By Emman Ovuakporie & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
To many calculating the figure-bearing headlines emanating from the ongoing probe by the House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee on Crude Oil Swap and Oil Processing Agreement (OPA), so much economic attacks and sabotage appear to have been spearheaded by the same agencies and officials of government who were being paid with the nation’s tax payers’ money to manage and administer the resources.
However, to those who have closely followed the unfolding, events with patience for details, the much publicised “Dasuki-gate” or “Arms-gate” as the case may be, is just a tip of the iceberg given the level of alleged rot and profligacy perpetrated by both local and foreign oil marketing firms under the supervision of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Petroleum Product Marketing Company (PPMC) while the Presidency folded its arms.
The case with Nigerian crude oil theft narrative has been that of an owner stealing what belongs to him and at the same time raising the alarm over the theft. That explains the attitude of the Jonathan-led Federal Government and the management of the NNPC and PPMC aiding and abetting crude oil theft whilst shouting to high heavens that the nation was being robbed of her oil resources by thieves.
It is no longer news that crude oil worth over $24billion was allegedly taken from the wells and shores of Nigeria by a company established as a subsidiary of the NNPC for the supposed advancement of Nigeria’s economic interest with regards to crude export, marketing and importation of refined products just like every other company involved in the swap arrangement.
During one of the hearings, last Wednesday, the Managing Director of the PPMC, Mrs Esther N. Ogbue, alluded to the fact that there was no record to show an agreement of crude oil lifting under the swap arrangement between the NNPC and the subsidiary company.
She said a written agreement between NNPC and the subsidiary was only made on 31st December 2014, even as the latter was awarded the contract and started crude oil lifting way back in 2011 through a verbal agreement.
What this means is that a supposed official and legitimate business transaction between the NNPC and oil companies on behalf of the Nigerian government went on for four years with no documented contractual agreement providing legality.
The situation with the subsidiary may have assumed the semblance of ‘mother’s oil pouring into mother’s beans’, given the parent-child relationship it has with the NNPC. According to the subsidiary’s Managing Director, Abdulkadir Sa’I’d, they were awarded the contract with the purpose of building capacity, as “a family company”, (how convenient) considering the helpless situation Nigerians often found themselves in terms of accessibility to petrol and kerosene which sells in most areas above official price while the NNPC and PPMC feign ignorance?
If not, what justification do the NNPC and PPMC have to allocate 12.5million metric tons of crude to a foreign firm registered in Panama with a view to evading tax in Nigeria (because that has been its behaviour according to the Federal Inland Revenue Service boss, Babatunde Fowler, at the hearing).
The NNPC subsidiary, Duke Oil Limited, then decided to engage three other companies – Duke Oil/Televaras, Duke Oil/ITEO and Duke Oil/ONTARIO – as third parties for the crude lifting and delivery of refined products which to a large extent never was.
Stating the tax losses of the transaction to the economy, Fowler put the amount at N1.1billion of payable tax on the part of the foreign firm alone.
Meanwhile, Duke Oil paid N26.5million in tax out of over N250million.
According Fowler, the FIRS was not aware of the said transactions involving the foreign firm because it is a non resident company just like Duke but is not registered with the FIRS for the payment of tax. Therefore, it has never made any tax return to the FIRS.
More damning in terms of impunity and disregard for the socio-economic sovereignty of Nigeria was the revelation by the Nigerian Customs Service that the foreign firm was allowed to lift over 12million metric tons based on the swap arrangement and refused to return a single litre of premium motor spirit (PMS/petrol) or DPK (kerosene) in line with the swap agreement despite evading tax and both the NNPC and PPMC maintained criminal silence.
Assistant Comptroller General of Customs, Mr. Alu Sule, in charge of Tariffs and Trade, said: “The Nigerian Customs Service is not aware of any swap arrangement or OPA with any company. If we are going to make any comment on it, it would be in a position of ignorance, and we are here to give the facts as they are.
“The only government policy we are privy to is the non-collection of duties on petroleum products, but as far as our records can show, we only know that the foreign firm exported a total of 12.5million metric tons of crude without importing any refined product.
“If the importation was done in a different name is what I can’t say, but there was no record of them bringing in any refined product”, Sule suggested that the transaction without an official waver for non-return of refined products represents a massive crude oil theft perpetrated by the company under the watchful eyes of relevant government agencies such as the NNPC and the PPMC.
However, according to the NNPC Group Executive Director, Babatunde Adeniran, who was also the representative of the petroleum minister (state), Ibe Kachikwu, the companies involved in the swap cumulatively owed the Nigerian government a total of $203 million after reconciliation between NNPC and the companies based on legally contracted deals.
By the time the hearings are over, Nigerians would know that Dasuki or Arms-gate is nothing but a child’s play, and that the nation has been handled in a worst way than the ‘Banana Republic’ could have in the absence of law and leadership, exposing the underbelly of the swap regime.