Crude lifting scandal: NNPC has case to answer

Posted by News Express | 28 September 2021 | 803 times

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Like Siamese twins, scandal and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation appear to be inseparable. Another corruption case of huge proportions has just emerged in revelations in court proceedings in New York and London, where witnesses deposed that bribes arising from crude oil lifting contracts awarded by the corporation were given on the understanding that they would go towards funding the 2015 and 2019 elections.

This should outrage public opinion. People’s indifference, says Delia Ferreira, chair of Transparency International, is the best breeding ground for corruption to grow. Beyond its tepid denial, it is time to thoroughly investigate this and other corruption allegations against the state-owned oil company and prosecute all those found culpable.

Nigeria’s disgraceful governance template is underscored by the fact that while it is the victim through lost revenues and violation of its laws, the new revelations emanate from prosecution initiated by the United States, and separately, via a civil suit, in the United Kingdom against their own companies and individuals alleged to have participated in the felonies. None of the countries lost revenues in the alleged bribes.

According to Bloomberg, a former BP Plc oil trader, Jonathan Zarembok, in an ongoing suit, alleged that “abnormally large” fees were paid by his former employer to secure crude lifting contracts with the understanding that they would be deployed for the 2019 elections. He is not alone. In July, a former trader with Glencore, Anthony Stimler, had pleaded guilty to corruption and money-laundering charges in a New York court, admitting that he paid $300,000 as bribes through a middleman to secure a crude oil shipment from the NNPC. Like Zarembok, he said the bribes were paid on the understanding that they would partly fund the 2015 elections.

Though BP and the NNPC have separately denied the allegations, the US prosecutors insisted that Stimler and other traders paid millions of dollars in bribes in several countries, including to the NNPC officials between 2007 and 2018. The government should get to the root of this mess and break the state capture of public institutions. As the NNPC prepares for a transformation as outlined in the recently passed Petroleum Industry Act, beaming light on its notorious opacity should start with this.

The one-liner rebuttal by the SOE’s spokesman, Garba-Deen Mohammed; “It is not true, and I think that is obvious if you read the story with an open mind,” cannot suffice. Nigeria’s international image continues to be battered by such reports. The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has another chance to rejuvenate his sagging anti-corruption drive by digging into this latest scandal. He should not disappoint.

Indeed, scandal clings to the NNPC like a second skin. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is currently prosecuting some individuals and firms as accomplices in the theft of $115 million from the NNPC and its deployment for the 2015 elections. A Swiss NGO, Berne Declaration, in 2013, disclosed how the NNPC officials and accomplices, using phantom “letterbox companies,” fleeced the country of $6.8 billion between 2009 and 2011 through fraudulent crude and refined petroleum shipments and subsidy payments. As in the N1.7 trillion subsidy overpayment scandal of 2011, the major culprits have never been prosecuted.

The culture of corruption, impunity, and opacity at the NNPC must end. Buhari must terminate the company’s unofficial role as a standby ATM for successive administrations. No administration since 1999 is free of the stench from the corporation. The Peoples Democratic Party was in power in 2015 and the All Progressives Congress since then. A former special adviser to the late President Umaru Yar’Adua revealed in his memoir how the NNPC was routinely the go-to cash till for urgent expenditure required by the Presidency.

Undoubtedly, corruption is winning. Despite his avowed onslaught against graft, the country moved only slightly from 2012 in the Corruption Perception Index 2020 to 149 of 183 countries. Miserably, it is ranked second most corrupt in West Africa, beating only Guinea-Bissau. The NNPC features large in this cesspool. From withholding revenue due to the government, awarding dubious contracts and underhand payments, to allegedly running ‘secret’ bank accounts, the SOE is a byword for sleaze.

Transparency International named it among the world’s eight most corrupt national oil companies. Other countries battling corruption demonstrate it with strict law enforcement, not words. China’s campaign ensnared over 50,000 individuals accompanied by jail terms and some by execution for bribery. Past presidents have been jailed for corruption in Brazil, South Africa, South Korea, France, and Sudan. Between 2014 and 2018, Brazil’s Petrobras executives directly involved in the $2.1 billion ‘Car Wash” scandal were convicted and jailed.

Buhari should take a stand on this. As it is said, when you do not take a stand against corruption, you tacitly support it. What the case needs more than anything is a thorough and dispassionate investigation to uncover and examine all the facts that can be known. The President should urgently initiate a top-level judicial investigation into this sprawling scandal at the NNPC and clean up the odorous corporation.



Source: News Express

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