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Reps Begin Investigation Of ‘Missing’ $1bn Oil Prospecting Licence Bonuses

The House of Representatives has begun investigation of the allegedly missing $1.1billion signature bonuses which accrued to the country from Oil Prospecting Licences (OPLs).

Consequently, the House has invited the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr Godwin Emefiele; the group managing director, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation NNPC), Dr Maikanti Baru, and the executive secretary, Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Mr Mordecai Baba Ladan to come and explain the whereabouts of the money.

The chief executives are expected to appear before the ad-hoc committee of the House on Oil Prospecting Licences (OPLs) and Oil Mining Leases (OMLs) on Monday, February 1, 2017.

The committee yesterday refused to grant audience to representatives of the agencies, as they observed that none of them could present a letter authorising them to represent their chief executives in that capacity.

The committee particularly complained that the CBN boss had ignored the three letters it had written to the apex bank and threatened to issue a warrant of arrest on Emefiele should he fail to appear before it as scheduled.

Chairman of the committee, Hon. Gideon Gwani, noted that the signature bonuses paid by owners of some OPLs, which amounted to over $1billion, could not be traced.

According to Gwani, all efforts to trace the money were futile as the DPR, CBN, Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF), NNPC and the accountant-general’s office denied the committee details of the transaction.

He explained that the DPR could not confirm if the fees claimed to have been paid by the oil companies had actually been received by the government through the CBN, the banker to the federal government.

“It has been realised through our investigation that we need, seriously, evidence to prove that signature bonuses are paid,” he said.

Gwani stated further that the DPR advised the committee to request the information directly from the CBN, while the CBN told the committee to liaise with the NNPC on OPLs and OMLs, with the DPR on royalties, and with the accountant-general of the federation on signature bonuses.

The committee established that signature bonuses amounting to $835 million, which accrued from  OPL 250, 291, 332, 276, 321,323,283,315, 257, 279, 285, 288, 298, 471, 289, 284 and 236, as well as part payment of $271.18 million signature bonuses  from OPL 214, 324, 320, 318, 256, 242, 223, 221, 245, 247, 322, 248 and 249, could not be traced.

“We need evidence that full payments were made for OPLs 250, 291, 332, 276, 321, 323, 283, 315, 257, 279, 285, 288, 298, 471, 289, 284 and 236, and the total amount we are looking for is $835 million.

“We also need evidence of part payments of OPLs 214, 324, 320, 318, 256, 242, 223, 221, 245, 247, 322, 248 and 249, which amount to $271.18 million, leaving the balance of $648.2million,” Gwani said.

Although the committee acknowledged that most of the OPLs had been converted to OMLs, Gwani said they were listed at their state when the transactions took place.

“Most of the OPLs have been converted to OMLs, but we have chosen to list them at the state at which the debt and payment occurred,” he clarified.

The lawmaker explained that the committee was mandated by the House of Representatives to investigate the award of all OPLs and OMLs granted to oil companies by the federal government, to, among other things, ascertain whether due process and guidelines for the acquisition of oil and gas assets were complied with.

“It is, therefore, noteworthy that payment of fees before and after the acquisition of oil blocks fall part of due process required to be fulfilled by the Petroleum Act, which this committee was mandated to investigate, “ he said.

Gwani pointed out that the agencies’ refusal to provide required information spoils the image of government and undermines its fight against corruption, adding that “The development is unfortunate especially at the time when the government is in dire need of money to fund its projects.”

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