By Joseph Erunke
ABUJA–CONCERNED Nigerians and groups on Thursday, alleged that there were plots in some quarters to launch a global smear campaign against Aiteo Group and discredit President Muhammadu Buhari’s revenue drive.
The groups comprising lawyers, civil society organizations, students and ethnic youth groups, claimed that the action was meant to divert attention from the alleged missing of over 16 million barrels of crude oil belonging to Aiteo and other local oil companies.
The alleged missing money, they claimed, has “deprived Nigeria of the needed revenue to fix the country.”
Speaking on behalf of the groups at a media conference, Thursday, in Abuja,Barr. Tochukwu Ohazuruike, said the groups intercepted credible intelligence that a multinational oil company “has resorted to procuring, conduct, coordinate and supervise a well-financed and global smear campaign against AITEO and the company executives aimed at diverting attention from the crude theft allegation and sabotaging the efforts of President Buhari to raise the nation’s oil revenue.”
They claimed that “the Department of Petroleum Resources, being the government agency that directly regulates the Nigerian oil and gas sector conducted an investigation and discovered that through the unapproved metering system, over two million barrels of oil was missing” from the vaults of some indigenous oil companies.
“The concerned groups are of the view that the unapproved metering system deployed gave inaccurate figures of the actual volume of crude pumped from the NCTL to the Terminal.
“This erroneously made the Federal Government blame it on crude oil theft by third parties and made the government waste scarce resources in pursuit of oil thieves,” the groups said.
According to them, since the allegation broke, the international company “has been doing its best to divert attention, obfuscate facts, deflect all efforts at getting to the truth and sponsor international media smear campaign against AITEO and its management.”
The company, according to them,”has set out to do all these dark offensive through syndicating false news publications in reputable media outfits with the aim of putting AITEO in bad light and diverting attention from the real issues.
“A company that has been indicted for crude oil theft by Nigeria oil industry regulator and other judicial and quasi-judicial bodies cannot be supported to continue to harass, intimidate and destroy the businesses and hard-earned reputations of victims of their criminal actions.
“This is not fair and it will rub off on the credibility of any media houses that agrees to do the dirty job,” they added.
They listed parts of the smear campaign being orchestrated “to include raising questions that AITEO as a company, is a serial loan defaulter that fails in its obligations to its lenders” hence to portray the company in bad light before credible lenders across the world and ensure AITEO is no longer in good standing and make it impossible for AITEO to access any further financial facilities from lenders.”
The groups, therefore, called on all lovers of justice and fairness to stand with AITEO and other indigenous oil companies whose hard-earned oil revenue has been sabotaged.
They added, “We call also for more support for the President Buhari led Federal government efforts to increase oil revenue and block leakages
“We are calling on Nigerians and the global community watching to ignore the fabricated and well-financed smear campaign that has been commissioned against AITEO and their executives and also against President Buhari revenue drive efforts.
“We must keep our eyes on the ball, such fabricated and contemptuous publications are aimed at diverting attention from the real issues.
The groups claimed that DPR discovered how an unapproved metering system was used to “steal over 16 million barrels of crude oil from AITEO and other indigenous companies thereby denying these companies the revenue to run their operations and meet their financial obligations to their lenders.”
“This economic sabotage has not only affected the local oil companies but has drastically affected the oil revenue base of the Federal government and has denied the government of the needed revenue to complete the fix Nigeria Project.
“We must be firm; we must be vigilant and we must be determined to stand till the end until justice is served and all the stolen revenues paid back to the indigenous oil companies and government of Nigeria. “