Journalism of Courage

NNPC Probe: What It Tells About The Legislature



By Okwara Ukpe

There is a tale that N91 trillion oil revenue is missing due to a backhand deal between the NNPC and a Chinese oil lifting firm, Huang Bo Hai Petrochemical Industry Limited since June 2016. This fable was weaved into a motion by a member of Nigeria’s House of Representatives in June this year, and the legislators resolved to probe it.

Now the House wants to investigate and has summoned the Group Managing Director of NNPC and

Managing Directors of two other oil firms.  The House Committee Chairman on Petroleum(Downstream), Joseph Akinlaja told a press conference in Abuja that without summoning these chief executives “ I don’t think we can make any progress in this investigation,” stressing that “This illegal deal is between the NNPC and its agents, Alkhairi  and Mahat on the one hand and Huang Bo Hai and its own agent, Effizhy Oil and Gas on the other. They must all appear before this committee in our next sitting or we invoke the necessary legal instrument.”

First, before I point out the factual errors in the claims of the honourable chairman of the House Committee, who by the way is one of the most respected legislators in the House, it is interesting and quite instructive that both the Senate and the House of Representatives have all resolved to probe NNPC over one allegation or the other at a time the last legislative calendar is winding down and new elections are three months away.

Just a few days ago, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Local Content, Solomon Adeola also revealed that his committee had suddenly discovered, after a visit to Rivers and Bayelsa States, that some multi-national companies operating in the country are still owned hundred percent by foreigners in violation of our laws! This is the committee that is supposed to perform oversight on compliance with Nigeria’s local content laws, just discovering such huge infraction a few months to the end of the life of the 8th senate! So what has the committee being doing since 2015?

While Adeola was speaking on a planned probe, some of his colleagues were also alleging that the NNPC was operating a subsidy fund without appropriation by the national assembly and were asking for their own probe. Of course the NNPC and the Ministry of Finance have denied the existence of any such fund.
Now back to the House summon of the NNPC GMD, a lawyer representing one of the oil companies, Bola Aidi had told the House hearing that in the deal which amounted to 80 trillion metric tonnes of crude, 1,045 barrels per tonne was lifted at N42 each. “NNPC takes N37, my client Ephizy takes N4, making a total of N41 per barrel. This means that N1 is unaccounted for, If you multiply it by 80 trillion metric tonnes, that is a huge chunk,” he declared.
What is revealed here, to any reasonable person, is that between NNPC, its agents and the oil firms, someone feels let down or outsmarted and is not happy and has decided to pull the house down using the legislature, which can conveniently hide under its oversight function to serve this interest. For the legislators, there is a golden opportunity. By threatening to ‘burn it down’ someone could reach out to them for off-the-camera negotiations which serves their interest at a time election are around the corner.
This is perhaps the most logical explanation for the ridiculous ‘investigation’ the house wants to conduct, and for which it has summoned chief executives of oil companies including the NNPC. It is inexplicable how legislators who ought to be very well informed about things of this nature, can display such embarrassing ignorance. I strongly believe the Chairman of the committee, Akinlaja, must have been wrongly advised on this issue. He is one of the few legislators who have impressed by their understanding of the oil sector and by how seriously they take legislative oversight.
But how on earth is it possible that between 2016 and now the NNPC and some oil companies could pass through oil transactions of that magnitude? Is somebody not thinking right? The N91 trillion alleged oil transaction is simply impossible, it will take 72 billion years of production for NNPC refineries and 64,246 years of world demand to provide such volume.
Are the legislators not aware that the DSS and the EFCC received similar petitions in 2016 and investigated the matter? The two agencies made arrests and interrogated several people and found it was a scam.
It’s a matter of concern to me, and I dare say to many patriotic Nigerians, that our legislature has turned itself into an institution that preys on the system; a kind of hawk that looks for juicy flesh to devour. The NNPC, Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigeria Customs Service, Federal Inland Revenue Service and a few other revenue generating agencies have become soft targets for preying legislators. Any allegation or whisper of corruption, no matter how dumb, is all our legislators need to move a motion of “urgent national importance.”
This is perhaps why all the probes conducted by the legislature on these agencies since 1999 have not led to any positive enactments. Reason is that the legislators have failed to utilize the resources available to them to educate themselves to be able to carry out their functions effectively and efficiently. How many of our legislators have in their employment specialist aides to do their research before throwing motions or bills on the floor of the chamber? The aides you see in their offices are errand boys who book their appointments, types documents and fix their constituencies.
If these legislators have knowledgeable aides who advises them on these kinds of issues, the House will not call for a public hearing on a matter as laughable as the one currently being investigated by the House.
But of course, I am not so naïve not to know that the end game of these kind of probe is neither noble nor patriotic. It is not a deliberate and thoughtful attempt at sanitizing the oil industry. Rather it is a clever attempt by legislators to swell their pockets and perhaps, for those who have won their parties’ tickets.  boost their re-election chances.
Ukpe wrote in from Onitsh, Anambra State


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