Even though some insiders and select few industry persons privy to the latest official stealing think that there is nothing new to the newsbreak on Monday in which the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) reportedly pulled a major fraudulent deal in the sum of USD5million in 2013/2014; for millions of Nigerians the report sufficiently passed for a breaking news.
It is more so, given the shouting headline ‘Senate Orders Arrest Of NIMASA’s Boss, Bashir Jamoh Over $5m Scam’, especially in the light of recurring and disturbing allegations of scams against the Agency, as indeed against the incumbent DG; who is yet to fully recover from a similar ‘news break’ for which the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is believed to be investigating.
One cannot also forget so quickly how NIMASA got embroiled in an alleged humongous fraud during the 2014/2015 presidential elections that earned the Agency the sobriquet of the Peoples Democratic Party ‘PDP ATM’ machine, to which Lai Mohammed and Shehu Garba latched unto to furiously drive the All Progressive Congress (APC) electioneering campaign.
That APC utilized the alleged funding of the PDP at the time by the NIMASA ATM machine narrative to creat a major rumpus for the PDP, as one of the pillars upon which its eventual defeat was laid.
It is perhaps more than mere coincidence that yet another gigantic NIMASA fraud has been ‘unearthed’ by The Senate, that political tribe renown for raising the alarms and consistently failing to conclude investigations or responsible for making any recovery. An online news medium reported that the senate committee on public account had launched a probe on how NIMASA paid $5 million to a law firm as professional fee for the recovery of $9.3 billion loss.
According to the report, the $5 million was supposed to be part of the five percent commission for the job, which is the intelligence based tracking of the global movement of Nigerian Hydro-Carbon and recovery of losses to the tune of $9.3 billion between 2013 and 2014.
Chairman of the committee, Matthew Urhogbide, said the senate decided to call for the arrest of the DG NIMASA for refusing to appear before the panel to explain the observed fraud. Findings also indicate that NIMASA may have refused to share information on the criminal deal with the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation.
Senator Urhogbide was quoted as saying: “we have invited NIMASA up to three times, but they have failed to honor our invitations, this Committee has no other option to issue warrant of arrest against the Director General of the agency.
“They can come to the National Assembly for the apportion of fund, but when it is time to give account they will be nowhere to be found.”
However, barely 24 hours following the news of the senate demand for his arrest, Jamoh led NIMASA issued a press statement that the deal under investigation was an order from the presidency it was obliged to carry out.
Some analysts think Jamoh’s clarification has effectively nullified the ‘warrant of arrest’ and have also put at abeyance the demand to appear before the senate committee; having pleaded its case in the public court.
But there is more to the story than the ‘cat and dog’ posturing between the lawmakers and the maritime regulatory apex body, and more than the Senate and NIMASA are willing to admit or share with the general public; as these sorts of rat race merely seek to obfuscate the facts.
Nigerians should enjoy better and improved representation than is currently being offered, while few smart alecs continually and mercilessly burgle the public treasury; while the system expeditiously writes off these financial plundering by trick of mutual affinity; which the offhand explanations by NIMASA suggests in this particular instance.
PRESIDENCY AND THE $5M FRAUD
So far, the official explanations have been one of apology and subtle dither to whittle down this case of fraud as several hundreds of others before and after it. In this particular instance, the federal government was said to be acting on a report about observed steady decline both in its hydrocarbon exports revenue and remittances; supposedly due to ineffective monitoring.
Therefore, the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation (OAGF) purportedly on the directive of the Presidency (as an amorphous framework for unquestioning misappropriation of public funds), directed NIMASA to institute a probe of the international oil companies (IOCs) said to be involved in the alleged under declaration and under remittances of crude oil exports.
On the surface, the presidency is on a high moral ground to feel concerned about such developments and to issue special directive calculated at stemming such decline and making expected recoveries. Should the case be one of false alarm intended to swindle as all indications have shown in this particular instance, the law of evidence demands full reparation, and demands identification of faces.
Under the circumstances, the anonymous appendages such as the presidency and the OAGF must fall away so that the actual faces to the nebulous claims can be unveiled; as a logical conclusion to a matter of public investigation. This is the story behind the story, and except this is done, we are all complicit.
The presidency is made up of known departments and offices, so is the office of the auditor general of the federation. It is no longer news that Aso Rock has for a long time already falling into the hands of scammers; this ongoing senate probe should put a face to every action and possibly every lie.
It was speculated that President Goodluck Jonathan was the recipient of the 2014/2015 NIMASA ATM, and the matter died. This $5million questionable professional fee should not be allowed to be swept under the carpet in similar manner. So far the Agency has said that its action was based on a January 29 2014 presidential directive, following which it hired a consortium of Five Legal Firms based in the United States of America to handle the brief.
Since the matter is already being investigated, it is pertinent that the presidential memo be made public so that specific issues are understood; for instance the official authority and or legality for making upfront fee payment to the investigative team.
Explaining away the $5million fraud under a curios subhead, NIMASA traced the issue back to 2013 when the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice in a letter dated 29th November 2013, conveyed a memo by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, dated 19th day of November 2013, for the engagement of Technical Experts and Legal Team to provide intelligence gathering based tracking of Nigeria’s Hydrocarbon; in addition to recovering related lost revenue.
The memo reads in part: “In furtherance of realizing the objective, the Honourable Attorney – General of the Federation and Minister of Justice in that letter of 29th day of November 2013, conveyed to the Agency, the President’s approval of the appointment of a Legal Team, retained to provide legal services and representation for and in relation to the intelligence-based tracking and gathering of global movement of Nigerian Hydrocarbon and Recovery of Revenue lost by the Federal Government.
