The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has turned down a freedom of information (FoI) request to disclose the whereabouts of the $11.8 billion dividends paid by the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) to the corporation between 2004 and 2014.
NLNG is jointly owned by the NNPC (49%, on behalf of the Nigerian federation), Shell Gas B.V. (25.6%), Total LNG Nigeria Ltd (15%) and Eni International (10.4%).
TheCable understands that the dividends paid to NNPC were not remitted to the federation account — even though they are classified as “federally collected revenue” — from where they would have been shared among the three tiers of government.
There is a growing belief that the dividends might have “developed wings” and flown away.
Denial of access
Femi Falana, constitutional lawyer, had on January 25, 2016 written to the corporation seeking information on how the money was spent but NNPC’s lawyers have now replied him, saying NNPC — Nigeria’s largest revenue-generating body — is excluded from the FoI Act.
The Act empowers citizens to get otherwise withheld information considered to be in the public interest.
Omale OB & Co, in a “Notice of Denial of Access to Information” dated February 12, 2016, wrote: “We have been engaged and our services retained by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (hereinafter referred to as our client), which has passed on to us your letter dated January 25, 2016 on the above subject for appropriate response.
“In view of the extant interpretation of the Freedom of Information Act, we regret to inform you that our client is not granting your request because it is not bound by the provisions of the FOIA by virtue of the definition of Public Institution in Section 31 thereof.
“It may interest you to know that our client successfully canvassed the above position at the Federal High Court in two cases instituted by Messrs. Public & Private Developments Center Ltd (Suit Nos. FHC/ABJ/CS/278/2013 and FHC/ABJ/CS/279/2013), which resulted in the striking out of the Suits in December, 2013.
“Please be accordingly guided.”
It was signed by OB Omale.
Section 31 of the FoI Act defines “public institution” as “any legislative, executive, judicial, administrative or advisory body of the government, including boards, bureau, committees or commissions of the State, and any subsidiary body of those bodies including but not limited to committees and subcommittees which are supported in whole or in part by public fund or which expends public fund and private bodies providing public services, performing public functions or utilizing public funds”.
Falana had also written another letter requesting information on the recovery of $9.6 billion from NNPC’s joint venture partners.
NNPC’s lawyers responded in the same vein, maintaining that FoI does not apply to the body.
Falana confirmed the development to TheCable and said he was heading to court to seek an interpretation.
In 2009, when a similar issue on the dividends was probed by the house, the ad hoc committee said $5.4 billion had not been remitted, but the NNPC said it had plowed the dividends back into the business.