Nigeria: N41.9b Subsidy – 18 Angry Firms Launch Legal Battle

From the floor of the House and the public domain, the test of integrity sparked by the subsidy probe report is set for the court room.

Eighteen companies asked to refund over N41.9 billion, have hired a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ozekhome, to lead their legal battle against the House of Representatives and the House ad-hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy.

But House spokesman Zakari Mohammed has said the lawmakers will take the oil marketers to the court of public opinion.

To ensure transparency, Mohammed said, the House will allow major television stations to relay live the debate of the report of the Farouk Lawan led Committee when it begins its consideration tomorrow.

The House may also bar its members from going to the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in Houston, Texas, United States on any marketer’s ticket.

Oil marketers have been bombarding Speaker Aminu Tambuwal and the leadership of the House with requests for visiting appointments, but the lawmakers have shut their doors against them.

A principal officer in the House said all attempts by marketers to use friends and relatives to woo the Speaker and frustrate the debate of the Committee’s report have failed.

The source said: “To stave off pressure, the Speaker decided to honour all social engagements outside Abuja.

“And all his phone calls are limited to key aides, associates and friends. He believes Nigerians must get to the root of the fuel subsidy scandal. Some of the oil marketers, who have relocated to Abuja since Friday, have not had access to the Speaker.

“And the Speaker’s aides and those of other principal officers have been cautioned against any act that could jeopardise the debate.”

It was also learnt that some oil marketers are offering some members of the House sponsorship to the OTC Summit in Houston.

The trip is one of the strategies being adopted to scuttle the House Ad Hoc Committee’s Report, it is believed.

The principal officer, who spoke in confidence, said: “Although the Houston Conference is an annual event, we may bar members from being sponsored by any oil marketer.

“If it is unavoidable, the House may pick the bill of members.”

Mohammed, who is the Chairman of the House Committee on Media, confirmed the pressure on the leadership.

He said: “Yes, the Speaker and the House leadership have been undergoing tremendous pressure from oil marketers. But we will not compromise with anybody.

“But the Speaker, being a man of his words, will not allow anyone to influence him. They (these oil marketers) will meet brickwalls, if they make any advance.

“As for the House, the House leadership will ensure that the recommendations are debated and implemented. We have decided to transmit our debate live on television stations as from Tuesday so that Nigerians will judge whether the Ad Hoc Committee has done a good job or not.”

The 18 firms threatening to go to court over the report were asked to refund N41, 936,140,005.31.

The report said: “The following companies (18) that participated in the Scheme refused to appear before the committee and never submitted the required documents as was repeatedly announced during the hearing are to refund the various sums against their names.

“It is believed that these companies deliberately refused to appear because they had something to hide. The relevant anti-corruption agencies should ensure full recovery.”

The companies are: Mobil Oil Nigeria (N14.934b); Somerset Energy Services (N3.015b); AX Energy Limited (N1.471b); CAH Resources Association Limited (N1.052b); Crust Energy Limited (N1.192b); Fresh Synergy Oil Limited (N1.417b); Ibafon Oil Limited (N4.687b); Techno Oil (N1.036 b);Oil Bath (N1.019bn); Mut-Hass Petroleum Limited (N1.2bn); Stonebridge Oil Limited (N1.784b); Petrotrade (N1.471b); Lucky Energy (N1.7); Rocky Energy (N1.620b); Lottoj Oil (N1.427b); Oakfield Synergy Network Limited (N988m); Prudent Energy and Services Limited (N1.360b); Nepal Oil and Gas Service (N2.353b).

According to Ozekhome (SAN), who spoke with reporters on the phone last night, the firms will “sue for over N100 billion damages”.

He said: “Most of these oil firms were never invited by the House Ad Hoc Committee but they were indicted.

“I will lead the team; the oil firms have reached out to me. In as much as I am against corruption and that those who mismanaged the oil sector should be dealt with, I also believe there must be fairness and justice.

“I am also a lawyer; I owe an obligation to the legal profession to ensure justice. Even God gave Adam and Eve fair hearing in the Garden of Eden. These companies were neither invited nor interacted with in any manner.”

The office of the Accountant-Genera of the Federation also took exception to the House report which asked it to explain the over payment of NNPC subsidy receipts by N1.205 billion.

In a statement, the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) Mr J. O. Otunba said his office is not involved in the operation and management of accounts for government agencies.

But, to Mohammed, the oil marketers are “afraid”. Well, we are in a democratic process; they are free to go to court,” he said, adding:

“Nigerians have given us a duty, we have discharged it creditably. We will start debating the report from Tuesday. So, we are also taking them to the court of people’s opinion.”

Culled: The Nation

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