Fraud, witch-hunting and dirty intrigues have paralysed the Nigeria-São Tomé and Príncipe Joint Development Authority (JDA), insiders have informed TheCable.
The JDA was established in 2002 to manage activities in the Nigeria-São Tomé and Príncipe joint development zone (JDZ) where there has been an oil find.
The oil finds in the JDZ are rich non-hydrocarbon resources — typical of the Gulf of Guinea region.
But while São Tomé and Príncipe has been active in developing its own part of the zone, the Nigerian side has stalled as a result of debilitating intrigues.
Nigeria is estimated to be losing millions of dollars in accruable revenue as a result of the logjam.
The biggest casualty of the intrigues so far is the operatorship of the prospective oil block JDZ Block-1 which is said to have been awarded to a six-month-old company without the requisite technical and financial competence.
Also, staff suspected of raising issues of impropriety in JDA have been suspended and placed on half-salary through questionable procedures, insiders have alleged.
There have been allegations against a top executive of JDA said to have bought mansions home and abroad in an anonymous petition sent to the Economic and Finance Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Collins Kalabare, the executive director monitoring and inspections (ED M&I), who objected to the award of JDZ Block-1, has been forced out of JDA under cloudy circumstances.
Kalabare’s ouster without a replacement, as stipulated by the JDA law, has left Nigeria with only one executive director on the management.
Controversy over oil block
On June 9, 2015, the board of the JDA awarded the operatorship and majority stake in JDZ Block-1 to Equator Hydrocarbons Ltd, a newly established company without the requisite technical and financial competence to manage the asset, by industry standards.
Kalabare was said to have objected, alleging that the process was faulty and that Equator Hydrocarbons lacked the needed competence.
In what may have proved Kalabare right, phase one of the production sharing contract (PSC) expired on April 30, 2016 with Equator unable to fulfil the minimum work programme and the financial commitment enshrined in it.
This was despite a four-month extension granted by the board.
As at the time phase one expired, the operator had not submitted a “performance bond” as provided for in Clause 7.8 (b) of the signed PSC, as well as the “parental guarantee” as provided for in Clause 7.10 of the PSC and which became due 30 days after the signing of the PSC.
On October 7, 2015, Kalabare, who was once chairman of the board, was barred from entering his office, allegedly on the instructions of the board, because his six-year tenure had expired the previous day.
“On the surface, you would say this was the right decision. I mean, his tenure expired so he should go,” a JDA official told TheCable, refusing to be named.
“However, it was illegal. The law governing JDA says an executive director will remain in office until another one is appointed. I suspect this is to avoid creating a vacuum, so that the organisation can continue to function and there would be balance in representations from both countries.
“Also, previously, the former ED C&I from São Tomé and Príncipe, Jorge Dos Santos, spent an extra two years after the expiration of his tenure. In fact, the former ED M&I, Anthony Fiddi, who was seconded from the NNPC for a period of four years, could not leave until the then president appointed a replacement.
“It is worthy of mention that Nigeria, having the largest share of this great project, that is 60%, has been represented by only one ED since October 2015. They are simply hurting Nigeria’s interest for purely personal reasons.”
Indeed, Article 10.1 of the R&A Act states that “Executive Directors shall hold office for such period as the appointing Head of State shall determine, normally for a period of six years, once renewable or until a replacement is appointed”.
Kalabare’s problem is further linked to his complaints about the award of contract for the headquarters building project in Abuja.
A three-man joint ministerial council (JMC) investigative panel has already established fraud, forgery and over-invoicing and asked that the contract be terminated and money refunded.
The contractor was allegedly brought by Kashim Tumsah, executive director, finance and administration, who is also secretary of the JDA board.
Tumsah refused to appear before the EFCC over the affair, maintaining that JDA is not statutorily obliged to respond to such invitations from the anti-graft agency.
Taking on “Judases”
With Kalabare out of the way, members of staff suspected to have raised issues of impropriety in an anonymous petition to the EFCC became the next target.
The petitioners alleged, among other things, that Tumsah had “within six years” moved from living in a rented apartment and driving a 2008 model of Honda Accord to owning mansions in Abuja, Dubai and São Tomé and Príncipe.
The petition was sent to EFCC, the Department of State Services (DSS), minister of state for finance, chief of staff to the president and the secretary to the government of the federation.
On April 18, 2016, the board informed a general staff briefing of the anonymous petition, accusing nine members of staff of complicity in the writing of the petition.
Four days later, the board issued letters of suspension stating “one month with half pay” to five of the accused staff.
It also sent the letter to three others on “suspicion” of authoring the petition and releasing internal documents.
As it turned out, four of those initially accused were soon exonerated.
“They are all known to be close to Tumsah,” another official said.
The board then set up an external investigative panel to investigate the allegations against the others.
“The use of an external panel is alien to the JSR-COS (JDA Staff Regulations and Conditions of Service). It is only the appointment promotion and disciplinary committee (APDC) that is empowered to consider and make appreciate recommendations to the board on all disciplinary issues involving senior staff,” the official said.
“And this has been the practice for similar cases that have occurred in the past including petition written against past board and even cases involving theft and forgery of documents.”
A JDA official told TheCable that the “real tragedy” is that while Nigeria is consumed in dirty intrigues, vendetta and graft, “São Tomé and Príncipe is forging ahead exploring its own part of the joint development zone”.
Calls to Tumsah’s phone did not go through, and he did not respond to an SMS sent to the same number.
What is the JDZ?
In 2001, Nigeria and São Tomé and Príncipe reached an agreement to enable oil exploration and jointly develop resources within the joint development zone of the Gulf of Guinea.
The gulf is growing as a major source of global energy supply, with proven reserve running into billions of barrels of oil.
It also has great potential for reserve growth.
It is also endowed with natural gas, minerals and rich rain forests.
Apart from the Persian gulf region, one in four barrels of oil produced worldwide comes from the Gulf of Guinea.
The gulf comprises from west and central Africa along the Atlantic coast of what is known as the “armpit of Africa”.
The countries of the region are Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Central Africa Republic, Cote d’ Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Nigeria, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.