By Eric Elezuo
Everything basically went well. It was a well initiated, planned and perfectly executed business. Nothing was supposed to go wrong. There were no envisaged comebacks. That was the template involved in the biggest deal of all time, which has come to be known as the Malabu Oil scandal, until a Russian lawyer, who claimed to have helped negotiate the deal with the Jonathan’s government, went to court in New York to claim a $66m unpaid commission. Then the cookie crumbled, and the bubble burst!
The principal actor, Chief Dan Etete, had in 1995, while he was Minister of Petroleum under military dictator, General Sani Abacha, facilitated the transfer of payment of $1.1bn to a fake company he had set up. The fake company, Malabu Oil and Gas was set up in 1998, using a false identity so as to award himself a lucrative oil block, OPL245, for which he paid only $2m of the $20m legally required by the state.
The OPL 245 block licence has long been the subject of dispute. It was first awarded a decade ago by Sani Abacha to Malabu Oil & Gas for a publicly-stated $20m. After the death of Abacha, a new Nigerian government annulled the deal. Malabu’s licence was reinstated in 2006, a move the former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke claimed was facilitated by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and seen through by successive presidents Musa Yra’dua and Goodluck Jonathan.
But at the time of Jonathan’s government helping to facilitate the transfer of payment from Shell and Eni, who eventually bought the oil block, to Malabu, Etete was already a convicted felon of money laundering in France.
The Economist, a British magazine, reports that only $800m out of the $1.1bn meant for Malabu Oil and Gas was ever remitted by the Nigerian government, posing the question ‘where did the balance of $300 million go?
Mohammed Bello Adoke, who signed the documents involved in facilitating the payments, has denied the rest was shared by public officials, but has failed to explain the whereabouts. Both Shell and Eni, as of September 2014, came under investigation for corruption by the UK and Italy authorities for the incident.
However, prominent figures fingered in the shady deal, including Obasanjo and Jonathan, have vehemently denied involvement, saying that they were either not aware of such transaction or it was transparently transacted with no inducement received or given.
Adoke had in his petition sent to the AGF three days after the EFCC slammed fresh charges of money laundering against him and one of his associates, Aliyu Abubakar, accusing him of sharing millions of dollars in the fraudulent proceed, said:
“I believe it is your responsibility to explain to the public who are being sold a fiction that the transaction started from President Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR under whose administration the Terms of Settlement were brokered with Chief Bayo Ojo, SAN, as the then Attorney-General who executed the Terms of Settlement before the tenure of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR who approved the final implementation of the Terms of Settlement and my humble self who executed the resolution agreements.’’
As a result therefore, of Adoke’s accusation, through distributed excerpts of a petition he sent to incumbent Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN, alleging victimization and persecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, over the illegal deal as well as alleging that Obasanjo gave approval for return of the oil bloc to Malabu through his then Minister of Petroleum Resources, Chief Edmund Daukoru, the former President made denials.
“I don’t support that kind of conduct. Adoke and others should not drag me into a matter I know nothing about. If they have been asked to answer questions over decisions they took while in office, they should do that honourably. They should not bring Obasanjo into an Etete deal. I was not part of any such deal,” he said.
The former President said it was inappropriate for any government functionary to “appropriate to himself or herself what he or she is in charge of.”
“If I hold that view, I could not have approved a deal with Dan Etete. What Etete did is the height of corruption. He appropriated the asset to himself illegally, illegitimately and immorally. I can’t remember giving approval that the bloc be given back to Etete,” Mr. Obasanjo said.
He challenged anyone to produce proof that he took part in returning the oil field to Malabu, saying the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice under his administration, Mr. Ojo, and Mr. Edmund Daukoru, who was Minister of Petroleum Resources, might be in a better position to explain what actually transpired.
“We gave it back to Malabu? On what ground? Do you have any such evidence? Ask Bayo Ojo and Edmund Daukoru what really happened because the stand I took at the time was unassailable.
“If Daukoru has evidence that I approved that the bloc be given back to Malabu or Etete, let him produce it.
“If it is proven that I, indeed, approved the deal, I will be willing to apologize to Nigerians. But we have to get to the bottom of it all,” the former President said.
