By Energy Worth
The Group Managing Director, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Maikanti Baru, has said that the oil firm cannot provide the information being sought by a human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), on fuel importation and sundry matters.
Baru, through an external solicitor, Mr. O. B. Omale of Omale O. B. & Co., in a letter dated May 25, 2018 and received by Falana’s law firm in Abuja on May 28, 2018, said the NNPC could not grant the human rights lawyer’s request.
Falana made the letter available to some select journalists on Monday.
As part of the grounds for the denial of the request, Omale said the NNPC was not a public institution covered by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 under which Falana requested the information.
The letter read in part, “We are solicitors to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (hereinafter referred to as our client), who has passed on to us your letter addressed to the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, dated April 17, 2018 in respect of the above subject matter with express instruction to respond appropriately to it.
“Please be informed that our client does not fall within the purview of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011. The provision of the Act, particularly Section 31 thereof, is clear and unambiguous as to the meaning of the public institution.
“Our client is neither a legislative, executive, judicial, administrative nor advisory body of the government of Nigeria.
“It is a body established by law to manage the commercial interests of Nigeria in the oil and gas sector of the economy and conduct trade therein.
“It cannot therefore by any stretch of imagination be brought within the definition of public institution under the Act.
“This position has received judicial endorsement via the Federal High Court’s decision in several cases, including two cases instituted by Messrs Public & Private Developments Centre Limited in suit Nos. FHC/ABJ/CS/278/2013 and FHC/ABJ/CS/279/2013.”
Falana had in his letter to the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, raised some concerns about the oil industry and asked him to respond within seven days, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act.
But the minister told Falana in a letter dated April 21, 2018, with reference number, HMS/MPR/085/VOL.1/389, that he had directed the GMD of the NNPC; the Director, Department of Petroleum Resources, Modecai Ladan; and Executive Secretary, Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency, Saidu Abdulkadir, to provide the information sought by the lawyer.
Kachikwu had asked them respond to Falana subject to the limits of the firm’s contractual, legal and business confidentiality.
“I, therefore, have directed them, working through the GMD of the NNPC, to furnish you with such information as you have requested, subject to the limits of their contractual, legal and business confidentiality,” Kachikwu’s letter had read in part.
But the NNPC appears to have latched on the caveat of “subject to the limits of their contractual, legal and business confidentiality” contained in Kachikwu’s letter.
Responding on behalf of the corporation in the letter entitled, ‘Re: Request for information on fuel importation and sundry matters’, Omale said even if the NNPC was a public institution, the documents sought by Falana were excluded by the FoI Act.
He also said the request by Falana would not serve any public interest.
The letter stated, “Assuming without conceding that our client is a public institution, which we vehemently deny, we humbly posit that the documents and information requested are expressly excluded from the purview of the Act by virtue of the provisions of Section 15(1)(a)-(c) thereof, as they relate to trade secrets; commercial and financial information, which obviously are either subject to no-disclosure agreements or whose disclosure will likely interfere with contractual rights and obligations of third parties or harm their interests; and there is nothing in your letter to indicate that prior consent of the third parties to the disclosure was obtained.
“It is also our client’s opinion that your request will not serve any public interest whatsoever so as to bring it within the purview of section 15(4) of the FoI Act in view of the fact that the documents and information requested do not relate to public health, public safety or protection of the environment.
“While assuring you that our client is a law abiding and responsible corporate citizen that complies with all extant laws, legislation and regulations, be advised that in view of the foregoing, your request is hereby denied.”
Falana had in his original request to Kachikwu stated, “In December 2017, the management of the NNPC disclosed that the nation’s consumption rate of fuel was 28 million litres per day and that subsidy cost was N726m per day, i.e., N261.4bn per annum. But on March 5, 2018, the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Dr. Maikanti Baru, claimed that the figure had metamorphosed to 50 million litres per day and that the NNPC had spent $5.8bn (N1.7tn) on fuel importation in January and February 2018.
“Furthermore, at a public forum held in Abuja two weeks ago, you (Kachikwu) stated that the consumption rate of fuel had skyrocketed to 60 million and that the cost of subsidy was N1.4tn! We are not unaware that the increasing consumption rate has been blamed on the smuggling of imported fuel from Nigeria to neighbouring countries by some economic saboteurs.”