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This Day (Lagos): World Bank President says $300 billion oil wealth stolen from Nigeria (*with Shell’s participation)

Headline: Nigeria: Country Has Lost $300 Billion to Corruption – Wolfowitz
October 17, 2006
Posted to the web October 17, 2006
By Segun Adeniyi

World Bank President, Mr Paul Wolfowitz, has stated that about $300 billion oil wealth has been stolen from Nigeria in the last four decades.

Wolfowitz however, praised President Olusegun Obasanjo for the fight against corruption singling out the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, as a remarkable man fighting to rid Nigeria of coruption.

The World Bank President who spoke yesterday at the opening ceremony of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) Third Plenary Conference in Oslo, Norway, also painted a gloomy picture of the poverty level in Africa.

According to Wolfowitz, “20 years ago, there were about 150 million Africans living below poverty line, but today, the figure has doubled to about 300 million. Yet the continent has seen about $500 billion oil wealth that has not helped the people”

With specific reference to Nigeria, Wolfowitz said about 75 percent of the people now live on less than one dollar per day “yet over the past 40 years, about $300 billion oil wealth has disappeared from the country”

The World Bank chief said Nigeria presents a classical example of how people in a resource rich country could wallow in abject povery, but recognised the efforts of President Obasanjo whom he said is tackling corruption. “Things have changed in Nigeria. There is a new leadership that has taken the fight against corruption serious. President Obasanjo has made tremendous efforts in the fight against corruption in Nigeria”.

Interestingly, the person who, however, got most of the accolades yesterday was Mallam Nuhu Ribadu whom Wolfowitz made several references in his speech and the subsequent press conference he held after the session.

“Nuhu Ribadu was with us at the World Bank meeting in Singapore, he is a remarkable young man. He has literally put his life on the line in the fight to rid Nigeria of corruption”

While admitting that a lot of ill-gotten wealth has been recovered in Nigeria with the latest being the $500 million returned by Swiss government last year, Wolfowitz said much more work still needed to be done since “Abacha loot is just a fraction of the money that has been stolen from the Nigerian treasury”

Wolfowitz also praised the chairperson of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Mrs Obiageli Ezekwesili, for the leading role the country has been playing globally in getting the sector opened up.

Norwegian Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Jones Gahr Store in her opening remarks, said transparency straightens the road from national wealth to public good. But while praising the efforts of the EITI, he warned that it should not be allowed to become another ‘debating society’.

The International Advisory Group (AIG) Chairman, Mr. Peter Eigen presented the report signed by British Prime Minsiter, Mr. Tony Blair and his Norwegian counterpart, Mr. Jens Stoltenberg while Prof Assisi Asobie, former ASUU President and NEITI member was elected by 61 civil society groups from across the globe as their member for the AIG which gives Nigeria two members in the Board with Ezekwesili already a member.

In his keynote address, Obasanjo said Norway with one of the highest standards of living in the world and efficient economic policies, and the transparent use of its oil resources, has become a model for other countries to learn from. ‘In every respect Norway offers the world an enviable example of how natural resources can translate to long-term sustainable development for citizens, reversing a creeping Dutch Disease syndrome through sound economic reengineering and deft fiscal strategies which have led to savings in excess of US$250 Billion as Government Pension Fund now invested in financial markets.’

Nigeria, according to the President, has a lot to learn from Norway since “we are still struggling to convert a huge extractive endowment to a similar high quality of life for our citizens. It was in pursuit of this objective that my administration embarked on a programme of far-reaching reforms in the areas of macroeconomic policy, structural adjustment, and governance aspects of our economy ”

Corruption, according to Obasanjo who was represented by Ezekwesili, “is the single most virulent impediment to development. It distorts the allocation of national resources, robs the nation of quality service and impoverishes the citizenry. It also has a corrosive effect on our collective integrity and discipline, and contaminates society’s moral values by rewarding the unscrupulous and demoralizing the honest, thereby destroying the foundations of innovation, creativity, freedom, competition. It could even threaten the legitimacy of the state in the eyes of citizens.

‘When the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) came on stream in 2003, it fitted very well with our menu of reforms and openness which we envisaged at that time. We established a competitive tenders arrangement in public procurement (Due Process) as well as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the latter to expose, arrest, and prosecute people associated with corruption and poor governance.

“That was why, when Prime Minister, Tony Blair launched the EITI, we were the first country to sign on, and quickly began implementation of the EITI in Nigeria, through the establishment of the National Stakeholders’ Working Group (NSWG) in February 2004.

‘As we look back at the past thirty-three months of implementation of EITI in Nigeria, we have learnt several lessons about our extractive sector from our just concluded independent physical, financial and process audits. We now know that all the government entities must improve their record keeping and interface better with one another; we know we must scale up institutional capacity and clearly define their roles to reduce duplication and discrepancy.

‘We have learnt that we must put a better system in place to ensure we can reconcile the volumes of crude oil from the point of well head to the export terminal through effective metering and policing. We have learnt that we must subject our fiscal regimes as contained in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOUs) to rigorous tests and analysis in line with global best practices. Most importantly we have learnt the urgency in thinking beyond oil by extending the NEITI template to mining and the solid minerals so that the mistakes of the oil sector are not repeated in other sectors.’

The conference continues today with other speakers lined up among them THISDAY Editor, Olusegun Adeniyi, billed to present a paper on The Role of the Media in the EITI process alongside Anton Artemyev of the Soros Foundation, Kazakhastan.
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