NNPC, “a criminal enterprise” as 100 million barrels oil goes missing in 2019

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Abuja, Nigeria – More than 100 million barrels of crude were unaccounted for by Nigeria’s state oil company in 2019, its lawmakers have discovered while reviewing a report from the country’s auditor-general.

According to local media reports on Wednesday, the findings were recently discovered during a joint session of the committees on public accounts in both houses of parliament, to evaluate the report.

In the report, the office of the Auditor-General for the Federation accused the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC), of failure to account for about 107.2 million barrels of crude oil lifted for domestic consumption in 2019.

“The Group Managing Director of NNPC is requested to provide the complete schedule of allocation of Crude Oil to Refineries from 1st January to 31st December 2019, furnish details of the sale of un-utilized crude oil and reconcile it with the total domestic crude oil of 107,239,436.00 bbls lifted in 2019 and remit amount realised from the sale of un-utilized crude oil to the Federation Account,” the report stated.

It also highlighted discrepancies in the amount remitted, saying the Accountant-General of the Federation said it only received 608,710,292,773.44 naira ($1.4bn) even though the NNPC said it handed over 1,272,606,864,000 naira ($3bn).

The spokesperson for the NNPC did not respond to multiple enquiries from Al Jazeera.

This came just days after Nigeria’s extractive sector watchdog, National Extractive Industries Extractive Initiative (NEITI), said in a report that nearly 100 oil and gas companies operating in Nigeria owed the government 2.6 trillion naira ($6.2bn) in taxes, royalty, and concession on rentals.

Activists and civil society leaders said the auditor-general’s report was evidence of the endemic corruption in the extractive sector.

“That’s almost 25 percent of our national budget in 2019,” Nubari Saatah, a leader at Niger Delta Congress (NDC), a sociopolitical group in the region said by phone. “It just shows the brazenness of the political leadership of the NNPC. This shows how deep the Nigerian state has sunk over the years. A hundred million barrels – that’s almost a quarter [of the] oil production of a nation,” he said.

“You can see the NNPC making announcements day by day that they don’t have money and you can see the effect on the country”, Saatah added. “We don’t even have enough money in our excess crude account at this point in time and it doesn’t seem as if the missing millions [was] a one-off event.”

The NDC said it wanted the national oil company’s leadership probed for the operation of “a criminal enterprise”.

It was not the first time the NNPC was accused of failing to remit revenue into the federal accounts. In 2018, NEITI alleged that the national oil company failed to remit $16.8bn paid reportedly to it as dividends by the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Limited to the federation accounts.

Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer lifts a daily average of 1.5 million barrels of crude, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, despite having a maximum capacity to produce 2.5 million barrels per day.

The country has been struggling to stem rampant crude theft in an economy that relies on oil for its foreign exchange. Nigeria loses about 150,000 barrels of oil per day to individuals who illegally tap pipelines crisscrossing the Niger Delta region, according to government records.

This means that the nation of 200 million people, half of whom live in poverty, could lose more than $4bn a year to oil theft, using current prices.

In recent weeks, fuel shortages have also crippled small businesses and disrupted domestic flight schedules in Africa’s largest economy.

“This is where the economy is sick,” Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, director of Abuja-based non-profit Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) told Al Jazeera. “Rather than the price of fuel to come down, fuel has become more and more expensive and this is due to rampant oil theft, both of the crude and refined products”, he said.