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By Oladeinde Olawoyin and Lionel Faull

A consortium of anti-corruption groups who have spent years investigating the Malabu OPL 245 oil scandal have called on Nigeria’s Ministry of Justice to break its “thunderous silence” over a secret deal that could have seen huge sums of recovered assets repatriated to a private U.S. company.

The campaigners, who include Nigerian and western non-governmental organisations (NGOs), claim that hundreds of millions of dollars could be diverted from the country under a confidential contract linked to President Buhari’s billion-dollar asset recovery programme.

The contract was signed between Lagos law firm Johnson and Johnson Solicitors, which was hired by the government in 2016 to help oversee OPL 245’s asset recovery, and a company controlled by U.S. litigation funder Drumcliffe Partners.

Under the terms of the contract, the Drumcliffe company, Poplar Falls LLC, would have been entitled to up to 35 per cent of recovered assets – potentially hundreds of millions of dollars.

This flies against the policy of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government to only award a maximum of five per cent of any recovered assets to third parties.

The details of the contract were leaked last month, prompting huge concerns.

Despite repeated requests from PREMIUM TIMES to comment on the revelations, the Ministry of Justice has remained silent.

The anti-corruption consortium, comprising HEDA Resource Centre in Nigeria, Re: Common in Italy, and the Corner House and Global Witness in the UK, now say the revelations are a “slap in the face” for President Buhari.

In a statement to PREMIUM TIMES, they said: “The Ministry of Justice’s silence is thunderous. This is a slap in the face for President Buhari’s clear policy that lawyers should only get a maximum five percent recovery fee. The Ministry of Justice has a duty to ensure that Nigeria is not disadvantaged by the activities of government-appointed asset recovery lawyers.

“A failure to monitor their contracts is a failure to protect Nigeria’s interests. The bucks stops with the Attorney General, and ignorance is not an excuse under the law,” they said.

Drumcliffe’s PR agency, Montfort Communications, and their lawyers, Carter-Ruck, have explained that the contract was a draft and not the final executed agreement. When asked to confirm that for this report, they failed to respond.

Johnson and Johnson, run by Babatunde Johnson, was appointed by the government in 2016 to help recover assets that are alleged to have been stolen during the Malabu OPL 245 scandal.

Malabu scandal

The scandal centres on the offshore oil block OPL 245. The block had been awarded to a shelf company called Malabu Oil and Gas in 1998, when Dan Etete was petroleum minister.

It later emerged that Mr Etete actually controlled Malabu.

In 2011, Mr Etete, with the help of senior government officials in the then administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, sold the block to Shell and Eni for $1.1 billion.

He is then alleged to have gone on a massive spending spree with much of the proceeds, including purchasing a private jet that was seized in Montreal, Canada in May as part of the asset recovery process.

Eni, Shell and a number of their corporate executives, former Nigerian government officials, and middlemen have been on trial in Milan since 2016 for allegedly conspiring to seal that deal. The accused, including Eni and Shell, have all strenuously denied any wrongdoing.

The long-running trial is now reaching its end, with the prosecution having presented its closing arguments last month.

Nigeria’s legal team summed up its claim for a civil damages award on Wednesday, and asked for the court for a minimum payout of $1.1 billion in the event of a guilty verdict against Eni and Shell.

But throughout the saga, there have been various twists as journalists and NGOs, such as Global Witness, continued to probe the deal.

The latest controversy centres on the asset recovery programme itself, a scheme that is potentially hugely lucrative.

Opaque deal

Asset recovery programmes, which involve lengthy court cases in multiple jurisdictions, are usually highly complex and costly.

It is not unusual for governments to outsource that process by appointing lawyers. But the lawyers themselves often need specialist asset recovery financiers to fund the litigation.

These litigation funders take significant risks on behalf of their investors, and in return they can demand large fees that are usually a cut of recovered funds.

In the case of Johnson and Johnson, they hired Drumcliffe as their litigation funder.

