By Eric Elezuo
A hide and seek game of guilt and guiltless between the Federal Government of Nigeria and ex-Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke, came to abrupt end on December 19, 2019, when the former minister landed in Nigeria to face trial on alleged corruption charges leveled against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The graft agency had confirmed that its operatives arrested the former high profile government official at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja as he landed from Dubai. Adoke reportedly arrived Nigeria on his own accord.
In the words of EFCC spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren, Adoke fled the country in 2015 and has pending criminal charge brought against him by the EFCC for alleged abuse of office and money laundering in respect of the granting of the Oil Prospecting License (OPL) 245 to Shell and ENI.
“The government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo revoked the OPL 245, which the late General Sani Abacha granted Dan Etete, his then Petroleum Minister, and reassigned it to Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company.
“Etete’s Malabu Oil and Gas, however, reclaimed the oil block in 2006 through the court. While Shell challenged the decision, a ‘fraudulent settlement and resolution’ was consummated under President Goodluck Jonathan’s government, with Shell and ENI buying the oil block from Malabu in the sum of $1.1billion.
“Investigations by the EFCC into the deal revealed crimes that border on conspiracy, forgery of bank documents, bribery, corruption and money laundering to the tune of over $1.2 billion against Malabu Oil and Gas Limited, Shell Nigeria Ultra Deep (SNUD), Nigeria Agip Exploration (NAE) and their officials, culminating in criminal charges against Adoke, Etete and others, which are pending at both the FCT High Court and the Federal High Court, Abuja
“The absence of the defendants slowed the prosecution of the criminal charges against Adoke, Etete, and four others, forcing the EFCC to obtain an arrest warrant against them on April 17, 2019.
“Though Justice D. Z. Sanchi of Federal Capital Territory High Court, Jabi, Abuja on Friday, October 25, 2019, vacated the arrest warrant and ordered the EFCC to serve defendants through substituted means, the Interpol on November 18, arrested the former minister in Dubai.
“His return to Nigeria clears the way for him to answer to the charges against him”, EFCC said.
On his return, EFCC immediately obtained a court judgement to detain the ex-law officer, pending investigations and questionings. However, Adoke applied for bail which was finally granted on January 30, 2020, paving the way for what may become another long drawn legal battle that may outlive the present EFCC, Justice Minister, Abubakar Malami and the President Muhammadu Buhari administration. But as at press time today, the former minister was still in custody over his inability to meet the bail conditions.
Adoke’s hide and seek game with the law, could very well be traced to what has been popularly referred to as the Malabu Scandal. It was said that Adoke allegedly played a role in the controversial transfer of Nigeria’s OPL 245 oil field.
In a report, it is alleged that $1.1 billion paid by Shell and Eni in the controversial OPL 245 deal brokered by Adoke and some other officials of former President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration ended in private accounts, especially those controlled by one Aliyu Abubakar.
The oil multinationals paid the money through the Nigerian government to Malabu, a company then controlled by Dan Etete, a former petroleum minister who has been placed on arrest list.
It was said that Malabu, which was ‘illegally’ awarded OPL 245 when Mr Etete was a minister in 1998, then transferred about half of the money into accounts partly controlled by Aliyu.
Adoke, who has denied any wrongdoing, said the actions taken in respect of the transfer of the block were based on the instructions of former President Goodluck Jonathan and in the best interest of Nigeria, went went on a self-imposed exile shortly after Buhari came into power in 2015 to avoid witch-hunting. He eventually travelled to Dubai where pressures from the Interpol prompted his bold return to Nigeria to face trial.
Adoke was arraigned on a 42-count charge alongside six others before Justice Idris Kutigi of the Gwagwalada Division of the FCT High Court. The charges were amended to 42 from an initial 12.
An indigene of Kogi State, North Central Nigeria, Adoke was born on September 1, 1963. He was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1986 after acquiring a degree in Law from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1985. He also holds a Postgraduate Diploma in International Tax Law from Robert Kennedy University in Zurich, Switzerland and a Diploma in International Commercial Arbitration from Keble College, Oxford.
Adoke cut his career teeth at the Kwara State Schools’ Management Board before proceeding to Kano State Ministry of Justice and to other private law firms prior to establishing his own practice. He was a member of the Board of Peugeot Automobile from 2006 to 2008 and Chairman of the Board Audit Committee of Unity Bank. He has also acted as an arbitrator in England and Nigeria, handling commercial disputes involving Shell Ultra Deep and the Federal Government of Nigeria, Global Steel Holdings and the Bureau of Public Enterprises Investment, and AES Nigeria Barge and Lagos State Government.
He was appointed Minister of Justice and Attorney General on April 6, 2010 by former President Jonathan to introduce a fresh approach in pushing through electoral reforms. And he was not found wanting while his tenure lasted.
The ex-minister has had his fair share of misfortunes accruing from holding public positions: on December 28, 2015, he was invited by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for questioning over the Malabu Oil deal, a transaction he performed to the best of his professional abilities. He was found clean until later in 2026 when the graft agency came charges many Nigerians have considered spurious. He was also questioned in connection to alleged missing £22.5m (N6.18billion) loot of the Sani Abacha which was recovered from Island of Jersey.
After going back and forth, Adoke was granted bail to the tune of N50 million with one surety who must be a Nigerian citizen with landed property within the jurisdiction of the court by Justice Idris Kutigi. The surety must also appear with the defendant throughout the period of trial; a trial that may turn out to become another long drawn legal battle that may outlive the present EFCC, Justice Minister, Abubakar Malami and the President Muhammadu Buhari administration or even the All Progressives Congress (APC) government.