By Dapo Akinrefon
CHIEF Don Etiebet served as Minister for Petroleum and Mineral Resources during late General Sani Abacha. The stalwart of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in this interview dismissed media reports that former military Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd)Â and himself received $ 37.5 million from Haliburton. He also bared his mind on the crisis rocking the PDP and other sundry issues. Excerpts:
A newspaper publication recently stated that you were indicted in the Haliburton scandal and that you and a former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd) allegedly collected $37.5 million. How true is this allegation?
I want to categorically state to you and on my honour, that I did not collect or receive any money or payment by way of bribe from Haliburton. Either directly from Haliburton or its agents or person acting on their behalf, in connection to or in relation to the NLNG project or any other project. I want to emphasis that I did not collect any money, nobody gave me any money on their behalf. Nobody discussed Haliburton bribery or alleged inducement with me whatsoever and I stand by that. This issue started from 1994 and by 1995 to 1998, the stories were all over the place, so there were investigations all over the world.
And nowhere, in all these investigations, that my name Don Etiebet as the former Minister for Petroleum was mentioned. Other names have been mentioned but my name has never been mentioned that any inducement or payment was made to me.
Have you contacted any member of the panel to ask whether this report emanated from them?
The publication said a panel report and so, I have to do it officially and formally. I donâ€™t need to use my position to call anybody to ask. I want to do it officially because the panel cannot bring out something against me that they did not find. The panel was not to allege wrong, it was to establish wrong doing and it was to indict people who have committed these crimes.That was what the panel was out to do and not to allege. From what I know and from the investigation carried out by the pane, I was not indicted. I am not going to end there because I have a name to protect.
Is it possible that this may have been sponsored by your political opponents or detractors to score a point?
I have a very strong feeling that it is a hatchet job but from where, I donâ€™t know. Iâ€™m contending that the statement could not have come from the Okiro report because the panel never talked against me to show that I had received money. But I will get to the bottom of this.
I challenge anybody to look into all the banks in this world whether any such money was transferred to Don Etiebet between 1999 and 2000 from Haliburton.
Considering the fact that 2011 is fast approaching, do you have any political ambition?
(Cuts in) I have no evidence right now to hold anybody responsible, whether my political opponents but what I can tell you is that Okiro panel could not have brought out this kind of report, having interviewed and interrogated me. There are many reasons people may want to bring people down, but Iâ€™m saying that there is some orchestrated attempt to smear my name.
As a former minister, why do you think Nigeria has not got it right 50 years after gaining independence?
The problems are multi-various. The Acting President has a great opportunity to make history for Nigeria and to make history for himself. If our next 50 years is not going to be like this finishing 50 years, then something has to be done to be different from what we have been doing before. This is the opportunity Nigerians have. The Acting President has to look at what should be done to bring about a new Nigeria, so that our next 50 years will not be like the lost years.
Is our electoral system faulty that we are not able to choose leaders of the people, that has to be looked at very seriously because that is where everything starts, we canâ€™t hold anybody responsible. Since the past 50 years, I have not seen a head of state or President who stood up on his own volition and said I want to be President; they have always been forced and asked. We must be able to look at the last 50 years and find out what went wrong and find out how to shape the next 50 years. The ball is in Jonathanâ€™s court
How do you view the internal crisis rocking your party, the PDP?
The PDP is the government party but right now, it’s in turmoil. The Acting President is the leader of the party, we have taken that major decision in council that the leader of the party is the president in office; Jonathan is acting president today, therefore, he is the leader of the party. And so, a party cannot take a decision that affects it without the acting president knowing no matter what happens. Because he has a responsibility to make sure Nigeria is stable, united and prosperous.
If the party that put him in office does not confer with him, on very important decisions that affects the structure and membership of the party, it means that something is going wrong and he should take immediate steps to make sure nothing goes wrong. Because everything is under his watch. Letâ€™s find out how to move this nation forward.