Abuja—The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami on Thursday finally how to pressure and he officially indicated his readiness to provide relevant information on the alleged sale of 48 million barrels of crude oil amounting to over $2.4 billion and crude oil export to global destinations from 2014 to date, the Tribune reports.
The Minister expressed this through a letter sent to the Ad-hoc Committee chaired by Hon. Mark Gbillah during the resumed investigative hearing on Thursday.
While acknowledging receipt of the letter, Hon. Gbillah said: “Today we are in receipt of a letter from the Attorney General of the Federation and the Minister of Justice who is averring his determination to respect the doctrine of separation of powers and to support our extant laws. And he has indicated the fact that they are trying to put together the comprehensive response that we have raised.
Recalled that the Minister was alleged to have approved the payment of about $200 million paid into two company accounts – Biz Plus and GSCL allegedly for consultancy services.
Hence, the Ad-hoc Committee requested for details of where the AGF derives the power to grant such approval for such payment in breach of extant financial laws.
While appreciating the Minister’s letter, Hon. Gbillah said: “While we appreciate the Attorney General’s response we would like to indicate that it came a lot later than we expected and it came without the response that we referred to.
“So, we will appreciate it if the Attorney General and honourable Minister provide this response and also appear before the Committee next Thursday. So, let’s give him the window to appear before the Committee.
“Unfortunately the honourable Minister of Finance has still been evasive. The Committee has not received any submission or response from the Honourable Minister of Finance.
“The Accountant General sent a response and has not responded to our follow-up because we asked further questions about what he provided us information about.
“And there are other entities we have scheduled and I believe the NNPCL should be appearing before us also next week.
“But we want to call on the honourable Minister of Finance, like the Attorney General show regard and respect for the separation of powers as enshrined in our Constitution, and respond promptly to the request of the Committee so that we can get to the bottom of our investigation.
“Like I already said, we are giving her the benefits of the doubt, we are not unmindful of the other powers we have and we are afraid to exert them and we will do so if the leeway we have provided is still neglected and not recognized by the honourable Minister of Finance,” Hon. Gbillah said.
The lawmakers during the resumed investigative hearing quizzed management staff of some oil companies involved in the lifting and sales of crude oil to global destinations in furtherance of the investigation into the alleged sale of 48 million barrels of crude oil amounting to over $2.4 billion and crude oil export to global destinations from 2014 to date.
Some of the companies who appeared before the Ad-hoc Committee chaired by Hon. Mark Gbillah uncovered unsigned and unstamped documents submitted by Equinor Nigeria Energy Company.
Other companies quizzed by the Ad-hoc Committee include Millennium Oil and Gas Company, SAPETRO, PANAMA, and Moni Pulo, among others.
The lawmakers also quizzed some Deposit Money Banks operating in the country including Fidelity, Union Bank and Ecobank Plc, respectively.
Speaking during the investigative hearing into the activities of Equinor with respect to the OML 129 frowned at the inability of the company to effectively operate the asset as well as breach of extant laws, thereby resulting in loss of revenue to the Federation.
He said: “Why I’m saying this is because you had a period of exploration that elapsed and you did not bring anything to production. You have the OML phase to date, you told us here on oath that you’re still exploring. For all intents and purposes, I wouldn’t renew the license to you, I was to be the commission. I wouldn’t do that because you have not been able to meet those terms after 30 years.
In his response, Equinor’s Chief Financial Officer, Mr Charles Nwoko acknowledged that the company which acquired the 30 years licence obtained in 2013 will expire this year.
He said: “The 30 years is expiring this year. So, like I said earlier, the OPL phase was when you prospect. The OML phase which I said is where we are now expires this year and we have approached NNPC with a view to having that OML extended or renewed, that’s where we are now.
” While we are discussing we work with NNPC on this and we carry them along. In 2013 we entered into a pre-unitisation arrangement in which NNPC was part. As I said, that was operated by SNEPCO a Shell Company, so there is nothing we’ve been doing that NNPC is not part of.
