Former President Olusegun Obasanjo on Monday warned a former Attorney-General of the Federation, Bello Adoke, to cease further mention of his name in the controversial $1.1 billion Malabu Oil deal.
In an exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES from Addis Ababa, the former president said he considered the controversial award of OPL 245 oil field licence as the “height of corruption,” and, as such, could not have participated in negotiations that led to it.
“I don’t support that kind of conduct,” Mr. Obasanjo said in his first reaction to the intercontinental oil scandal that has haunted three administrations for nearly a decade.
The rebuttal came a day after Mr. Adoke distributed excerpts of a petition he sent to the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, alleging victimisation and persecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Mr. Adoke told his successor to call the anti-graft agency to order because he was not the only official who acted on behalf of Nigeria in brokering the Malabu Oil deal with international oil majors that included Shell and Eni.
He specifically mentioned Mr. Obasanjo’s name, alongside his two successors and their appointees.
“I believe it is your responsibility to explain to the public who are being sold a fiction that the transaction started from President Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR under whose administration the Terms of Settlement were brokered with Chief Bayo Ojo, SAN, as the then Attorney General who executed the Terms of Settlement before the tenure of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR who approved the final implementation of the Terms of Settlement and my humble self who executed the resolution agreements,” Mr. Adoke said in the petition dated March 6.
“This is more so as the settlement and its implementation were situated in the Federal Ministry of Justice,” he added.
The petition was sent three days after Mr. Adoke accused the EFCC of lending itself to manipulation by powerful political interests, after the anti-graft agency slammed fresh charges of money laundering against him and one of his associates, Aliyu Abubakar, accusing them of sharing millions of dollars in fraudulent proceeds.
In the charges, filed at the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, the EFCC said Mr. Adoke exchanged more than $2.2 million at a bureau de change in Abuja as part of his share of the controversial $1.1 billion Malabu Oil deal.
Prosecutors believe Mr. Abubakar, the controversial owner of A.A. Oil Ltd., acted as middleman in the questionable deal.
The EFCC said in the court filings that Mr. Adoke took delivery of $2,267,400 on September 16, 2013, and immediately got money changers to convert it to naira.
Based on the prevailing exchange rate at the time, Mr. Adoke made N345.2 million after successfully converting the funds. He subsequently deposited the money into a Unity Bank account to offset an outstanding overdraft of N300 million, court documents showed.
But Mr. Adoke denied the allegations, saying the EFCC knew the facts of the case but was deliberately muddling them up to confuse “gullible” Nigerians and malign him.
In his petition to Mr. Malami, the former AGF asked his successor to save him from “unwarranted attacks and dehumanising treatment” just because he “chose to serve” his “fatherland.”
He told the attorney-general that some other former government officials took part in the controversial deal and gave approvals.
“It will be recalled that the Terms of Settlement encapsulating details of the Settlement between the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) and Malabu Oil & Gas Limited (Malabu) was executed on 30th November 2006.
“The Terms of Settlement, which was later, reduced into a Consent Judgment of the Federal High Court; Abuja was brokered by our predecessor in office, Chief Bayo Ojo, SAN and signed on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria by the then Honourable Minister of State, for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Edmund Daukoru, during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR.”
He wondered why the EFCC had not invited those officials, especially since they did not deny their alleged roles.
The spokesperson for the EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren, could not be reached for comments Monday afternoon. His known telephone lines were switched off.
But Mr. Obasanjo, who clocked 80 earlier this month, admonished Mr. Adoke to concentrate on rendering accounts of his actions while in public service and stop dropping his name in the matter.
“Adoke and others should not drag me into a matter I know nothing about,” Mr. Obasanjo said. “If they have been asked to answer questions over decisions they took while in office, they should do that honourably.
“They should not bring Obasanjo into an Etete deal. I was not part of any such deal.”
Mr. Obasanjo said it was inappropriate for any government functionary to “appropriate to himself or herself what he or she is in charge of.”
“If I hold that view, I could not have approved a deal with Dan Etete. What Etete did is the height of corruption. He appropriated the asset to himself illegally, illegitimately and immorally,” Mr. Obasanjo said.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how Mr. Etete as petroleum minister in 1998 awarded the oil block to Malabu, a company which he partly owned.
The administration of Mr. Obasanjo granted approval for the re-award of OPL 245 block to Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd., but when he was reminded of this fact on Monday, the former president stood his ground, saying he could not recall assenting to such a deal.
“I can’t remember giving approval that the block be given back to Etete,” Mr. Obasanjo said.
Mr. Obasanjo challenged anyone to produce proof that he took part in returning the oil field to Malabu, saying Mr. Ojo and Mr. Daukoru might be in better position to explain what actually transpired.
“We gave it back to Malabu? On what ground? Do you have any such evidence?