In the same vein, former President Goodluck Jonathan responded through his media aide, Ikechukwu Eze:
“Our attention has been drawn to news reports published mostly by online media which suggested through innuendo, rather than factual evidence, that former President Goodluck Jonathan received kickbacks in the $1.3bn OPL 245 oil block deal involving oil giants ENI and Royal Dutch Shell.
“With regards to the publication, we wish to make it clear that former President Jonathan was not accused, indicted or charged for corruptly collecting any monies as kickbacks or bribes from ENI by the Italian authorities or any other law enforcement body the world over.
“In the first place, we have to categorically state that the negotiations and transactions for the oil block deal predate the Presidency of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan which began on 6th May 2010 and ended on 29th May 2015.
“It may interest those promoting this false narrative to know that all the documents relating to the transactions, issues and decisions of the Federal Government on the Malabo issue, during the Jonathan administration, are in the office of the Attorney General of the Federation/Minister of Justice.
“As President of Nigeria, there is no doubt that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan met with executives of all the oil majors operating in Nigeria and urged them to, amongst other things, support the growth of the Nigerian oil industry by ramping up their investments and comply with the Local Content Act that he promoted and signed into law.
“We however wish to state, for emphasis, that at no time did the former President hold private meetings with representatives of ENI to discuss pecuniary issues. All the meetings and discussions former President
“Jonathan had with ENI, other IOCs and some indigenous operators were conducted officially, and in the presence of relevant Nigerian Government officials and were done in the best interest of the country.
“We make bold to point out that the former President never sent any Abubakar Aliyu, as the innuendoes in the false report suggest, to ENI, the IOCs or any indigenous operator to seek favour or collect any gratification on his behalf.
“We will like to point out for the umpteenth time that whether in office or out of office, former President Jonathan does not own any bank account, aircraft or real estate outside Nigeria. Anyone with contrary information is challenged to publicly publish same.
“As the President who signed the Freedom of Information Act into law, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan lifted the veil on governance and encouraged transparency knowing that evil breeds in secrecy. It is the opinion of the former President that journalists and media houses should take advantage of this law in their investigative journalism, rather than rely on hearsay.
“We hope that these clarifications will help guide future reports which should be factual.
Unfortunately, former President Musa Yar’dua can’t speak for himself any longer. He is dead.
Investigators from all fronts have established that there big time manipulation from the time of acquiring the oil well by Etete’s fronted Malabu Oil to the period when in 2006, President Obasanjo was allegedly said to have participated in the return of the well to Dan Etete and Malabu Oil all through the time in 2011 when President Jonathan supervised the sale to Shell and Eni.
The company of Mr. Bayo Ojo and Chief Edmund Daukoru who were the Attorney General and Minister of Justice and Minister of Petroleum respectively at the time the return was made in 2006, are supposed culprits seeing the transaction passed through their offices.
It is also, according to a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stalwart, who wishes to remain anonymous, that the denials being presented by former President Obasanjo does not hold water.
“How could a sitting president claim ignorance of a transaction done under his watch. It is either he is lying or he was practically not in charge. Whichever, there is an integrity question mark against his person. My candid opinion is he knows more than he is letting out,” he said.
The chieftain maintained that each of the presidents mentioned by Adoke participated covertly or overtly in the transaction, saying that each of them at one point or another made their own input.
“We must find out from Obasanjo why the oil field was returned to Etete after it was withdrawn by the General Abdusallam administration in 1999, and the issues that led to the handover. Again, former President Jonathan who saw to the sale of the field, has to explain why only $800 million out of the $1.1 billion supposedly realized was remitted,” he said.
A cross section of those who responded to the Boss were of the opinion that if the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) is really desirous of discovering the faces and situations behind the shady deals, the like of Chief Edmund Daukoru, who is now a traditional ruler in Bayelsa State, Mr. Bayo Ojo, and not forgetting Adoke, should be invited and rigorously drilled for the truth.
The Russian lawyer who bursts the bubble is not a ghost; he can be reached and made to say all he knows, said a frustrated respondent.