All the things wrong with the OPL 245 deal happened behind the scenes, and one can argue that Adoke’s role was not behind the scenes. However, the government appears to need a scape goat and Adoke is in mortal fear that it might be him.
When people aspire to high office, perhaps, they think about the opportunity to make a difference, for good or for bad. For those that get the opportunity, the experience lasts for a lifetime. For Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), former attorney-general of the federation (AGF), his experience as a public servant brought him career fulfilment and status as a reformer during his time in office. That experience has now left him with a seemingly endless fight for survival and vindication.
In his new book, Burden of Service: Reminiscences of Nigeria’s Former Attorney-General, which hit bookstalls in Nigeria on September 16, Adoke bares it all. He lets us into his world, chronicling the events and emotions that preceded his appointment into the number one legal office in the country. He offers insight into his thought process as AGF and renders an insider’s perspective to many events that took place during the tenure of former President Goodluck Jonathan. Most interestingly, Adoke poured his heart out about his involvement in the OPL 245/Malabu Oil saga that is now drawing critical international attention.
Although Adoke states that his book is not just about OPL 245, it is that subject that will be the highlight of the book for many of his readers. The intricacies of the deal reached between oil giants Royal Dutch Shell and ENI of Italy on the one hand, and the Federal Government of Nigeria and Malabu Oil and Gas Limited on the other hand, are now being unravelled by multiple authorities across international borders. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has also launched its own investigation into the deal.
A brief history of the deal, from all accounts, begins with Late Sani Abacha’s “Indigenous Exploration Programme”, which sought the allocation of oil blocks to indigenous companies. This included the potentially very lucrative OPL 245, which was allocated to Malabu Oil and Gas Limited in 1998 for a concessionary fee of $20 million.
Enter Olusegun Obasanjo’s civilian government in 1999. Former President Obasanjo issued Malabu Oil and its technical partner, Shell, an Oil Prospecting Licence (OPL) for the oil block, based on a Joint Operating Agreement between the two. Obasanjo, who was minister for Petroleum in his government, revoked the license five weeks later, despite assurances given to Malabu Oil and its partner.
Adoke finds himself caught in the middle of the Malabu storm because he was AGF at the time funds were disbursed to Malabu, or at least, that is what it looks like. His predecessors in that office, post 1999, were involved in one way or another in the eventual deal that legalised, on the face of it, the disbursement of $1.1 billion to Etete’s Malabu Oil. Surprisingly, only Adoke has now somehow been paired with Dan Etete by the EFCC…
In 2002, Obasanjo’s administration awarded a Production Sharing Contract to Shell for the same oil block for a signature bonus of $210 million. Malabu Oil kicked, dragged the House of Representatives into the matter and went to the courts. Obasanjo’s administration was forced to settle and recognise its claim by re-allocating the oil block back to Malabu Oil, despite having signed a new agreement and received $1 million from Shell. That settlement was reduced to a consent judgement of the Federal High Court in 2006. It was then Shell’s turn to raise hell, and it opened investor-state arbitral proceedings against Nigeria in 2009.
While shopping for technical partners, Malabu Oil approached ENI. ENI was interested in partnering with Shell on the project. Malabu’s refusal to work with Shell, and Shell’s proceedings against the government over its own claim to the oil block created complications that necessitated the government stepping in, according to Adoke, to facilitate some kind of arrangement. In the end, Malabu agreed to be paid off with about $1.1 billion for the oil block and the federal government agreed to receive the funds on behalf of Malabu Oil in an escrow account controlled by the government. The government also received the full signature bonus of $210 million. According to Adoke, the federal government’s and his involvement were limited to facilitating this deal in 2011. The deal apparently saved the country from a possible multi-billion dollar award in Shell’s investor-state arbitration, as well as solved the complication that had been inherited from the previous administrations.
The story of OPL 245 is a tricky, winding tale, made more complicated by the emergence, from the woodwork, after the deal was concluded, of two ‘brokers’ that facilitated the deal and representatives of the Abacha family claiming a stake in the deal. Emeka Obi and Ednan Agaev, the ‘brokers’ who claimed a combined sum of $290 million from Malabu, have now been convicted in absentia by English courts.
Dan Etete, former petroleum minister in Abacha’s regime and alter-ego of Malabu Oil, is the central character in the whole affair. He is also on trial in Italian courts, and is thought to have been the major beneficiary of Shell’s payment, along with many Nigerian government officials. There are simultaneous investigative proceedings and prosecutions concerning the deal in Italy and Switzerland, in addition to the earlier convictions in England and possible suits in the United States and Netherlands.
Adoke finds himself caught in the middle of the Malabu storm because he was AGF at the time funds were disbursed to Malabu, or at least, that is what it looks like. His predecessors in that office, post 1999, were involved in one way or another in the eventual deal that legalised, on the face of it, the disbursement of $1.1 billion to Etete’s Malabu Oil. Surprisingly, only Adoke has now somehow been paired with Dan Etete by the EFCC in its investigations and prosecution in Nigeria. An arrest warrant has been issued for the pair.
Charges drawn against Adoke have been found lacking in substance by Abubakar Malami, the current AGF, and same has been transmitted to the EFCC. One would not attempt to interfere in a lawful investigation and prosecution, but the seeming focus on the former AGF in a sea of possible suspects with a greater involvement is quite telling.
If Nuhu Ribadu, the pioneer chairman of the EFCC was described as the attack dog of the Obasanjo regime, Ibrahim Magu, the current acting chairman of the commission, is a raging bull that is difficult to control, even by his employer. He fixates on a target and embarks on a crude and ruthless campaign of what more easily appears to be persecution, rather than prosecution, in most cases. That style, of media persecution and image bastardisation of persons yet to be adjudged guilty, is an EFCC trademark that has been escalated under Magu.
Buoyed by a public scarred by corruption and therefore easily taken in by the slightest whiff of a financial scandal, the EFCC milks the mills of public opinion with professional touch, on the way to delivering shoddy prosecutions that rarely lead to any satisfactory result. The agency’s specialties are indiscriminate raids and confiscation of property, even while cases are pending in court. Nigeria truly needs a determined anti-graft agency, but not at the cost of reason, procedure and individual rights.
Adoke makes many assertions in his book, including some that pointedly accuse Magu of persecution. However, his principal claim on the question of OPL 245 is that he had no interest in the deal outside his duty, in his official capacity as AGF. Charges drawn against Adoke have been found lacking in substance by Abubakar Malami, the current AGF, and same has been transmitted to the EFCC. One would not attempt to interfere in a lawful investigation and prosecution, but the seeming focus on the former AGF in a sea of possible suspects with a greater involvement is quite telling.
There is, of course, the question of why the ex-AGF has not come to defend himself in the courts. It is an important question. In the light of his account and many other circumstances related to this case, his reluctance may be understandable. All the things wrong with the OPL 245 deal happened behind the scenes, and one can argue that Adoke’s role was not behind the scenes. However, the government appears to need a scape goat and Adoke is in mortal fear that it might be him. Quite unfair.
There is undoubtedly something fishy about the deal, with the convictions and sustained trial on-going in the case in other jurisdictions. The possible implication of very powerful Nigerians in the scandal puts a dangerous twist to it. With the alleged related assassination of at least one person, a Corporate Affairs Commission official, which was implied in one foreign media report, the case is no ordinary case. Without speaking to Adoke’s guilt or otherwise, his cautious and continued exile seems to make some kind of sense. If for nothing else, his book portrays someone desperate to reclaim his good name, rather than melt into the background, in guilt.
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