing the reforms in the oil and gas sector. They enjoy the best of relationship.

“Most of the policies and decisions are meant to set the system right. If she had not acted the way she did, the government would have been rubbished.

“For instance, the handling of the economy has enjoyed international support and approval. We have just obtained a positive rating by Moody Rating Agency. The Standard and Poor too also did the same with high score on the management of the nation’s external reserves.”

The Presidential Committee on Verification and Reconciliation of Fuel Subsidy Payments had initially indicted 21 firms for fraudulent claims that cost the nation the sum of N382 billion, but the list was later increased to 25 by the Federal Ministry of Finance based on fresh evidence.

The Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, said out of the N422 billion scrutinised, N18 billion was found to have been duplicated, while N21 billion was cleared.

He also confirmed that out of the 116 oil marketing and trading companies (OM&T) invited, a total of 107 honoured the invitation.

He said: “Of the N422 billion, N18 billion was found to be duplication. So, the actual amount that was being verified is N403 billion. Of this amount, N21 billion was cleared and that leaves N382 billion as the sum in contention for which the committee recommended that the process of recovery should be made,” the committee report noted.

The Nation

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