-Saharareporters, New York
Of all the big beasts roaming the Nigerian political firmament in expectation of taking over Aso Rock post-May 2007, none comes bigger than the man they call IBB. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida elicits mostly negative emotions from Nigerians, not only because of the eight barren years he spent as the nationâ€™s military head of state and self-styled President, but more for what most consider his brazen audacity to think he can come back under a democratic dispensation after the harrowing experience his leadership put the nation through in those years (1985-1993).
Somehow, reading the political tealeaf right now, it would seem IBB is on collision course with history as well as his friend Olusegun Obasanjo, the current occupant of Aso Rock, a man reputed to have been installed by IBB himself in conjunction with a few others. The sudden exhumation of questions surrounding the execution of Mamman Vatsa and some military officers during IBBâ€™s reign over their alleged roles in a supposed coup plot at a time IBB is campaigning to return to Aso Rock is eerily coincidental. In fact, the kind of welcome and official goodwill being bestowed on the widows of these men (led by Vatsaâ€™s widow) by Aso Rock smacks of an attempt to scare Babangida off his mission. Add to that the arrest of Mohammed Babangida (IBBâ€™s eldest son) by the EFCC on the rumored charge that he owns 24% of Globacom, Nigeriaâ€™s biggest telecommunications company, and one can begin to get a clear picture.
For the ordinary Nigerian, what all the above points to is the possibility of an intra-establishment war of attrition costing the nation dear, as it has always done. The politics of personality anchored on stolen wealth by the various factions have always been the bane of the nation. Neither Obasanjo nor Babangida are good for the nation, but in their own â€˜moralâ€™ circle, Babangida probably thinks he has good reasons to expect that Obasanjo would not be a stumbling block to his ambition based on some secret promise or peculiar rules by which these apex figures run the establishment. When all is said and done, these two look like the main characters that will dominate national political discussion between now and 2007 and it simply doesnâ€™t look good for Nigeria.
A considerable section of opinion in the country sees Babangida as the godfather of modern corruption in government. They accuse him of institutionalizing the culture of â€œsettlementâ€ where every opposition to him or his policies were bought with state money or government position while he and his minions strip the nation bare. President Obasanjo in the early days of his administration (when all was still honky-dory between them) notoriously challenged anyone to provide documentary evidence of Babangidaâ€™s corruption before he can act on it! Naturally, this challenge drew a lot of ire from Nigerians who thought and still think Obasanjo is merely covering up for a man reputed to have worked with others to install him as President in 1999. They contend that Obasanjo does not need any evidence beyond IBBâ€™s palatial home in Minna, which he couldnâ€™t have built with all legitimate monies heâ€™d earned as a soldier and public officer. They repeatedly challenged the President to release the Okigbo Panel Report that indicted IBB for squandering over $12 billion of state money. After a brave and spirited effort by The Punch newspapers to unsuccessfully get Obasanjo to release the report (especially as his Secretary to the Government, Chief Ufot Ekaette was also a member of the Okigbo panel), civil society groups finally released the report publicly. As expected, it was a gripping tale of corruption under General Babangida.
Nonetheless, outside the above, no one has yet investigated the many tributaries of the alleged Babangidaâ€™s stolen wealth. We hear stories about him owning the Triple Heritage Group, a supposed corporate behemoth involved in all sorts, but whose existence is more phantom that real. We hear of Mike Adenuga and a few other supposedly wealthy Nigerians and foreigners being his fronts; but beyond the tittle-tattle, nothing concrete has ever been presented to make the link. Yes, Babangida has amassed a lot of enemies in the course of time and, naturally, one would expect that there are real people collaborating with him to hide the allegedly stolen billions, but worryingly, nobody in the media, government or security agencies have come up with anything substantive to indict the man. We at Saharareporters are trying to buck this trend by presenting to Nigerians certain findings with regard to Babangida familyâ€™s connection to certain questionable dealings.
Our investigations began with a company known as Fruitex International London Limited, incorporated in the UK on May 14, 2001 (Company Number 04216189) with share capital of Â£100,000 (Â£1 per share capital) paid in cash by its sole Director, Mohammed Babangida (Aminu Babangida, another of IBBâ€™s son joined as a Director last year). The companyâ€™s nature of business is recorded as â€œAgents in sale of variety of goodsâ€ and â€œServices to oil and gas extractionâ€. Though it lists one Susan Scott (a British citizen) as a Director, sheâ€™s indeed the Company Secretary. Every effort to trace the said Susan Scott has so far proved abortive. Nonetheless, Saharareporters got in touch with one Rod Johnson who claims to be the US representative of the company. Mr. Johnson operates from Texas, but from the word go, his modus operandi raises questions about his willingness to answer legitimate questions of public interest put to him with regard to his relationship with Fruitex International London Limited.
