The old saying “when you fight corruption, it fights back” is currently ringing true for President Muhammadu Buhari’s (PMB) government as his determination to kick corruption out of Nigeria’s national life is being vehemently resisted from home and outside collaborators. Since assuming office PMB has busied himself picking loads of documents on the oil industry and every other source of public income. In his recent visit to the United States, the President told a gathering of Nigerians in the US and Canada that officials of previous governments stole as much as one million barrels of crude per day, vowing to retrieve every kobo of those illegal accumulation to run his government.
During the course of on-going scrutiny, the President heard that senior government officials actually deploy the services of ships ferrying official crude overseas to also deliver their stolen portion. To verify this, a list of vessels employed by Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was collated while their owners were called upon to submit loading and offloading documents. This would have enabled government to verify if actually all moneys accruable from crude sales was deposited into government coffers. From the first set of freight companies contacted, a whooping 113 refused to submit such documents for verification.
In a bid to clampdown on all forms of corruption in the oil sector, President Buhari himself a former Minister of Petroleum at meetings with top hierarchy of NNPC management and the Ministry of Petroleum Resources expressed concerns over the huge impact of crude oil theft on the country’s economy. He said leaders of developed countries where some of the loots were kept had been contacted to assist Nigeria to freeze such accounts. “We are now looking for evidences of shipping some of our crude, their destinations and where and which accounts they were paid into and in which country. When we get as much as we can get, as soon as possible, we will approach those countries to freeze those accounts and go to court, prosecute those people and let the accounts be taken to Nigeria” Buhari explained.
Even as the nation continues to suffer huge losses in revenue due to massive oil theft, Nigeria’s light sweet crude has fallen to $50.10 per barrel. This is below the approved $53 per barrel benchmark for crude oil in Nigeria’s 2015 budget. More so, the international monetary fund has said that the declining crude oil prices will have severe impact on Nigeria’s economy.
The ban followed a directive contained in a memo dated July 15, 2015 by the Group General Manager, Crude Oil Marketing Division, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Gbenga Komolafe, to all terminal operators. Copies of the memo were also sent the Director of the Department of Petroleum Resources; Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration & Safety Agency, and the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service.
Meanwhile, some operators have lauded the ban on the oil vessels saying it will help to check impunity. A former President, Nigerian Association of Petroleum Explorationists who is also the Managing Director, Danvic Petroleum International, Dr. Afe Mayowa noted that by banning the 113 vessels from lifting the country’s crude, the present administration was determined to stamp out corruption, particularly in the oil sector.
Reacting to the ban however, the global oil tankers association has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to lift the ban placed on 113 oil vessels from doing business in any of the 27 oil terminals within the length and breadth of the Nigerian territorial waters. In the protest letter, the association said the ban on 113 oil vessels by NNPC must be lifted immediately as no grounds have been given for the measure.
International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (INTERTANKO), whose independent members own the majority of the world’s tanker fleet, reacted in a letter to NNPC, dated July 22, that there were no “evidence or grounds” given for the ban. “INTERTANKO protests in the strongest possible way that these bans should be lifted with immediate effect until grounds and evidence for the ban have been given to each vessel and vessel owner/operator, and the owner/operator has had an opportunity to respond,” General Counsel Michele White wrote in the letter.
According to Mr White, these ships may have been targeted due to a failure to provide official outturn figures at their last call and/or commercial differences between load and discharge figures for cargo and free water.
Even as INTERTANKO was claiming ignorance of the reasons why NNPC clamped down on its members, the letter admitted “Our current understanding is that these ships may have been targeted due to a failure to provide official outturn figures at their last call and/or commercial differences between load and discharge figures for cargo and free water,” White said in a separate note to members. This may also however be part of a general crackdown by President Buhari on corruption in Nigeria’s maritime, oil and gas, financial services and security sectors, including illegal bunkering and fuel sales.”
The association then claimed that in some cases the ship had not called in Nigeria for several years, or at all. “In others, the ship has changed ownership since her last call in Nigeria. Members have also advised that some oil majors are attempting to introduce charterparty clauses requiring the owner to warrant that the vessel is not subject to any Nigerian bans or restrictions due to failure to report any outturn figures for prior voyages.” INTERTANKO said it had advised members to avoid such a provision.