By Festus Okotile
Way down south where bananas grow,
A grasshopper stepped on an elephant’s toe
The elephant said, with tears in his eyes,
Go pick on somebody your own size!”
In the real world, an elephant does not dialogue with a grasshopper. In the real world, the elephant would step on the grasshopper without a care. It is in the best interest of society that brute force is not the regulatory paradigm of society – that might is not right. Society’s only chance at protecting the weak against the might of the powerful is the Law and an incorruptible judiciary.
Malabu is the sad story of a grasshopper charged at by a parade of elephants. A company that has been serially maligned, defamed and browbeaten in the press. Malabu is the story of an indigenous company and its promoter whose story has been told by those who refuse to accept that ordinary people even from the Niger Delta can aspire to the same dreams as the rich and aristocratic few. As a result, Malabu has been carefully framed as a single story of corruption and bribes; of depriving a nation of its oil wealth, of diverting public money into one man’s pocket.
But Malabu is actually an untold story of resilience against power and intimidation. The story of a small fish in the same pond as Famfa Oil and Sapetro. Malabu, Famfa Oil and Sapetro are all Nigeria companies who were awarded licenses to different oil blocks by the Abacha regime. Of them all, only Malabu has been subjected to relentless witch hunt and blackmail. While Famfa Oil and Sapetro have gone on to maximise the benefits of their respective oil blocks, Malabu has been hounded by sectional interests who have ceaselessly pressed for a share of Malabu’s OPL 245. First in 2001 when the Obasanjo regime revoked Malabu’s license to OPL 245 and awarded it to Shell Nigeria. The Obasanjo regime’s action sparked an inquiry by the National Assembly and a suit of court cases. After Malabu won at the lower court and in addition to pressure, the Obasanjo regime reached an agreement handing OPL 245 back to Malabu. Shell in turn argued that the Obasanjo regime breached its contract with Shell and commenced arbitration against Nigeria for $2 billion. In order to resolve the disputes, the parties negotiated a settlement – Malabu agreed to transfer its interests in OPL 245 to Shell for $1.1 billion. Shell also agreed to pay the Nigerian government N201 million as signature bonus for the oil block.
What followed the settlement were efforts by powerful people to get their hands on Malabu in any way possible. Following failed efforts by powerful Nigerians including Mohammed Abacha to get a slice of the Malabu settlement fee, they turned Malabu an object of fiery EFCC persecution. The fierce persecution was also mercilessly extended to the Attorney General of the Federation who “wrote” a legal opinion on the Malabu settlement agreement. The EFCC persecution was both baseless and a brazen use of state apparatus to articulate and prosecute a sectional agenda. Sadly, Malabu for its part has continued to seek protection from the Law.
On 21 December 2016, the EFCC wrote to the Attorney General of the Federation – Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) seeking the AGF’s directions on prosecuting the criminal cases against Malabu. After a review of the case files, including the documents the EFCC relied on as proof of evidence of their case, the AGF found that there was no evidence to support the criminal charges against Malabu. The AGF articulated his position and the basis for his conclusion in a letter to President Muhammed Buhari dated 27 September 2017.
The Nigerian Constitution gives the AGF, the power to discontinue criminal proceedings under Section 174. This power of the AGF is a power which only the AGF can exercise, personally or through his agents. In exercising the power to discontinue a criminal prosecution, the AGF is not subject to any supervisory authority, in fact.
The AGF’s letter rattled the Elephants that are desperately seeking to wrestle from the promoters of Malabu what legitimately belongs to them. As a result they immediately launched waves of media
campaigns against the AGF. Some went as far as challenging the AGF’s power under Section 174, even though the AGF had not yet moved to exercise it.
It is useful to recollect that President Buhari himself set up so many committees at different times headed by prominent people he trusts to investigate OPL 245. One of such committees was headed by Vice-President Osibanjo and another important committee headed by Professor Itse Sagay amongst many other prominent Nigerians.
It is surprising that Professor Sagay who headed one of the investigative committees of OPL 245 for many months could come publicly to attack and condemn the actions of the AGF. Prof Sagay has failed to make reference to the conclusion of his committee report which was very conclusive. It is, therefore, necessary that Professor Sagay publishes the entire committee report.
Malabu is a story of the Nigerian state. A story of manipulations of facts, suppression of evidence and peddling of half-truths. Where the powerful hegemonies define the narrative. It is the sad story of the Nigerian State and the destiny of the Niger-Delta people. There is no one grappling with Famfa Oil for OPL – instead the owner is celebrated as the doyen of African entrepreneurship. No one is grappling with Sapetro for OPL 246 – instead, the owner is hailed as a philanthropist. No one mentions the fact that he sold 60% of his stake in OPL 246 for $2 billion. No one calculated how many schools and hospitals that amount of money could have helped build. The Nigerian State in silent acquiescence heralded it as the fruits of savvy capitalism. But Malabu is different, even though Malabu received significantly less for OPL 245 than Sapetro and Famfa have received from their respective oil blocks. Malabu is a different story because an Elephant stomping from Kano was resisted by some butterflies from the Niger Delta. Malabu is a different story, because the grasshopper stepped on the Elephant.
A simple question to ask – Are people from the Niger Delta, host communities to oil and gas assets in Nigeria not entitled to own oil and gas assets? If people from the Northern extraction who are miles away from the hardship suffered by the Niger Deltans own most of the oil and gas assets in Nigeria, why can people from Niger Delta extraction?
Malabu is a story of despairing struggle for justice.