PREMIUM TIMES has uncovered one of the most fraudulent crude oil deals carried out by the administration of Goodluck Jonathan, which saw cronies of the president pocket billions of naira through a domestic crude oil transportation contract that violated Nigeria’s procurement and economic regulations.
Our estimates indicate that the contracts, which the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation has now admitted were unnecessarily exorbitant and inappropriately awarded, cost Nigeria N509.3 billion.
How much service the companies offered to pocket that amount remains unclear even to the state oil company, insiders say.
The deal, later disguised as security contract and channeled through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, saw two companies belonging to Idahosa Okunbor and Tunde Ayeni, illegally rack up billions of naira to purportedly transport crude oil from Escravos to Warri refinery, and Bonny Island to Port Harcourt refinery, by ship, since 2011.
The deal involved the transportation of five millions barrels of crude oil, monthly, from drilling terminals to the refineries using ships, and circumventing direct linking pipelines, at the cost of N3.063.00 ($15.4 USD) per barrel of crude.
The cost of this contract is several times higher than it takes to transport crude oil through the more efficient pipelines which PPMC, an arm of NNPC operates. The cost of transporting a barrel of crude through the pipeline is as low as N5.97.
Although, awarding the firms the job to transport crude oil by ships was a very expensive alternative, the administration pressed on, ignoring the fact that it increased the cost of transporting only a fraction of locally refined crude oil by several billions of naira monthly and was economically unjustifiable.
While the shady contract lasted, the NNPC, at the same time, transported crude through a national pipeline that originated from Escravos and landed in Warri Refinery before proceeding to Kaduna Refinery.
The Escravos-Warri Refinery arm of the project was conceived in 2010, shortly after Goodluck Jonathan became president. The contract kicked off properly in January 2011 and was explained to the few who knew about it back then as a way of circumventing vandalized pipelines to keep Nigeria’s refineries amply fed with crude oil.
The contract was never advertised and no competitive bidding was done, a clear violation of Nigeria’s procurement law. Cheaper options were neglected. Two companies, PPP Fluid Mechanics and Ocean Marine Securities, OMS, were awarded the job by presidential and ministerial discretion.
The two companies initially got N1.1 billion monthly payment each by NNPC, for a three months trial, documents sighted by PREMIUM TIMES show.
PPP Fluid Mechanics got the contract offering to transport the crude using Very Large Crude Carriers – super tankers – used in transporting crude oil. OMS got the contract to provide security for the 22.2km (12 nautical miles) journey, despite every other waterways security arrangement that existed at the time.
This brazen case of impropriety has, till date, been sustained by a tight web of secrecy.
“I do not have details” of the contract, NNPC spokesman, Ohi Alegbe, told PREMIUM TIMES more than one month after receiving our inquiries, and weeks after he later announced the corporation was canceling the contract.
Paying the cabal
This contract was conceptualized and executed in a classical mafioso style.
After the then Petroleum Minister, Deziani Alison-Madueke, in 2010, got the then President Jonathan to approve the deal, the NNPC secretly invited bids from international shipping contractors. PPP FM, managed by two Israelis at the time, was handpicked for the logistics part of the job. OMS, managed by Messrs. Okunbor and Ayeni, was invited to handle the security aspect.
There are no records of OMS ever bidding for the contract. Insiders who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES also claim OMS never bidded.
They were selected by a board led by Mrs. Madueke, which also had NNPC Group Managing Director at the time, Austin Oniwon, and eight others, including Yinka Omorogbe, the legal adviser to the corporation.
The contract was initially explained as a three-month trial to circumvent pipelines that were believed to be under serious threat from militants and oil thieves in the Niger Delta. It, however, lasted till August 2015, almost five years later.
How it escaped public scrutiny for the period it lasted is what is likely to shock many Nigerians.
Contract documents indicating the contract was supposed to last only three months were issued on December 2, 2010. Shipping began the following month – January 2011 – after PPP FM provided one mother vessel and three smaller shuttle vessels.
Contract documents seen by PREMIUM TIMES showed the each arm of the contract for the trial period was to cost NNPC N1.1 billion ($5.82 million USD) monthly. This is at the rate of N900 per barrel ($5.2 USD per barrel) split equally between shipping and security.
