Understanding Capital Oil/NNPC Tango by Dan Amor - EazyFeeds

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Friday 26 May 2017

Understanding Capital Oil/NNPC Tango by Dan Amor

As expected, the current war of attrition between the Ni­gerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Capital Oil & Gas Industries Limited owned by Dr. Patrick Ifeanyi Ubah, is taking a toll on the political and business interests of the latter. Like everything saturated and coloured with official impunity, the arrest and detention of Ifeanyi Ubah without recourse to the instrumentality of a judicial pro­cess smacks of a barracks code and conspiracy against the law and must be condemned by all well-meaning Nigerians and lovers of democracy.
In spite of itself, the needless dis­pute, which is just an emanation of a two year old business transaction between the acorporation and the oil marketing company, has exposed the soft underbelly of the managers of our econo-political environment. Whereas Capital Oil has presented its aown side of the case to the Ni­gerian public in a recent press state­ment, and even sought redress from a court of competent jurisdiction, the NNPC has resorted to cheap blackmail and the use of the Depart­ment of State Services, DSS, to in­timidate and criminalise Ubah and his organisation.

Dr. Ubah is being held by the DSS on account of an alleged “eco­nomic sabotage” and for “other acts inimical to the security of the country”. Given the claim of Capi­tal Oil that the NNPC is owing it N16billion and the failure of the corporation to deny this claim but has rather curiously withdrawn to the background using the DSS as an attack dog, it is important for the is­sue to be adequately analyzed for the benefit of the reader. As it stands, there is no lack of conspiracy theory as to the emerging diabolic take on Ifeanyi Ubah in view of his recent political affiliation and activities and his intention to run for the Anambra 2017 governorship election sched­uled for November this year. Much as it is believed that Ifeanyi Ubah, like every other Nigerian is entitled to his political opinion and position, his current ordeal is provocative and unnecessary. It must be made abun­dantly cleared that the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria permits all Nigerian citizens, whoev­er they are, and wherever they may be, to hold any political view of their choice without molestation whatso­ever. The provision of fundamental human rights in our constitution is an act of faith which even our po­litical leaders must be determined to uphold to the letter.

If, as claimed by Capital Oil in a statement issued on Monday May 8, 2017, the matter is just a commercial dispute between it and the NNPC, why is the DSS trying to criminalise its chairman, Dr. Ifeanyi Ubah? Ac­cording the oil marketing company, the NNPC is owing it N16billion and has produced evidence to ac­centuate its assertions by articulat­ing the various transactions it had with the corporation for which the NNPC has yet to effect payment of costs and charges amounting to N16billion. Capital Oil has stat­ed, inter alia, that: A. $5,540,000 (N2.2billion) - unpaid berthing fees for NNPC vessels that called at our jetty; B. $2,952,555 (N1billion) - in­voice for chartered vessels to carry out STS operations at Lagos offshore to ferry product (PMS) to storage at the request of NNPC since 2015; C. N1.170 billion - amount owed to Capital Oil & Gas Industries Limited for throughput services from March to October 2016; D. N3.146billion - payment made to NNPC for 26,820 million litres of PMS vide pro-forma invoice N0. 53598 which is yet to be delivered to us; E. N2.0billion payment to NNPC in April to fa­cilitate the release of the Managing Director and engender reconcilia­tion which NNPC reneged on; and F. N6.266billion - N0.80k and N0.40 Jetty Throughput charge on over seven billion litres dispensed for NNPC by Capital Oil.