When we first contacted his Irving, Texas office, his female assistant asked us to leave a voicemail with a promise that Mr Johnson would get back to us the next day. We did, but he never got back to us. We tried again and were asked once again to leave a voicemail. But just as we were about to do so, Mr Johnson picked up the phone. We spoke to him about our mission and asked if he would volunteer information to us per his relationship with FRUITEX International London Limited, including his relationship with the Babangidas and the companyâ€™s interest in Irving, Texas. He stoutly declined comment on any of his transactions with the Babangida family, insisting that we present written questions by fax and promising to get back to us by Friday August 18, 2006 (after heâ€™s spoken with his principals). A few hours later, his office confirmed the receipt of our questions by fax. But when we asked to leave a voicemail as well, the same assistant whoâ€™d always insisted we leave a voicemail curiously said Mr Johnson has no voicemail recorder in his office. Up to the time of going to the press, Mr. Rod Johnson is yet to return with answers to the questions faxed to him as directed.
Saharareporters also contacted one Tony Wilson who is the Senior Partner of Ashley Wilson, a firm of solicitors linked with the property recorded as the registered address of Fruitex International London Limited (No 53 Marlborough Hill, Flat 4, London NW8 0NG). We explained that we are investigating the activities of Fruitex International London Limited, requesting information on his and his firmâ€™s â€œrelationship with this company and its Directors, Messrs Mohammed and Aminu Babangida and also with Susan Scott whoâ€™s also listed as a Director and Secretary of the companyâ€. We pointed out that we understand that certain questions would be governed by Client/Attorney confidentiality, but that what we ask for is information that he is in a position to give by virtue of the firm being registered as a private limited company. Up to the time of going to the press, Mr Wilson is yet to respond.
However, this obvious code of silence didnâ€™t stop Saharareporters from further discoveries. We found that â€œFruitexâ€ is a generic name for several companies operating mostly in the oil sector, each with their own satellite heads answerable to the Babangidas. The jewel in the crown is obviously Fruitex International London Limited. Though the companyâ€™s balance sheet for the end of May 2004 claims a net asset of Â£400,000 – which is the basis of claiming Section 249A (1) of the Companies Act 1985 exemption from audit as a â€œsmallâ€ company – Saharareporters can categorically confirm that at least since 2002 the company (referred to officially in Equatorial Guinea as FRUITEX GROUP) is the full owner of a deepwater choice oil block in Equatorial Guinea (Western offshore Rio Muni) estimated at $8.2 billion. Meanwhile, the company is passing itself off under UK laws as a â€œdormant companyâ€, claiming that they have never traded and that the only transaction entered into the companyâ€™s accounting record is the issue of subscriber shares.
Yet, there are a plethora of companies all linked with Fruitex International London Limited and the Babangida family and all very cagey about divulging information about their operations that ordinarily should be available to the public. One of such companies is the Nigerian-based Fruitex Oil Exploration and Production Limited based at No 175A Moshood Olugbani Street, off Ligali Ayorinde Street, Victoria Island, Lagos. The company lists its business as providing oil and gas field services and the house it is located is supposedly owned by Chief A.B. C Orjiakor, a specialist surgeon and one of those persons reputed to be amongst the â€œgodfathersâ€ of Anambra politics. In fact, it was Orjiakor and Emeka Offor that worked together to install Chinwoke Mbadinuju as governor in 1999. Emeka Offor claims it was Orjiakor that introduced the Bible-clasping Mbadinuju to him. Chief Orjiakor and Chief Boniface Madubunji are listed as the owners of the company, along with one Mohammed Ibrahim. Our investigations revealed that Mohammed Ibrahim, who owns 65% of the company, is indeed a fusion of Mohammed Babangida and his father, Ibrahim Babangidaâ€™s first names. This was confirmed by company insiders who spoke to Saharareporters as well.
Dr A.B.C Orjiakor who is listed as Chairman tried very hard at first through his representatives to deny any connection with Mohammed and the Babangidas, but eventually, Don Adinuba, who claims to be the Public Relations Officer to Orjiakor finally admitted the connection after those initial spirited denials. Chief Orjiakor was also arrested recently by the EFCC, but his representatives claim it was a witch-hunt instigated by Alhaji Aminu Dantata with whom he has a business disagreement. Rev Father Kukah was said to have secured his release, vouching for him as a good Catholic. But one of the conditions of his release is a ban on him traveling outside the country. Further investigations reveal a list of twelve Nigerian-based companies affiliated to Fruitex Exploration and Production limited through â€œa common principalâ€. These are ORDREC SHIPPING SERVICES LIMITED, ORDREC PETROLEUM LIMITED, ABBEYCOURT ENERGY SERVICES LIMITED, FIRST ARIES PETROLEUM LIMITED (which owns OPL License 235), ZEBBRA ENERGY LIMITED, ODFJELL INTERNATIONAL LIMITED, SHEBAH EXPLORATION AND PRODUCTION LIMITED, HELKO MARINE SERVICES LIMITED, REBS MEMORIAL SPECIALIST HOSPITAL, AMACH SECURITY SERVICES LIMITED, BERWICK NIGERIA LIMITED and HELKO NIGERIA LIMITED.
