Esther Nnamdi-Ogbue: A story yet untold
Governance under President Muhammadu Buhari is a drama still unfolding. Daily, we are treated to fresh story-lines by political actors who behave as though they owe nobody any explanation. They plot; they act; and pull the curtains as it pleases them. The opposition has been forced into premature silence while the hitherto virile press—the live wire of any responsible democracy, is gasping for survival. It’s been a long time since we heard from the Nigeria Labour Congress.
What makes news in Nigeria these days is called corruption—whether contrived or real. If trophies were to be won on global scale by the most corrupt countries in the world, Nigeria wouldn’t be at the bottom of the ladder. Nigerian politicians would be unbeatable contenders. How sad! On daily basis, billions of naira are uncovered and recovered from homes, abandoned buildings, airports, farmlands and even cemeteries. The worst part of it is that we only hear about discoveries and recoveries; we are not told what the money has been used for. Or how much has been recovered so far.
But we trust our beloved president to keep in safety what has been recovered so far from the looters. I refuse to join others in believing or even contemplating that anybody would dare touch what has been recovered from these economic saboteurs. Even when I read in the papers the other day, a confession by one of the heads of anti-corruption institutions that there is corruption even in the anti-corruption houses, and that the assumed cases are being investigated, I was neither disturbed nor excited. After all, a snake cannot eat its tail. It can only examine it.
Corruption has become Nigeria’s identity; or what broadcasters call: signature tune. If someone is sacked from work for any act or behaviour that is contrary to established procedure, the common question on every lip is: how much has he stolen? If someone resigns from employment for reasons that could be either personal or otherwise, it has become common to hear someone say: the man is tired of stealing; he wants to enjoy his loot while he’s still alive.
That’s how messy the situation has been.
One news item that seemed to have been ignored by the media in recent times has been the sack or the premature retirement of the managing director and chief executive officer of one of the subsidiaries of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mrs Esther Nnamdi-Ogbue. Apart from the fact that she was sacked at the same time more than a dozen billion naira was recovered in an apartment in Ikoyi, Lagos, and she was irresponsibly linked to the loot by a certain Sahara Reporters, her removal would have been gone unnoticed.
At present, it is assumed that she has been cleared of the ugly connection; because not even the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has questioned her on it. It is therefore safe to believe that her removal from office was never based on looting our oil money. It is time for the NNPC to boldly and truthfully inform Nigerians of what she did wrong. Or reinstate her.
The question however is: does NNPC or the Nigerian government owe us, Nigerians, any explanation for disgracing a public officer out of office? Yes, it does; especially in an era when every sack from public office is assumed to be a response to certain acts of corruption. Such ugly perception is not the best. If the removal of Nnamdi-Ogbue is not connected to the billions of naira recovered in Lagos (and that has already been settled), then what went wrong? She is said to have joined the NNPC sometime in 1991, perhaps as a legal officer. Prior to her forceful retirement, she was the managing director of NNPC, Retail Limited; the downstream power house of the NNPC.
All the information associated with her forced exit in April only came from the grapevine until May 6, 2017 when the Department of State Services (DSS) issued a statement that might well explained why an innocent person was made to suffer over a crime committed by the big and the mighty. The statement alleged that a certain company called Capital Oil and Gas Limited owned by one Ifeanyi Ubah has been indicted for acts of economic sabotage.
The statement, signed by a certain Tony Opuiyo, went this way: “In line with the statutory mandate of the Department of State Services (DSS) to investigate economic crimes of national security dimension, the Service, on 5th May, 2017, arrested Ifeanyi Ubah, the managing director of Capital Oil and Gas Limited.”
It explained that the arrest of the oil chief was sequel to his alleged “engagement in acts of economic sabotage which include stealing, diversion and illegal sale of petroleum products stored in his tank farm by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). So far, it has been established that the products stolen amount over eleven billion naira (N11 billion). There is no doubt that Ubah’s acts have the capacity to negatively impact on national economy.”
The statement stated further: “It is instructive to note that Ubah has further engaged in other activities inimical to national security and public order. In furtherance of his gimmicks to undermine the government and people of Nigeria, he has incited members of the Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD), a critical player in the downstream sub-sector of the Petroleum Industry, to refuse/stop the lifting of products.
“This is part of his plans to curry their sentiments and cause them to embark on strike and also stage protests in his favour with the ulterior motive of arm-twisting the NNPC to abandon the cause of recovering the stolen products. The implication of this on law and order is, in fact, a common knowledge. It is consequence upon this that the Service arrested and will prosecute him forthwith.
“The public is hereby reassured that the Service will collaborate with appropriate agencies to ensure that the mischievous activities of any person or group(s) to engage in illegal activities will not affect the effective distribution of products across the country. It will also support such agencies to book individuals or companies involved in any criminal act that undermines the nation’s economy.”
It is necessary to state at this point that whatever the DSS has said about Ubah remains mere allegations until the charges are tried in law and upheld by a court of competent jurisdiction. But let’s assume the DSS is right because it is not heard that the Service has ever come out to attack an individual in this manner without proof.
It is clear that Nnamdi-Ogbue was in charge of the NNPC Retail Limited when the scam took place. The first question naturally would be: what did she do? One is bound to ask further: are you sure she is not a part of the scam? If she was not a party to the fraudulent act, what did she do when the company discovered that the oil and gas marketing outfit had done this to the nation’s economy? Did she report the company to the appropriate authority? What steps did she take to recover either the money or the stolen products?
A few days ago, a national newspaper published what could pass as a detail analysis of what happened and also made attempts to answer most of the questions outlined above. The summary of the story was that as soon as Nnamdi-Ogbue got wind of the scam, she summoned the offending company for a meeting and asked it to return what belonged to the Federal Government. At the same time, she quickly intimated the appropriate law enforcement agencies including the EFCC and the DSS on the issue. It was not clear whether she also informed the Attorney General of the Federation.
It was revealed that when every effort to recover either the stolen petroleum products or its cash equivalent failed, she formally asked the law enforcement agencies to step in. That, in a way has, without any ambiguity, answered one of the questions. We can take this to mean that if she was in anyway involved in the fraud, she would not have the boldness to officially write to these agencies asking them to step into the situation and arrest the culprits.
Was it for reporting the case to the law enforcement agencies that made the NNPC hierarchy to forcefully retire her? Let’s face it: why was she retired? This is one question the leadership of the NNPC cannot sweep under the carpet because by her retirement, it is assumed that she must have stepped on huge toes of beneficiaries of the scam.
There must have been something she did that did not sit well with certain principalities and powers who decided she had to go. It is not too late for NNPC to explain its position or have her reinstated. Nnamdi-Ogbue does not deserve to be punished for a reporting a crime of N11 billion.