Ministers, PDP stalwarts pressure lawmakers to stifle Malabu probe

Attorney General Bello Adoke

Steadily, the Malabu oil scandal investigation is losing steam at the National Assembly with government officials and PDP kingpins pressing lawmakers to backtrack; but the House of Representatives vows the probe will proceed.

 

Since details of the Jonathan administration’s fraudulent payment of more than a N100 billion to a dubious oil company emerged, officials implicated in the scandal have crafted some of the most blatant falsehoods and cover-ups in seeking to justify the scam.

Repeatedly, the Attorney General and minister of justice, Mohammed Adoke, who is at the centre of the episode, denied claims that government knew Malabu’s fraudulent past and interests, and portrayed the administration’s role as nothing beyond intermediary.

Evidences published by PREMIUM TIMES have consistently countered those claims. Shell, one of the two companies that paid the $1 billion to the Federal Government for transmission to Malabu over contentious oil bloc, OPL 245, claimed no foreknowledge that the sum, jointly paid
with Agip, was going to Malabu. Records have also rebutted that claim, and Mr. Adoke has personally countered same.

For all the many lies and half-truths, lawmakers involved with the probe of the high-wired scam say they are only a slim layer of a broader campaign by government staffers and top members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to not only frustrate, but abort a twin investigation ordered by the National Assembly.

The cover-up plot

For months, officials and politicians involved at varying degrees in the rip-off have launched efforts to forestall a public hearing, fearing an unrestricted inquiry will unfasten far incriminating testimonies against highly placed personalities, lawmakers, who spoke in confidence told PREMIUM TIMES.

Giving teeth to that campaign has thickened in the past couple of weeks and those at the centre of the investigations are increasingly resorting to bare-knuckle tactics to achieve those goals, they add.

“They are putting so much pressure on us to stop the public probe. They claim to be acting to protect our party and the presidency,” a top member of the House of Representatives Committee probing the scandal said.

A spokesperson of the House of Representatives, Victor Ogene, also said it was not strange for those found wanting in violations trying “a move or the other” to frustrate inquiries.

But the lawmaker, himself a member of the House panel probing the scandal, however denied being personally under pressure on the job. If any existed, he assured, the House will certainly not sweep the abuses “under the carpet.”

“As a member of the committee I’m not aware of such pressure at least from my end,” Mr. Ogene said. “If a crime or a lapse has occurred
administratively of financially, the tendency is normally for people who are involved to get jittery and being to make one or two moves.”

Through several investigations and a running series lasting months, this newspaper has revealed the filthy details of the government’s so
called “obligor” role in facilitating the payment of the huge sum to Malabu, a fraudulent company owned by former petroleum minister, Dan Etete.

Mr. Etete, who served as minister between 1995 and 1998, was convicted of money laundering in France in 2007. He was sentenced to three years in prison and fined $300,000. He was also asked to pay $150,000 to the Nigerian Government.

The former Minister appealed the ruling. In March 2009 however, a French appeal court upheld the first ruling, and fined Mr. Etete $10.5 million after conviction.

The Malabu oil block payment swept through several establishments and figures in a well-cabled deal that Mr. Etete’s company received the huge sum for the vastly rich OPL 245. He later disbursed part of the amount to phony companies with several, fronts for highly placed
administration officials.

How the company became a subtle beneficiary of the multibillion dollar remittance from Shell and Agip, and how the federal government got involved in a deal with known fraudulent and spurious companies and personalities are at the centre of investigations announced by the House and Senate months back.

 

A stalling probe

More than three months after it agreed to probe the Malabu OPL 245 scandal, the Senate is yet to name a committee to carry out the probe while a committee named by the House has only sat once.

The House committee headed by Deputy House Leader, Leo Ogor, has as some of its members Samson Osagie (ACN, Edo), Mr. Ogene (PDP, Anambra) Adams Jagaba (PDP, Kaduna), and John Dyer (PDP, Benue) as members.

The House committee suspended its sitting indefinitely after government officials failed to deliver required documents at its first sitting on October 4.

Both committees of the National Assembly have clearly missed their timelines and delivery schedules.

House spokesperson, Mr. Ogene, said the committee’s work had been affected by an uptight House schedule that included a prolonged break, constitution amendment issues and constituency oversight.

The investigative committee will certainly deliver on the mandate given by the House, he pledged when reached on phone.

Several attempts to speak to Mr. Ogor, and other members of the committee were not successful. All refused to respond to phone calls
and multiple text messages.

