• IOCs Owe FG $3bn In Royalties, Taxes When I Left Office – Obono-Obla – Independent Newspaper Nigeria

    Iocs owe fg bn in royalties taxes when i left office obono-obla independent newspaper nigeria - nigeria newspapers online
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    Okoi Obono-Obla is the former head of the defunct Presidential Panel on Assets Recovery. He recently made a startling revelation of gross inaction regarding the recovery of an estimated $69 billion allegedly linked to stolen crude oil proceeds in a Texas-based bank account. In this interview in the aftermath of the revelation, he alleged that as at the time he left office in 2019, some International Oil Companies (IOCs) were owing the Federal Government more than $3bn in royalties, taxes and other funds. CHIBUIKE CHUKWU brings the excerpts.

    It’s over a year since the Buhari government exited the stage, why do you wait till now before coming up with these issues?

    I’ve been talking about these issues even at the early stage of my predicament when Iwas being haunted. If you remember I was granted an interview ina newspaper as far back as October/November 2019. So I’ve been expressing myself and talking about these issues even on my Facebook page. So this is not the first time I’m talking about them. Even July last year, Ialso granted an interview to Nation Newspaper and if I can recall the headline of that interview, it has to do with how Tinubu government can recover some of these monies. So I’ve been talking about them despite the fact that I’ve been subjected to a lot of intimidation and name-calling but I’ve not deterred. There have been tremendous pressure on me since Igranted the interview but I’m not bothered, Ihave been talking, even when Buhari was inpower and they said Iwas a fugitive. I’m not a fugitive. I’ve been inNigeria since December 19, 2019, till today, Ihave been here, living in Abuja.


    2019 till date has been over four years and you have been talking about this; what has been the response from the government?

    It’s left for the government to act upon this. I was suspended from office on August 11, 2019. I’ve done my work and I think the rest is left and lies with the government. Those who were asked to take over my office, those who were asked to take over the cases I was investigating are the rightful people to answer some of these questions on why some of these reports haven’t been implemented because I was sending reports to the Attorney General of the Federation, I was sending reports to the presidential Villa and if they haven’t implemented them, Idon’t know why because I left officesince 2019, it’s almost five years from now.

    Since you left office, you haven’t been called by the government to talk about these issues and the report that your panel wrote hasn’t even been handled inany way. You talked about vessels that were seized by the Nigerian Navy and handed over to your panel; can you give some of these details?

    That was even before the panel was set up. You know I was an aide on prosecution in the office of the Attorney General. There was a job we did as a committee; I was a member of a committee that was appointed by the Navy because they were after some of the people that were indulging in economic sabotage. So a committee was set up and I was a member of the committee. Wike provided what he called the Standing Operating Procedure Manual to help the Navy prosecute those indulging in oil sabotage in the Niger Delta Region. So thereafter a document was handed over to me which had a lot of items the Navy had recovered from those economic saboteurs and I passed the document to the Attorney General and that was the last I heard of it. Shortly after that, I was suspended from office. That document had vessels that were impounded by the Nigerian Navy, crude oil badges and so on. Ieven went on inspection to ascertain that. I went to Lagos, on the high seas. I went to Warri, Iwent to Bonny Island just to verify and after my verification, Ireported to the Attorney General. That was all Iknew about the items and I left office as Isaid earlier on August 11, 2019 and it’s five years now.

    You’re reported as also saying that there are lots of royaltiesfrom international oil companies that haven’t been paid to government; what are the details of these?

    Yes we wanted to recover government assets, as part of the terms of reference of the panel was to investigate public officers who were allegedly involved incorrupt practices or enrich themselves unlawfully, or those who have breached the code of conduct provisions in the constitution, or those who have abused their offices and those who have indulged ineconomic sabotage and if you look at the act that set up the panel, Recovery of Public Assets Provision Panel Act, it also extends to the private sector and not government alone. It’s not exclusively for public officers or public agencies, but also the private sector. So we carried out investigations against some oil companies who were not payingroyalties, who were not paying tax; we found out that a lot of them were owing so much. For example, the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company didn’t pay up to one billion, seven hundred and ninth one, forty five dollars. And then Seplat was owing about thirty three million, four hundred and eighty three thousand dollars. So we found out that a lot of those companies weren’t remitting their money. As of the tone of the investigation, those companies didn’t pay royalties. They didn’t pay taxes and they didn’t also pay concessional rentals to the government as required by law. So we went after them and at the end of my investigation, my report was sent to the appropriate quarters. That was before I leftoffice but I don’t know if those reports have been implemented.

    When you talk of appropriate quarters, can you be specific on this?

    I mean the office of the Attorney General and the president. By the terms and virtue of the provisions of the Act which set up the panel, I was supposed to send my report to the president and Attorney General’s office.

    Since then you said you were cut off?

    I left office; I was removed or will I say suspended and the Federal Ministry of Justice was asked to take over the functions of the panel and that is the last I heard of anything concerning what I was doing. So Idon’t know if the Federal Ministry of Justice went ahead to recover those monies that should have been in the coffers of the Federal Government.

