President Jonathan, Minister's Cronies To “Buy” Port Harcourt Refineries

By Sahara Reporters
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SaharaReporters has discovered that the shady plan to sell off Nigeria's four refineries to cronies of the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, has reached an advanced stage, with cronies of President Goodluck Jonathan and Petroleum Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke in line to snatch some of the best assets.

Our highly reliable sources revealed that Jide Omokore, a prominent member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has been penciled down to “buy” one of two refineries in Port Harcourt in what a highly reliable source described as “a rushed privatization process.” Our sources, who are in the Presidency and oil sector respectively, also disclosed that the second refinery in Port Harcourt will be sold to Benny Peters, the owner of Aiteo Energy. Mr. Peters is one of the major beneficiaries from Nigeria's notoriously fraudulent fuel subsidy payments. A well known crony of Ms. Alison-Madueke, he is also quite close to President Jonathan.

The sources told SaharaReporters that the Warri refinery will be handed over to Igho Salome's Televaras while the Kaduna refinery will go to Sahara Energy, an oil firm whose owners are also cronies of the Petroleum Minister.

Industry experts have questioned the Federal Government's rush to sell the refineries when the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) has not been passed by the National Assembly. The omnibus bill covers virtually every aspect of the oil industry and is currently being considered by the federal lawmakers. Various interest groups have protested and questioned several aspects of the proposed law.

“By rushing to make a pronouncement on the sale of the refineries, it does not need a genius to know that Alison-Madueke is up to something,” a source at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) told SaharaReporters. He added: “If you go to the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) today, honest officials will tell you that they are under pressure to proceed with the sale. The agenda is very clear.”

An official at the Ministry of Petroleum Resources said the major worry in the ministry was that most of those positioned toemerge as “preferred bidders” do not have any history in themanagement of refineries.

“Even though Madam (Diezani) may not listen to anybody, we believe that she should allow other players to come into the sector. All these favored guys are getting the juiciest assets in the country. The feeling we have here is that they are just fronting for her. She is basically going to sell these assets to herself. It makes sense to throw the process very open and allow new players to come in,” said the official, who added, “I am already a marked man because of the critical questions I have raised on these things.”

Last month, SaharaReporters had first exposed the scheme to hand over the national assets to friends and associates of the president and minister by any means necessary. Our sources revealed that Ms. Alison-Madueke had rigged the process to enable her cronies to emerge as the preferred bidders.

A BPE official confirmed to SaharaReporters that some of its officials were worried by the sudden haste in the privatization process, adding that the bureau was already feeling teleguided on the proposed sale.

“Under normal circumstances, and I am talking about the international standards we have adopted in this agency, the privatization would not have ended by the 2015 general election. That is if we want to do things normally. But we are being asked to sell as quickly as possible and this is certainly fishy,” the official said.

The official said, however, that he was not in support of the view that the sale of refineries should wait until the PIB is passed. He warned that “politics has already consumed the PIB and nobody knows for sure when it will be passed.”

Mr. Omokore, one of the “preferred” buyers, is a multi-billionaire PDP member who has received several lucrative deals since Ms. Alison-Madueke was made Minister of Petroleum Resources by President Jonathan in 2010. Mr. Omokore is the chairman of Energy Resources Group, whose subsidiary, Atlantic Energy Drilling Concept Limited, was involved in a highly controversial operatorship take-over of theNNPC's oil mining licenses (OMLs) in 2011.

The other two “preferred” buyers are Televaras, owned Mr. Igho Salome, and Sahara Energy, owned by Tonye Vole, Tope Osinubi and Ade Odunsi. Little is known about Mr. Benny Peters, but his company, Aiteo, has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of fuel subsidy payments from Mr. Jonathan's government.

Televaras has been under the spotlight because of its sudden rise to prominence. It recently secured the Afam Power Plant in a privatization deal, despite not having any previous experience in the power sector. A BPE source said the company was arbitrarily announced as the “winner.” The Afam Power Plc was among the 18 PHCN successor companies which were put up for sale. None of the bids received for Afam Power Plc was deemed qualified, but Televaras was curiously announced as the winning bidder.

Sahara Energy was also indicted in a report by a Swiss non-governmental organization, the Berne Declaration. The report revealed how Nigerian oil marketing companies perpetrated widespread subsidy fraud running into several billions of dollars. Titled “Swiss Traders' Opaque Deals in Nigeria,” the Berne Declaration also accused the NNPC of colluding with international oil traders to defraud Nigeria. The Swiss report revealed that Sahara Energy, Rahamaniyya Group, Aiteo Energy Resources Limited, Ontario Oil and Gas Limited, Tridax Energy, Mezcor Limited and MRS Group had established subsidiaries, also called “letter-box” companies, in Geneva, Switzerland, with no real business activities.

The Swiss document noted that the Nigerian oil firms established the so-called subsidiaries primarily for tax advantages and also for easy access to international capital. But four of the companies, namely Sahara Energy, Rahamaniyya, Aiteo Energy and MRS, were investigated by the House of Representatives ad hoc committee and cleared in a widely discredited report that culminated in the infamous $300,000 bribery scandal involving Farouk Lawan, the chairman of the House probe committee, and billionaire businessman, Femi Otedola.

According to the Swiss report, the opaque partnership between the NNPC and some Swiss oil traders ensured that the profit generated in transactions escaped state coffers. Describing the scam as “not trivial,” the report added: “By way of example, in 2011 the amount withheld from state coffers came to $8.739 billion. The public coffers were directly penalized. The same year, the revenues from oil fell by 39 per cent against the amount budgeted. And this is despite a rise in the price of oil.”

Two weeks ago, a letter Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi of the Central Bank of Nigeria addressed to President Jonathan was leaked to the media.

The letter alleged that the NNPC had failed to remit nearly $50 billion in crude oil earnings at the country's bank. After a series of meetings between CBN officials as well as officials of the Finance and Petroleum Ministries, Mr. Sanusi disclosed a week ago that the amount of oil export earnings the NNPC had not accounted for now stood at $12 billion. Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala disputed his figure, asserting that the discrepancy stood at $10.8 billion. There has been no further information about the whereabouts of the missing funds.

-Sahara Reporters-, New york