Now, NNPC’s singular claim is that Capital Oil sold its product amounting to N11billion kept in its (Capital Oil’s) jetty. Therefore, the crux of the matter is that whereas Capital Oil is claiming that the NNPC is owing it N16billion ( which the corporation has not denied), the NNPC, on the other hand is claim­ing that Capital Oil is indebted to it to the tune of N11billion. What this means is that the corporation still owes the oil marketing company N5billion. In more civilised socie­ties where the rule of law reigns su­preme, the two parties, having been operating in apparent mutuality, would have sought for reconciliation of their accounts, and if not satisfied, gone to court. Now, many Nigerians reading between the lines, have as­cribed Ifeanyi Ubah’s ordeal to po­litical underpinnings. What is more! The DSS has flouted court order by refusing to produce Ifeanyi Ubah in court before the Justice Moham­med Idris of the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos on Friday May 12, 2017. The Honourable Justice had ruled in the ex-parte application filed by Ifeoma Esom, counsel to Dr. Ubah to compel his unconditional release from the DSS custody where he has been detained illegally since Friday May 5, 2017.

For most discerning Nigerians, to argue that the nation has transited from one democratic administra­tion to yet another with politicians that lack democratic temperament is to understate the matter. Also for many dispassionate observers, our politicians have started displaying their poverty of commitment to the ideals and values of democracy. No patriotic Nigerian can contest that in all things, national interest or our collective destiny should superim­pose individual or group consid­erations. At a time of grave national unease such as this, politics must be banished from its base and amoral platform, and seen as a game that should create ‘sum mum bonum’ for the citizenry to leave a good leg­acy for future generations. It is here that Ifeanyi Ubah must be remem­bered as the Nigerian businessman who demonstrated an uncommon goodwill to the new administration of President Muhammadu Buhari when he worked against the vested interests of major oil marketers by bailing the country out of an embar­rassing fuel scarcity that would have easily given the government away as having failed from the onset. It has been reported that Ubah was in March invited and detained illegally for one month and made to sign an undertaking to make repayments. Again, it was alleged by his captors that Ifeanyi Ubah had planned to incite industry workers to embark on strike. This allegation has been denied by oil and gas workers. Dr. Ubah who is manifestly seen engag­ing his mind on serious and lawful businesses including sports cannot be the one to incite oil marketers to embark on strike as claimed by the DSS.

The point is that the action of Capital Oil, by selling the NNPC’s product in its custody, even if it had less than edifying motives, would pass the test of scientific validity in­sofar as the NNPC had repeatedly refused to pay up the debt it is ow­ing the oil marketing firm. This is the more reason why the Federal High Court in Lagos had ordered the DSS to show cause why it should not release Ubah unconditionally. Consequently, what was expected of the DSS was a sober and honest advice for the NNPC to seek redress in a court of competent jurisdiction and give hope to prospective for­eign investors who are fast getting disillusioned by a system that has consistently failed to assuage their anxiety. It is common knowledge to most Nigerians the the government had opted for the deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil and gas industry and later reneged on its plan. If Ubah happens to be among the first set of players in the sector to flow ahead its plan, why pun­ish them if it eventually changed its mind? Yet, characteristically, for in­carcerating Ifeanyi Ubah, the Buhari government is yet missing an excel­lent opportunity of benefitting from his timely and redeeming input and invariably sending a dangerous sig­nal to major oil marketers and pro­spective investors in the sector.

Surely, this incident is an indict­ment on the NNPC and its man­agement for its failure to meet its obligations to one of its key service providers even after selling the prod­ucts for which the storage service was contracted. This poses a challenge to the DSS which must investigate why the corporation cannot pay its credi­tors. It is incontestable that Capital Oil has one of the biggest and most sophisticated petroleum products storage and infrastructure in Nige­ria. His investments in the sector had been consolidated far ahead of his rivals and encompass infrastructure which would service a large segment of the market thus projecting him as controller of over 35 per cent of the downstream sector of the oil and gas industry. Much of that investment has been built over 15 years ago in anticipation of the total deregulation of the sector. It is therefore preposter­ous to accuse such an independent-minded business mogul of planning to incite industry workers to embark on civil disobedience. The Federal Government should order the un­conditional release of Dr. Ifeanyi Ubah without further delay. It is in its own interest and image to do so. Impunity should not be encouraged in a democratic setting.

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