    You also talked about $370m which you described as part of Abacha loot; what happened thereafter?


    I got information from an honest and patriotic Nigerian who knows the Attorney General of the United Kingdom and they made revelation of the money. I said okay, if that is the case, we can recover that money in New Jersey, United States and I gave him the go-ahead to recover that money. We opened an account with the Central Bank and agreed that upon recovery, the money should be sent to the Central Bank. But I got a letter from a private legal practitioner saying the Attorney General said that I should hands off; that it is the officeof the Attorney General that is in charge of international recoveries and so, as an obedient servant, I had to hands off. So I don’t know what subsequently transpired but last week, SaharaReporters wrote a story concerning that and everything was explained in that story. Ileft the office and didn’t know what happened subsequently. Like Isaid earlier, I was asked to stop what I was trying to do for the benefit of the country so I stopped.

    Being a lawyer yourself, what is your take on that line of communication that you are working as an aide to the office of Minister of Justice and a private lawyer sent a letter asking you to stop the process?

    It’s wrong, totally and completely wrong honestly but then that is the way things work here; that is how the system runs and then Iwas having a lot of issues as at then. So many interests were against me because of what I was doing, so Ihad to leave that one. But in all honesty, Ithink it was not proper.

    You said you were having a lot of issues; were they related to the job you were having at hand?

    I was being victimized; for instance, the National Assembly came hard on me because I was also investigating some of their members and a committee was set up. The committee beamed its light on me, it focused on me. There were a lot of harassment from several quarters. So Ihad to advise myself to leave. I really thought it wasn’t proper but I had to leave the matter like that.

    Since you made all these revelations which are very huge, have you felt being under any kind of danger or threat?

    Yes I have been; my family, including my wife, my in-laws, and my friends have all been putting pressure on me not to say anything again but Isay, no. A lot of allegations were made against me, I was painted as a villain and all that. But this is the only way to defend myself, defend my integrity, to tell my story not from propaganda or from government quarters, to really tell Nigerians what transpired, what really happened, what played out and that Iwas just a victim of circumstance. There are infightings and people who are supposed to be speaking in one voice but they were speaking in different tones. So Iwas just a victim. I was helpless and I saw it coming, I wanted to leave but my friends like Ostia Okechukwu, he was the DG of Voice of Nigeria, asked me not to leave that help would come my way but I looked for help, it was not forthcoming until they decided to finally kick me out.

    Let’s go back to the issue of outstanding royalties; how much do you think is still outstanding and how do you think the government can recover that?

     As at when I left, the total owed by all the companies that were involved was over $3 billion. For recovery, Ithink the government can actually recover the sum if they want to. These companies entered into agreement with the Federal Government to payroyalties, to pay concessional rentals; so they are obligated by law to pay these taxesand royalties to the Federal Government of Nigeria, to the people of Nigeria. It is not optional to them because they’re obligated by law. So it’s up to the government to recover these monies from them.

    About the crude oils vessels recovered, you said that you have reports of all of that. What do you think has happened to those vessels and the crude oil?

    Like I told you earlier, when I got the document containing that information, Iforwarded it to the Attorney General’s office and also to the presidency and shortly thereafter, I was kicked out. So I can’t explain what transpired thereafter.  Whatever happened with the report or the content of the document, I don’t know as I’m no more privy to that.

    What was the worth of the crude in the vessels back then?

    You know the vessels are very expensive but in my own laymen’s eyes, I think the contents, the oil are worth billions of dollars. I cannot exactly ascertain because I’m not a professional inthat area but from my layman’s point of view, we’re talking of products worth billions of dollars.

    Can you explain more on how you were removed and what the government should do about the money?

    The circumstance under which I was removed was unfair and that is a fact. Whatever allegation they had against me, they would have invited me to, maybe, give an inventory of all that Iwas doing. It was very unfortunate that my office was sealed and thereafter, they started hunting for me which Ithink was wrong. All my personal effects were seized and my lawyer wrote to them to return my personal effects from my officethat was sealed but they didn’t reply to that letter. What I’ll say is that the country is scandalously poor and we have depreciated infrastructure with hardship everywhere. Our universities are dilapidated and there’s also the challenges of electricity everywhere. There’s a lot of money that can help the government make a difference and I think the government should recover those monies. They should be recovered for the interest of the Nigerian people. Once I leftoffice about five years ago, I have been traumatised by the whole experience, the way I was bartered, the way I was victimized and I was detained for two weeks by the ICPC and the barrage of attacks on my person like somebody calling me a fugitive and another saying I’m an empty vessel. To me I’ll say let’s leave personal attacks and focus on the issue, the issue I have brought to public domain; let’s focus on those issue and leave all these smear campaigns against my person because I left officefive years ago. I’m just narrating my experience as a Nigerian. Everything I said is about helping those who may come out tomorrow to rule this country. It’s not a personal issue but about the country, about how we can make it better and ensure monies are recovered to help ininfrastructure and other areas.

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