From Kemi Yesufu, Abuja
The House of Representatives recently mandated its committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream) to investigate allegations of the disappearance of N11 billion worth of petroleum products belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), following the adoption of a motion titled: “Need to Investigate the Disappearance of Eleven billion Naira worth of Petroleum Products belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)”, sponsored by Tajudeen Yusuf.
Though the committee was given four weeks to report back to the House, the public hearing on the thorny issue was held on Thursday, July 13 with the former Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Retail Limited, Esther Nnamdi-Ogbue dropping a bombshell, that she was removed for reporting the unauthorised diversion of N11 billion worth of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) belonging to the NNPC by Capital Oil and Gas company, to security agencies.
Nnamdi-Ogbue’s testimony was shocking as it comes in an era where the Federal Government uses every opportunity to state that it would not back down in the fight against corruption. The former NNPC Retail MD’s disclosure is also worrisome, as she described her experience as a situation where security agencies turn around to label the whistle-blower, the suspect in a crime.
Mrs. Nnamdi-Ogbue, who spoke on the second day of the investigative hearing by the Joseph Akinlaja-led committee stated that she reported the diversion of PMS kept in Capital Oil and Gas Lagos tank farm to the Department of State Security Service (DSS) as well as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
She said that the response from EFCC and DSS wasn’t satisfactory, despite spirited efforts by NNPC Retail under her leadership to get both agencies to ensure the recovery of the products or payment for the products by the oil company, within seven days as stipulated in the Thorough Put agreement with Capital Oil and Gas.
According to her, the only response she got from the EFCC after letters written to its Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu was when operatives from the agency stormed her Abuja residence after she was handed a retirement letter by the management of NNPC, to conduct a search, after which the officers left with documents relating to NNPC Retail’s agreement with the oil firm.
Taking her time to give full details on how the deal went off track, the ex-NNPC Retail boss said the Managing-Director of Capital Oil and Gas, Ifeanyi Ubah was engaged on the variances and he admitted at a meeting to taking out NNPC Retail’s products without the company’s knowledge or consent.
She maintained that NNPC Retail management further engaged the Managing-Director of Capital Oil on 6th March and extracted firm commitment from Capital Oil and Gas to revert with payment for PFIs on 8th March.
“On the 9th March Capital Oil, wrote the COO of (NNPC) Downstream proposing a payment plan that was not acceptable to NNPC and same was communicated back to the company. Two subsequent meetings were set up, that is 15th and 21st of March, but both were not honored by Managing-Director, Capital Oil and Gas. On the 10th March, I as M.D, NNPC Retail petitioned the Acting Chairman of EFCC copying, the Director-General DSS, soliciting their urgent intervention in the recovery of the fraudulently converted products or its monetary equivalent.
“On the 13th of March, we again formally petitioned the EFCC, while investigations by security agencies were probably going on towards the recovery and NNPC Retail was still engaging Capital Oil, to my utmost despair and dismay, on 6th and 7th of April, I came under intense pressure from colleagues in NNPC to voluntarily retire or risk being forcefully retired. These colleagues believed that they were doing me a favour by informally alerting me of impeding actions to be taken by management. Suddenly rumors were rife, that allegations such as negligence, inefficiency and incompetence were peddled as reasons for what was about to happen. My response to these allegations was that my conscience was clear and that my record in NNPC, since I was employed in 1991 remained unquestionable and unembellished, therefore, I had no reason to panic.
“Two days after receipt of the retirement letter, Thursday 13th of April, operatives of EFCC invaded my home in Abuja, they were equipped with sophisticated video cameras and a purported warrant to search my residence of which the search lasted for about five hours. They took away some copies of official NNPC Retail documents relating to Capital Oil and Gas and I was compelled to sign as a suspect on documents taken relating to an offence for which as I speak today, I am yet to be informed of. Curiously, that same morning a report on Sahara Reporters, quoting an EFCC source about a raid in an apartment in Osborne Towers stating that sum of $43 million, N23 million and twenty-seven thousand (British) pounds were found in apartment allegedly owned by me. This is despite the fact that EFCC as a security agency, which is quite knowledgeable in information gathering, knew that the apartment doesn’t belong to me. After the raid I was again compelled at gun point to follow them to an undisclosed destination and I was again compelled to write a statement under caution in response to EFCC interrogators questions relating to Capital Oil and Gas unaccounted PMS volumes and money found at Osborne Towers Ikoyi”, she narrated.
