By Wale Abydeen
Today Monday, 24th of January is another dark day for genuine activists and human rights fighters in Nigeria. This is because a leading voice in activism and Chairman of Human and Environmental Development Agenda, HEDA Resource Center, Suraj Olanrewaju will be reappearing before Justice Binta Nyako at the Federal High Court in Abuja.
Suraj’s alleged crime is an efforts geared towards killing the cankerworm of corruption which has bedeviled the progress of the country over the years. It is a known fact that OPL 245 Oil Field, infamously known as Malabu scandal was a conundrum in which Nigeria as a sovereign state was short-changed to the tune of $1.1billion. Suraj’s led HEDA and its international partners had been in the forefront in the advocacy for the recovery of this money and prosecution of principal actors behind the heist.
Mohammed Bello Adoke, a former Nigeria’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation is one of those alleged and charged with fraud in the OPL245 scam.
Notwithstanding the ongoing trial of the former Minister, Adoke had petitioned the Nigerian Police Force, accusing those behind the petitions resulting to his prosecution for corruption and money laundering allegations that they circulated fabricated evidence against him to unduly incriminate him in the multi-million dollar scandal. One of the alleged fabricated information, according to the former Justice Minister Adoke is the email which was tendered as exhibit in trial of the OPL245 scam in Milan Court.
The email, obtained by the Milan Prosecutor through a Mutual Legal Assistance request to the United Kingdom, was sent from ‘email@example.com’ to Bayo Osolake, an employee at JPMC. Attorney General Adoke was in touch with Osalake when the FRN account at JPMC was being set up.
According to Milan Court records, the email, which was sent a day after the telephone call from a ‘Mr Adoke’ that Lloyd recorded in his log of correspondence, was signed “Mohammed Bello Adoke”.
The Resolution Agreements for the OPL 245 deal were attached to email. In an apparent reference to these attachments, Lloyd’s log records that on 21 June JPMC was provided with “details of the settlement between all the parties” by “the Nigerian office of the Attorney General”, adding: “The details of this settlement are not in the public domain”.
Mr Adoke has vigorously denied sending the 21 June email, which he describes as a forgery. Adoke states that he could not have been the author of the email because (in addition to being on holiday on 21 June) the email was signed by ‘Mohammed Bello Adoke’ whereas all of his correspondence “whether physical or electronic are signed off with the suffix SAN” and at no time had he signed off “any document without using his rank in the legal profession”.
Following Adoke’s petition to the police and Suraj’s invitation and interrogation where he denied any wrongdoing, the Nigerian Government, through the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation recently filed four counts in a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/370/2021, accusing Suraju of using his social media handles as well as emails and audio interviews to circulate false information on Adoke.
Meanwhile the items Suraj and his group were accused of fabricating featured as exhibits in the Malabu Oil scam trials in London, UK and Milan, Italy.
The HEDA Chairman, through his counsel, M.A. Banire & Associates led by Dr. Muiz Banire (SAN), had in the last hearing sought the dismissal of the suit, stating that the court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the charge against him. Neither Adoke nor the Attorney General of the federation were at the court doing the last hearing, trhe situation many activists described as justice delay.
However, other documentary evidence from the Milan trial reveals that “firstname.lastname@example.org” was the email address provided by Nigerian entrepreneur Abubakar Aliyu when he opened an account with First Bank Nigeria for Novel Properties and Development Company Ltd.
The company is alleged by the Milan Prosecutor to be one of several fronts through which bribes were channeled from the OPL 245 deal to public officials. The Milan judges accepted that more than $500 million were disbursed through Aliyu companies to individuals.
The Milan trial described the “email@example.com” email as confirmation of “the relationship between Minister Adoke and the companies of Alhaj Abubakar Aliyu.
The Milan judges state that Adoke received over $2 million from the OPL 245 deal. This is denied by Adoke whose London solicitors Gromyko Amedu have stated: “Our client vigorously denies that he received a bribe of $2.2 million or any other sum on account of the OPL 245 Settlement Agreement”.
Abubakar and Adoke are currently being prosecuted by the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on money laundering and corruption charges related to the OPL 245 deal. Both deny any wrongdoing.
Although the Milan Court dismissed the charges against Eni, Shell and other defendants, it did not rule out the possibility of offences associated with the OPL 245 field having taken place in Nigeria. It ruled, however, that, if this was the case, it was outside of Italian jurisdiction.
Eva Jolly, A France based human right activist and founder of Corruption Hunters Network in her recent open letter to President Mohammedu Buhari noted that “cyberstalking” law which the West Africa’s ECOWAS Court of Justice, has ruled incompatible with international human rights undertakings and which the Nigerian government has promised to amend is being used to charge Suraj and his group
Eva Jolly described the anti-corruption posture of the Buhari led administration as huge joke, stating that “the fight against corruption fighters is clearly escalating in Nigeria. This despite President Buhari’s personal commitment to putting an end to corruption”.
Kwame Baa Mensa, protocol officer of the African Center for Investigative Journalism, ACIJ urges Nigerian leaders to see activists and private investigators as partners in progress. Baa Mensa described Suraj and HEDA as whistleblowers that must be encourage by all meaning stakeholders in the fight against the scourge of corruption.
Gbenga Soloki, a famous Lagos based human right activists and former National Secretary of Committee for the Defense of Human Right, CDHR told our correspondent that HEDA’s recent efforts at unraveling the misery associated with credentials of sacked Director General of the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, FIIRO, Chima Igwe is an eyes opener through which Nigerians must support HEDA and his chairman in this trying times of corruption fighting back.
Although, Suraj and his HEDA have vowed not to relent in the struggle against corruption in Nigeria, many activists however believe that the recent warfare against anti-corruption fighter is to ensure continuity of sleaze in Nigerian system.