The management of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, has asked four top officials of the agency to resign, multiple sources have told PREMIUM TIMES.
Those asked to resign are the Managing Director of the NNPC Retail, Esther Nnamdi-Ogbue; the General Manager (Operations) of NNPC Retail, Mamza Gwadabe; as well as Ibrahim Bello, another official of NNPC retail. The identity of the last person could not be confirmed as at press time.
The four were asked to resign last Thursday over the ‘missing’ petrol scandal involving Capital Oil & Gas Nigeria Limited owned by controversial businessman, Ifeanyi Ubah.
Following PREMIUM TIMES’ exclusive report on the scandal also involving MRS Petroleum, the NNPC announced that it had set up a committee to investigate the matter. The committee reportedly found the officials culpable and recommended their outright dismissal from service.
But, this newspaper learnt that the top management of the corporation, presided by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, later decided to convert their dismissal to retirement with full benefits.
Ironically, Mrs. Nnamdi-Ogbue triggered the initial investigation into the fraud by the NNPC management following the discovery of the missing petroleum products at Capital Oil.
She also formally reported to the Department of State security, DSS, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the relevant committees in charge of the downstream industry in the National Assembly to investigate and help recover the missing products.
The products, over 100 million litres of petrol worth over N14 billion, belonging to the NNPC Retail, were stored at the private depots under a throughput arrangement as part of the corporation’s strategy to build a strategic national fuel reserve.
The NNPC Chief Operating Officer, Downstream, Henry Ikem-Obi, said the fraud was discovered last January when the Petroleum Products Marketing Company, PPMC, another subsidiary of NNPC, needed to access the NNPC Retail’s petrol stored at the Capital Oil depot, to bridge the supply gap.
Mr. Ikem-Obi said the management of Capital Oil had offered no concrete explanation why it sold all the NNPC stock of petrol at its depot without seeking permission or informing NNPC Retail.
In deciding to convert the dismissal of the four officials to retirement, PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the NNPC top management had argued that although Mrs. Nnamdi-Ogbue was not found to have been directly culpable of the offence, she was sanctioned for negligence, as it was difficult to believe she was unaware of the fraud of that magnitude.
A source close to the corporation said her decision to alert the NNPC management and also report to the security and anti-graft agencies was after she realized her mistake to have allowed the fraud to happen.
However, top officials of the NNPC said Mrs. Nnamdi-Ogbue was only being sacrificed, following her efforts to block several avenues for fraudulent practices within the brief period she was in charge of the NNPC Retail.
One of the sources, who sought anonymity for fear of victimisation, said Mrs. Nnamdi-Ogbue not only made the NNPC Retail one of the most profitable subsidiary of the state oil firm, but also blocked avenues by which the retail arm was losing funds.
The source said the leading management of the state-oil firm including the Group Managing Director, Maikanti Baru, were already looking for ways to force her exit from the corporation before the scandal broke.
“Already, they’ve pencilled one of Baru’s aides, called Bala, to head NNPC Retail,” the source said alluding that there were also ethnic colourations to the “victimisation” of Mrs. Nnamdi-Ogbue.
“She’s repeatedly asked that NNPC Retail be allowed to build its own storage depot, so as to do away with the throughput arrangement.
“But the private owners of these depot have always lobbied the NNPC management to stop the move. It’s a cabal in here and she was already giving them problems,” another top official of the NNPC said.
PREMIUM TIMES, however, learnt that the embattled NNPC Retail boss has vowed not to resign, saying she did nothing wrong to warrant her resignation.
“She also rejected the resignation of Mr. Gwadabe on Thursday saying she had trust in his ability,” one of our sources said.
Top officials like Mrs. Nnamdi Ogbue can only be sacked by the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari; an approval that Messrs. Baru and Kachikwu are yet to secure.
When contacted on Sunday, Mrs. Nnamdi-Ogbue expressed surprised, saying she was not aware of any official notice either retiring her or asking her to resign over the matter.
“I have also heard the rumour,” she said on a telephone chat with this newspaper. “But I have not been served any official letter. I know I have done nothing wrong to deserve any such action. I will continue to do my work until the person who appointed says something.”
The spokesperson of the NNPC, Ndu Ughamadu, also dismissed the report as speculative.
“I’m not aware of that (call for her resignation). That’s speculation,” Mr. Ughamadu said.
The spokesperson said the committee constituted to investigated the allegations was still doing its job and was yet to turn in any report recommending any line of action against any indicted officials.
~ Mark Twain