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Tuesday, 23 March 2021 05:19

[OPINION] OPL 245: The Milan Prosecution and Lessons for Nigeria - Reuben Abati

I have written on this subject before now: the politics and drama of OPL 245 involving ENI, Royal Dutch Shell, Malabu Oil and Gas and the manner in which President Goodluck Jonathan’s officials were dragged into the matter, particularly Emeritus Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Bello Adoke. The big issue is that there were allegations of corruption, money laundering and unsavoury practices in the transactions.  On Thursday last week, after more than three years, and 74 hearings, and about 200 witnesses, the Italian court looking into the matter ruled that none of the parties involved in the matter has a case to answer. In other words, the trial court discharged and acquitted, Etete, Adoke, ENI, AGIP, and Shell.


What the Italian court has said is that there is, there was not, any fraud over the transfer of the ownership of the OPL 245 and government’s management of the process. OPL 245 was projected by interested parties as one of the biggest symbols of corruption in Nigeria, from Presidents Obasanjo to Yar’Adua, and as a major minus for the Jonathan administration. The Italians in whose courts the natter was first initiated have now just ruled that there is no case to answer. We are right now at this point after reputations have been destroyed, family lives have been disrupted, and the wrong narrative has been put out there. It is terrible and condemnable the way the Nigerian government in the last six years has gone about this particular matter.  What is even more telling is that in a public statement titled “A Trilogy of Acquittals”. Chief Dan Etete insists that the agreements on the transfer from Malabu to Shell and ENI were never cancelled by the Federal Government of Nigeria. The Court,  he points out, has confirmed that no bribes were paid to anyone and that there is indeed no case to answer.     


In other words, the prosecution raised the following issues:  The legality of the transaction has been affirmed by the Italian courts. Before now, the impression given to Nigerians is that the OPL 245 Resolution Agreement was tainted with corruption, hence the prosecutions going on in Milan and Nigeria. Now that the transaction has been confirmed to be legitimate, it is expected that the Nigerian authorities will do the needful by terminating proceedings in Nigeria and publicly apologize to those maligned unduly by the EFCC and other state actors and their cohorts. In some jurisdictions, compensation will be offered. Nigeria ought to learn useful lessons from the Italian Prosecutions and the subsequent discharge and acquittal of the parties. Public Officers such as the Attorney General and other prosecutorial agencies must be guided by the pursuit of justice and national interest in the advice they give to ground a prosecution rather than serve narrow selfish private interests or the desire to even scores with people who have held public office. What exactly is the level of investigation that our prosecutorial agencies carry out before they decide to charge someone to court? We target people and try to rope them in, based on prejudices. Malicious prosecution is a direct assault on the rule of law.


This point must be made: Nigeria must not be made to look like a rogue state in the eyes of the international community where things can never be done right or government business is conducted in such a manner as to promote ulterior motives. In addition, malicious prosecution should be avoided because of its inherent danger to the state and the colossal loss it can occasion for the state when redress is sought against the state. What if Etete, Adoke, and the oil companies proceed against the government for the losses incurred during these years?


The Attorney General of the Federation indeed failed the legal community, the Justice system and  his Oath of Office when he failed to give effect to the Judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja, Coram, Binta Nyako, J to the effect that Mr. Adoke could not be held personally liable for carrying out the lawful directives and/approval of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to implement the OPL 245 Settlement Agreement of 2006. In other climes, the Attorney General of the Federation would have moved to terminate all proceedings in obedience to the Judgment of the Court.


Nigeria’s image has been badly damaged internationally needlessly and public confidence in our state institutions greatly eroded by the actions taken by the EFCC, the Federal Ministry of Justice and other state actors to discredit a transaction that to all intents and purposes was legitimate and beneficial to the country. Now is the time to close the book on the OPL 245 saga.


The right thing can still be done by relevant prosecutorial agencies to remedy the situation and right the wrongs. The AGF should immediately proceed to terminate the ongoing proceedings in Nigeria and offer a public apology to all the parties concerned. That is the main take-away from Italy.  

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