NNPC official accused of fraud challenges court’s jurisdiction

Abiye Membere

A top official of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Abiye Membere, has challenged the jurisdiction of a Federal High Court in Abuja to consider the amended charge against him and businessman, Jide Omokore, among others.

Mr. Membere is facing trial based on a nine-count amended charge, along with Mr. Omokore, chairman of Atlantic Energy Drilling Concept Limited, and other top officials of the NNPC.

According to the charge, the defendants are accused of diverting $1.6 billion proceeds from oil sales belonging to the Federal Government and an alleged breach of the Strategic Alliance Agreement (SAA) through which some oil assets were given to Mr. Omokore’s companies.

The other defendants in the charge are a former Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Andrew Yakubu, Victor Briggs and David Nbanefo.

The court had in its previous sitting adjourned the trial to June 13, after ordering the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, which filed the charge, to deposit the international passports of the defendants to the court’s registry for subsequent release to the defendants.

At the opening of session on Tuesday, however, the counsel representing Mr. Membere told the court of his client’s decision to challenge the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the amended charge.

Mr. Membere’s objection of the amended charge is premised on the alleged grounds that documents referred to, were not duly certified as required by the Federal High Court standing rules.

The counsel representing the prosecution, Rotimi Jacobs, however urged the court to dismiss the application.

After hearing arguments of counsel, the court adjourned the matter till June 22 for hearing on the application challenging the amended charge. It also set July 5 for ruling on the matter.

Incorporated as Atlantic Drilling Energy Concept Limited on July 19, 2010, the company signed a Strategic Alliance Agreement, SAA, with the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), the upstream production subsidiary of the NNPC.

Under the agreement, Atlantic took charge of four oil blocks – OML 26 FHN, OML 30 Shoreline, OML 34 Niger-Delta Oil and OML 42 Neconde, with the responsibility to provide funding, technical services, drill and sell crude oil.

However, in 2012, the company was accused of underpaying government for the crude oil it lifted.

But the company said its problem with government arose from contractual disagreement.

It said it had since reconciled its accounts with the NPDC, and that the government was in the process of clearing it to bring in investors into the business.

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