The House of Representatives, on Thursday, grilled the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), for the second time over the alleged illegal sale of 48 million barrels of crude oil in China valued at over $2.4bn.
Malami, in company of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice/Solicitor-General of the Federation, Beatrice Jedy-Agba, appeared before the House’ Ad Hoc Committee to Investigate Alleged Loss of Over $2.4 Billion in Revenue from Illegal Sale of 48 Million Barrels of Crude Oil Export in 2015 Including All Crude Oil Exports and Sales by Nigeria from 2014 Till Date.
Despite the documents presented to the committee based on an earlier request by the panel, the lawmakers asked for more documents.
While Malami restated his earlier position about the allegation and the probe, he also asked the lawmakers to avail him of documents and facts at their disposal to assist him in aiding the investigation.
Chairman of the committee, Mark Gbillah, earlier noted that the lawmakers were in possession of communication from the outgoing President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) “regarding this particular issue, which we will not say openly but will take up with you in private because we also understand certain things are classified and confidential.”
Gbillah added, “We are not just embarking on something that is a wild goose chase. I want to put that on the record.”
The chairman, while faulting an earlier claim by Malami at the last meeting that there was no formal committee set up by the President to investigate the matter, insisted that “an actual committee was set up, maybe you (the minister) are privy to it or not.”
He added that a former Minister of State for Petroleum Resources also made a formal communication to the National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno (retd.), “over this issue and we are in possession of that document.”
Gbillah stressed, “So, I am quite surprised that your esteemed office did not have all this information. It might not be within your purview of knowledge, but we are surprised that it is not.”
Responding, Malami insisted that he was not part of any formal presidential committee. He added, “Secondly, aside from not being a member of any such committee, if any had existed, no document was made available to me as a person or to my office relating to this (petroleum) product. I am talking about a document made available by a whistle-blower or a document made available by the system. And to further confirm the problem, even when I was invited by this committee to appear, not a single document was made available to me for consideration.”
The minister said, rather, the committee in its correspondence to the ministry asked “about 30” questions and he had responded to them.
Malami stated, “So, in the absence of facts; in the absence of documents being presented for my consideration by the National Assembly; in the absence of documents being presented to me by the Executive for consideration; in the absence of my participation in any committee relating to the subject matter of investigation, it is not out of place for me to conclude that there is no justifiable, reasonable ground and basis for such consideration. And I stand my ground.”
The AGF noted that the “starting point” was that since the document had documents at its disposal that are “establishing otherwise,” they should be forwarded to his office for consideration and then “perhaps revert to you with a comprehensive position in line with the analysis of the documents.”
Malami urged the committee and the ministry to “collectively review” the documents and reach a conclusion on them. Gbillah, however, disagreed, stating that only the panel can determine how it will conduct the probe.
While the committee resolved to forward relevant documents to the minister by Tuesday, he noted that he would be dealing with the lawmakers by then as a “private citizen.”
Malami is a member of Buhari’s cabinet, whose regime ends on Monday and Bola Tinubu administration takes over.
The AGF also confirmed to the committee that his office engaged consultants “not necessarily on account of whistle-blowing but on account of recovery, perhaps, identifying public assets either in the financial system or offshore,” which are profiled and start the recovery process.
While answering some of the questions the committee asked in its letter to the ministry, Jedy-Agba stated that the ministry does not have investigative powers. She, however, confirmed that the ministry received a petition from a non-governmental organisation through the OAGF.
“What we simply did was to send the petition and attachments to the office of the Inspector-General of Police. Perhaps, if the Inspector-General should have checked if they were registered before embarking on an investigation, that question may be directed at them,” the Solicitor-General said, adding, “We only acted on the basis of the report of the investigation by the office of the Inspector-General. It was on the basis of the report that we filed charges. We did not take any action on the basis of the petition itself.”
Gbillah, however, said some of the information sought by the committee was not in the presentation made by the ministry.
“In your response to the committee now, you made it clear that you have assisted the country commendably to recover over $1bn. But we cannot see $1bn in this submission, in terms of those recoveries as well, which is why we asked for the details of the whistle-blowers and the payments to them. We know that these payments were made in line with the whistle-blower policy,” he noted.
The Solicitor-General noted that a list of processed whistles had been listed in the document presented to the committee, while the total recoveries should be provided by the finance ministry, accountant-general and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
“What we sent to you was what we have in our records and I think in the documentation we provided, we also said we do not receive funds in the ministry,” Jedy-Agba stated.
In his response to a question on the 5 per cent commission entitled to a whistle-blower after a successful recovery, Malami noted that the percentage is dependent on the volume or size of the asset recovered. “We have had cause to negotiate to as low as 2 per cent, depending on the volume of the assent meant for recovery,” he stated.
It was the second time that Malami and Jedy-Agba would appear since the probe began.
The minister, when he first appeared before the committee on April 27, 2023, had told the lawmakers that the allegation that 48 million barrels of crude oil valued at over $2.4bn was illegally sold to China is false.
Malami stated, “Mr Chairman, let me state on record and for the benefit of Nigerians and the committee, that the allegations relating to the 48 million barrels are baseless. The allegation is unfounded. It is lacking in merit, and indeed lacking in substance. It is in its own right – the allegation – devoid of any reasonable ground pointing to a material suspicion that is cogent enough to invoke the constitutional oversight of the committee.
“Why do I say so? Sometimes in 2016, allegations were rife and hyped in social media. There were allegations of the existence of stolen 48 million barrels of Nigerian crude oil in China, said to have been valued at $2.4bn. President Muhammadu Buhari informally requested the Attorney-General – making reference to my humble person; (the then Group Managing Director, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation) Mele Kyari; former Director-General, Department of State Services, Lawal Daura; and the late Abba Kyari (the then Chief of Staff to the President) to look into it and advise.
“But unfortunately, Mr Chairman, for there to be a reasonable ground for suspicion, at least you require certain basic facts. If you are talking about a product, you cannot establish the substance relating thereto without confirming the origin of the purported product in China. If you talk of a product in China, is it of Nigerian origin? That can be established by way of samples and specifications. Is it Bonny Light which you know apparently emanates from Nigeria? The basic detail of the existence of the product and connecting it to Nigeria was not there at all.”
The minister had added that there were no particulars of the vessels that transported the fuel to China. “They were not available at our disposal at all,” he stated, adding that no Chinese authorities confirmed receipt and custody of the product in China.
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