But the cost of the deal quickly skyrocketed after the three months trial period.
Shortly after the project began, Messrs. Okunbor and Ayeni sought to own the entire project, and initiated a hostile takeover of PPP FM. Eight months later, they completed the takeover and PPP FM’s founders, the Israelis, were kicked out.It is not clear how much they were paid to give up their company. It is also unclear whether they were merely used as fronts in the beginning.
The exit of the Israelis paved the way for one of the bloodiest financial hemorrhages Nigeria suffered during the Jonathan administration, and was perhaps still suffering till July 2015 when NNPC called it off after becoming aware this newspaper was investigating the deal.
With the Israelis out of the way, and believing the deal was now secret, the NNPC jacked up the cost of the deal to N1,496.10 ($7.52 USD) per barrel for transportation and the same amount for security.
This increase raised the cost of the contract to N6.7 billion monthly.
In August 2014, the former petroleum minister admitted to an oil and gas audience in the U.S. that NNPC was spending an average of $7.52 per barrel to transport crude oil locally to refineries by ship.
She was silent on the security costs. But multiple sources confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES the security cost was just as much as the shipping.
In four years, the NNPC shelled out at least N303 billion to the two companies owned by Messrs. Okunbor and Ayeni for the Escravos-Warri arm of the deal alone.
Thus, at the times the price of crude oil hovered around $50 per barrel, the NNPC paid these firms about a third of the cost of each barrel ($15.04) as shipment cost – in addition to all other cost of handling crude that existed before the contract.
These sums were paid despite the oil corporation reporting that it kept pumping crude oil from Escravos to Warri refinery through the pipeline, concurrently with the shipping deal.
Recently, during the opening of the renovated Port Harcourt Refinery, Mr. Okunbor confirmed to Thisday that his company did not even ship the total amount projected by the contract. But they got paid even while not shipping crude.
“Currently, we lift 950,000 barrels to the Warri refinery twice a month,” Mr. Okunbor told Thisday. The projected amount was 2.2 million barrels, apparently 300 thousand barrels higher than total actual shipment admitted by Mr. Okunbor and his partners.
While the deal was expected to supply Warri Refinery with 105.6 million barrels of crude, NNPC records show that the refinery only received 61.2 million barrels, combined. At least half of what was expected by ship alone was not delivered.
The Port Harcourt Refinery Deal
After running the Escravos-Warri Refinery deal successfully and secretly for two years, the NNPC opened the Bonny Island – Port Harcourt refinery route under the same covers. The Bonny Island – Port Harcourt refinery route was to transport 2.8 million barrels of crude oil monthly at the same cost with the same contractors, PPP FM and OMS.
Again, there were no competitive biddings before Mr. Ayeni and his partners were handed the contracts.
With the Bonny – Port Harcourt Refinery route added to the portfolio, Messrs. Okunbor and Ayeni were charged with transporting five million barrels of crude oil to the two refineries, via ships, monthly.
At that rate, NNPC was paying both companies N15.3 billion ($77 million USD) monthly on both fronts.
Like in the Warri refinery’s case, Messrs. Okunbor and Ayeni did not deliver the full amount of crude expected of the illegal contract.
“Currently, we lift… approximately 1.6 million barrels twice a month to the Port Harcourt refinery using our VLCC,” Mr. Okunbor told Thisday in July.
Cocktail of illegalities
These local crude oil transportation deals Messrs. Okunbor and Ayeni held until July were fraught with fraud, illegalities and irregularities.
Those familiar with the deal said the NNPC board, in the first place, had no businesses approving the initial contract in December 2010 because the cost exceeded their approval limit of N5 million, allowed by its laws, and $20 million US dollars allowed by Nigeria’s procurement laws.
The decision to extend the contract beyond three months was the second major step in a cascade of fraudulent activities that defined the contract.
In 2013, the NNPC attempted to regularize these illegal crude oil transportation contracts. In October that year, it published an invitation to tender bids for the two crude oil transportation contracts in major Nigerian dailies.
Days later, just as many shipping companies were putting final touches to their bids, the corporation withdrew the bid through another newspaper publication.
