Twenty one oil marketers were on Tuesday indicted for fraudulently collecting N382 billion last year in subsidy payments for fuel that was never delivered.
Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, the Chairman of the Presidential Committee set up on the 2011 fuel subsidy scheme disclosed this while addressing journalists after submitting the final report to President Goodluck Jonathan.
“The first (step) is the recovery of the N382 billion,” Mr Imokhuede said.
The probe commissioned by Mr Jonathan is the latest in a string of investigations into fuel subsidy scheme that is rife with corruption and a massive drain on the country’s finances.
“The next is possible criminal investigation and prosecution of the OMT (oil marketing and trading companies) … also, the external auditors and any government functionaries who served will be further interviewed to determine the roles if any in the issues that were discussed.”
Mr Imokhuede did not name specific companies but some of the world’s largest oil traders import petrol into the country, along with marketers owned by some of the richest and most powerful Nigerians.
Nigeria is among the top 10 crude oil exporters in the world but due to decades of corruption and mismanagement it has to import most of its refined fuel needs.
The Federal Government scrapped payment of fuel subsidy on January 1, potentially saving the country over $6 billion. But more than a week of strikes and protests erupted across the country against the higher cost of fuel, forcing the government to partially reinstate subsidy payments.
The first probe
Following the protest against the removal of fuel subsidy, the House of Representatives constituted an ad-hoc committee chaired by Farouk Lawan to probe the the scheme earlier this year.
Mr Lawn’s committee uncovered fraudulent payments over three years of about N1.7 trillion.
But now his committee’s report is being called into question over allegations that Mr Lawan demanded, and took part of, a $3 million bribe from the Chairman of Zenon oil and Gas, Femi Otedola in order to remove his company from the list of fraudsters.
Mr Lawan’s lawyer said the lawmaker took $500,000 offered to him by Mr Otedola, but only in order to expose him, saying he disclosed the bribe to the Chairman of the House committee on Drugs/Narcotics and Financial Crimes, Adams Jagaba and handed the cash to him.
Mr Lawan’s report not only highlighted the oil marketers’ crimes but also pointed the finger at high level politicians, including Oil Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke.
Mr Imokhuede’s committee has focused on oil companies rather than government officials.
Another fuel scarcity looms
The Ministry of Finance has held off subsidy payments until probes into marketers have been completed, prompting anger from importers and risking fuel shortages.
The Fuel union Jetty and Petroleum Tank Farm Owners of Nigeria (JEPTFON) is shutting down fuel distribution facilities this week and another labour group, the Depot and Petroleum Marketers Association (DAPPMA), threatened to join them within 48 hours if government did not pay outstanding subsidies.
The subsidy is stretching Nigeria’s finances and draining oil savings. The Minister of State for Finance, Yerima Lawan Ngama said in June that only had N370 billion is left to pay subsidies, out of the N888 billion in the 2012 budget.
The Central Bank has said the subsidy budget will run out well before the end of the year, which means they will need to raid savings to pay for it.
State governors under the aegis of Nigeria Governors Forum have said they will take the federal government to court for what they call “illegal” over-budget subsidy payments.