By Nathaniel Zacchaeus
The National Assembly and the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) are now on a collision course over the powers of the legislature to summon the firm’s management, following its new status as a Limited Liability Company.
The status of the NNPC changed from full to a partial government-owned agency following the enactment of the new Petroleum Industry Act (PIA).
The Senate Committee on Finance had on Tuesday summoned the Group Managing Director (GMD) of the NNPCL, Mele Kyari, to appear before it yesterday (Wednesday).
The GMD did not appear but he was represented by the General Manager, Public Affairs of the NNPCL, Mr Garbadeen Muhammed.
The committee however insisted on seeing the GMD in person.
The Chairman of the Senate panel said the GMD did not honour the summons because he claimed that since the NNPCL was now a limited liability company he should no longer appear before the legislature.
The Chairman of the Committee, Senator Solomon Adeola, gave the explanations adduced by the NNPCL on the second day of an interactive session on the 2023 – 2025 Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper (MTEF/FSP).
He said that the NNPCL Liaison Officer in the National Assembly had approached the Clerk to the National Assembly to the effect that it is wrong for the Senate to have invited the GMD given the new status of the oil giant.
Adeola, however, insisted that even though the corporation had been fully privatised, it is still 100 per cent owned by the Federal Government until major investors acquire needed shares in the company.
He said that the company must continue to remain accountable to any arm of government that needed its attention.
He added that the law passed by the National Assembly only empowers the NNPCL to be a regulator and an active participant in the oil industry.
Addressing the General Manager, Public Affairs of the NNPCL, Mr Garbadeen Muhammed, the Senate panel said, “Your Liaison Officer told the Clerk to the National Assembly that you are now a limited company and as such, the need to be appearing before us is not there.
“And I make it known on national television and am repeating myself: We will summon you, we will invite you, and we will call you at any time of the day, at any moment, at any hour that we need your attention.
“You are limited by our laws passed by this National Assembly. That was what changed your status. But you are still 100 per cent owned by the Nigerian Government.
“But the powers we have given you is your ability not to only be a regulator but to be an active participant in the industry. That is what we changed in your status.
“Whatever accrues to you, whatever business you enter into is on behalf of the Federal Government. So please, call that Liaison Officer of yours and correct that impression and that his office erred.
“Tell him that the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited is still 100 per cent owned by the Federal Government until and otherwise stated and that is when we have a major investor coming into partner with you that is when our investment in NNPC is divested.
“However, as it is today you are 100 per cent owned by the Federal Government and you will remain accountable to the Federal Government and to any arm of the Federal Government that needs your attention at any time of the day and at any time of the year.
“Now, having said that, there are pertinent issues which were raised here yesterday that are begging for answers and we don’t want to get the answers by proxy. We believe in your expertise and your wealth of experience to attend to everything we want to ask of you.
“But the question and the fact remains that these are decisions and positions that I believe will be beyond you. And that is why we demand that the Group Managing Director of NNPC PLC appear before the National Assembly.
“If we want representative by proxy, it would have been contained in our letter and that is why we directed our letter to him.
“All major players in the MTEF/FSP were here. They included the Hon. Minister of Finance, Director General of Budget Office, Customs, Federal Inland Revenue Service, it was only the NNPCL that gives the figure upon which the MTEF is predicated vis-a-vis the benchmark of oil that is absent.
“And given the data and statistics reeled out by the finance minister yesterday which is worrisome in terms of production cost, oil benchmark, oil theft, lack of meeting our set target, consumption of petroleum products as a country and oil subsidy.
“For all of these, we ask and demand of is not by proxy. To that end, we demand that he appear in person. If you are the man that will now speak on his behalf, he must be seated with you. Please, I will allow you to go for now for him to return at 10am tomorrow.”
In his reaction, Muhammed said, “Thank you very much, sir. May I give you a piece of information that is relevant to this invitation, I am not addressing you.
“The reason why he is not here is not that he does not want to come. I will find out who that Liaison Officer is and talk to him as you said.
“That is number one. Number two is that tomorrow the GMD will be traveling to Morocco to sign the Nigerian-Morocco Trans-African Gas Pipeline (agreement).
“This has to do with another country and it will be difficult to shift it forward. And then by the 18th of this month, he will be in the President’s contingent to attend the United Nations, General Assembly. Within this timeframe, it will be a bit difficult for him to be here.”
In his response, Adeola said: “Tell him to appear by 5pm today (Wednesday). Thank you.”
The GMD however did not appear before the committee as requested by its chairman before it adjourned proceedings.