THE ongoing Senate investigation of the alleged collusion of some banks with certain International Oil Companies (IOCs) on the suspicious movement of $63 billion out of the country is in order. The allegation deserves a thorough probe to determine the legality of the transfers. This, however, raises the question of how far the Senate can go in the investigation of the allegation. This is largely on account of the inconclusiveness of the Senate’s earlier probes of similar allegations.
Nonetheless, we support a transparent investigation. The suspicious money movements and the staggering amount involved are weighty enough to warrant a full and unimpeded probe. The amount is said to have been taken out of the country in shady circumstances within the five-year period between August 2009 and December 2014.
Some of the banks fingered in the deal have large foreign equity shareholding, and are big time customers of the oil majors implicated in the illegal money transfers. Members of the probe committee are drawn from the Senate Committees on Finance, Trade and Investment, Oil and Gas Petroleum Upstream, Banking, Insurance and Other Financial Institutions, the Judiciary and Legal Matters. The scope of the investigation includes pre-shipment inspection of export activities covering the five-year period.
In that regard, the banks involved have been mandated to submit certified copies of Nigeria Export Proceeds (NXP) issued or processed by them in respect of oil and gas exports by the oil companies or their affiliates. In addition, the banks are to submit all domiciliary accounts opened and or closed within the period covered by the investigation for all crude oil and gas exported from Nigeria.
Already, the Committee has confirmed that officials of two of the banks have appeared before it, while others will take their turns any time soon. It is not clear how long the probe will last. However, Chairman of the probe committee, Sen. John Enoh, says the committee is interested in ensuring that banks and oil firms operating in the country play by the rules of the country. The committee also said that banks acting on behalf of oil firms should at all times ensure that petroleum products exporters do the right thing through strict adherence to the laws guiding their businesses.
This probe has become expedient for a number of reasons. In view of the continuing uncertainty of oil prices in the international market, and with the Nigerian economy severely under threat, any proven collusion to deny Nigeria of much-needed foreign exchange amounts to economic sabotage. The probe should sound a strong note of warning that it is no longer “business as usual” in the nation’s oil and gas sector.
The committee should be mindful of the previous probes of similar allegations, which ended up achieving nothing. Many of the past probes, in particular, the bribery scam involving Halliburton, a USA-based oil firm, remain contentious and unresolved.
The business records of some of the major oil firms operating in the country leave much to be desired. Illicit payments of bribes to Nigeria tax officials, as was the case in the Halliburton and other underhand business deals, question the seriousness of government in holding these companies and their collaborators accountable for their actions.
This is not helping Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria. The war against corruption which the Muhammadu Buhari administration is waging in all sectors of the economy must be prosecuted with clarity of purpose.
Public confidence in the National Assembly is waning because some of its probes of allegations of fraudulent business dealings later implicated some members of the probe panels. Nigerians should not be given any reason to suspect a compromise of the current investigation of the affected banks and IOCs by the probe committee members. Instead, the committee should see this investigation as a golden opportunity to rekindle public confidence in the Senate’s integrity and ability to creditably discharge its oversight functions.
We, therefore, urge the joint committee to closely study the documents submitted by the banks to ascertain the veracity of the IOCs’ figures on the pre-shipment inspection of their export activities. Some of the banks are also alleged to have multiple domiciliary accounts for the oil companies in violation of the rules and regulations guiding their transactions. No stone should be left unturned to get at the root of the allegations. Appropriate sanctions commensurate with the offence should also be imposed where infractions are detected, and the necessary refunds demanded and collected, where required.