09 April 2014, Abuja – The Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) are heading for a showdown over the alleged continuous refusal of the oil corporation to respond to demands for details of its financial dealings, including the number of aircraft on its fleet, from the legislature.
Since October 2013, the committee led by Senator Magnus Abe had been demanding details of NNPC’s use of public funds but the state-run oil corporation, according to the committee, has continued to shun its several meetings on the matter.
One of such meetings called by the committee was scheduled for 2:45 pm yesterday but like the previous ones, NNPC officials did not attend. It was also learnt that there was no correspondence from the corporation to explain its absence.
The committee is demanding detailed record of volumes and sales of all crude oil and products; detailed record of the volumes of crude oil received as part of the crude swap arrangement by local refineries including the quantity used locally and quantity swapped; details of kerosene importation and distribution; details of the implementation and distribution as well as details of the number and management of aircraft in the corporation’s fleet – both chartered and purchased.
Other demands are details of funds expended on aircraft purchases, hiring and maintenance in the last two years; contract papers on the lease or purchase of aircraft; issues surrounding the Turn Around Maintenance and or rehabilitation of refineries and supply and distribution of petroleum products and ancillary issues.
On April 4, the committee addressed a letter, signed by the Committee Clerk, Mr. Anthony Ikem, to the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Mr. Andrew Yakubu, reminding him of the demands it made since October 2013.
The letter read: “I am directed to refer you to the committee’s several letters of invitation to meet with the committee and requests to furnish the committee with information relating to the activities of your corporation since October 2013.
“I am to draw your attention to the fact that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, statutorily empowers the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and by extension, its Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream) to oversight the activities of the NNPC and its subsidiary refinery companies.
“I am to further express the committee’s dissatisfaction with the conduct of the management of the NNPC, especially its seeming disrespect and disregard of the committee’s invitations and requests for information and data relating to the activities of the corporation and its refinery companies.
“Also, in view of the inability and or unpreparedness of your officials to adequately respond to questions at the committee’s meeting of Tuesday and Wednesday, first and second April, 2014, the committee resolved to further invite the Group Managing Director (PPMC), the Group Executive Director (R&P) and the Managing Directors of all the nation’s refineries to a meeting on Tuesday, April 8.”
The committee also said: “Previous meetings between the NNPC and the committee have always been frustrated because junior officers have been sent to attend the meetings.
“Those who attend the meetings are either junior officers or they are not in possession of documents or details pertaining to what the committee wants…”
However, Abe told THISDAY last night in a telephone conversation that upon returning to his office after the aborted meeting, he met a letter from the corporation asking for more time.
Abe who said the agency claimed in the letter that it was still collating information meant for presentation to the committee, noted however that NNPC could not ask for more time till eternity because it had been given more than enough time to gather its documents.
While noting that the committee was taking NNPC’s action very seriously, Abe declined to state in clear terms the action to be taken against NNPC, saying the panel would rather keep it close to its chest.
“I don’t want to reveal my strategy in the press. If you start revealing it, they will wait and then begin to counter it. But the committee is taking the matter seriously,” Abe he said.
It was also learnt yesterday that efforts were being made by the NNPC to frustrate the probe into the allegation that the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, spent N10 billion to charter aircraft for her trips.
The House had on March 20 mandated its Committee on Public Accounts to investigate the alleged squandering of N10 billion over a two-year period on the arbitrary charter and maintenance of a Challenger 850 aircraft for unofficial use by the minister.
However, the committee, which was given a three-week deadline to submit its report to the House, has not gone far in the assignment.
A source told THISDAY yesterday in Abuja that the removal of the NNPC Executive Director, Legal Services, Mr. Tony Maduichie, by President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday, might not be unconnected with the suspicion that he could blow the whistle on his employer during the probe.
The source said two top management staff of the corporation, who incurred the wrath of the federal government on a matter he didn’t specify, had also been sacked a fortnight ago.
It was also learnt that although the committee had sent a memo dated March 26, 2014 to Yakubu, asking him to state in writing all he knew about the private jet charter, he had not responded to the request.
Both the minister and the corporation have also not responded to the memo, despite the one-week ultimatum given to them and other agencies involved in the deal to provide the committee the necessary information to enable it begin work.
The source also said one of the operators of the private jets was said to have fled the country since the matter became public knowledge and this had stalled the committee’s assignment.
“We are aware of steps being taken to prevent the committee from carrying out its assignment. Why the removal of the Director of the Legal Services of the NNPC at this point in time that the corporation and the minister are before the committee to explain their roles in the deal to all Nigerians? We, as lawmakers, will use all the constitutional powers we have to get to the root of the matter,” the source added.
Reacting to the allegations, NNPC’s acting Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, Dr. Omar Farouk Ibrahim, said Yakubu holds the two chambers of the National Assembly in high regard and would not deliberately fail to honour their invitations.
According to him, although the GMD has very busy schedule, he still makes out time to honour invitations from both the lower and upper legislative chambers. He said if the GMD did not appear before the committee, it must be for a very important reason.
“It is not true that NNPC does not honour summons by the Senate. The GMD holds the two chambers in high esteem. He also holds the Senate committee in high regard. If he does not appear before the committee, it must be for a very important reason, something beyond his control,” Farouk said.
– This Day