Nigeria’s former minister of justice, Bayo Ojo, admitted to an Italian court on Thursday in Milan that he had an agreement with disgraced former petroleum minister and owner of Malabu Oil, Dan Etete, to be paid a staggering $50 million for legal advice, which included finding buyers for the infamous OPL 245.
Mr Ojo, however, told the court that he only received $10 million, for the services he allegedly provided between 2009 and 2011.
Mr Ojo made the revelation during cross-examination at the ongoing trial of former top officials of Royal Dutch Shell and Italian Agip-Eni for the payment of $1.1 billion made to Mr Etete, a convicted felon for the lucrative but controversial oil block.
The ex-minister told the court that he was still hoping to collect the balance of the what was left of the agreed $50 million, he was not going to sue to be paid the balance.
But curiously, Mr Ojo, who said he could not find buyers for the oil block at the time, even as he knew that Shell and Eni could be potential buyers, said he was only aware of the involvement of the two oil giants after reading content of the agreement transferring the oil asset to Mr Etete’s company.
But his claim of not being aware of the content of the agreement until when he was hired by Mr Etete to find buyers of oil well immediately raised two questions one of which is that Mr Ojo alongside a minister of state for petroleum, Edmund Daukoru, whom he served together with in ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, was named by immediate past minister of justice, Mohammed Adoke, as being involved in the agreement that led to the transfer of the oil asset to Mr Etete.
“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 had said in a petition dated March 6 2018 exonerating himself from any blame in the slush oil deal.
Also, Mr Ojo refused to disclose to the court the specific job he did (since he could not find buyer for the oil well, as he claimed) that warranted to payment of a whopping $10 million, which was paid in two tranches of $5 million each– one to an account of his law firm and the other to his personal account.
When pushed to give details of the job he performed, Mr Ojo declined, citing professional secrecy.
However, Italian prosecutors believed that the agreed $50 million, which is 5 per cent of the value of the oil block was kick back for Mr Ojo’s role in transferring the OPL245 to Mr Etete’s Malabu Oil.
However, Mr Ojo, who admitted to knowing of Mr Etete’s interest in the Malabu, said he does not see any conflict of interests in an oil minister assigning an oil asset to his company. He also added that the OPL245 was reallocated to Malabu (it was originally revoked by the Obasanjo administration) because the government was more interested in the $200 million signature bonus that it was poised to collect on the deal.
Malabu did not eventually pay that signature bonus.