The lawmakers are yet to focus on the transfer and distribution of the funds.
A House of Representatives panel on Thursday attacked oil firm, Shell’s role in the ownership controversy of oil bloc, OPL 245; and the firm’s role in paying $1.1(N155 billion) to Malabu Oil and Gas, at an inquiry where the lawmakers however failed to direct same scrutiny at Malabu.
Lawmakers approved a reschedule of the appearance of the officials of Malabu, which was represented only by legal counsels on the first day of the hearing, against House rules.
The company’s representatives said its Executive Secretary was away in U.K. and will be returning to Nigerian after December 14. The lawmakers merely asked them to go, and return when their Executive Secretary is around.
Other key actors in the controversial oil bloc transaction billed for appearance at the hearing also stayed away as earlier reported by PREMIUM TIMES.
The Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, who alongside the Minister of State for Finance, Yerima Ngama, authorized the transfer of the N155 billion paid by Shell and Eni for the bloc, into Malabu account controlled by felon and former minister, Dan Etete, also absented from the hearing.
Mr. Adoke, after initially saying he would not be available has said he will be attending the Friday sitting, committee chairman, Leo Ogor, said.
Shell and Malabu are embroiled in a scandal over the bloc, involving its multiple awards by the federal government, payment of the huge sum, and subsequent disbursement of the amount into phony accounts owned by people believed to be fronts for government officials.
Malabu, an indigenous company registered by Mr. Etete using the name, Kwekwu Amafegha, Mohammed Sani (son of former dictator, Sani Abacha), and Hassan Adamu, has been named in multiple suspected cases of fraud and forgeries.
Shell, too, has been involved in a string of illegalities including claiming the OPL 245 which was originally intended to serve local firms in line with the Federal Government’s indigenous policy.
The bloc, originally awarded to the company while Mr. Etete held office in 1998, was re-assigned to Shell and Eni in 2011, after the two companies paid N155 billion into a Federal Government account ending more than a decade ownership struggle.
But as PREMIUM TIMES’ past reports showed, government officials, led by Mr. Adoke, and Mr. Ngama, ignored petitions, a court case, and anti-corruption investigations, to hurriedly authorize the transfer of the money into accounts controlled by Mr. Etete.
The man at the centre of the fraudulent transfer Mr. Etete, did not appear at the hearing Thursday and there is no indication he will appear subsequently.
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 authorized the transfer.
Mr. Etete 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” did not also attend 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 absentee was 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 made Mr. Etete the sole signatory of Malabu accounts into which the monies were paid. He has also chosen to ignore the committee and is yet to appear.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, represented at the hearing by deputy director operations, Kabir Shehu, said the commission’s investigations into the shady transactions are ongoing.
As the long expected hearings opened on Thursday, the committee, led by deputy majority leader, Leo Ogor, made it clear it is concerned about preserving and upholding the indigenous policy of government, and raised no immediate concern about the intricacies of the fund transfers.
“No matter what happens or whoever is involved, we will make sure when it comes to preserving what belongs to Nigeria, we will ensure it belongs to Nigeria,” Mr. Ogor said.
The lawmaker re-echoed the underlying policy for the OPL 245, intended to be administered by an indigenous company with only maximum 40 per cent holding reserved for foreign technical partner.
“It will remain that way,” Mr. Ogor warned. “No one can come and take that away.”
The remarks, seeming protective of Malabu in the first place, played largely out at the first day of the hearing.
Lawmakers’ questions did not target the concerns about fund transfers involving Shell, Eni, Malabu and the government officials.
The committee repeatedly pressed Shell Managing Director, Chike Ndukwe, on the company’s rights in securing or bidding for a bloc of which it had a technical partnership with another firm, and which the government had earmarked for local participation.
Mr. Ndukwe said Shell never bided for the bloc, but was invited by the federal government after the oil unit had been revoked from Malabu by the Olusegun Obasanjo government.
It also became clear the $1.1 billion paid for the bloc, was paid by Eni although the shareholding rights is at 50 per cent apiece with Shell.
Shell said it had already spent $542 million to secure and operate the bloc.