“Ask Bayo Ojo and Edmund Daukoru what really happened because the stand I took at the time was unassailable.
“If Daukoru has evidence that I approved that the block be given back to Malabu or Etete, let him produce it.
“If it is proven that I indeed approved the deal, I will be willing to apologise to Nigerians. But we have to get to the bottom of it all,” the former president said.
PREMIUM TIMES reporting had shown how Edmund Daukoru, the minister of state for Petroleum during the Obasanjo administration, wrote to Shell retrieving the block, and then re-awarding same to Malabu in what he described as a product of out-of-court settlement with Malabu.
That action triggered a massive lawsuit by Shell and Eni.
Available documents, including an award letter, signed by Mr. Daukoru, claimed that the former president authorised the return of OPL 245 to Malabu. Mr. Obasanjo says he doubts the integrity of the letters that emanated from Mr. Daukoru, now a traditional ruler in Bayelsa.
“We refer to the above subject matter and are delighted to convey to you that the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces having concluded a review of your legal claims for the return of oil block 245 (OPL 245) has graciously approved and directed as follows:
“That the federal government of Nigeria is amendable to an out of course settlement of the claims comprised in the legal proceedings commenced by Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd. and consequently has agreed to settle your legal claims for the return of the oil block constituted as OPL 245.
“The said oil block 245 (OPL) shall from the date hereof and with immediate effect, be returned to MALABU OIL AND GAS LTD with full and total reinstatement of all its rights thereto.
“Any and all previous decision inconsistent with or purporting to deprive MALABU OIL AND GAS LTD of its rights over the totality of the concessions in the said OPL 245 shall stand absolutely and totally rescinded as if they had never been made,” Mr. Daukoru said in the December 2, 2006 letter, with reference number: HMSPR/TA/008.
As part of the settlement, Mr. Daukoru said Malabu would withdraw its pending case against the Nigerian government from the courts and pay a total sum of $210 million for signature bonus including the $2 million previously paid by the firm.
Malabu never paid that signature bonus.
Mr. Dakouru also said Malabu “shall be free to assign, pledge or deal in any way with its restored rights over OPL 245, in whole or in part to any 3rd party” in accordance with Nigerian law.
To appease Shell, Mr. Daukoru said the Obasanjo administration had “decided to award Shell Nigeria Ultra Deep Ltd. a present concessionaire an alternative oil block with comparable potential and hydrocarbon prospectivity (sic).”
Indeed, in a letter dated December 1, 2006, which was also personally signed by him, Mr. Daukoru told Shell that it should back down on all claims to OPL 245, promising to grant the Dutch oil giant another field with similar crude potentials.
“Shell is to forego block 245 to Malabu while government provides a mutually acceptable substitute of comparable potential against the $210 million, which Shell has already paid or will be expected to pay as signature bonus,” Mr. Daukoru said in the letter he addressed to Basil Omiyi, the Managing Director of Shell Petroleum Development Company at the time. The letter had reference number: HMSPR/TA/007.
PREMIUM TIMES could not reach Mr. Daukoru on Monday to clarify if he indeed got Mr. Obasanjo’s approval to take the decisions and to weigh in on the integrity of that award letter.
However, knowledgable oil and gas sources who worked with the former minister wondered if he could have taken such actions without presidential approval.
The then attorney general, Bayo Ojo, could also not be reached on what legal opinion was available for the transaction. Aides familiar with his schedules said he was “traveling and will be expected back in town next week.”
Shell and Eni paid the total of $1.1 billion in 2011 in a deal brokered by Mr. Adoke.
Mr. Adoke authorised the transfer of the $1.1 billion paid by the oil firms into private accounts of Mr. Etete, who further transferred a large part to Mr. Abubakar.
Investigators suggested Mr. Abubakar might have acted as a front for some officials of the Goodluck Jonathan administration, including Mr. Adoke.
Shell, Eni, Mr. Adoke and Mr. Etete, who initially approved the lease award of the OPL 245 while he was petroleum minister in 1998, have all denied wrongdoings.
But Italian prosecutors said late last year they had enough grounds to charge Shell, Eni, and their executives alongside Nigerians involved in the controversial deal for fraud in Milan.
In separate charges filed late 2016, the EFCC accused Mr. Adoke and Mr. Etete of defrauding Nigeria in the OPL 245 deal.
The Department of Petroleum Resources said last December that Mr. Adoke and other officials of the Jonathan administration who participated in the concession of the lucrative oil field to Shell and Eni did not follow due process.
Mr. Adoke, who is currently in the Netherlands for study, had maintained his innocence and pledged to make himself available for trial. He is however yet to make himself available for interrogation or attend trial since the matter began.
The Nigerian government in January repossessed the lucrative oil block, which is believed to hold about nine billion barrels of crude oil and even larger quantity of natural gas.