The ongoing trial of Jide Omokore and others continued on Wednesday at a Federal High Court in Abuja, where the Managing Director of NPDC, Yusuf Matashi, the star witness of the prosecution, was cross examined by the Counsel to Omokore, Lawal Rabana, SAN. According to Rabana, Matashi’s testimony, with documents from NPDC is Shows  that the entire transaction was commercial and therefore a civil breach of contract and not criminal. He discusses these issues in this interview with Akinwale Akintunde

What is your reaction to the proceedings in court on Wednesday?
We are very happy about the proceedings yesterday in court. The trial witnessed the Managing Director of NPDC testify and produce so many documents to support his evidence. It is glaring from the documents and evidence, as our position right from day one that this is a commercial relationship between Atlantic Company and NPDC. And that if there is any breach at all it is a breach of commercial transactions, which is either not compliance with the terms of the SAA and there is no sentiments about it. In the oil industry, the players know that when you are talking about cash call arrangement, it doesn’t fall in place automatically the way you expect it. There are times you are able to meet up with the cash call obligations, there are times it is rolled over and as the transactions goes on, reconciliation is made, and payments are made. That is precisely what happened in this case. There is no theft of crude oil by Atlantic or by Mr. Jide Omokore. Every crude lifted is recorded, going by their own documents, giving the names of vessels that lifted it and  the destinations that it was going to, giving the number of barrels that were approved for lifting.

They have all these properly recorded. So, where is the illegality in this?  I think that it is very important that facts are kept as they are. It is a civil breach of contract of which the parties have several times sat down to reconcile the figures that are due to NPDC and also due to the companies that are involved in the transactions. Our position is to allow the reconciliation of figures and the funds to run the SAA; they should allow it to work. Because the impression people are having is that the man stole crude oil and took the money away. Fortunately, such a thing is not possible going by their own documentation. It is not just possible where all the transactions are documented in black and white.  And all the documents came from NPDC. The documents they brought to court emanated from them.

So, our position has always been that it is a commercial relationship and we agreed that there had been breach in terms of meeting up the cash call obligations. And we have also demonstrated, several times, willingness to pay the reconciled sum, but in between that came the petitions to EFCC.  And our position has not changed, it is a commercial transaction and we are ready to meet up the obligations.

So who is the author of the petition?
Initially from records, some NGOs wrote about the allegations targeted at the then Minister of Petroleum Resources,  Diezani Alison Madukwe  but thereafter, the Minister herself  wrote inviting EFCC to investigate the allegations. And that was what kick-started all these, but while that was on, every meeting or efforts to reconcile records and bring more investors was stalled.

So, how much is the reconciled figures? We hear a lot of figures being mentioned, like $1.8 million and all that?

They are just bringing confusing figures. The Managing Director of NPDC himself said, from records and that he cannot state exactly how they came about the calculations, the outstanding money is $1.250 billion.
When the question was asked specifically by one of my colleagues, the man said he was not privy to the calculations; he doesn’t know how they came about it but it is in the records. And these were the issues right from day one, the entry fees is assessed based on parameters and it would have been a different thing if our client is saying no, we are not owing you, we didn’t lift oil, then you can now sue but that shouldn’t be where the two parties agreed as to what is outstanding and then agreed to pay.So, why did the case go to court?

That is the question for EFCC or NPDC to explain. It is for them to explain why they chose this line of action because everything was documented, nothing has been left out. The main agreement, the memorandum shows the rights and obligations of parties, and even when there is a breach of payment of cash call. There is nothing secret about the transactions. But as I said earlier on, the transactions were recorded up to the vessels that lifted the crude and up to the destinations that they were delivered. And if you have all these on record, then how do you then begin to talk about oil theft, illegality, 419 and all that?

As Nigerians, we also do not support corruption, we want things to be done properly and when there are documents supporting those transactions, which is civil recovery, you do not have to criminalise anyone and now make it look like every arrangement was planned out. That has been our stand and it will continue to be our stand. But now that the matter is in court we cannot talk about the merit or otherwise. Our line of defense, which is consistent with the documents already brought to court, is that this is a commercial transaction which has no criminal intention or element whatsoever.

