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NNPC rejects Falana’s FOI request, says ‘we’re not a public institution’

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has refused to honour a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by Femi Falana to disclose how much the corporation has earned and how much it has remitted into the federation account since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office.

NNPC communicated its refusal to honour the FOI request in a letter to Falana on Thursday, saying the organisation is not a public institution accountable to the FOI Act.

The FOI Act defines a public institution as any legislative, executive, judicial, administrative or advisory body of the government. But Sarah Ndukwu, NNPC’s General Manager Litigation, Arbitration and Property Law department, said the definition does not include the NNPC.

“The NNPC … is neither a legislative, executive, judicial, administrative nor an advisory body of government; it is a statutory corporation established for the sole purpose of managing Nigeria’s commercial interest in oil and gas sector and conducting trade in that respect,” Ndukwu stated.

“Be also informed that even if the FOIA applies to NNPC, (which is strongly denied in view of Section 31 and recent judicial authorities), the information sought in your letter is expressly excluded from the purview of the Act by virtue of Section 15(a)-(c) thereof.

“The requested information is in the nature of Commercial, Financial and Trade and Secrets information, which obviously are either subject to Non-Disclosure Agreement or whose disclosure could reasonably interfere with NNPC’s contractual or harm third party interest.

“In fact, by the use of the word ‘Shall’ in the Section, NNPC is obligated, in the absence of any prior consent by relevant third parties, to deny your request.

“Be further informed that your request will not serve any public interest to public health, public safety or the protection of the environment as to bring it within the items exempted for disclosure under Section 15(4).”

Operations of the NNPC, Nigeria’s major economic driver, have been shrouded in secrecy over the years. Past heads of the organisation and ministers of petroleum resources have been implicated in financial scandals, most recent of whom are Andrew Yakubu and Diezani Alison-Madueke, former Group Managing Director of NNPC and Minister of Petroleum Resources respectively.

In 2017, millions of cash in local and foreign currencies were recovered by the EFCC from a building owned by Yakubu in Kaduna State. He is still facing money laundering charges at the Federal High Court, Abuja.

Alison-Madueke, on the other hand, has been fingered in many financial crimes in the country, and has already forfeited several assets (in both cash and property).

When Buhari took over the presidency, he named himself Minister of Petroleum resources in order to personally oversee the activities of NNPC, but under his leadership, the opaqueness with which the corporation has been run for decades is still intact.

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