But those who spoke in confidence said a few members of the committee of opted for a thorough investigation, and have since dug readings on the scandal from publications related to the Malabu scandal, particularly those from PREMIUM TIMES.

For its assignment, the adhoc committee has invited heads of dozens of government offices and a separate 28 “persons and entities of
interest.”

And to be sure, some members of the House have contacted this newspaper within the past months for a comprehensive listing of the Malabu reports.

But how the seemingly robust grounding will translate to effective investigation of the saga is entirely something different altogether,
those informed say.

 

The anti public-hearing

For one, senior members of the PDP and some ministers are opposed to the public hearing as it will lead to devastating revelations, PREMIUM TIMES can reveal.

The PDP team is reportedly led by the former Board of Trustees Chairman, Tony Anenih, while the ministerial band is fronted by Mr.
Adoke, lawmakers say.

The prevalent fear of the two teams is the invitation of a certain Abubakar Aliyu by the House panel. Mr. Aliyu, our past reports showed, towered above every other contending personality as the most dubious figure in the entire cash transfer and disbursements.

He is the guy branded by anti-corruption agencies with the unenviable moniker, “Mr. Corruption.” Allegedly representing the interests of the ministers and even the presidency, he got about half of the $1.1bn.

Believed to be the person who helped government officials and ministers to keep their funds, Mr. Aliyu is also a close backer of the PDP and has a firm knowledge about several shady deals. If questioned openly, the PDP and the ministers’ fear, he may spill the beans.

Our source, a member of the PDP, at the House said the efforts by the Mr. Anenih-led lobby group include threats to lawmakers of denial of
another term in office, come 2015.

Andy Uba again

Another person reportedly lobbying against a public hearing is Andy Uba, a Senator from Anambra state. Mr. Uba’s reasons against the public hearing, sources knowledgeable about the deal stem from his role in the scandal.

“Uba was Obasanjo’s middle man when Obasanjo showed interest in Malabu and asked Etete to jettison his earlier partners,” a senior lawmaker said. “Maybe that is the reason he is so keen against a public probe.”

The source referred to the 2006 resolution which led to Mr. Obasanjo re-awarding the OPL 245 to Malabu after he had revoked it a few years earlier.

Mr. Uba is reportedly responsible for the Senate not being eager to commence its investigation of the scandal.

Efforts to confirm when the Senate would commence its public probe and why it hasn’t were unsuccessful. Senate spokesman, Eyinnaya Abaribe, did not return calls or messages to his phone.

Frustrating Probe

When the investigation opened early this month, a host of key officials refused to surrender required documents to the Leo Ogor-led
panel, a reason the panel posted for an indefinite rescheduling.

Current petroleum minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, was key amongst those public officers. Our sources say even when Mrs. Alison,
considered one of the most powerful ministers with unbridled access to President Goodluck Jonathan, was allowed extra weeks to make the
documents relating to the deal available, she defaulted. She is yet to submit her report to the lawmakers.

Another person who has refused to submit his position to lawmakers is the Minister of State for Finance, Yerima Ngama. Mr. Ngama it was who, alongside Mr. Adoke, approved the transfer of the money to Malabu.

If such defiance continues beyond allowed time frame, the committee may subpoena the affected government official, Mr. Ogene said.

But it will seem a turbulent process in the making with the probe now resting squarely with the integrity of House panel, and on whether the
senate, will summon necessary courage and eventually kickoff its own investigation.

If anything, an often testy relationship between the House and the presidency may help fire in the minimum a showy performance.

“Any chord likely to discomfort the executive will likely be struck by the leadership of the House,” said an aide to the House leadership.

Integrity?

A going point for the panel may be its members who do not appear to have specific sullied pasts. Many are amongst some of the relatively
upbeat members of the house.

Mr. Ogor, who leads the House team, is a close confidant of the speaker, Aminu Tambuwal. He is expected to do Mr. Tambuwal’s bidding,
likely to ensure a stringent investigation.

Samson Osagie is the House Minority Whip and will likely be seen to dispense the critical role of the opposition. Mr. Osagie has not been caught in clear cut controversies in the past, except those engulfing the entire house.

Adams Jagaba, who heads the committee on Narcotics and Financial Crimes, was most visible during the infamous bribery scandal between
colleague Farouk Lawan, and businessman, Femi Otedola.

He publicly denounced Mr. Lawan’s claim that he kept the bribe money and insisted he knew nothing about the deal.


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