To help protect and ring-fence their investors’ money, Drumcliffe established Poplar Falls LLC, a special fund incorporated in the US state of Delaware.

It is understood that when the government appointed Johnson and Johnson, the law firm was told that the commission cap for recovered assets would be five per cent, which is much lower than companies such as Drumcliffe usually charge.

But the leaked contract between Johnson and Johnson and Poplar Falls, details of which were reported by Sahara Reporters last month, suggests a much higher reward was agreed.

PREMIUM TIMES and its UK partner Finance Uncovered have been in possession of the agreement since last year but had refrained from publishing its contents until its validity could be established.

It appears to have been signed in March 2018 between Babatunde Olabode Johnson and Drumcliffe principal James C. Little. It was signed on the same day Nigeria applied to the Italian court in Milan to be admitted as an “injured party.”

In it, Drumcliffe agrees to provide Johnson and Johnson with up to $2.75 million to fund Nigeria’s pursuit of damages from the defendants, in return for more than twice their money back and a 35 percent cut of any proceeds if the Nigerian case is successful.

PREMIUM TIMES initially alerted a senior official in the Nigerian justice ministry responsible for running the country’s asset recovery programme about the leaked contract last December, who replied saying that the ministry was “oblivious of any such funding agreement.”

The official, Solicitor-General Dayo Apata, said that the government’s direct contract with its recovery agent, Johnson and Johnson, was “clear on the terms of payment, mode of payment and account [into which] the funds are to be paid.”

Mr Apata confirmed that “recovery agents are only entitled to a percentage (not more than five per cent) of actual recoveries as success fees after remittance of the recovered monies habe been confirmed by the Central Bank of Nigeria.”

PREMIUM TIMES pointed out to Mr Apata that certain sections of the funding agreement between their agent, Johnson, and his backers, Drumcliffe, appeared to suggest they had reached a separate and very different understanding to the government’s.

One section stated that Johnson and Johnson had a right to Nigeria’s entire legal claim in Italy and an associated claim in Switzerland, as opposed to a more limited right to a five per cent professional success fee.

Another section allocated the funder a 35 per cent interest in any successful recovery, instead of a share of Johnson and Johnson’s five per cent professional success fee.

It also stated that successfully claimed funds would be paid into an account controlled by a third-party lawyer for priority payment to the funder, instead of being paid directly into the government’s asset recovery account first.

PREMIUM TIMES then asked Mr Apata and his boss, Attorney-General Abubakar Malami, a series of follow-up questions. These included whether they believed the leaked funding contract contravened Johnson’s own deal with the government, and if so, what action they planned to take.

They failed to respond.

Over the past several months, Johnson and Johnson and Drumcliffe agreed to explain the circumstances in which the contract had been signed – but only on condition of strict commercial confidentiality.

They claimed that the agreement was a draft, not the final executed agreement. Asked to confirm this on the record, following the publication of the leaked contract by Sahara Reporters, they did not respond.

PREMIUM TIMES also approached Attorney General Malami and Solicitor General Apata again in the wake of the leak, to explain the Ministry of Justice’s position regarding the contract, but they did not respond.

The anti-corruption consortium has now called on the judges presiding over the Milan trial to “insist” that any damages awarded to Nigeria be paid directly to the government’s federation account at the central bank.

A verdict in the trial is expected by the end of the year, although appeals could follow. A judge might also be inclined to award “symbolic damages” of far less than $1.1 billion to Nigeria.

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El-Rufai sacks 99 political appointees



El-Rufai sacks 99 political appointees

Governor Nasir El Rufai has said Kaduna state has started implementing its rightsizing policy by disengaging 99 political appointees, but is yet to disengage any state civil servant.

The governor disclosed that only agencies connected to the local government system have disengaged staff and these include the 23 local government councils, SUBEB and the Primary Health Care Board.

El-Rufai who made the disclosure at a media chat with some Kaduna-based broadcast journalists on Thursday night, explained that the disengaged political appointees constitute 30% of political office holders.

