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$24b crude swap probe: Ex-NNPC GMD and his discomfited comments

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“Who owns the 445,0“Who owns the 445,000 barrels of crude oil NNPC takes every day for offshore processing? Does it belong to the NNPC or FG? The NNPC does not own a single drop of produced crude in this country…”

It is bad enough that those that have been running the affairs of this country had treated Nigerian Commonwealth with utmost thoughtlessness. More worrying, however, is the attitude of the very same corporate executives who now daily mount the rostrum as prosecuting witnesses against the very authorities they served and enjoyed working under “favourable conditions.”

Now it sounds okay for everybody (both serving and former officers) that ever handled assignments in the nation’s apex oil concern to push the blames of everything that went wrong under their watch to their boss and former petroleum minister, Mrs Diezani Allison-Madueke. Do these people have consciences at all or are they letting us know portfolios are more important than honour and integrity when holding position of public trust?

What was actually running in the mind of the former Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Mr. Austin Oniwon, when he on Tuesday 16th February 2016, told the House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee on Crude Oil Swap that there was no formal contract between the NNPC and trading companies that lifted about $24 billion worth of crude oil from the country between 2011 and 2014?

Very disgusting to see and hear these accessories-turn-witnesses talk the way they do after office. Are they not aware that their failure at the time of the alleged crime to blow the whistle made them 100 percent complicit in the corruption and stealing in the organisations they oversaw? Nobody should be impressed by their excuses which at best are naive. If we want to address the rot in the public service particularly the NNPC system, we should treat the group managing directors and other top officials as guilty as those they turn around to blame in the presidency and elsewhere. 

The worst thing that could happen to any whistle-blower is to be sacked from the job. This Oniwon man was in a position to challenge the minister in his capacity as Group Managing Director or talk to the world through the media and yet he didn’t, which by implication, makes him a full accessory to the alleged abuse of power and financial crime.

All these people that held public offices should simply accept with genuine remorse that they collectively and individually failed Nigeria and Nigerians? How could Oniwon of all people ever say he was unaware of the status of the crude lifting contracts during the period under review and that “Diezani merely granted the extension of an earlier contract which in itself was not a formal contract?” 

Who owns the 445,000 barrels of crude oil NNPC takes every day for offshore processing? Does it belong to the NNPC or the Federal Government? The NNPC does not own a single drop of produced crude in this country because it only serves as the government’s outstretched arm in the oil industry.

The former group managing director claimed the daily off-take of 445, 000 barrels of crude oil was bought from the Federal Government at the prevailing rate for refining and could rightly be said to be the property of the NNPC. Is there any truth in this assertion at all?

Hear him: “This crude had been paid for by the NNPC. If I needed to take the crude for exchange, I am not going to write the Federal Government. It is NNPC’s decision on what to do to guarantee regular supply of products in the country.

“That was the whole essence of the swap arrangement; to ensure that we had adequate products, which we achieved successfully. I am not a lawyer, but I didn’t need anybody’s approval to take crude to the refinery for refining if the refineries were running.”

There was a clear contradiction in Oniwon’s tale at the House of Representatives. The NNPC should be made to produce/show evidence of payment for its daily off-take of 445, 000 barrels of crude within the period under review. Anything short of this will be a gross injustice to the ongoing effort to unearth the magnitude of stealing that has been going on in the NNPC system with the corporation’s big men playing commanding roles.

As the group managing director of the NNPC, Oniwon did not require a presidential and Federal Executive Council approval to enter into the swap arrangements as he said. Yet when asked what was the spending or approval ceiling of the Group Managing Director, he replied, “It was put at $10m.” He did not state whether this approval ceiling was for daily, weekly, monthly or annual operations in which the purchase of the crude oil from whoever is just a fraction of the things the corporation pays for in its operations. 

This is important because $10 million cannot pay for 445, 000 barrels of crude oil which the NNPC takes every day to do what it likes. Let’s not forget that during the period under review, Nigeria’s premium grade- the Bonny Light, sold well over $100 per barrel.

It would be recalled that the NNPC began taking 445,000 barrels of crude daily in 2010 for refining in a bid to meet the country’s local demand of petroleum products. This led to the final killing of the refineries by the corporation because it makes “better business sense” for them to exchange the crude (swap) for refined products through an arrangement with appointed crude commodity trading firms that could best be described as blurred.

The original (first) contract was signed between the NNPC and two crude traders, Duke Oil and Trafigura in 2010 to last for one year. It expired officially in 2011.

The question is: could Alison-Madueke unilaterally have approved an extension of the contract without the NNPC formally proposing the renewal? Between the minister and the NNPC, who handled the contracts’ paper work? Who daily loads this crude oil for these traders and was NNPC loading the cargoes even though they knew there were no valid contracts? You see the deceit!

Of course what do you expect Oniwon to say, to blame himself? Even Ben Bruce’s common sense would have let us know that for the minister who was the direct boss of the NNPC GMDs to approve the swap extension, a proposal would have been made. The question is: who made the proposal?

If as the House Committee was told by the crude contracting firms that crude lifting indeed continued till 2014 before a contract was formalised, were the liftings done without the NNPC’s supervision since the oil concerned belong to the corporation as the GMD claimed? If yes, then the oil traders should rather be charged for crude oil theft rather than misapplication of the crude-for-products stock. 

Did Oniwon and his NNPC raise any alarm that ghosts were carting away about 445, 000 barrels of NNPC’s crude every day without valid contract documents? No! Abeg make all of una go sit down for bush! Wallahi, Oniwon and his likes still have questions to answer and for now, the former NNPC boss has not said anything to extricate himself from those opaque transactions under him.

This same Oniwon consistently told the House committee members that there was no “breach” in the exchange arrangements throughout his tenure despite the now open fact that these companies had lifted crude worth $24bn before the contract was signed in 2014 and backdated to look like it was signed in 2011 when the first one expired.

But when he was reminded that there were evidences indicating that the contract expired in 2011, but it continued to run till 2014, he replied that Alison-Madueke “approved” the extension. Haba Nigeria, is this how a country runs? Until those entrusted with positions begin to accept their mistakes or rather naivety while serving, no matter the consequences, we may not see a change in disposition by our public office holders towards fraudulent handling of our collective wealth.

(IFEANYI IZEZE lives in Abuja and can be contacted on: iizeze@yahoo.com; 234-8033043009)


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