The House of Representatives has initiated an enquiry into allegations that the Ministry of Petroleum Resources failed to remit the $1.092bn signature bonus realised from the sale of an oil block covered by Oil Prospecting Licence (OPL) 245 to Shell/ Agip Consortium and Malabu Oil and Gas Limited to the Federation Account.
Signature bonuses are monies realised from the sale of OPL to oil companies.
The funds realised from such sales by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation on behalf of the government are expected to be remitted to the Federation Account as stipulated in section 162 of the 1999 Constitution.
Eyebrows had been raised in the oil industry about the deal as the money collected from the Shell/Eni venture was reportedly paid into accounts controlled by Malabu Oil, which is owned by the Minister of Petroleum Resources during the Sani Abacha era, Chief Dan Etete and then shared among powerful individuals that facilitated the deal.
Etete, who was convicted of money laundering in France in 2007, had had a running battle with the government after the oil block was seized by the Obasanjo regime.
An international watchdog Global Witness had queried the deal in May asking why the Federal Government, acting as obligor, agreed that the sales proceeds be transferred to Malabu.
Both Shell and ENI have denied paying any money to Malabu Oil and Gas in respect of the licence and suggest that their agreements were only with the Nigerian Government, according to court documents filed in New York.
The Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Bello Adoke, had however been quoted as stating that Shell and and ENI “agreed to pay Malabu, through the Federal Government acting as an obligor, the sum of US$1,092,040,000 in full and final settlement of any and all claims, interests or rights relating to or in connection with Block 245.”
Reports have also claimed that the Nigerian government has instructed the release of almost 80 per cent of the funds paid for OPL245 (US$801,540,000) into accounts controlled by Malabu, and that this money was subsequently shared through a set of complex corporate structures to accounts owned by a number of Nigerian companies and individuals.
The deals were reportedly arranged by lawyers and consultants hired by Malabu.
But the Ministry of Finance and its agencies – Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, the Accountant- General of the Federation’s Office and the Ministry of Petroleum and its relevant agencies, which had been invited to clear the air on the allegation, did not turn up at a two-day investigative hearing that began yesterday with relevant documents to aid the panel with its enquiry.
House Deputy Leader, Hon. Leo Okuweh Ogor, who is also the Chairman of the panel investigating the transaction between the Federal Government and the consortium, however said the ad hoc committee “would get to the root of the allegations.”
At a post-hearing press briefing, Ogor told journalists that the ministries of finance and petroleum resources held key documents that would aid the ad hoc committee in its enquiry into the allegations.
He said: “The committee is not very happy that the ministries of finance and petroleum did not make presentations before the committee, bearing in mind that we communicated to them about this issue a long time ago.
“The committee even sent a letter, a long time ago to notify the Ministry of Petroleum to make available documents that would help the committee establish the truth, but yet the ministry came to the hearing without any presentation.
“The Accountant-General of the Federation did not respond to three letters on the OPL 245 and has still not responded.
“The issue of signature bonuses (monies realised from OPLs) should be taken seriously because these signature bonuses are supposed to go into the Federation Account.
“The AGF should wake up to his responsibilities. He is not the Accountant- General of the Federal Government. He is Accountant- General of the Federation.
“The fact remains that we (lawmakers) must find out where the truth is and what happened. It is purely to prepare us for a better society. But we believe in the principle of fair hearing, so we would follow due process.”
Earlier, the Minority Whip of the House, Hon. Samson Osagie, warned the ministries to adopt the culture of respect for letters to them from the National Assembly or risk sanctions.
Osagie noted that the claims by the two ministries that they did not receive letters, asking them to submit relevant information on the said OPL transaction, were false.
He stressed that the alleged disregard for letters from the parliament by the ministries “must not be condoned”.
But the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Dieziani Alison-Madueke, in her defence, told the committee that she could not make a presentation because she was yet to receive the panel’s letter sent to her “since September 19, 2012”.
The Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, represented on the occasion by the Minister of State, Finance, Dr. Yerima Ngama, also said the ministry could not make a submission because it was yet to be properly briefed by the House on what it needed to present before the panel.
Other agencies who were present when the hearing was opened by Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, also failed to make presentations.
It will be recalled that the House had on May 31, 2012 passed a motion and mandated the committee to investigate all issues surrounding the controversial transaction.