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NNPC above the law? Corrupt oil parastatal claims it cannot be sued under FOI without a pre-action notice, stalls Reps’ suit

By News Express on 04/07/2014

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The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has filed an objection to a suit filed at the Federal High Court Abuja by the Civil Society Network against Corruption (CSNAC) seeking a court order to compel the cooperation to release information on the beneficiaries of N15bn disbursed for guarding oil pipelines in the Niger Delta.

This was even as the parastatal, its supervising Ministry of Petroleum Resources and Petroleum Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke yesterday stalled hearing in the suit they filed against their investigation by the House of Representatives over the minister’s alleged wastage of N10 billion on hired private jets.

In the Niger Delta oil pipelines security case, NNPC claimed in its notice of preliminary objection filed on June 14 by its counsel, Augustine Alegeh (SAN), that CSNAC has no locus standi to file the court action. It also argued that the corporation was not given a one-month notice of the suit before it was filed as required by the NNPC Act.
CSNAC had in September 2013 sent an FOI letter to NNPC requesting information on the beneficiaries of N15bn approved and disbursed by it for securing oil pipelines in the Niger Delta. CSNAC has stressed in the letter of request that the information was required for its planned monitoring of the initiative to avoid a repeat of past failed efforts by government.

Having failed to provide the requested information, CSNAC through its counsel, Mr. Chino Obiagwu, filed an origination summons in court for an order under Section 20 of the FOI Act compelling NNPC to release the requested information. Under the FOI Act, no further notice of action is required to be given to a public institution before an applicant whose request for information was refused or ignored could go to court to seek court order for the requested information.
“By filing a preliminary objection to the suit on such flimsy technical excuses, NNPC has demonstrated that it is an unrepentant corrupt institution that is not willing to open itself up to civil society scrutiny. It choose to hire and pay huge legal fees to a senior advocate of Nigeria to delay the suit or frustrate it, rather than provide the simple information requested from it. This is really very unfortunate,” said Mr. Lanre Suraj, the Chairman of CSNAC and a co-plaintiff in the suit.
He stressed that Under Section 1 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, CSNAC has the right to the information requested. “As a body created to serve the public’s interest, the NNPC is obligated to provide CSNAC with the requested information within seven days of receipt of the request failure of which the organisation can sue in court within 30 days for order to release the information sought,” Suraj said in a statement issued this morning in Lagos.
News Express recalls that NNPC has been lately swimming in several allegations of corruption and poor accountability, including allegation by the former Central Bank of Nigeria governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanisi, concerning the missing N20bn from the corporation accounts. This is even as the Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI) insists that a total of 222,437,870 barrels of crude oil worth about $22.04 billion was unaccounted for in the period between 2004 and 2014.

Rather than clear its name and improve on its accountability and integrity, NNPC has continued to hide information about its operations from the public.
The NNPC’s blatant disregard for the right to information as guaranteed by the Freedom of Information Act raises serious concern of deep corruption in the corporation, according to Ms Melissa Omene, legal officer with LEDAP and a counsel in the CSNAC’s suit. “What does the NNPC have to hide in respect of the requested information? Civil society must continue to engage NNPC and similar corrupt institutions as a way to fight corruption and abuse of office in public institutions in Nigeria,” Ms Omene said.
She pointed out that contemporaries of NNPC, such as PETRONAS and Statoil, have developed themselves through prudent operations and accountable investments to become renowned players in the global petroleum industry. Ms Omene noted that NNPC, on the other hand, has continued to rely on patronage of government and remains a cesspit of corruption in Nigeria.
The CSNAC case lodged at the Federal High Court Abuja, is coming up for hearing of the preliminary objection on July 7.

•Photo shows NNPC GMD Andrew Yakubu.

Source News Express

Posted 04/07/2014 12:02:22 PM


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