The illegal levy on oil companies

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oil fieldLAST  week, a media report indicated that the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS), an arm of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), had directed operators in the petroleum industry to contribute to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Intervention Fund for the people of the North-East. The contributions, which were to be put in a proposed “Dedicated Account,” would see each oil company contributing at least $100 million annually to the fund. According to the letter entitled: “Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) Intervention Programmes/Projects and Proposed Dedicated Account” and signed by former Group General Manager of NAPIMS, Dafe Sejebo, for the NNPC, NAPIMS, in conjunction with operators, would utilise the IDP intervention funds to construct resettlement facilities that can be replicated at various locations. The proposed projects include units of two-bedroom twin bungalows expected to house 100 families; primary and secondary schools, healthcare centres/cottage hospitals, market stalls, provision of potable water and electrification.

Ordinarily, it would be commendable for the NNPC or any of its affiliates to be concerned about the welfare of the people of the North-East geopolitical zone, a zone which, while recovering from the ravages of terror, is still facing serious security challenges occasioned by disparate elements of the Boko Haram group. However, we find it curious that an agency of the Federal Government could seek to compel multinational oil companies to essentially take over the functions of the state governments in the zone. Surely, NAPIMS cannot be unaware of the fact that apart from the legal obligation of the oil companies to pay tax,  they already contribute two per cent of their profits to the Education Fund. In addition, they are mandated to carry out various corporate social responsibilities. Against this backdrop, precisely what is the rationale for compelling them to pay $100 million annually into a nebulous “Dedicated Account”? What law gave rise to such a directive? Or is the law irrelevant in NAPIMS’ operations? Who authorised the proposed, patently illegal contributions by the oil companies?

If, for any reason, NAPIMS is unimpressed by the activities of the various support programmes by individuals and corporate organisations for the IDPs in the North-East and those of the Presidential Committee on the North East Initiative (PCNI) set up by President Muhammadu Buhari in January last year and headed by General Theophilus Danjuma in undertaking rebuilding and rehabilitation efforts in the North-East, the proper thing to do is to make its observations known to the appropriate organs of government. Surely, it cannot be a crime to offer suggestions on how things can be made better in the war-ravaged North-East. But it is intolerable to hatch a grand scheme for fraud under the guise of making oil companies to contribute to the rebuilding efforts in the North-East.

It is certainly a national tragedy that the NNPC and its affiliates have always carried on as if they were a parallel government set up by, and fronting for, those with close connections to the seat of power. That the expose on NAPIMS’ illegal directive to the international oil companies is coming at a time when the nation is still pondering over the biggest scandal in the nation’s oil industry raises fundamental questions about the very existence and usefulness of the NNPC and its affiliates.  It does certainly seem that the corporation is not only immune to the anti-corruption war which the Buhari administration claims to be waging in various sectors of the national life but also actively subverting any such effort.

To all intents and purposes, the NAPIMS directive is one scandal too many. We call for an urgent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the directive. We are unimpressed by the statement attributed to the NNPC Group spokesman, Ndu Ughamadu, namely that “the JVs/IOCs under their trade group, OPTS, voluntarily agreed to assist the IDPs. It is part of their corporate social responsibilities.” The NNPC is not usually this evasive and brief whenever it feels it has a point. The entire affair reeks of corruption and the Federal Government must rise to the challenge of getting the anti-corruption agencies to unravel the mysteries behind the present story. We also call on the National Assembly to carry out an investigation of the matter. Should the NNPC and its affiliates continue to be left to their own devices, they will bring the country to irreversible ruin.

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