TOO BIG TO VEIL

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Remi Adebayo writes that the statement credited to Minister of State, Petroleum Resources on the $62b owed to Nigeria by IOCs is unguarded

For 48 hours, last August, President Muhammadu Buhari was locked in a marathon session with his newly-appointed ministers, presidential aides and top government functionaries, including key officials of the legislature, to articulate clear directions for his second term in office.

There was no mistaking the seriousness in the president’s determination to make a more lasting impact on the country’s socio-economic fortunes and especially reduce the pangs of poverty on Nigerians through good governance generally, but more specifically by providing the people with the basic comfort of living.

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· Indeed, President Buhari, while delivering his closing remarks at the two-day retreat at the Banquet Hall of the State House in Abuja, urged ministers in particular to give their best to deliver on the mandate of his government for a more prosperous Nigeria.

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· “Public service is not easy work, and at times it can be thankless. I am therefore charging you all to see this opportunity to serve as an honour, to give your best to deliver on this mandate, for a more prosperous Nigeria, not for some, but for all Nigerians,” Buhari said.

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· Despite these entreaties, how does one rationalise the statement credited to Mr. Timipre Sylva, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and widely published in many newspapers on October 17, titled: ‘Why FG can’t recover $62 Billion from International Oil Companies?’ While answering questions from State House correspondents at the end of the Federal Executive Council meeting presided over by President Buhari the previous day, Mr. Sylva reportedly drew the curtains, albeit unilaterally, on the hope of recovering the $62b owed to Nigeria by international oil companies.

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· “Let us consider that as a lost opportunity, the money was not in a cupboard, they have taken it. Nobody can bring out that kind of money. I mean we can’t get $62 billion”, said the minister with gusto!

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· If the above statements were indeed made by Mr. Sylva, then it is unfortunate. It is unbecoming of a minister to assume the role of the mouthpiece and insider representative of the oil companies against the economic interest of his own country. Such unguarded statements must be regarded as nothing but pure economic sabotage.

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Since 2003 when the price of crude oil exceeded $20 per barrel, real terms, the oil companies involved in deep offshore contracts with the federal government, represented by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, have plundered Nigeria’s economy by surreptitiously colluding with regulatory insiders in the oil and gas industry to avoid adjusting the share of the federation in the additional revenue accruing under the production sharing contracts all through the years and up till today.

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· In a consent judgment in SC/964/2016 between Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom States against the federal government, the Supreme Court on 17 October 2018, was emphatic in its pronouncement. The apex court had ordered the federal government “to adjust the share of the government of the federation in the additional revenue under all the production sharing contracts in Nigeria’s oil industry with the Inland Basin and Deep Offshore areas as approved by the federal government from the respective times the price of crude oil exceeded $20.00 per barrel in real terms and to calculate in arrears with effect from August 2003 and recover and pay immediately all outstanding statutory allocations due and payable to the states arising from the said adjustments.”

The above is a clear order of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Its implications are salutary on the economic fortunes of the country. The entire federation is the ultimate beneficiary and every individual, including the minister, and all corporate bodies doing business in Nigeria are bound to obey and enforce the order of court.

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· One therefore wonders why the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources will stand logic on its head and seek to overrule the Supreme Court on a debt already recognized by the apex court and ordered to be recovered. As directed by the Supreme Court, the federal government in December, last year, raised a joint committee comprising the best technical, accounting and legal experts to calculate and advice the federal government on the outstanding and unpaid difference, inclusive of interests, over the years owed by the oil companies to Nigeria, hence the $62 billion claim.

· The outstanding legitimate accruals and interests in the utmost best interests of Nigeria have been duly calculated and due to be paid by the oil companies to Nigeria. It is therefore surprising that a minister in this administration will describe efforts to enforce equity and legal adjudication by the federal government as a wild goose chase; or an exercise in futility for the government to recover the debt already legitimately ascertained as ordered by the highest court of the land.

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· It is on record that Mr. Timipre Sylva was Special Adviser to the Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, Mr. Edmund Maduabebe Daukoru at a time when this debt arose in favour of the federal government. Indeed, he was in a position to advise his boss at the material time to recover this debt from the oil companies. Did Mr. Sylva deliberately neglect and shut his eyes against this obligation?

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· It is therefore a cause for grave concern that the minister who swore an oath to defend the interests of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will turn round and say it will be impossible for the federal government to recover the outstanding debts.

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· More than a week after his gaffe, Sylva has not denied the statements ascribed to him. In the event that he was quoted correctly, that will be most unfortunate – a slap on the face of a government he is part of which initiated the recovery process for the overall interest of the country in general and his own state, Bayelsa in particular.

Adebayo is the executive director, Accountable Leadership for Better Nigeria Initiative, Abuja

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