‘’So far, 99 political appointees have lost their jobs but we have not commenced rightsizing civil servants. We want to be fair with regards to civil servants. We had earlier promised that before we reduce the size of the civil service, we will start with political appointees and we have done that,’’ he said.

The governor who spoke in Hausa, said that the rightsizing of civil servants will still go on as planned because of dwindling revenues that is accruing to the state government from the federation account.

El Rufai explained that the rightsizing commenced with political appointees because their details are clearly known, making it more straightforward to disengage them.

‘’However, civil servants with question marks on the veracity of their data have to be given a chance to clear the doubts before any action is taken on them,’’ he clarified.

The governor said that his government has employed 11,000 more workers in the health sector, Kaduna State University as well as primary and secondary school teachers across the state.

The governor disclosed that it is a fallacy to allege that the salaries of political appointees account for the bloated personnel cost of Kaduna State Government.

‘’In March 2021, the salaries of these political appointees amounted to N259 million , while civil servants were paid N3.13 billion, aside from costs related to state contributions to pension, accrued rights and other personnel costs. So, it is false to insinuate that political appointees are the ones that guzzle most of the state’s resources,’’ he said.

Justifying the rightsizing of the public service, he said that all states and the federal government are affected by this shortfall of revenue and some states have even reverted to paying the old monthly minimum wage of N18,000.

‘’Kaduna State cannot continue to use 84% to 96% of our revenues to pay salaries of less than 1% of the population. The rest of our people, all 99% of them, need better schools, hospitals, water supply, roads, markets and support for agriculture to make a living outside government,’’ he said.

The governor however promised that Kaduna state will not reverse the N30,000 minimum wage that it has started paying.

“We are the first government, federal or state, to pay the minimum wage. We will retain the minimum wage of N30,000 and the consequential adjustments that gave most of our civil servants a 66% salary increase. We will also retain the minimum pension of N30,000 monthly.

“The unified Local Government Service continues to pay the minimum wage, even though they varied the consequential adjustments for their workers below the level for state civil servants,’’ he added.

The governor also promised that the state will still fund free education from primary 1 to the SS3, adding that ‘’we have directed our Ministry of Education to find ways of ensuring that we sponsor students for WAEC exams, the same way that we sponsor them for NECO. ‘’

El Rufai emphasized that basic education is a priority for Kaduna State Government because ‘’we see it as the bedrock for equality of opportunity.’’

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By Oladimeji Ramon

A group, the Federal Social Democrats, says the credibility and integrity of the Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, have been diminished by the alleged shooting of #EndSARS protesters by soldiers at the Lekki tollgate on the night of October 20.

According to the group, the Lekki incident has eroded the admiration that Sanwo-Olu won with his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group, in statement on Sunday signed on its behalf by Olutola Mobolurin, also condemned the harassment of #EndSARS protest leaders through the freezing of their bank accounts and stopping them from travelling outside the country.

The FSD’s statement was titled, ‘Statement by the Federal Social Democrats On the #EndSARS Movement and Violence in the Wake of Lekki Shootings.’

The group said, “Governor Sanwo-Olu, who before now has been credited with responsible and energetic response to the COVID-19 pandemic, has by this one act lost his credibility and integrity for many. He has a big task in regaining the confidence of the public and youths; his credibility gap surrounding what happened at the Lekki Toll Plaza is not helped by the insensitive bluster of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu at the governor’s residence stating that those who were injured and presumably those who died had questions to answer.”

Though the group condemned the destruction of public assets and looting that trailed the shootings at the Lekki tollgate, it said the mayhem pointed to the alienation of a large number of youths from society by government.

It said, “The so-called hoodlums are the youths that have been denied any stake in society by the self-dealing and state capture that have characterised governance over the last 30 years. Millions of our youths have been uneducated, unemployable and with no meaningful social safety net. Even for the millions who are educated and skilled, long-term unemployment has been their experience in the Nigerian prebendal political economy that serves primarily the interests of public office holders and their cronies.

