The EFCC charges 19 suspects to court on alleged complicity in fuel subsidy scam
By ANAYOCHUKWU AGBO and AYODEJI ADEYEMI
The federal government last Wednesday arraigned before two different high courts in Ikeja, Lagos, the first batch of 19 suspects allegedly involved in the notorious fuel subsidy scam which skyrocketed Nigeria’s subsidy expenditure from about N500 billion in 2010 to over N2.15 trillion in 2011.
Those arraigned constitute the first set into whose case the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, says it has completed investigation. But they are just a fraction of the 140 individuals and organisations being investigated. Seven of these are companies, while 12 are individuals behind the companies and those who allegedly aided them in the appropriate regulatory agencies as well as auditors.
They are all presumed innocent. But as registrars in courts 25 and 40 presided over by Justices Habeeb Abiru and Adeniyi Onigbanjo read out the charges preferred against the accused as well as the amounts involved in the alleged oil subsidy fraud, many in the courtrooms could not help but shake their heads in disbelief. They were simply appalled by the staggering amounts involved in the alleged fuel subsidy cases. But the case had suffered an initial hiccup. Mohammed Adoke, the attorney general of federation, who was expected to appear in court in person could not do so on the first day and so the case was adjourned for a day. By the second day, Rotimi Jacobs, the EFCC counsel, explained to Justice Abiru, who was in charge of two of the four cases, that the minister was unavoidably absent due to “pressing state matters.”
Apologies over and accepted, the case commenced with the reading of charges whose pleadings were taken while the judges also decided on their bail applications. Nasaman Oil Services, Mamman Nasir and Christian Taylor were charged with obtaining N4,460,130,797.94 from the federal government of Nigeria under false pretence as subsidy payments from the Petroleum Support Fund, PSF, for the purported importation of 30.5 million litres of Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, from SEATAC Petroleum Limited of British Virgin Islands, which the company has no evidence of discharging in the country. Nasaman Oil Services and the two other defendants all pleaded not guilty. They were granted bail while their trial date was fixed for November 13.
Similarly, Abdulahi Alao and Axenergy Limited allegedly received N2,640,141,707.75 from the PSF for the purported importation of 33.3 million litres of PMS, which could not be accounted for. They were refused bail by the judge while trial in their case will commence on August 1. Mahmud Tukur, Ochonogor Alex, Abdulahi Alao and Eternal Oil and Gas Plc were charged with fraudulently obtaining N1,899,238,946.02 from the PSF for a purported importation of 80.3 million litres of PMS. Tukur and the three other defendants pleaded not guilty while their trial date was fixed for October 30. The presiding judge, Justice Onigbanjo, however granted the defendants bail. The conditions included two sureties with N20 million, landed property worth N100 million and a level 16 civil servant in Lagos State to stand as a guarantor.
Nadabo Energy Limited, Abubakar Peters, Jude Abalaka, and Pacific Silver Line Limited allegedly obtained N1,464,961,978.24 from the PSF for a purported importation of 19.4 million litres of PMS. Walter Wagbatsoma, Adaoha Ugo-Ngadi, Fakuade Ebenezer, Ezekiel Ejidele, and Ontario Oil & Gas Nigeria Limited were charged for fraudulently obtaining N1,959,377,542.63 from the PSF for a purported importation of 39.2 million litres of PMS. The charges were not read in this case because of the absence of Wagbatsoma in court. For similar reasons, the accused persons were not granted bail by the judge. Fago Petroleum and Gas Limited and Oluwaseun Ogunbanbo were docked for fraudulently obtaining N979,653,110.20 from the PSF for a purported importation of 33,627,84 litres of PMS.
Wilson Uwujaren, acting head, Media and Publicity, EFCC, said: “More suspects will be arraigned periodically as the investigation progresses. This investigation is massive and extensive, and the commission wishes to reassure Nigerians that every effort will be made to bring all those who defrauded the country in the guise of subsidy for imported fuel to book.”
The arraignment might assuage public outrage at the non-prosecution of those indicted by the House of Representatives ad hoc committee, which probed the oil subsidy management. Though Farouk Lawan, the chairman of the committee, is enmeshed in a $620 million bribery scandal, a cross section of Nigerians and the House insist that the report of the committee must be implemented. Adoke has however assured Nigerians that the federal government will prosecute the matter diligently: “We are going to recover this money and we are going to set the process for recovery alongside the prosecution.” However, Adoke is not very optimistic all the money can be recovered: “It will be naive to think that we can recover the whole amount. The most important thing is that the state diligently pursues recovery to its logical conclusion. At the end of the day, having exhausted all means at its disposal, I think the people of Nigeria will know that justice had been done.”
Whether Nigerians will get this feeling at the end of the day or not however remains a matter only time can tell.