Subsidy Scam: We Didn’t Verify Claims; We Trusted Marketers, PPPRA Officials Tells Court
Two officials of the Petroleum Product Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) took the witness stand on Wednesday at the Lagos High Court, Ikeja to testify as prosecution witnesses in one of the ongoing fuel subsidy trials.
In the fuel subsidy case, two accused persons, Rowaye Jubril and his company, Brila Energy, are facing 13 counts of fraudulent collection of about N967 million for the purported supply of 13,155,807 metric tons of Premium Motor Spirit (petrol) under the Petroleum Support Scheme. They are also alleged to have forged documents to facilitate the fraud.
The two officials of the PPPRA who testified before Presiding justice Lateefah Okunnu were the Zonal Coordinator, Ibadan office, Tope Ogundola, and the Assistant General Manager, Lagos office, Victor Zamani.
In their testimony, the men gave the indication that the agency relied on trusting the claims made by the oil marketers supplying subsidized petroleum products rather than subjecting such claims and documents to verification processes.
Led in evidence by the counsel for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), S.A Adeh, the first official to testify, Mr Zamani said the PPPRA collected photocopies backing the marketers’ claims on the supply of the products without further verification.
“We don’t take the original copies of the documents. We take photocopy based on trust,” Mr Zamani said.
He added, “We have many governmental agencies who witness the discharge of the products at the tank farm. Our staff are not always there for 24 hours when the oil marketers are discharging the products to retailers. We rely on the reports submitted to our office based on trust.”
According to Mr Zamani, the documents supplied by marketers are usually compared with PPPRA’s checklist comprising 38 items among which were the Bill of Lading, Certificate of Quantity, Certificate of Quality and Cargo Manifest.
During cross-examination by the counsel to the accused, Rapael Oluyede, Mr Zamani dismissed the possibility of oil marketers loading discharged products back to the vessels on the sea and making away with it.
“Each profession has its code of conduct, that will be a professional aberration,” he said.
The second witness, Mr Ogundola, who was then the Coordinator of PPPRA’s Lagos Office, said he was the one who cleared the documents supplied by Mr Jubril after “it is assumed that the product has been discharged to the retailer at the tanker farm”.
Responding to further questions on why he should make assumption on whether the products were actually supplied, Mr Ogundola said, “I was not there with them at the tanker farm”.
He affirmed that all the needed documents were supplied by Mr Jubril and there were never complaints over his supply by his office.
“I must be honest with you, Mr Jubril brought the documents and the checkers checked them with the checklist and I wrote and signed a cover letter attached to the documents and sent it to the Abuja office.
If the cover letter is not signed by me it will be sent back from Abuja.”
The bundle of documents supplied to the PPPRA by Mr Jubril was tendered and admitted as exhibit.
Justice Okunnu adjourned till the 11 and 12 of March to allow the EFCC to call additional witnesses in proof of its case against the oil marketer and his company.