“The Agency on the 24th day of January 2014, conveyed the approval of the President to the Legal Team/Retained Counsel of their collective appointment/engagement as conveyed to the Agency by the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
“Consequently, the Federal Government of Nigeria, represented by the Agency, by a retainership agreement, retained the services of a Legal Team comprised five (5) Law Firms with three (3) Senior Advocates and other lawyers as well as a Technical Team. The current Honourable Attorney-General under his hand, increased the Legal Team to Seven (7) Law Firms to work with the Technical Team based in Houston United States to prosecute the matters in Court. The effective date of the appointment of the Legal Team was 29th day of January 2014, covering an initial period of 10years.
“The Legal Team was paid Professional/ legal start-off fee of US5,000,000 (Five Million US Dollars) (NGN741,904,761.28 at an exchange rate of NGN164 to a USD as of the date) which formed part of the legal fees and costs due to the Legal Team and deductible from the payment due to the Legal Team/Retained Counsel upon the conclusion of the Project.”
NIMASA did not say whether it is the lawful practice to make initial advance payment to a technical team for the purposes of financial and revenue recovery; the Agency merely stated it has since commenced legal action against affected IOCs; without stating what actions has been taken to also recover the controversial fee in question.
“The Agency is aware the Legal Team had filed several suits which are at various stages, both at the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal. Some of the suit pending at the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal (Lagos Division) are as follows:
SUIT NO. FHC/L/CS/318/2016 – FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA V CHEVRON NIGERIA LTD & ANOR.
SUIT NO. FHC/L/CS/359/2016 – FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA V TOTAL E & P NIGERIA LTD
SUIT NO. FHC/L/CS/339/16 – FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA V SHELL WESTERN SUPPLY AND TRADING LTD & SHELL PETROLEUM DEVELOPMENT COMPANY OF NIGERIA LTD – Alleged crude oil theft: Court to hear $406.7m case against Shell;
“SUIT NO. FHC/L/CS/1748/16 – FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA V. CNOOC EXPLORATION & PRODUCTION NIGERIA LTD
SUIT NO: FHC/L/CS/1465/17 – FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA V. STAR DEEP WATER PETROLEUM LTD
APPEAL NO: CA/L/PRE/ROA/353MI/2020 – CHEVRON PETROLEUM NIG. LTD V FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA
APPEAL NO. CA/L/54/18 – FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA V TOTAL E & P NIGERIA LTD
APPEAL NO. CA/LAG/CV/825/19 – FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA V NIGERIA AGIP OIL COMPANY LTD
APPEAL NO. CA/LAG/CV/824/2019 – FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA V BRASOIL OIL SERVICES COMPANY NIGERIA LTD
APPEAL NO: CA/LAG/CV/215/2022 – FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA V CNOOC EXPLORATION & PRODUCTION NIGERIA LTD
“The Agency is also aware that an Arbitral Award was also obtained against one of the oil companies in favour of the FGN (NNPC/ NPDC) in the sum of USD1.69 Billion as well as got recognition and enforcement order in the Judgment in favour of the FGN (NNPC/ NPD in SUIT NO. FHC/L/CS/947/2019 – NIGERIAN PETROLEUM DEVELOPMENT CO. LTD V ATLANTIC ENERGY DRILLING CONCEPTS NIG. LTD & ANOR on the basis of KPMG forensic report.”
Transparency demands that at this stage, the $5million fee should be juxtaposed with recoveries so far made by the Legal Team, and to decide whether the latter has fulfilled its contractual obligations or otherwise. What does NIMASA think?
According to the Agency, it is getting periodic updates on these matters and also closely monitoring the proceedings which, it says has so far been satisfactory.
Since the report hit town, insinuations have been peddled by certain individuals who wish to weave the wool over the issue by simply attempting to paint it as one of President Jonathan’s deal together with his supposed Ijaw men in NIMASA.
This attempt must fail in the face of the law and rational thinking, as every individual action at the presidency, office of the attorney general, office of the auditor general and NIMASA must count and deem suspect until proven otherwise. Did the OAGF acted in utmost good faith in escalating the specific and general desires of Mr. President to NIMASA?
There are many more questions to ask. Did NIMASA fail in correctly executing the presidential directive given to it? Who and who in NIMASA did what and how? Were all the actions taken by NIMASA in sync with the spirit and letters of the AGF on the issue? Who went out of the scale of concern? People must take responsibility and stop hiding under legitimate actions initiated by the presidency on the state of the nation.
Office holders and political appointees exist to support the president to achieve purposeful growth of the system, politically, economically, socially, diplomatically and otherwise. It is fallacious to pretend to cast a presidential memo on a do-or-die directive stone.
Appointees have the right to reject presidential memos that runs counter to national security and safety; indeed, appointees have the right to voluntary retirement if they find their positions compromised by superior or presidential memos.
So far, NIMASA says it acted in line with special directives and followed due process, it is however not clear whether the advance part payment made to the contractor is in line with the due process; and in line with the said presidential directive. It is also not clear whether the senate’s demand for the DG NIMASA to appear before it has been foreclosed and or overtaken by developments.
What is perhaps obvious is that certain individuals involved in this deal are still serving and active in pivotal roles in this present government, bridging the distance between the Jonathan and the Buhari presidency.
They all have a duty to help this senate investigation, nay, public investigation; anything short of that will deny Nigerians the opportunity of the whole story.