Just as there is confusion over the names of the major oil company involved in the bribery scam for a gas plant in Nigeria, so also are the different lists of alleged beneficiaries. The story of bribery scandals by a consortium of foreign oil firms operating in Nigeria has resurfaced again with names of the main culprits who were actually involved lumped with alleged victims whose only offense is that they held sensitive offices at the period when the projects were awarded.
Sometimes between 2004 and 2005, this writer while working as a PR person at the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) was inundated with various enquiries from the foreign media on the alleged bribery. They sought to verify if the Chairman of the Commission, Engr. Hamman Tukur was aware of his name, allegedly featured in a handwritten note by an official of one of the oil companies.
As at that time the US Securities and Exchange Commission had subpoenaed documents from several multinational companies in an attempt to probe into the $170m alleged bribery for a gas plant on Bonny Island in Nigeria. The companies involved in the project including Shell of UK which was the largest private shareholder on the project, Total of France, Eni of Italy, Halliburton of US, NNPC of Nigeria and Marubeni conglomerate of Japan which acted as a subcontractor on the project.
The scandal in the first instance was leaked by a former executive of one of the foreign companies who was sidelined in the deal. The subsequent investigations largely centred on the conducts of TSKJ, the major contractor for structures of the gas plant which was said to have ‘picked up about $7bn worth of building contracts between 1995 and 2004.’ TSKJ is a global consortium that includes a subsidiary of Halliburton, which was claimed to be owned by a former Vice-President Dick Cheney of the US.
Precisely on September 19, 2005, one of the emails received by this writer came from Michael Peel an award-winning journalist with the Financial Times of UK. He has reported the oil sector and financial crimes in Africa which expose corporate corruption especially in multinational oil companies and the effect on the environment. Though I had refused to respond to his first email which came through yahoo address, thinking it was from those notorious 419ners. A Google search indicated that Peel had published a profile interview with former GMD of NNPC Mr. Gaius Obaseki. Before then, I had advised my Chairman to ignore the early questionnaire.
Subsequent enquiries from him and others provided insights into the alleged scandals. The award of the first railway contract was made to TSKJ in 1994 when Engr. Tukur was a board member of NLNG by virtue of being the Director General in the Ministry of Petroleum, a tradition in various ministries where senior officers are directors in related institutions and parastatals. Surprisingly Engr. Hamman Tukur did not last long when the former Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha relieved him of his appointment.
Tukur’s name in the imbroglio stemmed from some notes by one William Chaudan, an employee of the TSKJ consortium, made of its meetings in the run-up to the 1994 contract award. The Peel’s email stated that: “A section of the notes, taken at an alleged ‘cultural meeting’ of consortium members in December 1993, is entitled ‘Marubeni suggestions.’ The section lists some people, next to the words ‘cover directly.’ Beneath, four other names of NLNG directors are listed next the words ‘already covered’. A note was said to be below that that says: ‘M requested approval and commitment for $30[m] for the above. Excludes Abacha, extra for Etiebet.'”
The Financial Times actually wanted to know whether the people named as “already covered” were offered or received bribes. Therefore the question by the reporter is to confirm “if any representative from TSKJ offer or give (gave) out money? If not, to confirm what the phrase “already covered” might mean?”
It was discovered that a number of notes suggest that the TSKJ partners were keen on hiding what they were doing. Notes of several so-called cultural meetings record discussions between TSKJ partners of “secret” and “open” commission payments. It was further revealed that at one point, another company Technip rejected a proposal as possibly opening up an opportunity for blackmail.
In my response to Peel’s enquiry on October 6, 2005, after speaking to Engr. Tukur on phone (who was then on a break in his hometown) I stated that “Engr. Tukur did not attend any nocturnal meeting for ulterior motives and was not aware of those coded messages and what they stood for in the notes.” I went on to clarify that “It might not be strange for individuals to impersonate others for extortion, in the name of fronting as link-person, a fraudulent practice that still exists.”
While some of the foreign media refused to mention names in their reports because of the risk and implications of indicting innocent victims from the main culprits, Financial Times was magnanimous enough in balancing the story even when it named names.
It is suspected that either the names of some innocent persons were featured to give the deal a semblance of legitimacy or some crooks were cunningly using other people’s name without authorisation, for fraudulent activities in the name of commission charges.
It is necessary to point out that as much as we keep accusing some of our leaders of corrupt practices, we must realise that there are many Nigerians that are honest, sincere and fighting corruption in various ways. Engr. Hamman Tukur has been a single individual that has stake his life to expose misdeed in the oil sectors, campaigned against misuse of revenues by the custodians at the federal and states levels and does not spare the Presidency and National Assembly in his acts and deed.
There are many honourable and distinguished Nigerians that are indeed very clean but not celebrated. One can even cite Tukur’s deputy at the commission, Alhaji Abu Gidado who is popularly referred to as an Incorruptible Minister during General Sani Abacha’s administration who could neither be bribed nor tempted as Chairman of Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) during the military era.
While it is agreeable that corrupt practices like bad news make the headlines, the media should be cautious in lumping innocents with criminals as the fifth columnists are presently out in full force to achieve hidden agenda towards their 2011 election. The government must also immediately investigate and prosecute those found wanting in the scam. It must also take further steps to blacklist the foreign collaborators and revoke the licenses of the foreign firms involved in this monumental scandal rubbishing the image of our country.
Apart from the victims whose names where wrongly or mischievously added to the list of Halliburton TSKJ Scandal, Nigerians are victims of the damaging campaigns which invariably affect the reputation of the great African nation and its citizens abroad.