BY REUBEN ABATI
I have written on this subject before now: the politics and drama of OPL 245 involving ENI, Royal Dutch Shell, Malabu Oil and Gas and the manner in which President Goodluck Jonathan’s officials were dragged into the matter, particularly Emeritus Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Bello Adoke. The big issue is that there were allegations of corruption, money laundering and unsavoury practices in the transactions. On Thursday last week, after more than three years, and 74 hearings, and about 200 witnesses, the Italian court looking into the matter ruled that none of the parties involved in the matter has a case to answer. In other words, the trial court discharged and acquitted, Etete, Adoke, ENI, AGIP, and Shell.
What the Italian court has said is that there is, there was not, any fraud over the transfer of the ownership of the OPL 245 and government’s management of the process. OPL 245 was projected by interested parties as one of the biggest symbols of corruption in Nigeria, from Presidents Obasanjo to Yar’Adua, and as a major minus for the Jonathan administration. The Italians in whose courts the natter was first initiated have now just ruled that there is no case to answer. We are right now at this point after reputations have been destroyed, family lives have been disrupted, and the wrong narrative has been put out there. It is terrible and condemnable the way the Nigerian government in the last six years has gone about this particular matter. What is even more telling is that in a public statement titled “A Trilogy of Acquittals”. Chief Dan Etete insists that the agreements on the transfer from Malabu to Shell and ENI were never cancelled by the Federal Government of Nigeria. The Court, he points out, has confirmed that no bribes were paid to anyone and that there is indeed no case to answer.
In other words, the prosecution raised the following issues: The legality of the transaction has been affirmed by the Italian courts. Before now, the impression given to Nigerians is that the OPL 245 Resolution Agreement was tainted with corruption, hence the prosecutions going on in Milan and Nigeria. Now that the transaction has been confirmed to be legitimate, it is expected that the Nigerian authorities will do the needful by terminating proceedings in Nigeria and publicly apologize to those maligned unduly by the EFCC and other state actors and their cohorts. In some jurisdictions, compensation will be offered. Nigeria ought to learn useful lessons from the Italian Prosecutions and the subsequent discharge and acquittal of the parties. Public Officers such as the Attorney General and other prosecutorial agencies must be guided by the pursuit of justice and national interest in the advice they give to ground a prosecution rather than serve narrow selfish private interests or the desire to even scores with people who have held public office. What exactly is the level of investigation that our prosecutorial agencies carry out before they decide to charge someone to court? We target people and try to rope them in, based on prejudices. Malicious prosecution is a direct assault on the rule of law.
This point must be made: Nigeria must not be made to look like a rogue state in the eyes of the international community where things can never be done right or government business is conducted in such a manner as to promote ulterior motives. In addition, malicious prosecution should be avoided because of its inherent danger to the state and the colossal loss it can occasion for the state when redress is sought against the state. What if Etete, Adoke, and the oil companies proceed against the government for the losses incurred during these years?
The Attorney General of the Federation indeed failed the legal community, the Justice system and his Oath of Office when he failed to give effect to the Judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja, Coram, Binta Nyako, J to the effect that Mr. Adoke could not be held personally liable for carrying out the lawful directives and/approval of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to implement the OPL 245 Settlement Agreement of 2006. In other climes, the Attorney General of the Federation would have moved to terminate all proceedings in obedience to the Judgment of the Court.
Nigeria’s image has been badly damaged internationally needlessly and public confidence in our state institutions greatly eroded by the actions taken by the EFCC, the Federal Ministry of Justice and other state actors to discredit a transaction that to all intents and purposes was legitimate and beneficial to the country. Now is the time to close the book on the OPL 245 saga.
The right thing can still be done by relevant prosecutorial agencies to remedy the situation and right the wrongs. The AGF should immediately proceed to terminate the ongoing proceedings in Nigeria and offer a public apology to all the parties concerned. That is the main take-away from Italy.
Much Ado about Ogun Cargo Airport
Ogun State has been in the news for the wrong reasons lately over what I prefer to call for the want of a better term: much ado about a cargo airport. All the parties involved need to be told that the provision of a Cargo Airport in the state should not become a matter of geography, individual ego, arrogance, mischief or ethnicity. The main consideration should be the interest of the people of Ogun State. A Cargo airport in Ogun State will, to state the obvious, create employment, open up the state, and deepen the development process, and also provide an alternative to the congested Lagos port facilities. It will shore up state revenue. The great advantage or disadvantage that Ogun State has is its proximity to Lagos.
With regard to the former, the increasing scarcity of space, and the over-congestion in Lagos, has resulted in the last two decades in an urban sprawl from Lagos towards every part of Ogun State which is its nearest neighbour. The effect is that housing schemes, industrial projects and other investments that could ordinarily have been located in Lagos, are being moved to Ogun State, along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway on the Southern front, and towards Epe and Ijebu Ode on the Northern axis. Whoever runs Ogun State as Governor therefore has a responsibility to prepare Ogun State for this advantage, for it is the best option for turning the state into an industrial hub, not just for proximity purposes but also as the gateway to the East and the neighbouring countries of Benin, and Togo. The disadvantage which needs to be addressed is that as Ogun State merges with Lagos, and with many Ogun State residents working in Lagos, commuting daily between the two states, the bulk of the tax that should go to Ogun State ends up in Lagos State coffers. No Governor has been able to find an answer to that yet. Most of the people living in Ifo 2 Constituency and Obafemi Owode Local Government, for example, live in Ogun State and pay tax in Lagos. The proximity between both states is such that in places like Alagbole, for example, some of the residents have their living rooms in Lagos State and their bedrooms on the Ogun State side of the divide!
