Finally, Senate passes Buhari’s anti-graft bill

 Stops $15bn Port Harcourt Refinery concessioning

By Ezrel Tabiowo and
Taiye Odewale, Abuja

The Muhammadu Buhari administration’s anti-corruption war, yesterday received a boost, with the Senate passing the long-awaited Terrorism, Economic and Financial Crimes, Money Laundering and Other Related Offences Bill.
When signed into law, the bill would aid mutual assistance on criminal matters between Nigeria and other foreign states.

The bill, among others, is intended to effect the temporary transfer of persons in custody to assist in investigations or appear as witness, facilitate, obtaining and preserving of computer data, and providing any other assistance that is not contrary to the law of the requesting state.
It also seeks to facilitate the identification, tracing, freezing, restraining, recovery, forfeiture and confiscation of proceeds, property and other instrumentalities of crimes.
It would also facilitate the voluntary attendance of persons in the requesting state.

The Senate passed the bill following the adoption of the report of its Committees on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, as well as Foreign Affairs.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Senator David Umoru, (APC, Niger East), explained that the enactment of the law is paramount to the anti-corruption drive of the government, as it seeks to eliminate territorial jurisdictional constraints in the prosecution of cross border crimes.

“The globalisation and advancement in information and communication technology have made it imperative for a legislation of this nature to be put in place, in order to promote cooperation for the prosecution of cross border offenders and transnational organised crimes,” he said.
Umoru explained that the scope of the bill had been widened from the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters in the Commonwealth (Enactment and Enforcement) Act 2004, to assume international dimensions in participation and laundering of the proceeds of crime.

He, however, added that the joint committee rejected clauses that could give rise to torture (coercive investigative measures) as it is unconstitutional.
In a brief remark, Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki, said the bill’s passage would restore the confidence of foreign investors in doing business in Nigeria.
In another development, the Senate yesterday ordered the stoppage of all processes and transactions on concessioning of the Port Harcourt Refinery by the Ministry of Petroleum Resources to AGIP and OANDO oil firms on contractual term of $15 billion.

To this end, it set up a seven-man ad hoc committee to probe the contract alleged to be non- transparent and laced with highly questionable findings.
The committee is expected to probe and reveal how and why such a deal was sealed, and the criteria used to select Agip/ENI and Oando Plc to maintain and operate the refinery, and at what cost and timeframe.
These resolutions followed a motion titled: “Non-transparent Transactions Relating to the Planned Concession of the Port Harcourt Refinery to Agip and Oando by the Ministry of Petroleum Resources,” sponsored by Senator Sabo Mohammed (APC, Jigawa South) at the plenary.

Mohammed, who said in his lead debate that the Senate was worried about the alleged non-transparent transactions, informed his colleagues that the federal government, recently entered into agreement with NAOC to construct the refinery, a deal which also includes investment by Agip in a power plant, with the Italian company assisting Nigeria in the repair of the Port Harcourt Refinery..
He noted that major stakeholders like the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), empowered by law to conduct such exercise and the labour unions, were not aware of the deal that is supposed to be signed officially by July, this year.

He said: “The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources stated that the agreement was part of a broader federal government’s plan to increase capacity for local production and consumption of petroleum products with the aim of ending fuel importation in Nigeria.
“While the resolve by the federal government to increase local refining capacity is laudable and should be applauded by all Nigerians, the observance of corporate governance principles and the country’s extant laws must be followed to the letter.

“It is not yet clear if the new arrangement is a concession agreement or an agreement to build a new refinery. The confusion became obvious following the disclosure on May 11, 2017 by the Chief Executive Officer of Oando Plc on the floor of the Nigeria Stock Exchange that the group had received approval of federal government to repair, operate and maintain the Port Harcourt Refinery Company with their partner, Agip.”

Mohammed further noted that the development would have been a good one “because it would mean an end to importation of refined products by the year 2020,” but expressed concern that the concessioning “without recourse to due process is illegal and a clear attempt at ridiculing Nigerians and would definitely create a big hole that would be hard to fill in the anti-corruption crusade of the present administration.”

The lawmaker said “in such transactions, the best practice is to select partners through open and competitive bids, that is, prepare the business for sale, market the business, buyers’ selection and close the transaction.”
He added that “any exclusive that does not follow the above procedure hatched in the dark without the knowledge and participation of relevant stakeholders, tend to lead to sub-optimal outcomes for the seller (in this case the federal government).”

The lawmaker also recalled that the then Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, had declared that by the end of 2015, the Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna Refineries would be working at 90 per cent, thus reducing importation and the subsidy controversies, but wondered that up till now in 2017, the refineries were yet to be fixed and could not even produce at 50 per cent.

In his contribution, Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West), urged the Senate “to rise and stop another massive corruption that is about to take place in the refinery, just as it happened in the power sector when electricity was sold to the private sector without any result till date.”
Melaye, who recalled how the nation’s electricity was ‘fraudulently’ sold to the Distribution Companies, DISCOs, described the concessioning of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Delta Steel in Aladja, Delta State as failures, warning that the concessioning of Port Harcourt Refinery must not be allowed to take place without due process.

Also lending his voice to the debate, Senator Kabiru Gaya (APC, Kano South), condemned the federal government’s planned action on the refinery, and advised that “it is better to build new refineries than planning to take away the Port Harcourt Refinery like it did to Warri and Kaduna that have not been functioning for years.”
The seven-man ad hoc committee mandated to begin investigation immediately, is headed by Senator Abubakar Kyari (APC, Borno North), while Senators Melaye, Duro Faseyi, Mohammed, Aliyu Wammako, Mathew Urhoghide and Benjamin Uwajumogu are to serve as members.

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