By David Odama
Worried by the revelation loosing. over $10bn as a result of the alleged fraud being perpectuated in the nation's oil supervising organ and consequent upon the alleged high level of mismanagement of the revenue accrued to the federal government, the Senate, has resolved to investigate the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachichukwu and the Director, Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, Mr. Mordecai Ladan to account for the irregularities allegedly being perpetrated in the ministry following the ongoing oil and gas leases renewal that is denying the federal government of $10bilion excess revenues.
The upper legislative chamber has therefore mandated its Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream) to carry out thorough investigation on the issues, identify appropriate measures to correct the alleged anomalies and report back.
This resolution was sequel to a motion sponsored by the committee chairman, Senator Omotayo Alasoadura (APC Ondo Central) and three others during plenary on the irregularities in the oil and gas lease renewal and massive loss of government revenue”,
Senator Alasoadura, while leading the debate noted that the alleged irregularities being perpetrated by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and Department of Petroleum Resources in the ongoing lease renewal process is capable of denying government revenue in excess of $10billion as a result of illegal discounts and rebates in the process of lease renewal.
He added that the DPR “has willfully and deliberately refused to provide the Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources Upstream with relevant information and data related in the ongoing lease renewal”.
The chairman disclosed that the committee has since December 2017 been inundated with plethora of petitions and complaints and has sou motu observed that there are multiplicity of irregularities surrounding the ongoing renewal of oil and gas leases being undertaken by the minister and DPR.
According to him, the minister “is granting all manners of illegal discounts and rebates in the process of the ongoing renewal of the leases”, adding that such action “is capable of shortchanging the country and denying the Federation the appropriate revenue accruable from the renewal of the said leases”.
The minister, he added “is proceeding to renew leases of companies that have brazenly and illegally refused to pay royalties due to government from oil and gas lifted by the said companies in contravention of extant laws”.
Senator Alasoadura noted that under the provision of extant laws, failure to pay royalties is a ground for revocation of leases and a legal barrier to renewal of applicable leases.
The lawmaker further informed that there is a subsisting legal framework and due process mandated by extant law for the renewal of leases that are due for renewal and therefore wondered why the minister and DPR “have deliberately, willfully and brazenly decided to depart from subsisting legal framework and due process”.
Contributing, Senator Shehu Sani (APC Kaduna Central) said the motion was an indication of the rot in the oil and gas industry, pointing out that $10billion is huge revenue that the country could not afford to lose.
“From the substance of this motion, it is very clear that the Minister of State has in every possible way been engaged in acts that contravene the law. Over a year ago, he wrote an open letter raising issues about transparency and impunity in the oil sector.
“The issue of lease is something that has been on the front burner of national discourse in the last few weeks, and what this parliament can do is to once and for all bring the Minister to make a clarification of the actions he has taken as $10billion is no small amount of money. I am of the believe that if we can get to the root of this matter, it will also open other cans of worms”.
Also, Senator Rafiu Ibrahim (APC Kwara South) said: “The only observation I have on this motion is that, for the fact that Mr. President is the Minister of Petroleum Resources, maybe that is why this motion is not mentioning the Minister of Petroleum Resources.
But we are aware that the Minister of State ordinarily does not have the final approval for this type of case. There is a board of NNPC, the ministry and it is out there - though it has yet to be substantiated - that the Chief of Staff to the President is a member of the board and is literally in charge of the board and the ministry.
“I will just want the prayer to expand those to be called in the investigation. It is in the rumour mill that the Chief of Staff is in charge of the NNPC and the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, so that the minister cannot just come and say he is not the one in charge.
“In our law, there is no space for 'Minister of State,' so a minister of state cannot give a final approval”.
In his remarks, the deputy senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary, charged the Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream) to carry out thorough investigation on all issues relating to the oil and gas leases renewal before the planned public hearing on the matter.
He emphasized on the need for proper oversight by the committee and other ones, saying “what matters most in cases like this is transparency in our oversight functions”.
The deputy senate president also enjoined every regulatory and enforcement agencies to always discharge their responsibilities with a view to ensuring transparency in governance irrespective of those involved.