By Idris Akinbajo
After days of keeping mum and in an effort to cover-up the scam and absolve itself of any complicity, the Federal Government, through the Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, Sunday claimed that it only played the role of “facilitator of the resolution of a long standing dispute,” in the N155billion oil block scandal involving it, two multinational companies, and Malabu Oil, largely owned by former petroleum minister, Dan Etete.
The Federal Government’s response, which came through a press statement by Mr. Adoke, not only ignored several core issues raised by previous stories written by PREMIUM TIMES and other Nigerian publications, but further exposed the dubious roles played by the government in the transaction.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how the Federal Government, Nigeria Agip Exploration Limited (Agip) and Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Limited (Shell) entered into a fraudulent secret deal in which the oil companies paid $1.1bn to the Federal Government, which was then transferred to Malabu.
The money was later funelled by Malabu into various accounts owned by “real and artificial persons” linked to high level Nigerian officials in what the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission described as “cloudy scene associated with fraudulent dealings.”
Fallacies in AGF’s response
Developing Indigenous Capability
In his statement (see below), Mr. Adoke stated that “in furtherance of the Indigenous Exploration Programme Policy introduced by the Federal Government in the early 1990s to encourage effective development of indigenous capability in the upstream sector of the oil industry, Malabu and other indigenous oil and gas companies were allocated oil blocks, which they were expected to develop in partnership with international oil companies as technical partners.”
As reported earlier and confirmed by Mr. Adoke, Shell Nigeria Ultra Deep Limited (SNUD) became the technical partner of Malabu in 2001 prior to the reversal of the allocation to Malabu by the FG in July 2001. After various court filings in Nigeria and overseas, Mr. Adoke said the government intervened for an amicable settlement in 2011.
“To resolve all the contending claims in a satisfactory and holistic manner,” the AGF stated “due regard was given to … the underlying policy of encouraging the participation (of) indigenous oil and gas companies in the upstream sector of the oil industry.”
“How did Malabu ‘participate’ or guarantee ‘effective development of indigenous capability’ order than the fact that it, with the help of the FG, swindled Nigeria of at least a billion dollars by eventually passing the block to a foreign concern already entrenched in the nation’s oil and gas industry,” an oil industry source said. Future stories by PREMIUM TIMES will show clearly how government violated the law and its own guideline to re-award the block to SHELL.
Mr. Adoke’s statement was silent on how Malabu’s money-making slush venture guarantee “effective development of indigenous capability in the upstream sector of the oil industry;” neither did it state how Shell and AGIPs purchase of OPL 245 guarantee same. Yet the license through the block was giving to Malabu forbided that the asset be sold to a foreign concern.
Whose idea was it that payment be made through the Nigerian government?
Although Mr. Adoke confirmed that Shell and Agip made payments into Nigerian government account, which were subsequently transferred to Mr. Etete, he declined to mention whose idea that arrangement was.
This newspaper had reported how, fearing that Mohammed Abacha (who is laying claim to a part of the block) might again raise objection and obstruct the deal, Ednan Agaev, an international consultant hired by Malabu suggested the role played by the Nigerian government to Mr. Etete, who in turn tabled the proposal before a government’s team of which Mr. Adoke was a part.
The arrangement, PREMIUM TIMES can confirm, was made to effectively scheme out Mr. Abacha, and create a slush fund for government officials.
The EFCC, in its report, confirmed Nigeria’s dubious acceptance of that role when it stated in its report that “by the end of March 2011, the FGN seemed to have acted with the suggestion.”
“Why would the FG accept to play such a role of helping to keep such dubious funds? Why didn’t it just ask Shell and AGIP to transfer the funds to Malabu directly,” another industry source said, adding, “Can Adoke state if the FG ever acted like that in the past?”
Either Shell or the FG lied
Mr. Adoke also stated that “in furtherance of the Resolution Agreement, SNUD and ENI agreed to pay Malabu through the Federal Government acting as an obligor, the sum of US$ 1,092,040,000 Billion.”
In other words, according to Mr. Adoke, Dutch Oil Company, Shell, was in full knowledge that the payment it was making would be passed to Malabu with the FG only acting as a conduit.
This clearly contradicts Shell’s claim that “Shell was not aware that that money was to be paid to Malabu,” and that “any payments relating to the issuance of the license were made only to the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
Tajudeen Adigun, the spokesman for Agip, also made a similar claim in response to a newspaper enquiry.
The hurried payment
The AGF was also not forthcoming on why the funds were hurriedly transferred into Malabu account a day before Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian finance minister was to assume duties.
Mr. Adoke, in his response, stated that the FG signed a “Resolution Agreement dated 29th April, 2011,” with Malabu on the transfer.
The Attorney General however wouldn’t say why the FG, which had waited for four months, hurriedly made the payment into the Malabu account on August 16, 2011, a day before Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala was to resume office.
A source at the finance ministry had told PREMIUM TIMES that the deal was hurriedly done because President Jonathan and those in the know feared the former World Bank MD would block the dubious transfer.
“The Minister (Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala) was not briefed about the deal. It was a hush-hush deal. That is why they had to do it 24 hours before she was to resume. Whoever was holding forth for her office should have told her of such payment,” our source said.
Keeping mum on Etete
In a manner sources described as “characteristic of Mr. Adoke and the Federal Goverment,” the AGF also kept mum about dealing with a man who was convicted for money laundering.
Dan Etete, the principal owner of Malabu, was convicted of money laundering in France in 2007. His conviction was further confirmed by a French appeal court in 2009. Mr. Adoke makes mention of how the Nigerian FG willfully dealed with a convicted international criminal particularly as OPL 245 was mentioned repeatedly during Mr. Etete’s trial. Mr. Etete’s conviction came a year after Nigeria, under President Obasanjo, had an out of court settlement with him.
Perhaps sensing the criminality involved, late President Umaru Yar’Adua refused to have any dealings with Mr. Etete or any company linked to him.
Sensing that a favourably disposed President in Mr. Jonathan had assumed office, as admitted to by Mr. Adoke, Mr. Etete then approached the FG for settlement.
“In 2010, when this administration came to power, Malabu again, petitioned the Federal Government to implement the terms of the out-of-court settlement of 30th November 2006,” Mr. Adoke stated.
Who is Alhaji Aliyu and why were the huge transfers made to his companies’ accounts?
Perhaps the most outrageous of Mr. Adoke’s silence on important issues raised was his silence on the way Malabu transferred the funds paid to him into private accounts believed to be fronts for public officials including half of the total sum ($523mn) into the accounts of companies largely owned by Abubakar Aliyu, a man previously linked to the President and the AGF and whom anti-corruption sources described as “Mr. Corruption.”
Also playing smart, Mr. Adoke also did not comment on the interim report by the EFCC on its investigations into the scandal. Sources at the Presidency told PREMIUM TIMES that not only is the Presidency aware of the report, it is also, in conjunction with Mr. Adoke, frustrating further investigations.
“The investigation has suffered a setback since the presidency got wind of it. There is high-level complicity in the deal and there is therefore high-level cover up. The report is gathering dust on the president’s desk,” our source said.