Despite agreeing that she was issued a query immediately after the diversion of the products was discovered, which she responded to, she insisted that her retirement was a result of her daring to report the disappearance of products to EFCC and DSS even when Capital Oil and Gas has never denied diverting the products without the permission of NNPC Retail Ltd.
When asked by a member of the committee, Samuel Akintola if NNPC Retail had staff monitoring private depots where it stores products and why the diversion wasn’t discovered on time and if indeed she wasn’t up to her duties, Nnamdi-Ogbue said the agency had a “robust structure” up to the level of General Manager Operations, NNPC Retail, with the duty of monitoring products warehoused on its behalf.
Again in response to a question from another member, Betty Apiafi, if any other staff of NNPC retail was sacked over the matter, she said the then General Manager Operations, the Manager Distributions and the Coordinator Private Deports were relieved of their jobs.
A large part of the ex-NNPC Retail Managing Director’s presentation was made before the founder of Capital Oil and Gas arrived the hearing. And After a mild drama over the failure to place him under oath before he started his testimony, Ubah upon taking the oath, stated that his company did not breach its contract with NNPC.
Ubah also asked the committee if he could proceed with his testimony, since according to him, speaking on his company’s intricate relationship with NNPC could have security implications, especially as the DSS had intervened on the matter. The businessman was recently released from detention by the agency. He equally reminded lawmakers that he was in court over the matter.
But he was asked to carry on by the committee, after he was instructed to stick to the commercial aspects of his company’s dealings with NNPC.
Stressing that NNPC owes his company about N16 billion, Ubah expressed disappointment that NNPC was only concerned about its claims that it was owed N11 billion by Capital Oil and Gas, but was silent about what amount it owed. This is even as he said he felt betrayed because NNPC, rather than explore all available mechanisms to resolve the dispute, went public in a way that it painted his company in bad light. He added that his company has been under lock and key with over 2000 staff stranded at home.
“It is quite unfortunate that this issue happened. But it is something that led to something and in fairness, I have to blame the NNPC management because I don’t think the we had too many issues with NNPC Retail and from your investigation, you will know the truth. NNPC didn’t have to do things like sacking some people.
“It would be hypocritical for us not to express our displeasure and dissatisfaction over the events of the last few months as it concerns the handling of the stock issues between NNPC and our good selves. Most unfortunate is the manner in which our mutual commercial issues were quickly released to the media by NNPC, without regard to the confidentiality of the transactions, as well as the events that led to my detention, the Managing Director of Capital Oil and Gas, for several weeks.
“We are proud to state that we have rendered services to NNPC in the last nine years that no Nigerian downstream company could render up to 35 percent of what we gave. We should be commended and not castigated. In the light of recent in events, we have realised that our patriotic gestures to NNPC has not been appreciated and reciprocated”, Ubah said.
When as asked by committee if Capital Oil and Gas informed NNPC Retail that it had taken its PMS and why his company didn’t replace the products or pay for it within a week even as stipulated in the contract between both companies, Ubah replied that with the release of the products, Nigerians were saved from unnecessary hardship.
On his part, Executive-Director, NNPC Retail, Danjuma Dansure reiterated that following the intervention of the DSS, Capital Oil and Gas made a partial payment of N2b in April from N11.144 billion owed the agency for 84,891,730 liters priced at N131.28 per liter.
He stated that negotiation was still on going over the accumulated interest of 1,358,407,080 with regard to the Throughput agreement, with Ubah’s company.