The House of Representatives recently declared that it will invite former President Goodluck Jonathan to testify before its ad hoc committee investigating allegations of corruption in the Malabu oil deal, but in a twist, the House quickly recanted its stand, PHILIP NYAM reports
Before the House of Representatives proceeded on the Easter break last week, chairman of its ad hoc committee investigating allegations of corruption, malpractices and breach of due process in the award of oil prospecting licence (OPL 245) better known as Malabu oil scandal, Hon. Razaq Atunwa, hinted that there was every possibility that former President Goodluck Jonathan could be summoned as a witness in the exercise. Atunwa’s clarification came after speculations that the former president was billed to be invited by the lower chamber.
This singular news generated a whole lot of discourse in the polity; while some argued that the ad hoc committee should not summon Jonathan, others maintained that like any other citizen, he could be invited by the parliament to provide answers to questions where necessary.
In other climes, the invitation should not have been an issue, but Nigeria is a peculiar environment, where ascension to certain positions confers an ‘unwritten’ immunity, which places one above the law.
Hence, since 1999, no serving or former president has appeared before the National Assembly to respond to issues that have direct linkage to them. In the case Jonathan, some members Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the House, led by the minority leader, Hon. Leo Ogor, kicked against his planned invitation by the ad hoc committee.
This is expected because of the reservations the opposition party has for the ongoing anti-corruption war of the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
While political pundits and commentators have argued that a leader should be ready to give account of his stewardship even after leaving office, political, ethnic and religious factors often becloud the reasoning of political actors and the government in handling such issues with tact and ultimate diplomacy to avoid misrepresentation of facts and whipping of avoidable sentiments.
Atunwa, who confirmed the likelihood of Jonathan appearing before the ad hoc committee, said that fresh facts emanating from court cases on the controversial oil bloc seem to have implicated him.
His words: “The committee is aware of recent information that have come to light, both nationally and internationally, indicating that former President Goodluck Jonathan may have been complicit in the controversial OPL 245 deal. These facts have firmly placed the former president on the committee’s radar.
“The committee believes that former President Jonathan may well be in a position to assist it with its inquiries. Accordingly, the committee is considering inviting him to give evidence before it. An announcement would be made once a formal firm decision is taken on the matter.”
While assuring that the committee intends to be “meticulous, thorough and comprehensive in its inquiry so as to bring about finality to this seemingly intractable matter,” Atunwa also disclosed that the committee is also closely monitoring proceedings in the Italian courts instituted by the public prosecutor of Milan in which the former president and some ministers in his administration were mentioned.
Just recently, Italian prosecutors said in court that documents show that Jonathan may have probably received as much as $200 million to approve the controversial $1.3 billion sale of OPL 245 oil field.
The documents, which were extracts of a thorough investigation by Italian authorities on the deal, also confirmed that Shell and ENI were in the know of the $1.3 billion allegedly disbursed to Nigerian politicians as bribe.
The prosecutors quoted Ednan Agaev, a Russian middleman who helped negotiate the transfer of the oil block to Shell and Eni, as saying that former Minister of Petroleum, Dan Etete, who is alleged to be the principal actor in the bribery scam, said he intended to share out about $400 million in bribes if the deal went through.
But, Jonathan has denied receiving any gratification to approve the controversial Malabu Oil transaction during his tenure. In a statement by his spokesperson, Ikechukwu Eze, the former president said he did not ask businessman Abubakar Aliyu or any other person to receive bribe on his behalf during or after the negotiation.
“We make bold to point out that the former President never sent any Abubakar Aliyu, as the innuendoes in the false report suggest, to ENI, the IOCs or any indigenous operator to seek favour or collect any gratification on his behalf,” the statement said.
The former president also said he held no secret meeting with parties in the transaction at any time.
“As President of Nigeria, there is no doubt that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan met with executives of all the oil majors operating in Nigeria and urged them to, amongst other things, support the growth of the Nigerian oil industry by ramping up their investments and comply with the Local Content Act that he promoted and signed into law.
“We however wish to state, for emphasis, that at no time did the former President hold private meetings with representatives of ENI to dis- cuss pecuniary issues. All the meetings and discussions former President Jonathan had with ENI, other IOCs and some indigenous operators were conducted officially, and in the presence of relevant Nigerian government officials and were done in the best interest of the country”, the statement further stated.
But, against the backdrop of the outcry that trailed the planned invitation of the former president, New Telegraph gathered that the ad hoc committee, seems to have considered the implications and decided not to summon him again.
A member of the committee who spoke to our correspondent in confidence, said members of the panel had a rethink following the backlash that trailed media reports that Jonathan would be summoned. He said: “We have reviewed the situation, especially comments from a cross section of opinion leaders and most of us were of the view that we should not heatup the polity.
One, the former president has already reacted and denied any dealings with the principal characters in the oil bloc scandal.
“Secondly, the case is in court both in Nigeria and outside the country, so we are not out to humiliate or witch hunt anyone, but we just want to gather information that could help in getting to the bottom of this scandal once and for all.”
According to the lawmaker, “What we have resolved now is that we will request the former president to do a paper for us stating what he knows about the oil bloc and we will work with that. “There is no personal interest here, but we are only interested in clearing this mess because right now, our country is a laughing stock internationally. It is a shame.”
Asked if the committee was under pressure to drop the invitation, the lawmaker replied: “I will say we are not under pressure, but some well-meaning Nigerians have advised and expressed their reservations and we have to reason with them. Right now, there is relative calm and peace in the Niger Delta and we do not want anything that may trigger another round of crisis in that part of the country.
Times are hard and we need peace for development to thrive.” The committee’s detour confirms the belief by some analysts that Jonathan’s invitation would turn out another wild goose chase as the former president is most unlikely to honour the summon.