But that is not the real subject matter. It is this: in 2007, Engr Gbenga Daniel as Governor of Ogun State decided to set up a Cargo airport in the state, to attract business and investment, and TO take full advantage of the proximity of Ogun State to Lagos. Lagos, Nigeria’s main commercial centre and the host of two sea ports and an international airport is congested, creating nightmares for both residents and businesses. The clearing of cargo in Lagos at the time and even now was an abiding source of frustration for business and industry. Why not set up an alternative in Ogun State and draw economic benefits? This was the vision of the Gbenga Daniel administration. And it made sense. The chosen location for the Cargo airport was Ilishan-Remo part of the state, close to Sagamu. Governor Daniel got the necessary approvals from the Federal Ministry of Aviation and the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), and did the ground work. But the Cargo airport was not completed before the end of his tenure. In 2007, Governor Daniel was succeeded by Senator Ibikunle Amosun as Governor of Ogun State. The new Governor also saw the good sense in what had been initiated by his predecessor but rather than continue with what he met on the ground, Amosun decided to start an entirely new Cargo Airport and chose as new location, a part of the state called Wasimi.
This is where the problem lies. Daniel was a Governor of Remo extraction. When he decided to locate the Cargo airport in Remoland, the Egbas accused Daniel of taking every important project to his part of the state. When Amosun took over, he looked towards his own territory, Egbaland and hence decided that the proposed Cargo airport was best for his own people. Wasimi to Ilishan Remo is less than 30 minutes. The change of location served no special purpose other than the psychological comfort it brings and the ethnic rivalry it projects. Amosun would end up doing a lot for his Egba people. He changed the face of Abeokuta, the capital of the state. He also gave them a flyover in Ijebu Ode. But the cargo airport has now become a source of concern. This whole hustle over location is just across the bridge and less than 30 minutes in terms of distance!
A week ago, the matter came up before the Senate Committee on Aviation, following disagreements between Governor Dapo Abiodun and former Governor of the state, Senator Ibikunle Amosun. The former is interested in building the Ilishan-Remo airport. Governor Abiodun, like Daniel is from Remo. Amosun wants the Agricultural Cargo Airport in Wasimi, in Egbaland. The Senate Committee on Aviation reportedly visited the two sites, and both Governors have been struggling to persuade the Senate to include their preferred project in the federal budget. By the way, the last time I checked, Senator Amosun was no longer the Governor of Ogun State. With due respect, why is he trying to dictate to his successor? He would never have accepted such meddlesomeness as he now allegedly puts up, from his own predecessors: Governor Olusegun Osoba or Governor Gbenga Daniel. As it turned out, the representative of the NCAA told the Senate Committee on Aviation that the agency has no record of any approval for the establishment of a Wasimi Cargo Airport, but it has all the necessary documentation for the Sagamu cargo airport. The Chairman of the Senate panel, Senator Smart Adeyemi subsequently resolved the matter by saying that Ogun State has the capacity to manage two airports. What kind of talk is that? Smart Adeyemi’s statement is supported by politics, double-talk and hypocrisy, and not the facts. Ogun State does not need two Cargo airports. One is enough. The state cannot afford two airports. That is a fact. The Senate panel on Aviation must be truthful and not take any decision just to please Amosun, who is currently in the Senate.
It is most unfortunate that governance in Ogun State as is the case in other states of the Federation has been reduced to the distribution of privileges based on ethnicity. I think Governor Abiodun has done well by continuing with a worthy project introduced by Daniel, which Amosun abandoned. It is completely beside the point that Abiodun and Daniel are from the same geographical zone. The overall target should be continuity in governance. That is how they do it in sane and developed economies Abiodun has completed some of Senator Amosun’s projects even in Egbaland, and the most conspicuous is the road leading to Abeokuta all the way to Kuto. He should also pay attention to Amosun’s projects in Ifo 2 Constituency to show good faith. As for Senator Amosun, can he just concentrate on his new assignment in Abuja and allow his successor to govern, the same way his own predecessors gave him a breathing space? Dapo Abiodun was our opponent in the 2019 Gubernatorial election in Ogun State but having won, he should be allowed to govern and make his own choices and mistakes. The state should not and cannot have two Governors. All that talk about what Amosun wants is mere politics and very cheap politics at that. I have no doubts that Amosun’s kinsmen will praise him for his Egba nationalism but we cannot afford to have an atomistic Ogun state where every Governor that emerges is more interested in his or her own narrow goals. A Cargo airport in Remo will be a Cargo airport for all the people of Ogun State. Can we just focus on that and subtract the politics of it?