Mr. Olanrewaju Suraju is the chairman of Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA). In this interview, he speaks on the ongoing trial of the controversial Oil Prospecting Licence (OPL245) scam, otherwise known as the Malabu oil deal, the need to take steps to curtail corruption in the sector, among other issues. WALE ELEGBEDE reports
It looks like OPL245 is the same as the P&ID scam. What is the difference?
The OPL245 and the P&ID, it is simply very straight. P&ID is owned by a very small briefcase company that approached the arbitration panel and poise to have the gas conversion and production contracts which was also like an illegitimate one and done to the ICSIB. The idea by many of the IOCs because they have the power and resources, they can hire the best of the international lawyers and arbitrators to be on their sides and we are likely that many of the developing countries like Nigeria, we don’t take seriously some of those issues until it gets to where P&ID got to. The interesting thing before now is where the media have a very critical role to play in reviewing and dissecting some of the information even for publication beyond just publishing news, reports or releases by the IOCs. The action filed by ENI in New York by the ICSIB was using not any company that was registered in Nigeria, not the one that was registered in Italy, as the Italian-based of any, but the one that was registered in the Netherlands. So, there were two companies that were registered in the Netherlands by ENI, these companies have never featured in the discussion around OPL245 before now until when they went to the arbitration court and said they were suing the Nigerian government, those two are better-called briefcase companies. They were not part of the discussion on negotiation on contracts of the OPL245 and the ENI did not issue the bilateral agreement or investment is written between Nigeria and Italy, rather it is using the one between Nigeria and the Netherlands.
Did you do anything as a watchdog when you realized this?
Basically, part of our own immediate investigation when we saw it which was why immediately we saw the arbitration process, we wrote a letter to the Nigerian government that they should not succumb to the blackmail or attempt at muzzling the government to convert OPL245 to an OML, because was that was the purpose of going to the arbitration. Part of the investigation for us was also to the effect that ENI has not even submitted a letter to the Nigerian government to request for that conversion as at the time that they went into arbitration. Why they used the bilateral investment treaty between Nigeria and the Netherlands, to our suspicion, is because in that bilateral investment treaty between Nigeria and the Netherlands, there is no clause that says such agreement or treaty of business will recognize local laws. So, if I’m signing or any company in Nigeria is signing a business deal with any company in the Netherlands, they do not need to make recourse to the local laws here, that for them will possibly provide a shield to claim that there is no prosecution as related to the agreement between Nigeria and the ENI. But under the Italian bilateral agreement with Nigeria, there is a clear provision that every contract that was duly signed must recognize and respect the local laws.
It appears there were attempts to delay the prosecution process?
There were several attempts to also do the same in Italian court where the prosecu-tion process was ongoing and the two people that were prosecuted Jinadu and Emeka Obi, the Nigerian and Italian middlemen that were convicted and had gone on appeal had to request that their cases be separated from the ones of the IOCs. Here you can delay the process and go to sleep, it would be you pay your lawyer according to the number of their appearances. But there, the longer the prosecution process, the longer the huge amount of money that the individuals would pay. For them, knowing that they don’t have the money and that the IOCs are not also footing their legal bill, they have to opt for an expedited trial process which was why they have been convicted the other day is still ongoing, but with the necessary political will, it is possible for Nigeria to actually get justice with the interests of Italy and some other countries.
Can you determine how much has been involved in different OPLs and OMLs scam?
To determine how much that is involved in different OPLs and OMLs, extremely difficult to determine but you can have an idea by looking at not the amount of money that is delegated to Nigeria but the amount of money that you see around people involved either in the award, renewal or the divestment. If you see an ordinary simple painting that was forfeited from Dieziani, as the former Petroleum Minister worth about $1.5m, wall painting, you can understand how much is involved, if you understand what is the value of the jewelry that was seized from Dieziani, they were not just usual jewelry that you and I buy, they are customized that are engraved with the Minister’s name; you can understand how much of what goes in if you look at the ownership of yacht by Kola Aluko who was involved with the Strategic Alliance an agreement where they made huge money and the former CBN governor first told the whole world that about $50bn was unaccounted for, those are the kind of money that were talking about, those are the kind of money that was involved, it does not mean that it is not happening, there are still a lot happening even as of now but possibly when we have a new government or things changed, we will then know what is associated with the occupants of the office now but based on the past experience, record and information, those are the kind of money that is involved in this case.
Do you think this government has the political will to pursue this OPL245 case?
The political will on the part of the government without in any way sounding too positive or optimistic about this government, I can say for one person, the President, he has the will and interest to get this done, but I can’t say the same for most of his lieutenants and unfortunately, especially the Attorney-General of the Federation, Malami.
This was the person who had earlier written to the president that the cases should be withdrawn and there is no strong evidence for prosecuting the cases in Nigeria, the letter was pleaded in court by the former Attorney-General, Mohammed Bello Adoke, when he was trying to make a case for himself and it was on the counter to that memo by Malami from the EFCC that sustained those cases till now, otherwise, we would have seen a withdrawal in Nigeria and could have truncated or badly affected the cases outside the country.
In terms of the political will, it is something you can say with an individual but can’t say about people working around the government, the unfortunate aspect is there is also lack of political will and capacity on the part of the president to show the erring lieutenants the red card to have them conform to his will or interest. But there are several attempts by the IOCs to directly use Nigerian officials. The former Petroleum Resources Minister, Ibe Kachikwu, also made several attempts to have the licenses restored back to ENI, I went to Italy to make announcements that Nigeria will convert the OPL245 to OML and Nigeria will work with ENI, we had to challenge it that he was saying nonsense, that the cases are still in court that it is not the job of the minister to determine the legitimacy or otherwise of the license. It is such a challenging situation that we have experienced with the current leadership and government, but so far, I can say there has been an effort on the part of the EFCC most especially for bringing back the former Attorney-General from Dubai where he was eventually arrested after being a fugitive for a long time outside the country and for even attempt to bring Dieziani back for prosecution and also sustaining the trial.
Like I said there are about three cases in court against Malabu and his companies against Adoke, and Aliyu who is called Mr. Corruption and the IOCs and some officials of the IOCs for money laundering, corruption, abuse of office and other vices. Monies were traced into individual and public officeholders with reference to OPL245. It is not just about the present, past or coming government, it is about Nigeria because the country is for all of us, we have the stake. These are just people who will occupy the office for a determinable period, either they like or not except there is a coup, they can’t do more than eight years, after that, there will be a new government but because they have a new government post- 2015 elections, some of these things came to public and limelight, we are able to sustain it. Either this government likes it or not, there will be a new government that would also emerge come 2023, from that point, we can also get to know some of the things that are not public for now.