Udora Orizu writes that members of the House of Representatives are putting relevant stakeholders on their toes, as they commence investigation into whistle-blower’s allegation of illegal sale of 48 million barrels of Nigeria’s Bonny Light crude in China in 2015
Members of the House of Representatives are currently investigating a whistle-blower’s allegation of illegal sale of 48 million barrels of Nigeria’s Bonny Light crude in China in 2015 and the insurance status of the cargo.
The lawmakers are also investigating all crude oil exports and sales by Nigeria from 2014 to date, with regards to quantity, insurance, revenue generated, remittances into the Federation Account or other accounts as well as utilisation of the revenue for the period under review.
Over the years, the increasingly audacious and humongous theft of crude oil poses a multiplicity of threats to oil companies and all tiers of governments, the livelihoods of citizens and communities, and, mostly importantly, to national security. This theft often comes with threats to the lives of officials trying to curb the menace or the whistleblowers.
Last year, the Group Chief Executive Officer (GCEO) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), Mr. Mele Kyari, said he had received several death threats from people who are not happy with efforts being made by the federal government to ensure increased transparency, accountability as well as an end to crude oil theft which has seen the country recording severe revenue losses.
In July 2020, an oil trading firm, Samano Sa De CV, wrote a letter to the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mele Kyari, demanding five percent reward for exposing the diversion and theft of 48 million barrels of crude oil.
In a letter signed by a lawyer, Gboyega Oyewole, on behalf of the whistleblower titled, ‘Formal Request for the Payment of five per cent Whistleblower Compensation For Information Furnished In Respect of Crude Oil Stolen from the Federal Republic of Nigeria’, it was stated that in October 2015, the stolen crude was moved to China without the knowledge of President Muhammadu Buhari and sold illegally by some government officials with the proceeds not remitted to the government’s coffers.
Reacting to the allegation, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in a statement issued by its solicitor, Afe Babalola and Co, stated that the entire story was a hoax designed to blackmail, defraud and embarrass the system operators and the nation at large.
The statement reads: “The management of the corporation states emphatically that these publications are replete with falsehoods, offensive, gold-digging and a calculated attempt by the said SAMANO SA DE CV (SAMANO) working in concert with its local and international agents to intimidate, blackmail and extort money from the Federal Government of Nigeria and NNPC. Given the attention which these publications have generated, NNPC deems it necessary to make the following clarifications.
“For context, as of 2015, the daily production of crude oil in Nigeria was below 1.6 million barrels. Therefore, 48 million barrels of crude oil would have been the total production capacity of the country for a whole month. It was and remains simply impossible for one-month crude oil production for the entire country to disappear without any record or trace from the shores of the country. Consequently, the Federal Government terminated all communications with SAMANO as it became apparent that its claim was a hoax.
“When SAMANO realised that the Federal Government was no longer interested in the non-existent stolen crude, it resorted to blackmail and intimidation of key officials of the government. SAMANO threatened that it would publicise the fact that the non-existent crude had been recovered, sold and proceeds looted by senior government officials and other personalities when it knew this was absolute falsehood.
“SAMANO made several demands including that it be paid the sum of $125,000,000 by the government officials to prevent it from disclosing this false information to the public. This demand soon metamorphosed into harassment as SAMANO embarked on a mischievous exercise to embarrass the Federal Government of Nigeria on international media platforms and before several international institutions like the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), all in a calculated bid to blackmail the Federal Government of Nigeria and NNPC into paying it a significant amount of money as compensation.
“As a result of the constant harassment, NNPC was constrained to make a formal report to the Department of State Security (DSS) and Nigeria Police while other victims wrote petitions in respect of the same subject to the Attorney-General of the Federation. After a thorough investigation by the police and DSS and confessions by agents of SAMANO, it was discovered that the allegations of conspiracy, forgery, obtaining money by false pretence, blackmail and extortion were well-founded and that some of the fraudulent activities of one Mr Ramirez and Mr Jose Salazar Tinajero (both agents of SAMANO) constituted a threat to the national security of Nigeria.”
