Two days before he was set to explain to lawmakers why he authorised the transfer of $1.1 billion (N165 billion) from a Federal Government account into accounts controlled by a felon and suspected forger, Nigeria’s Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, has suddenly realised he has a scheduled official meeting abroad.
Mr. Adoke was billed to appear before members of a House of Representatives committee probing the fraudulent transfer. The House hearing is to hold on Thursday, December 6, and Friday, 7, after several postponements.
The money was paid by oil giants – Shell and Eni- into a Federal Governemnt account for a lucrative oil block, OPL 245.
Mr. Adoke, alongside the Minister of State for Finance, Yerima Ngama, ignored petitions, a court case, and anti-corruption investigations, to hurriedly authorize the transfer of the money into the accounts controlled by Dan Etete, PREMIUM TIMES had reported.
Mr. Adoke has now made it clear to lawmakers that he would not be attending the public hearing.
In a last-minute letter dated December 3, but received by the lawmakers on December 4, Mr. Adoke said he would be attending a meeting on child sexual abuse in Brussels, Belgium, and as such won’t be available for the hearing.
“It is in this context that I wish to hereby apologize to this honourable committee for the inability of the Hon Attorney-general to attend and participate” at the hearing,” the Justice Ministry’s Permanent Secretary and Solicitor General of the federation, Abdullahi Yola, wrote on behalf of Mr. Adoke.
In the letter, obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, the minister however promised to be available at “any other time” to honour the invitation.
Evading public hearing
Mr. Adoke’s sudden realization that he has “a scheduled official meeting,” is coming several weeks after he was summoned to appear before the lawmakers and after he also offered excuses.
This time, in what seems part of the plot to frustrate the hearing, the minister did not direct any official from the ministry to represent him, an alternative the lawmakers recommended should he be away, our sources say.
Mr. Adoke’s dodgy attitude came after much pressure had been put on lawmakers to shelve the public hearing and let the matter be.
PREMIUM TIMES had exclusively reported how top government officials and members of the Peoples Democratic Party pressured committee members to shelve the public hearing.
Mr. Adoke is, however, not the only principal character in the scam scheming to boycott the hearing. Other major players in the scandal may also not appear.
Etete, Aliyu shun lawmakers
The man at the centre of the fraudulent transfer and former Petroleum Minister, Dan Etete, has completely ignored the lawmakers, committee members said.
Mr. Etete it was who created a fictional character, Kwekwu Amafegha, to get the oil block and continuously approved the forgery of documents to retain control of Malabu. He was also the one into whose account Mr. Adoke authorised the transfer.
Mr. Etete has chosen to completely ignore the lawmakers. He has not responded to the committee’s invitation neither has he offered any explanation.
The controversial businessman, Abubakar Aliyu, the man so central to the dealings that EFCC operatives have continued to refer to him as “Mr. Corruption” may also not be at the hearing. Companies controlled by Mr. Aliyu got over 50 per cent of the money from Mr. Etete. Mr. Aliyu is believed to be a front for several government officials in various shady deals. Like Mr. Etete, he has also decided to ignore the lawmakers.
Another potential absentee is Seidougha Munamuna, the man who is believed to represent Mr. Etete on the board of Malabu. PREMIUM TIMES had reported how Mr. Munamuna in a “fraudulent” means became a shareholder of Malabu and how he had made Mr. Etete the sole signatory of Malabu accounts into which the monies were paid. He has also chosen to ignore the committee.
Some legislators, who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES, condemned the attitude of the invitees but said the committee would still go ahead with its public hearing.
The legislators preferred to speak in confidence since the matter is still under investigation and had not been mandated to make public remarks on the subject.
Efforts by PREMIUM TIMES to reach the men failed as they would not return calls made to their telephones. Mr. Etete is also yet to respond to our email enquiry.
Petroleum minister cooperates
Petroleum minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, is also vital to the investigations, but it is not yet clear if the minister intends to attend the hearing.
Alongside the other major players under investigation by the House committee, led by deputy majority leader, Leo Ogor, Mrs. Alison-Madueke initially turned down the committee’s request for documents related to the deal.
She has since obliged, volunteering the information required, lawmakers who spoke to us said. Mrs. Alison-Madueke’s role in the scandal is mainly because she oversees the petroleum ministry. There is no evidence that the minister partook in the sharing of the corrupt largesse.
The expected absence of the central characters development has cast a pall over the long-awaited hearing that targets to unearth details of what now ranks amongst Nigeria’s most despicable schemes in history.
The House members and senators had previously spoken of the pressures they faced for months from government officials, stalwarts of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, to suspend the probe.
Initial hearings scheduled separately by the two chambers months back were moved after officials indicated they will ignore the hearings and turned down requests for documents.
However, while the Senate has slowed in its investigations, the House has pledged to proceed with the inquiry despite the pressure.
But House members close to the hearing say major actors named in the transaction, investigated and serially reported by PREMIUM TIMES for months, remain bent on scuttling the probe.
Mr. Adoke’s involvement in the scam is of utmost concern to the lawmakers, the legislators said.
Viewed as the brain behind every decision taken by the Goodluck Jonathan government on the Malabu case since 2010, Mr. Adoke’s personal testimony is key to the entire investigation.
Details reported by PREMIUM TIMES have shown how the minister, in connivance with the minister of state for finance, Yerima Ngama, moved N155 billion paid by Shell and Agip for the disputed oil bloc, OPL 245, into Malabu’s account.
Mr. Etete, a former minister of petroleum convicted of money laundering in France, claims ownership of Malabu. The company has been involved in a ranging case of illegalities lasting years.
Mr. Adoke has repeatedly denied claims the government knew Malabu’s fraudulent past and interests, and portrayed the administration’s role as nothing beyond that of an intermediary.
Evidences published by PREMIUM TIMES have consistently countered those claims.
Shell has also claimed ignorance that the money it jointly paid with Eni, was going to Malabu. Records have also rebutted that claim, and Mr. Adoke has personally countered same.
Some of the House committee members probing the scandal include Samson Osagie (ACN, Edo), Victor Ogene (PDP, Anambra) Adams Jagaba (PDP, Kaduna), and John Dyer (PDP, Benue) as members.
For its assignment, the House committee has invited heads of dozens of government agencies and a separate 28 “persons and entities of interest.”
The anti public-hearing gang
Reportedly opposed to the probe are senior members of the PDP and some ministers who fear a public hearing might reveal devastating details.
The prevalent fear of the party is the invitation of Mr. Aliyu by the House panel. Mr. Aliyu, our past reports showed, allegedly represented the interests of the ministers and even the presidency in the deal and 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 might make several shocking disclosures that might bring the party and its chieftains into disrepute.