“Some of the ‘hoodlums’ responsible for the trashing of Lagos are the youths and ‘the toughies’ that many politicians have over the years employed to subvert the democratic process through intimidation of voters and perpetration of violence during elections.”

The group said the organisers of the #EndSARS protests deserved commendation for the resourcefulness, transparency and accountability which they demonstrated.

The group condemned “the growing reports of compilation of names of the assumed leaders and facilitators of the protests for government reprisals.”

It said, “Those that are being targeted are reportedly being prevented from travelling outside Nigeria while accounts of some have been frozen. This is hardly the hallmark of a democratic government that is interested in dialoguing with the youths or learning positive lessons from the #EndSARS protests. It is also a violation of the spirit of government’s acceptance of the 5 for 5 agenda. The President should stop all these acts of witch-hunt.”

The FSD solicited support for the Lagos State Government to rebuild and replace the vandalised public assets.

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A man who never put tribalism, religion or differences in his work…. True to his calling to serve our nation without influence of any politician. Not an Igbo man but he speaks Igbo in a way you will be mesmerized and full of laughter whenever he speaks.. He will tell you “Nwannah why disobeying the law?”
People say police is not your friend but in this man I disagree with that notion. In him, i immensely believe that police is a friend when you meet the good type…. The person I am talking about is my Honorable CSP. RABIU GARBA, the DPO of Fegge Police Station.

Yesterday the youth was rampaging looking for Police Station to burn down. When they troop to his Fegge Police Station with gallons of fuel and weapons, most of his men was grip with fear, Behold !, when he came out, the Chants of the angry youths Change from
” We no go agree oh we no go agree oh” to
“DPO Garba you be our friend,
DPO Garba You be our man”

He addressed then properly, lectured them all and changed their perspective towards embracing calmness.. If you know him well you will know he can lecture very well from every angles of courses, law to Biology , physics to Science, religion to culture, he is the master of all… We fondly call him Professor Rabiu, Onye Nkuzi. Tears nearly fall from my eyes, tears of Joy and appreciation of a good man still serving and existing in Police.

This is a Police man i have ever see who believe that hardworking pays. He is a police man and a Farmer as well. He is a Police man and a Civil Engineer. He is a Police man and a Lecturer as well…

To me, I am encouraging all police men and woman to emulate this Young man and learn from his Public relation skill. Because I strongly believe Public relationship should be practiced to serve the public interest, to develop mutual understanding between organizations, the neighborhood and their publics.

As a Psychologist, i have noticed that without publicity there can be no public support, and without public support every nation must decay.”

DPO Rabiu Garba we all know was the man who single handedly build a Borehole water for the people of Fegge Where his station is situated without donations from the public. If i lie verify from anyone you know living in fegge.

He also Organized Sports event for the youth at fegge Stadium where he normally engaged them in Table Tenis playing competition after work.. He walks among all without gun, knife or tear gas because he does his work diligently without corruption. So no fear of the mob.

He attends many church events he is been invited for around onitsha which shows his sense of unity.

When police do bad we mock them when we see one doing good pls my brothers and sister let us encourage that one as to lift his or her spirit to do more because ndi ba anyi is na Etoo dike na nkem omeru omekwa ozo….

DPO Rabiu Garba anyi Oha nile. No wonder people once cried when you wanted to leave to another Station. How i wish we have thousands of police men and women like you, the Police institution would have been so harmonized…..keep up the good work. Good market sells itself in the market…

No wonder Odumeje cherish you so much.

Thank you once again for the way you handled the youth matter yesterday which resulted to zero casualties at Fegge District…

Honourable Ozoigbondu na Umuoji. ( Odoakpa ward 7 Youth Mobilizer and Organizer)

Pls read and Share to appreciate a good work.

EndSARS #uprising #Lekkitollgate #policebrutalityawareness #PoliceReform #anambra #onitsha #DPO #Ndigbo #hausa #yoruba #IgboAmaka #channelstv #AITLIVE #AriseNews #NTA #abcnews

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