SHEBAH EXPLORATION AND PRODUCTION LIMITED is representative of the very many tributaries of the Babangida family operations. Formed in 2001, it is listed as one of winners of the 2005 oil block licensing round. It is the operator of the Oil Mining License 108 offshore Nigeria and was recently awarded 75% of OPL 280 Nigeria and had indeed paid $21 million signature bonus â€“ money they purchased through the CBN Dutch auction in December 2005. Documents obtained by Saharareporters indicate that the SHEBAH EXPLORATION AND PRODUCTION which only has a record of three administrative staff as total employees wouldnâ€™t disclose its share capital or shareholders. It also â€œdeclined to give any financial, general background or antecedent information or to reveal the extent of the companyâ€™s operationsâ€. It declined also to name its principal bankers and its trade risk is recorded as â€œHighâ€. In short, every kind of information that should be assessed by the public with regard to the company is simply not given.
When Saharareporters contacted one Joe Attueyi who is listed as the Managing Director of SHEBAH EXPLORATION AND PRODUCTION LIMITED (with the same address, phone and fax numbers as Fruitex Exploration and Production Limited) to shed more light on his companyâ€™s operations and relationship with the Babangidas, he couldnâ€™t answer many of the questions, including how his company was able to raise the sum of $21 million for the signature bonus. He was more concerned with how Saharareporters came about the information. Mr Attueyi, who is a well-known contributor on the Nigerian listservs circuit on the internet and a self-proclaimed Pastor of the Lamb of God Evangelical Ministry, was obviously panicked. He initially denied his company had any relationship or connection with the Babangidas, but when it became clear o him that we have some more incontrovertible information on the companyâ€™s operations, he opted to direct us to his â€œChairmanâ€, whom he promised would answer all our questions. His Chairman is no other than Dr A.B.C. Orjiakor.
Don Adinuba, the Public Relation Officer to Chief Orjiakor began by telling us Orjiakor could not be reached because he was abroad. When we pointed out that this was impossible as it would be a breach of the condition of his release by the EFCC, he backed down. When he realized he could no longer sell the story that Orjiakor was never arrested by the EFCC, he admitted he was arrested, but has since been released. He explained that the Chiefâ€™s business enemies were behind the affair. He claimed Fruitex Exploration and Production Limited and all the affiliated companies are solely owned by Chief Orjiakor and that there is no relationship whatsoever with the Babangidas or Fruitex International London Limited. But in a series of conversations that followed, Don Adinuba between dropping names and further denials began to paint a picture of an unjustly persecuted Orjiakor whose troubles he claims are not unconnected with Alhaji Aminu Dantata. He apologized for attempting to mislead us in the first place and admitted that yes indeed, thereâ€™s a relationship between Orjiakor, the companies and the Babangidas. He claimed Fruitex Exploration and Production Limited is a â€œspecial vehicle companyâ€ set up in conjunction with the Babangidas, as represented by â€œMohammed Ibrahimâ€.
There is no doubt that the recent arrest of Mohammed Babangida and Dr A.B.C. Orjiakor is in connection with Obasanjoâ€™s attempt to stymie Babangidaâ€™s mission of trying to succeed him as President, rather than a genuine anti-corruption effort. Nuhu Ribadu, Obasanjoâ€™s Man Friday at the EFCC has recently began to pointedly accuse IBB of introducing the notorious 419 crime, including questioning the source of Mohammed Babangidaâ€™s wealth since heâ€™s never worked in his life. Of course, Obasanjo is the ventriloquist, but there is no doubt that he is doing all this for self-interest. Ribadu has become bolder now in his public comments against the Babangida family and Saharareporters can confirm that members of the family and his associates are prime targets of the EFCC right now. IBB doesnâ€™t look like heâ€™s intimidated yet and is publicly still claiming to be on good terms with Obasanjo, citing the fact that the latter was one of the first to ring him and wish him a Happy Birthday when he turned 65 recently as sure evidence of their chumminess. However, Nigerians shouldnâ€™t be fooled. Obasanjo and Babangida are heading for a showdown and Nigeria and Nigerians would be the grass that would suffer. The President has to retrace his steps now. He has to stop the witch-hunt immediately and return credibility to the anti-corruption fight by first looking within his own circle. For years now heâ€™s promised to put the EFCC under a civil society oversight body to give it independence, credibility and keep it on the side of the rule of law; but rather than do this heâ€™s turned the organization into his attack hounds.
Nigerians are not deceived, Babangida and Obasanjo are siblings of the same decadent establishment and both have nothing positive to offer Nigeria and Nigerians. But we operate a democracy and the rule of law. If the government is convinced of Babangidaâ€™s crimes and they have proof of such crimes, then let the man be hauled before a proper judicial authority and tried in an open and fair manner for these supposed crimes. Surreptitiously hounding him or attempting to intimidate him into backing down from his political mission wonâ€™t do.
What the government should concentrate on is to champion a credible electoral law, a level playing field and a political process devoid of rigging and corruption of any sort â€“ a process that would unequivocally allow the true voice of Nigerians to be heard. If that is allowed, Babangida himself knows he has no chance. Heâ€™s posturing today because he knows that under the prevailing system thieves, riggers, murderers and blackmailers â€œwinâ€ elections and run the government. Heâ€™s only itching to do what he thinks Obasanjo has done and what he possibly assumes has been agreed between them.
Nigerians must not allow these two failed members of the decadent establishment to take us through another national trauma.