The ongoing trial of Jide Omokore and others continued on Wednesday at a Federal High Court in Abuja, where the Managing Director of NPDC, Yusuf Matashi, the star witness of the prosecution, was cross examined by the Counsel to Omokore, Lawal Rabana, SAN. According to Rabana, Matashi’s testimony, with documents from NPDC is Shows  that the entire transaction was commercial and therefore a civil breach of contract and not criminal. He discusses these issues in this interview with Akinwale Akintunde

What is your reaction to the proceedings in court on Wednesday?
We are very happy about the proceedings yesterday in court. The trial witnessed the Managing Director of NPDC testify and produce so many documents to support his evidence. It is glaring from the documents and evidence, as our position right from day one that this is a commercial relationship between Atlantic Company and NPDC. And that if there is any breach at all it is a breach of commercial transactions, which is either not compliance with the terms of the SAA and there is no sentiments about it. In the oil industry, the players know that when you are talking about cash call arrangement, it doesn’t fall in place automatically the way you expect it. There are times you are able to meet up with the cash call obligations, there are times it is rolled over and as the transactions goes on, reconciliation is made, and payments are made. That is precisely what happened in this case. There is no theft of crude oil by Atlantic or by Mr. Jide Omokore. Every crude lifted is recorded, going by their own documents, giving the names of vessels that lifted it and  the destinations that it was going to, giving the number of barrels that were approved for lifting.

They have all these properly recorded. So, where is the illegality in this?  I think that it is very important that facts are kept as they are. It is a civil breach of contract of which the parties have several times sat down to reconcile the figures that are due to NPDC and also due to the companies that are involved in the transactions. Our position is to allow the reconciliation of figures and the funds to run the SAA; they should allow it to work. Because the impression people are having is that the man stole crude oil and took the money away. Fortunately, such a thing is not possible going by their own documentation. It is not just possible where all the transactions are documented in black and white.  And all the documents came from NPDC. The documents they brought to court emanated from them.

So, our position has always been that it is a commercial relationship and we agreed that there had been breach in terms of meeting up the cash call obligations. And we have also demonstrated, several times, willingness to pay the reconciled sum, but in between that came the petitions to EFCC.  And our position has not changed, it is a commercial transaction and we are ready to meet up the obligations.

So who is the author of the petition?
Initially from records, some NGOs wrote about the allegations targeted at the then Minister of Petroleum Resources,  Diezani Alison Madukwe  but thereafter, the Minister herself  wrote inviting EFCC to investigate the allegations. And that was what kick-started all these, but while that was on, every meeting or efforts to reconcile records and bring more investors was stalled.

So, how much is the reconciled figures? We hear a lot of figures being mentioned, like $1.8 million and all that?
They are just bringing confusing figures. The Managing Director of NPDC himself said, from records and that he cannot state exactly how they came about the calculations, the outstanding money is $1.250 billion.
When the question was asked specifically by one of my colleagues, the man said he was not privy to the calculations; he doesn’t know how they came about it but it is in the records. And these were the issues right from day one, the entry fees is assessed based on parameters and it would have been a different thing if our client is saying no, we are not owing you, we didn’t lift oil, then you can now sue but that shouldn’t be where the two parties agreed as to what is outstanding and then agreed to pay.

So, why did the case go to court?
That is the question for EFCC or NPDC to explain. It is for them to explain why they chose this line of action because everything was documented, nothing has been left out. The main agreement, the memorandum shows the rights and obligations of parties, and even when there is a breach of payment of cash call. There is nothing secret about the transactions. But as I said earlier on, the transactions were recorded up to the vessels that lifted the crude and up to the destinations that they were delivered. And if you have all these on record, then how do you then begin to talk about oil theft, illegality, 419 and all that?

As Nigerians, we also do not support corruption, we want things to be done properly and when there are documents supporting those transactions, which is civil recovery, you do not have to criminalise anyone and now make it look like every arrangement was planned out. That has been our stand and it will continue to be our stand. But now that the matter is in court we cannot talk about the merit or otherwise. Our line of defense, which is consistent with the documents already brought to court, is that this is a commercial transaction which has no criminal intention or element whatsoever.