By Yusufu Shehu Usman
If somebody had told me that the Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF) where I worked and headed the legal department for five years would be a cess pool of corruption, I would have argued to the contrary with my last breath but that will be two decades ago
The Petroleum Equalisation Fund was a moribund parastatal of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources little known, inactive, neglected and forgotten for decades before it was reactivated, reformed, restructured and brought back to life and service through the hard work and highly skillful managerial acumen of Dr Kabiru Chafe the earstwhile Minister Of State, Petroleum Resources under the Obasanjo Presidency
Before 1996 no one heard of Petroleum Equalisation Fund and it’s impact as its operations were conducted in a not more than two room obscure apartment somewhere in Lagos
When Dr Kabiru Chafe was appointed Minister Of State Petroleum Resources, he resuscitated the PEF, restructured it and reorganised it’s operation under a new management
I was privileged to be a member of the new management Team as the first Manager and Head of Legal Department of the PEF in 1996
I served in that position for five years before I voluntarily resigned my appointment to join the Council of Legal Education as the pioneer head of Administration in the newly established Enugu Campus of the Nigerian Law School
The principal mandate of the Petroleum Equalisation Fund as expressed in the Act establishing it, is to pay marketers the cost of haulage or transportation of Petroleum product from the Southern depots to the Northern parts of the country through a process called bridging.
The aim is to enforce uniform prices for petroleum products in Nigeria, irrespective of the location a citizen would buy the products from.
It was realised by the government that the reason for variation in prices of petroleum products across the country is the cost of transportation. Therefore the Petroleum Equalisation Fund was established to take care of this variable cost and make it possible for the products to reach Nigerians at a uniform price when I was there, the PEF was organised and transparent in its operations with relative integrity and with the benefit of hindsight, i can testify that the PEF discharged this mandate with efficiency and relative sincerity
The staff at all levels were paid good salaries comparable to the scale operated by the NNPC and others in the oil industry
I am shocked that down the years the relatively quiet PEF will be in the news and in the eye of a huge storm for all the bad reasons. It’s a shock to me that only two of my former colleagues who indeed were my juniors in the PEF would be involved in a three billion Naira corruption mess as just revealed to the press by the Presidential Panel on corruption
Only last year, I was one of the few honoured by the PEF in an elaborate ceremony and rewarded with handsome gifts for long and meritorious service about two decades after I left the PEF
You can therefore appreciate my pains that such a scandal is coming out from an organization I helped to build and contributed to its phenomenal growth over the years. It is sad and very disconcerting that the PEF should be in such a big mess all due to corruption and greed of a few front line managers.
I really sympathise with the Executive Secretary of PEF Alhaji Ahmed Bobboi who is an
honest, humble, transparent and good man of integrity
For the two Managers indicted, I have no sympathy for them. The PEF as I know very well, brought them both from no where and gave them the golden opportunity to come to the limelight through service but they chose to betray the public trust by engagijg in such monumental corruption.
I can’t imagine any of the two looting five million Naira twenty years back but time changes everything. It can make an honest person out of corrupt individuals just like it can also produce the opposite result
I am convinced that corruption thrives not only on circumstances but also with time
it is instructive and preposterous that corruption in this case, also achieved gender parity and equality as the burden is shared equally between a male and female manager