A committee of the House of Representatives on Wednesday said a letter of invitation will be dispatched to former President Goodluck Jonathan, summoning him to appear before it to explain his role in the controversial award of OPL 245 oil block licence.
Razak Atunwa, Chairman of the House Committee on Justice who leads an ad-hoc panel investigating the $1.3 billion Malabu oil deal, said the panel members have asked the clerk to write the former president.
The clerk is expected to dispatch the letter in the coming days, Mr. Atunwa said.
The $1.3 billion was paid by oil giants, Shell and ENI, for the oil block, one of the richest in Africa.
About $1.1 billion of the money was paid directly into a Nigerian government account with JP Morgan during Jonathan administration in 2011; while about $200 million had been paid by Shell as signature bonus a few years earlier.
Most of the $1.1 billion ended up in private accounts with about $801 million directly going into the account of Dan Etete, a former petroleum minister who was convicted for money laundering in France.
A good chunk of that sum is believed to have gone to Mr. Jonathan and officials that served under him, including Mohammed Adoke, the then Attorney-General and Minister of Justice.
“The committee is of the view that in the interest of thoroughness, natural justice and fair play, it imperative that evidence should be taken from former President Goodluck Jonathan,” Mr. Atunwa, an APC lawmaker from Kwara State, said in a prepared document emailed to PREMIUM TIMES Wednesday.
The document gave specific reasons why the committee members resolved to invite Mr. Jonathan as follows:
• Mr Jonathan was the President at the material time the Ministers brokered the deal that lead to the allegation of $1bn diversion of funds;
• Mr Jonathan’s name features in the proceedings initiated by the Public Prosecutor of Milan in Italy;
• A U.K. Court Judgment in relation to an application to return part of the money being restrained, castigated the Jonathan Administration as not having acted in the best interest of Nigeria in relation to the ‘deal’;
• The Attorney-General of the Federation at the material time, Mohammed Bello Adoke, has recently instituted proceedings in court wherein he pleads that all his actions were as instructed by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The summon came three months after PREMIUM TIMES reported that Mr. Jonathan might have received up to $200 million in bribes to approve the controversial deal.
The report was based on Italian court documents obtained by BuzzFeed and Italian business newspaper, Il Sole 24 Ore.
In the documents, Italian prosecutors quoted Ednan Agaev, a Russian middleman who helped negotiate the transfer of the oil block to Shell and Eni, as saying that Dan Etete, the former petroleum minister at the heart of the oil scandal, said he intended to dole out as much as $400 million in bribes if the deal went through.
If Mr. Etete actually paid out such an amount in bribes to Nigerian officials, “Agaev stated that he would think President Goodluck Jonathan got at least $200 million of this money,” BuzzFeed quoted an excerpt of FBI submissions to Italian authorities as saying.
Mr. Agaev, who was Mr. Etete’s representative in the negotiation, said the former petroleum minister told him of the $400 million bribe to Nigerian politicians when he approached him for his payment.
The Russian also repeated the claim in a follow-up interview with Italian prosecutors, led by Fabio De Pasquale in Milan.
“I said that if it’s true, that he paid, he had to pay 400 million, I assume that at least 200 went to Goodluck (Jonathan).”
“I heard from Chief (Etete), he claims that he had to pay 400 million, so, if this is true, if he paid 400 million, then most probably the President, as the biggest boss, took at least the half of it,” BuzzFeed wrote, quoting documents prepared by Italian prosecutors.
Last year, Mr. Atunwa’s committee commenced a new round of inquiry into the controversies surrounding the OPL 245 since its lease was first awarded in 1998.
The lawmaker said his committee found the recent allegations against Mr. Jonathan too compelling to ignore.
“We cannot ignore such weighty allegations knowing fully well that Nigeria has lost billions of dollars as a result of the numerous complications around the OPL 245 oil field,” Mr. Atunwa told PREMIUM TIMES in April.
Mr. Jonathan’s spokesperson, Ikechukwu Eze, did not respond to requests for comments about the imminent summon of his principal Wednesday afternoon.
But he exonerated the former president in a January 10 statement about the Malabu oil deal.
“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,” the statement said.
While Mr. Jonathan and officials that served under him continue to deny any wrongdoing, Shell, the global oil firm that desperately wanted control of the OPL 245, in April admitted it knew the $1.1 billion it paid alongside ENI for the block would be used as a kickback to Mr. Etete, an ex-convict.
It was not immediately clear how Peoples Democratic Party lawmakers on the panel supported Mr. Jonathan’s summon.
Iduma Igariwey, a PDP lawmaker from Ebonyi State who serves on the committee, said he was not carried along in the discussions leading up to Wednesday’s announcement by Mr. Atunwa.
“I am not aware of the plans to summon the former president,” Mr. Igariwey said. “This could be because I am currently travelling on a technical assignment.”
When Mr. Atunwa hinted that the former president would be summoned in April, PDP members expressed strong reservations.
Nicholas Ossai, a PDP lawmaker and member of the ad-hoc panel, said special steps must be taken before Mr. Jonathan could be summoned, given his status as a former president.
“Former presidents, irrespective of their political parties are senior citizens, and there are certain levels of respect accorded to them,” Mr. Ossai, from Delta State, told PREMIUM TIMES in April.
Mr. Ossai did not immediately respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ request seeking to confirm if he signed up to the final decision of the committee to summon Mr. Jonathan.
The 16-man committee includes 10 APC members and six PDP members. Their names and party affiliation are listed as follows:
Razak Atunwa (APC-Kwara)
Abdulmalik Bungudu (APC-Zamfara)
Peter Akpatason (APC-Edo)
Nasiru Sule Garo (APC-Kano)
Sunday Adepoju (APC-Oyo)
Kehinde Oduneye (APC-Ogun)
Zakariya’u Galadima (APC-Yobe)
Talatu Yohanna (APC-Adamawa)
Mogaji Dau Aliyu (APC-Jigawa)
Amiruddin Tukur (APC-Katsina)
Ossai Nicholas Ossai (PDP-Delta)
Obinna Onwubuariri (PDP-Imo)
Daniel Reyenieju (PDP-Delta)
Adamu Kamale (PDP-Adamawa)
Karimi Sunday (PDP-Kogi)
Igariwey Iduma (PDP-Ebonyi)