By Emman Ovuakporie & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA—THE House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee investigating alleged corruption, malpractices and breach of due process in the award of Oil Prospecting Licence, OPL, 245, yesterday said the United Kingdom Prosecution Service has agreed to help Nigeria recover $1.1 billion diverted oil bloc money.
Chairman of the Ad-hoc Committee, Razak Atunwa, who disclosed this when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and representatives of Shell and Nigeria Agip appeared before the committee, vowed that all the funds meant for the federation account, would be recovered
Recall that the 7th House had attempted to investigate the same issue, but unfortunately, the report of the investigation never saw the light of day which made the 8th House on January 27, 2016 in its resolution, to mandate the committee to re-open the investigation with a view to getting to the root of the matter.
But members of the committee expressed sadness that despite the importance of the investigation, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, AA Oil and Gas and Malabu Oil shunned the meeting without any written excuse or representation.
The Ad-hoc Committee Chairman at the sitting said: “Nigerian people deserve to know what happened to their $1.1 billion. At today’s exchange rate, that is over N500 billion. That amount can fund the entire budget of the Ministry of Education. It is double the entire budget of the Ministry of Health. It is more than the Capital expenditure of Works, Power and Housing.”
Explaining the reason for the investigation, Atunwa said: “Government ministers, chiefly the then Attorney-General, Mohammed Bello Adoke, and the then Minister for Petroleum Resources, Diezani Allison-Madueke are alleged to have contrived a series of complex agreements of questionable nature.
“The summary of the agreement was that Shell and Nigeria Agip Exploration (NAE) paid $1.1bn to the Federal Government for the oil bloc. Rather than putting the money into the Federation Account as required by the constitution, Mr. Adoke SAN and Mrs. Allison- Madueke then caused the money to be transferred to Malabu which then spirited the money to various foreign bank accounts.
“In this regard, it is alleged that companies, such as AA Oil Ltd were engaged to launder the funds. OPL 245 is a potentially highly lucrative oil bloc encompassing a massive area of about 1,958 square kilometres and estimated to hold up to 9.2 billion barrels of crude oil.
“OPL 245 has a long and chequered history. It has been mired in controversy and steeped in allegations of corruption from the onset. The complex history may be broadly summarised as follows: In April 1998, under late General Sani Abacha, the former Minister for Petroleum Resources, Dan Etete awarded the licence of the bloc to himself using his company Malabu Oil and Gas. He awarded it to himself at just $20m, out of which he only paid $2m.
From the beginning of the investigative session the committee was at variance with the position of Shell, particularly the letter written by its lawyer, Chief Richard Akinjide (SAN) to the committee on behalf of Shell that the House had no power to investigate the matter.
However, representative of the Acting Chairman of EFCC, Mr. Aliyu Yusuf told the committee that there was no information to him on the required documents to be presented and pleaded that two weeks be given to the commission for it to provide all the demanded documents.
Although a committee member, Rep Kehinde Odeneye had expressed dismay over the commission’s inability to provide the necessary documents demanded by the committee, the Chairman,Atunwa accepted the plea.
Also making plea for extension of time was the lawyer to SNEPCO, Dafe Agbele though the Managing Director of the company Bayo Ojulari was present.
Agbele said he was not properly briefed and asked for an extension of time to put together a response on behalf of his client.“With the advent of the Obasanjo administration in 1999, the licence was revoked. The same block was put to bid and eventually sold to Shell. This time for $210m. This sparked a series of legal wrangling by various parties.
“By 2011, Shell and Nigeria Agip Exploration, through its parent company ENI, had formed a consortium and were seized of the oil block. Malabu was still pursuing its claim in court.
“Government ministers, chiefly the then Attorney-General Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, and then Minister for Petroleum Resources Diezani Allison Madueke, are alleged to have contrived a series of complex agreement of a questionable nature. The summary of the agreement was that Shell and Nigeria Agip Exploration (NAE) paid $1.1bn to the Federal Government for the oil block.
“Rather than putting the money into the Federation Account as required by the Constitution, Mr. Adoke, SAN, and Mrs. Allison Madueke then caused the money to be transferred to Malabu, which then spirited the money to various foreign bank accounts. In this regard, it is alleged that companies such as AA Oil Ltd were engaged to launder the funds.
“Consequently, Nigeria and its citizens may be said to have been short-changed to the tune of $1.1 bn. As we sit here today, $110m is being held by the UK authorities from the fund as proceed of corruption from Nigeria. Italian Prosecutors have also requested that money from that deal in Swiss accounts should be frozen. So, Nigeria fold its arms while other countries protest its interest. Nigeria is the victim.
“The House has therefore risen to the task of investigating the matter as provided by sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
“If we are truly to succeed in the fight against corruption, we must do so thoroughly and fearlessly. We cannot exempt corporate bodies or indeed multinational corporations.”
But the committee declined saying SNEPCO was aware of the matter and that it should take long to file a response and hence gave Shell 18th October to make its submission.
Atunwa however vowed that his committee will get to the end of the matter “no matter whose feathers are ruffled.”
In his opening remarks, the lawmaker explained how the $1.1 billion meant for the government was cornered by some former ministers.
He said the NNPC, AA Oil and Malabu oil “have something to hide” by refusing to attend the investigative session.