By Wale Suleiman
Contrary to insinuations that the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, had advised President Muhammadu Buhari to discontinue the prosecution of the principal actors in the Malabu scandal, facts have emerged on why Malami sought the president’s intervention.
In a letter written by Malami to President Buhari,on the controversial oil deal it was erroneously reported that the AGF wants the case discontinued and asked the president to urge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to drop the case.
The controversy over the Malabu oil deal began in 2011 during the tenure of former President Goodluck Jonathan, when the Federal Government approved the purchase of the OPL 245 oil block by Shell and Agip-Eni from Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd., a suspected briefcase firm with ties to Dan Etete, who was Nigeria’s petroleum minister from 1995 to 1998.
The Jonathan administration officials who participated in the negotiation preceding the controversial sale of the massive oil block included Mohammed Bello Adoke, Attorney-General at the time; and Diezani Alison-Madueke, who was petroleum minister.
The EFCC has since filed charges of fraud and criminal conspiracy against Mr. Adoke, Mr. Etete and their alleged accomplices since 2016. Both have denied any wrongdoing. But after reviewing the case and the proof of evidence against those charged by the EFCC, the attorney general in a letter to President Buhari stated that the EFCC’s case against the principal actors in the scandal was weak, inadequate and insufficient to secure conviction of the accused.
A Presidency source who spoke on the letter claimed that the AGF’s letter was reported out of context, adding that Malami did not ask that the case be discontinued.
His intentions were clearly patriotic considering the economic dimension to the oil deal saga. “The idea behind the letter is to present options available to government in relation to the issue, inclusive of either improving on the inadequacies of the EFCC’s investigations or taking advantage of available window of opportunity to attract investment thereby improving government’s revenue profile through negotiating resumption of production in the oil field.
“The AGF only suggested a pragmatic approach to the problem; one that factored in the federal government policy of attracting foreign investments coupled with the fact that an asset that could have enhanced the revenue of the government is left unexploited on account of protracted litigation that is beginning to seem deliberately endless.”
The thrust of the letter, to any discerning mind is not about terminating the trial but about ensuring the country gets maximum benefit derivable from its assets.
“It is about taking a decision that is beneficial to the nation and most appropriate in the circumstances we have found ourselves, especially when viewed against the background of the quality and strength of the investigations done so far, “Discontinuance or termination of the case was not the underlying consideration but the national interest; the beneficial course available to the nation.”
Buttressing the argument, the presidency source made reference to the letter written by the AGF to the Acting EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, advising the anti-graft body to intensify its investigations on the case with a view to addressing the inadequacies highlighted in the investigation report.
This was to enhance the chances of the success of the charge as filed because it would be unfair to the nation if the case was lost in court on grounds of insufficient proof or on technical grounds. A government counsel in the AGF’s office who spoke on condition of anonymity said it is the duty of the AGF to give the government legal advice and one that is in the best interest of the country.
“That is exactly what the AGF has done, and nowhere in the letter did he advise that the charges be dropped and the accused allowed to walk free. He only advised that the prosecution do a more diligent job.”
Besides, the Nigerian government risks being portrayed before the international community and foreign investors as an unserious country that could not be trusted to live up to its obligations to international partners. Clearly, potential investors will not have the confidence to invest in Nigeria if the government of the country is perceived as one which does not honour its commitments,” Mr. Malami said of the OPL 245 oil deal which was approved by at least three former Nigerian Attorney-Generals.
The Malabu oil deal was a subject of litigation in a British Court in which the judge ruled that up to $85 million from the notorious deal be returned to the Nigerian government. This was the first money to be successfully recovered from the $1.1 billion sales of the fantastically rich offshore oil block, OPL245 that has been mired in corruption allegations and legal trench warfare for years.
Mr. Etete allegedly awarded the oil block to himself when he was oil minister in 1998, but only walked away with the money for it 13 years later after Shell and Italian Oil Company ENI paid the Nigerian government for the block. The government paid $801.5 million to Malabu, but not before $215 million was restrained by the UK Commercial Court after an Etete associate brought a case claiming their share. The $85 million is what remains in the UK courts funds office after years of legal wrangling. – Suleiman wrote in from Abuja.