N155 billion oil bloc saga: Five questions still unanswered

by Stanley Azuakola

By now, most Nigerians have heard about the latest scandal brewing in the oil sector. At the centre of the controversy is the juicy Oil Prospecting Licence (OPL) 245. The major actors involved are the Federal Government of Nigeria, Malabu Oil (owned by former Petroleum Minister, Dan Etete), as well as multinationals Shell and Agip.

Reports surfaced last week that the multinationals had entered into an agreement with the FG in which they paid over $1.1 billionn (N155 billion) into the FG account. The amount was then wholly transferred from that account into a Malabu Oil account and from there it was siphoned to various other accounts belonging to officials at the highest level of government in the country. Even the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, according to reports, has described the deal as a “cloudy scene associated with fraudulent dealings”.

The government on the other hand, through the Minister of Justice Mohammed Bello Adoke is insisting that the deal was transparently done.

Some questions still remain however, despite the Minister’s spirited attempt to explain away the saga.

  1. Who is lying:  Shell or Federal Government? Shell says it “was not aware that the money was to be paid to Malabu,” and that “any payments relating to the issuance of the license were made only to the Federal Government of Nigeria.” However the FG, through Adoke has refuted Shell’s claims, saying that Shell was in full knowledge that the FG account would only serve as a conduit and that the Malabu account was the final destination. One of the parties is obviously not telling the whole truth.
  2. But if we are to believe the attorney general, then the question is, why? Why did the government serve as an intermediary between two parties in a purely commercial matter? Who came up with the idea that the money be first paid into the Federal Government account? Is this the norm or was it a one-off occurrence?
  3. Why did this happen just before Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala came into office? The transfer from the Federal Government account to the Malabu account was done on August 16, 2011. Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala resumed as Finance Minister on August 17, 2011, just a day later. Was this just a coincidence? Since a new finance minister was to resume the next day, why the hurry to transfer the cash if it was a clean deal?
  4. This fourth question admittedly has nothing to do with the Minister’s explanation; it’s about the Senate. The Senate had dragged its foot all along as regards investigating the matter when it broke. They finally agreed to do it and mandated the Senate Committee on Upstream to investigate – in secret. Why should such an important case be treated behind closed doors? What don’t they want Nigerians to see.
  5. Will there be any consequences as a result of this case?

Answers, anyone?

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