He explained that the company is looking at the most commercially viable way so that the company can bring value to the Nigerian government and earn profit as a contractor in operation.
Speaking further, Hon. Gbillah who observed that the company does not have the capacity to operate the Deep Offshore asset, maintained: “It can also be that you don’t have the capacity to be able to operate that facility especially since it is gas because we have to understand what it will require to do gas deep offshore. So, perhaps that is the problem you are having,” he noted.
While dismissing the insinuation, Mr Nwoko said: “No, that’s not it Mr Chairman. As I said, Shell is the operator in the pre-unit phase and we are working with Shell on that. And as you know, you did acknowledge that it’s deep offshore discovery because we do not have the facility to aggregate gas, it’s not like oil that is more fungible, gas is not as fungible as oil. So,
“it surpasses a more complex process and that’s why we are looking at what is optimal because you know the pricing of gas is based on the current terms we have in Nigeria we have to look at what is economical. At the end of the day, it’s about getting value for the government and getting value for the stakeholders. So that’s where we are.”
While noting that there is no gas in the PSC, he argued that: “the expectation is that the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) will address that but the PIA does not still address that. That’s part of the challenge we have.”
When asked to explain why PIA did not address the concern, Mr Nwoko said: “It didn’t address in terms of what we call willing buyer, willing seller in terms of the market determining price, those were not clearly set out in PIA.”
Mr Nwoko who affirmed that the Gas Flare Commercialisation roadmap is part of what the Federal Government is progressing on noted that the initiative was aimed at putting an end to gas flaring.
He however noted that: “But in terms of what we have as gas development for Deep Offshore Field, that has not been addressed. Nut as I said, we are working on this looking at the most appropriate concept, commercially viable both for us and the government that can help us develop that discovery.
” We are on it, we have been talking to the government to understand that like NNPC usually say, we are in the decade of gas, that is part of the motivation for what we have been doing.”
Speaking further, Mr Nwoko who affirmed that the oil company is owned by the Norwegian Government, said: “We’ve been instrumental to the development of oil and gas in Nigeria as well as capacity development.
“We’ve had an extensive relationship with NPD – Norwegian Petroleum Directorate and DPR as was then and of course building capacity. So, it is something that we are mindful of and we have concerns about this. So, it’s not that we have been sitting on our arms and not doing anything. We are working tenaciously on this.”
In his reaction, Hon. Gbillah said: “Yes, we appreciate that and which is why it is surprising when we know that the Norwegian Government is a key shareholder, your company that they are not investing their Sovereign Wealth Fund that seems to be amassing daily towards production that would of value to us as a country.
“You can see where the world is going, we are going in the gas direction and we have this kind of asset that for 30 years nothing has happened on. So, it’s can be the decision of this Committee to NNPC not to further renew to Equinor because we have not seen the capacity being displayed.
“We need the influx of resources that can immediately be of benefit to the country. We keep going cap-in-hand looking for funds here and there and we have this type of asset that is not being attended to.
“So, this is something that we have to take note of. Before we ask you further questions, we are dwelling on this so that you’ll understand. This still boils down to the resources we are losing as a country as well,” Hon. Gbillah stressed.
The lawmaker while scrutinizing the document submitted by the Equinor representative, expressed concern over some of the documents that were not signed nor stamped, while others did not show the codes.
Speaking further, Hon. Gbillah who noted that the PIA address specific regulation, noted that there is currently a gas policy that has been initiated by the commission, hence wondering why Equinor failed to explore the opportunities.
He added that after the Road Show, some companies have started submitting expressions of interest to the Commission.
To this end, the Committee resolved to request information bothering on Equinor’s annual obligation and compliance with the statutory requirements.
Hon. Gbillah also requested documents such as proof of Pre-shipment certificates, Q88 form, names and statements of accounts where proceeds of crude oil sold are deposited, stock certificate, copies of procurement details, details of cargoes, date of crude lifting, quantity, destination, and type of crude lifted, among others, which are to be submitted by next week Wednesday.