IT was revelation galore on Tuesday at the ongoing House of Representatives ad hoc committee probing the actual subsidy on fuel as stakeholders exposed how the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has been handling the nation's oil resources without due process and transparency.
The Nigeria Customs Service (NSC), through its Deputy Comptroller General in charge of tariff, Mr Julius Ndubuisi, declared that all the fuel importation into the country by the NNPC was without valid documents as required by the law of the land.
The Customs chief further revealed that the NNPC had been importing crude oil into the country to service the Kaduna refinery and had not been paying the required duties to the service.
Apart from this, Ndubuisi alleged that all the “mothers’ vessels” that bring fuel into the country normally berth in the neighbouring countries, as their manifests bear ‘Offshore Cotonou,’ ‘Offshore Lome,’ thus making it impossible for the service to know the contents of the products and their countries of origin.
According to him, “smaller vessels are normally used by the NNPC to bring the fuel into the country. We neither board nor rummage the vessels. The products come into the country without the normal form ‘M’ from the Central Bank of Nigeria, to back up the importation, no invoices. What we have is only bill of lading.”
He lamented that NNPC, which was initially paying N3 per litre and later N1.50 kobo per litre as duties to the customs stopped paying since 2002, based on a circular from the Federal Ministry of Finance that the Customs should stop collecting duties on imported fuel, saying that this had led to the loss of about N46 billion revenue, which should have been remitted to the Federation Account.
He equally said that the service was not in anyway connected with the verification and payment of fuel subsidy and was in the dark about the documents being used by NNPC in processing the fuel subsidy claims.
He said that attempts by Customs to make the NNPC to follow due process on importation and exportation of fuel had met stiff resistance, as the NNPC usually claimed that following the rules to the letter would cause fuel crisis in the country.
Ndubuisi, who declared that Customs had all relevant documents to back up its claims against NNPC, advised that the only way out was for the lawmakers to invite the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), to carry out forensic audit of all vessels bringing fuel into the country so as to know the exact quantities that were imported.
Speaking in the same vein, chairman of NEITI, Professor Asisi Asobie declared that the audit report carried out by the agency on NNPC showed that the operations of the corporation lacked transparency and due process, saying that payments for fuel subsidy ought to be made only on the approval of the Accountant General of the Federal, based on the approved price by the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), as against the current practice where NNPC normally deducted directly from the domestic crude oil proceeds before remitting the rest to the Federation Account.
In her submission, the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, while claiming that there was no cabal in the sector, declared that there were sharp practices and manipulations in the importation of fuel into the country by some operators.
In their own submission, both the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) said they could not present any submission on the matter as they were not with the relevant documents at the time they were coming to the public hearing.
However, the chairman of the ad hoc committee, Honourable Farouk Lawan lamented that the shocking revelations emanating from the public hearing were damning and disturbing and had showed clearly that the country was being short-changed due to manipulations and disregard for the law of the land.
Consequently, he announced the committee's resolve to summon both the Minister of Finance, Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and her Petroleum Resources counterpart, as well as other relevant stakeholders, to shed more light on who authorised the payment of over N1.3 trillion as against the N255 billion budgeted for subsidy in 2011.