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Due process followed in OPL 245 settlement, witness tells court

By Joseph Onyekwere
30 November 2022   |   4:25 am
A Witness for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Prof. Peter Akper, has told the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court in Abuja that a former Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke ...

Mohammed Bello Adoke

A Witness for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Prof. Peter Akper, has told the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court in Abuja that a former Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN) followed due process in the OPL 245 settlement of 2011.

The former AGF is currently standing trial along with six others over allegations of conspiracy in the controversial sale of OPL 245 to Shell and Eni by Malabu Oil & Gas Limited.

Mohammed Abacha claimed he owned 50 per cent of Malabu Oil & Gas Limited but that his name was fraudulently removed as a shareholder. General Sani Abacha, his father, was Head of State when the oil block was awarded to Malabu in 1998.

Adoke has always maintained he did not do any wrong in the OPL 245 settlement and that when he was approached by Abacha over the share issue in 2011, he told him it was a shareholders’ dispute that the Office of the AGF could not interfere in and should be addressed by the board or through a civil suit.

In his book, Burden of Service, Adoke alleged that the Federal Government scandalised the OPL 245 deal because the President was unhappy that the Abacha family did not benefit from the $1.1 billion paid to Malabu Oil & Gas Limited by the oil companies.

In court, yesterday, Akper, who served as Special Adviser (SA) to three AGFs from 2007 to 2015, was quizzed by Mr. Ufom Uket, the EFCC prosecutor, over his knowledge of the OPL 245 settlement agreement, as well as what he knew about the ownership of Malabu.

Akper, a professor of law at Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS), said he served as SA to AGFs Michael Aondoaaka, Adetokunbo Kayode and Adoke and knew most of the defendants on trial.

Paul Erokoro, Adoke’s counsel, asked Akper: “During your period of service as SA to the 1st defendant (Adoke), will you say he was a stickler to following all laws and due process?”

Akper replied: “My Lord, I think that is a fair description of him.” He told the court: “In 2002, the Federal Government of Nigeria revoked Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd interest in OPL 245 and awarded the same block to Shell Ultra Deep. So, Malabu’s contention was that Shell was their technical partner, and so it was unfair for the Federal Government to take their interest in OPL 245 and give to a company that was supposed to be on their side as partners. That was their contention. That was the mistrust between the parties.

“Also, there was a subsisting arbitration between Shell and the Federal Government was anxious to be relieved of that contingent liability (the $2 billion claim). At the end of the day, it was necessary to get all the parties to the table, so that the Federal Government will take advantage of the desire of Malabu to sell their interest in OPL 245 to Shell to resolve three main issues. The first being the dispute between the Federal Government and Shell; second being the claim between Malabu and the Federal Government to ensure that the block became operational, to enable the Federal Government derive tax, revenues and royalties from its operations.

“So, the contending parties entered into negotiations facilitated by the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and they reached a resolution. That is the OPL 245 Resolution Agreement. This agreement was then forwarded to the President for approval and for execution by the parties.”

Akper said during the negotiations, Chief Dan Etete and Rasky Gbinije represented the interest of Malabu and he never saw Abacha, adding that the son of the former head of state only came into the picture when the agreements had been concluded and executed.

The EFCC witness told the court that he was aware that the criminal trial of Shell and others in an Italian court over OPL 245 has dismissed all allegations of corruption.

He also said he was aware Nigeria lost its $1.7 billion claim against JP Morgan in which the country alleged that the bank was negligent by transferring the $1.1 billion to Malabu.

The British judge had dismissed claims, saying Nigeria could not prove any act of corruption in the transaction. Arraigned with Adoke are Alhaji Abubakar Aliyu, a property developer, Gbinije, Malabu’s company secretary, Shell Ultra Deep, Eni/Agip and SNECPO.