India protests as NNPC holds N5.2b oil block cash for 9 yearsThere is the N5.2billion ($25m) cash paid by an Indian firm for an oil block nine years ago? This is the puzzle security and anti-graft agencies have been trying to unravel since the Indian High Commission’s alleged failure to get back the money.
Three former Group Managing Directors of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and three directors of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) are likely to be quizzed over the matter.
Indian High Commissioner in Nigeria Ajjampur Ghanashyam said he could not secure an appointment to meet with the immediate past Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke on the refund and modalities for the crude oil supply.
Investigation revealed that Oil and Natural Gas Corp-Mittal Energy Limited of India (OMEL) was one of the 12 firms in the controversial 2007 oil blocks bid round.
The blocks were auctioned on May 12, 2007, about 19 days to the expiration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure.
Ten of the firms won 12 oil blocks at a cost of about $228million.
The firms and amounts paid are: Essar Energy Exp and Prod(Block 226)—$18.5million; Monipulo(Block 231)—$17,999.980million; Conoil(Block 290:—$49,999,975million; Global Energy Coy Limited (Blocks 2009 and 2010)—$11,499,949million; Continental Oil(Block 2007)—$54, 999,982million; Sterline Globl Oil Res(Blocks 2005 and 2006)——$5,150,000million; and Bayelsa Oil Coy(Block 240)—$5,599,949million.
Others are Abbey Court/Coscharis (Block 293) $50,167,510million; Deltagate/ Petrodel (Block 258) $12,500,000million: and Sahara Energy (Block 228) —$2,500,000.
OMEL was also given the Right of First Refusal on Block 250 in exchange for the execution of a feasibility study on a new railroad in the country.
But OMEL’s bid did not sail through after payment of $25million in 2006 for the 2007 bid round.
A top source, who spoke with our correspondent in confidence, said: “The Indian Government has raised issues over this $25million, relevant security and anti-graft agencies are looking into the complaint.
“They have to screen records of payment of signature bonuses, where such revenue had been paid into and if it had been spent.
“This will involve interacting with three ex-GMDs and three or four ex-Directors of DPR on what went wrong and the whereabouts of the said money.”
Another source however said: “I think the government might extend the probe beyond those in NNPC and DPR because signature bonuses are usually paid into Consolidated Revenue Account or what is described as CBN/AGF/FGN Account.
“The DPR does not pay Signature Bonus into any other account other than those specified by the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation. What those at the Executive or ministerial or political authority level did with such bonuses, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has the right to know.
“I know many things went wrong in the past. The accountability process in the oil sector was awkward.”
Claiming that the $25m signature bonus was yet to be refunded, the Indian High Commissioner said: “They (ONGC-Mittal) were not the highest bidder and you cannot blame the government of Nigeria for it or the oil minister at that time for it.
“It was an auction process, we were not bitter. What I raised objection to my interventions with the Nigerian government was that the last time the ONGC-Mittal asked for a concession, they paid a signature bonus of $25 million. And that time, it was in 2006 and 2016 is approaching now and I am still writing, how many ambassadors must have come, tried and gone.
“I am still trying to get back the $25 million. That is not fair enough. For 10 years, you cannot keep that money. What is the value of the $25 million today. This is what I questioned”.
Asked if a formal request had been made, he said: “I have written three times to three GMDs of NNPC but the bonus has not been refunded.”
Ghanashyam said the Indian government would require more transparency and elimination of intermediaries in the oil sector.
He added: “Our relationship is very deep. So, we trust you. To us after the Middle East, normally we will trust someone we have been friends with for a long time. And there are some months we have bought oil from you than Saudi Arabia. Possibly because the quality of your oil is better, possibly because we have more trust in you than somebody else.
“The question is if you keep on telling us to go and buy oil from spot market through agents, it is not something we are comfortable with it.
“We don’t do it with any other African or non-African oil producing country. We buy directly from the government, we will like to do the same thing here.
“We will like to avoid going through intermediaries. We will buy from the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and pay to your Treasury Single Account (TSA). That is the only way you will be comfortable.
“I tried meeting with Madam Diezani Alison-Madueke but I never got an appointment. But the last three GMDs of NNPC whom I have seen know this. They know what India wants.
“It is not that we are looking at it as a complaint. We want to streamline the system so that for future , we don’t have any anxiety.
“We have one of the largest refineries in the world, we need crude oil from everywhere. If you have to start thinking of something every week, every month for crude oil from Nigeria, then you will rather look elsewhere like Angola which is ready to give you two years commitment.
“The price can be at that time the ruling market price. Nobody is saying that you must fix your price from the day of signing the agreement. But once you have the agreement, there is security of supply, there is stability of supply.” -The Nation