Lawmakers Probe Alleged Theft
Two years later, the House of Representatives resolved to constitute an adhoc committee to investigate the allegation.
The resolution followed the unanimous adoption of a motion moved by Hon. Ibrahim Isiaka, titled ‘Alleged Loss of over $2.4 Billion in Revenue from Illegal Sale of 48 Million Barrels of Crude Oil Export in 2015, Including Crude Oil Exports from 2014 till Date.’
The panel will also investigate all proceeds recovered through the Whistle-Blowers Policy and the level of compliance by the policy.
At the commencement of the probe, the Chairman of the Ad-hoc Committee, Hon. Mark Gbillah, vowed that the parliament will unearth the facts behind the allegations.
He said it will engage local and foreign stakeholders to unravel the facts behind the alleged loss from 2014 till date. The lawmaker, who assured all the whistleblowers of utmost confidentiality about their identities, said the investigation was in line with President Buhari’s anti-corruption drive.
He said progress is being made in the investigations as the committee had obtained recordings and photographs of the meetings, documentation to show e-mail trail and discussions and even bank account statements of very highly placed people where the transactions took place.
At it’s sitting last week, the lawmakers grilled the Head, National Central Bureau, NCB, Interpol, AIG Garba Baba Umar for allegedly inviting whistleblowers for questioning shortly after it commenced investigation into the matter.
The lawmakers specifically queried why the individuals who were witnesses and ready to give them evidence would suddenly be tagged “fugitive” and declared wanted by the police.
Gbillah while warning against harassing and intimidating the witnesses, said the committee was not on a witch-hunt mission but fulfilling its constitutional mandate in the interest of the Nigerian people.
The committee also summoned the Director, Public Prosecution (DPP) and others, hinting of their decision to embark on a trip to Mexico to meet with the country’s officials on the issue for more information.
He said: “There is an allegation that sometime in 2015, a presidential committee was set up which included the late chief of staff to the president, Abba Kyari, the late GMD of the NNPC, Maikanti Baru, the former DG DSS, Daura. It was chaired by retired General Mohammed Umar and the current CEO of NNPCL, Mele Kyari, was then the group general manager, crude oil marketing department, the attorney general at some point also became a member of the committee.
“That committee is said to have travelled to China at the insistence of a whistleblower of Mexican citizenship about the existence in China of millions of barrels of Nigeria’’s crude and this individual expressed an interest to purchase this crude which the government at the time allegedly needed to investigate first so this committee went to China, confirmed the existence of this crude, but this individual concerned alleges that when the process of selling this crude commenced they were no longer contacted and they have evidence of the fact that the crude was sold without the money being remitted to the coffers of the Nigerian government.
“Now when these issues started to occur they said they were being intimidated and threatened and had spurious allegations made against them that involved them being charged to court over this matter and eventually the matter was discontinued and in their own point of view they said allegedly because when they were the revelations of the details of the documents, text exchanges between them started to come to the fore, the parties involved did not want it to become public knowledge.
“Now fast forward to now, because that case was stalled. It may interest you to know that at the time when these allegations seemingly occurred the department that was sent in by the police to investigate this was the Force CID, then under the DIG Michael Ogbizi now retired. The report is supposed to have been made and forwarded for action by the Attorney General. But it will also be something we would want to understand why now if it is related to that issue why is the Interpol writing to some of these individuals.
“We would also want to get the documents and facts at his disposal. They said they have recordings, photographs, some of which they have shown the Committee, e-mail correspondence, text messages and a lot of that related to this issue and other documents. But the Nigerians who are involved are still within the country. Two of them were the ones who approached us willing to give detail of what transpired in this whole situation but considering the fact that you were not involved in that initial investigation, I want to first start by asking how come you write letters to these individuals after the committee’s investigation had commenced and after they had indicated desire to give evidence to this committee”.
Reacting, the Head of NCB, Umar said they were not investigating anyone. He stressed that their role was to grant the request from the ministry of justice as mandated by law. He directed further inquiries to the office of the Attorney General of the Federation.
As Nigerians await the outcome of the probe, the committee has hinted on their decision to embark on a trip to Mexico to meet with the country’s officials on the issue for more information.