The state oil company did not give any reason for the withdrawal of the call for bids. But top NNPC sources told PREMIUM TIMES a directive demanding the withdrawal came from the presidency describing the project as a “security contract”.
Despite the only official explanation for the exorbitant contract being the drive to keep the refineries amply supplied with crude oil in the face of ‘failing pipelines,’ both the Warri and Port Harcourt refineries received crude oil volumes far less than the contract was expected to deliver.
Between January 2011 and December 2014, the Warri Refinery received crude supplies above two million barrels in six months only, NNPC crude distribution data shows.
In at least three months of 2014, the Warri Refinery did not receive a drop of crude supply. The Warri refinery received an average of 1.2 million barrels of crude oil monthly in those four years.
Port Harcourt refinery never received crude supply up to the full amount expected of the illegal contract while it lasted. In fact, NNPC data did not show any significant leap in supply after the transportation contract was initiated in 2013.
Within the period, the Port Harcourt refinery did not receive a drop of crude oil in three months. It received an average of 536 thousand barrels of crude monthly, at least 2 million barrels less than the contract was expected to deliver.
The NNPC data of crude received monthly by the refineries, obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, showed that in the last four years, the refineries rarely received crude oil close to the volumes awarded for shipment alone from both Messrs. Okunbor and Ayeni, not to talk of pipeline sources that fed the refineries.
Satellite images obtained by PREMIUM TIMES showed that in some instances, no security boats escorted the ships deployed by PPP FM to transport the crude from production terminals to refinery jetties. Yet, NNPC purportedly paid billions of naira for the security escorts.
“Some of the vessels involved also sat anchored offshore the Niger Delta—presumably at a significant cost to the nation—for long periods when NNPC was not sending crude to the refineries at all,” a recent report by Natural Resources Governance Institute said.
Besides being economically unjustifiable, many industry experts PREMIUM TIMES contacted for comment for this story were shocked by its details and ramifications.
“What happened to the crude oil received by these contractors in the months the refineries were down? Why did the refineries not receive full volumes of crude oil lifted by these contractors?” many asked.
Follow the money
Tunde Ayeni, one of the owners of the contracting firm in this deal is a long-standing ally of former governor of Bayelsa State, Depreiye Alamieyeseigha, and former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Mr. Jonathan succeeded Mr. Alamieyeseigha as governor of oil-rich Bayelsa state after the latter was removed from office in 2005 following money laundering scandal. Since his release from prison, Mr. Alamieyeseigha has remained active on the political scene.
Mr. Ayeni, a lawyer, gained notoriety following the corruption trial that brought down Mr. Alamieyeseigha as Bayelsa governor. He was mentioned in court documents as admitting helping Mr. Alamieyeseigha to execute some deals.
Mr. Ayeni was never convicted and has since then remained one of Nigeria’s most ambitious businessmen, investing heavily in almost all key sectors of the Nigerian economy – oil and gas, telecoms and power. He’s currently the chairman of Skye Bank and was awarded Commander of the Order of Niger (CON) – a national recognition – by the Jonathan administration.
In the build up to the 2015 general elections, Mr. Ayeni chaired a fundraising dinner organised by Mr. Jonathan’s party, the Peoples Democratic Party, and made a shocking donation of N2 billion ostensibly to fund the president’s re-election. He explained that half of the donation was raised by himself and an anonymous partner while the other half was raised by himself other anonymous friends.
Mr. Ayeni, whose law firm, Legal Resources Alliance, doubles as the company secretary to PPP FM, turned away PREMIUM TIMES reporters, who visited to request his comments for this story, from his 38 Birao Street, Wuse II, Abuja office.
The NNPC also declined to comment. After weeks of promises and excuses to respond to the website’s inquiry, the state oil company tried to preempt our investigation by announcing it was calling off the illegal contracts.
In the announcing the cancellation, the corporation admitted the contractors were inappropriately engaged and the contract costs were exorbitant. It however did not say whether it planned to recover monies paid to the contractors even while not transporting crude.
The corporation’s spokesperson, Ohi Alegbe, declined to provide further details. He told PREMIUM TIMES the corporation had no details of the contract.