The Federal Government has refused to explain the role played by President Goodluck Jonathan and other government officials in a scandal allegedly involving government officials, Shell, ENI subsidiaries in Nigeria, a Nigerian oil firm and a former petroleum minister. However, on Thursday, the civil society and opposition parties criticized government’s silence, while also calling for a probe.
A report by the United States-based anti-corruption NGO, Global Witness, had said that Nigerian subsidiaries of both Shell and ENI agreed to pay $1.092bn to the Federal Government for oil block OPL 245.
The report entitled, “Shell’s obscure payments kill its case for weak US and EU transparency laws”, further alleged that the Federal Government then paid the entire N155bn to Malabu Oil and Gas, a company owned by Mr. Dan Etete, a former oil minister under the late General Sani Abacha.
An online news medium, PREMIUM TIMES, in a follow up on its earlier version of a report on Thursday, had stated that money was paid on the order of Jonathan.
It also alleged that the money was a slush fund, “with a huge chunk of it ending in bank accounts of cronies and business associates of government officials.”
Global Witness said documents in a New York court, stated that “…it does appear that the FGN (Federal Government of Nigeria) was indeed the proverbial “straw man” holding $1.1bn for ultimate payment to Malabu.”
Experts describe the process as round-tripping, adding that it is a tool widely used by corrupt government officials and businessmen for money laundering and tax evasion.
Efforts to get the President’s spokesman, Dr. Ruben Abati’s reaction to the money laundering allegation on Thursday were not successful, despite the sensitive nature of the allegation.
When called, Abati did not pick his mobile phone neither did he respond to an SMS send to him, asking for the Presidency’s reaction on the matter.
The report alleged that the President had instructed the Minister of State for Finance, Dr. Yerima Ngama, and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Mohammed Adoke (SAN) to pay the money to Malabu.
When contacted, the Chief Press Secretary to the Minister of State for Finance, Mallam M. Nakoji, said he could not comment on the N155bn money laundering controversy since he was not familiar with the issue.
He said the minister could not be reached because he (Ngama) was in Port-Harcourt attending a meeting.
He, however, promised to get the response of the minister on Friday. Repeated calls put across to the minister was not picked. Similarly, a text message sent to him at 4:03pm was not replied.
Also, efforts to get a reaction from the AGF were not successful as at the time of filing this report.
Our correspondent could not see the Minister when he called at his office in the Ministry of Justice.
The AGF’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Ambrose Momoh, who was also not in the office at the time our correspondent visited, did not respond to calls on his mobile telephone. A text message sent to him was not replied.
Similarly, Shell failed to address the issue of the fraud involved when contacted for comments by one of our correspondents on Thursday. The oil giant said in line with its information policy, it could not reveal commercially sensitive information. It also added that it could not comment further on the papers filed in the New York court proceedings.
“Shell remains committed to the principles of disclosure as set forth by the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative and in April 2012, we have published details of payments made to governments in 2011 of some of the main countries where we operate,” it added.
Shell, described the details of the agreement between Agip, the Federal Government and Shell as the settlement of various commercial and legal issues.
Also, Agip (ENI) refused to make comments when contacted on the telephone by the correspondent. Its spokesperson, Mr. Tajudeen Adigun, referred our correspondent to the Federal Government, saying the Federal Government was in a better situation to explain developments from the deal.
The EFCC, which was reported to have investigated the allegation also refused not comment on it on Thursday.
When contacted, the spokesperson of the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, told our correspondent that he was yet to get confirmation from the appropriate authority but promised to “get back.”
He said, “The person is not available and I can’t reach him at the moment. I can’t reach those that would give you confirmation. But if I am able to do that before it is too late, I will let you know.”
Amidst the unexpected silence from the various interests concerned, including the Federal Government, Shell and ENI, among others, civil rights groups took the gauntlet on Thursday, decrying the discomforting silence. The groups and prominent Nigerians said the scandal was indicative of the administration’s nonchalance to the fight against corruption.
Condemning the payments, the Congress for Progressive Change, said that the Jonathan administration was more concerned about looting than governance.
The CPC spokesman, Rotimi Fashakin, in an SMS to one of our correspondents, stated, “After the death of Abacha, much noise was made on the tens of billions of naira that later became known as the Abacha loot.
“Little did we realize that successive PDP governments would dwarf his records in mindless rapaciousness and kleptomaniac impudence. But in all these sleazy records, this Jonathan administration beats them all. No inspiring governance, only looting.”
Also, the Campaign for Democracy president, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, said that with the money laundering allegation, the Jonathan government had taken corruption to a new height.
“It is now one day one scandal for the government. That not one person has resigned in all the mind boggling corruption scandals under Jonathan shows that the commander-in-chief is friendly with corruption and it is so sad,” she said.
Condemning the Federal Government, Executive Director, African Network for Environmental and Economic Justice, Rev. David Ugolor, stated that there was no lack of transparency in the oil and gas sector industry in Nigeria.
According to him, the Presidency must take responsibility for the absence of transparency in the industry.
He stated, “If the petroleum resources minister continues to have discretionary powers without recourse to the National Assembly, we will continue to see this kind of problem.
“This is why they don’t want the sector to be reformed. This is only one of the many corrupt cases. We have been asking question about the renewal of a contract for Exxon Mobil and there has not been any response.
“You recall that during the nationwide demonstration in January, the President promised to reform the oil industry. He said he was going to ensure the quick passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill. What has happened since then?”
Ugolor called for a public hearing on the money laundering allegation, adding that the EFCC must probe the issue.
He stated, “What we are seeing now is just a tip of the iceberg. Lack of transparency has been the bane of oil and gas operations in the country. We also want the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to be involved in the probe. This is the way to end the culture of impunity in Nigeria.”
Also, a former governor of Kaduna State and leader of the umbrella body of the opposition parties in Nigeria, the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, simply noted that he was not surprised Jonathan could be named in such act.
According to him, it was impossible for anybody in Nigeria to become president or governor without pilfering the nation’s treasury.
He said, “I am not surprise. I would have been surprised if the reverse was the case. You know I have always maintained that all Nigerian leaders are thieves. I doubt if it is possible for somebody who is not a thief to be president or governor in Nigeria under the present circumstances. So I am not surprised.”