Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
Former Minister of Power and Energy, Prof Tam David-West, has taken a walk back in time to 1991, to relive the terrible experience he passed through when he was jailed for an offence he did not commit. He recalled how he was accused of “trading off the country’s interest’ for a cup of tea and wristwatch and reiterated the truth regarding the proceeds of the $157million offshore processing contract with Stinness Oil Company, a New Jersey, United States of America oil company. Please read on…
Many years ago, you were tried by the regime of former military president, Gen Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (retd), for drinking tea with the executives of a firm, who the regime claimed compromised you in the process. Can you relive your experience and the truth of the matter?
I don’t like recalling the wickedness of Ibrahim Babangida and Jibril Aminu against me. Aminu was then the Minister of Petroleum. I don’t want to recall it because it makes me sad. I wonder how a fellow human being could be so wicked.
All they said about the tea and wristwatch was a fat big lie and fraud. It was tagged $57million tea and wristwatch. I have written two books on it. It was an absolute lie. They should pray to God to forgive them because they sinned against an innocent person. I am absolutely innocent. But they were so anxious to destroy me. I challenge all of them today to tell the world my corruption. I am absolutely confident that nobody can find something against me. It is not self-righteousness or self-confidence.
All they said was a lie and fraudulent. If a Minister of Petroleum wanted to take bribe, would it be a cup of tea and wristwatch? The company in question is Stinness Oil Company, New Jersey, the United States of America. The company had an oil contract, known as offshore processing contract with Nigeria during the administration of former president, Alhaji Shehu Shagari. The company would take crude oil from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), take it outside the country, refine it and sell. Then, Nigeria and the company would sit down to balance the account. The company would take its due and give Nigeria its due.
When Shagari’s government fell, there was an outstanding $157million to be reconciled, not that the company was owing Nigeria the $157million. But Babangida and Aminu lied that the company owed Nigeria the $157million. It is a lie. The company did not owe Nigeria the $157million.
When General Muhammadu Buhari government came, he appointed me Minister of Petroleum in January 1984. We discovered that the last reconciliation had not been done. So, we sent a delegation to the company in New Jersey for them to reconcile with Nigeria. The company thought it could hold on to the money since there was no reconciliation.
Buhari called me for discussion on the $157million with Stinness. He gave me a mandate to negotiate with the company, so that we would reconcile and Nigeria would get its own share. The company refused to come to Nigeria. I got assurance for them that nobody would touch them if they came to Nigeria. Finally, the company’s representatives came.
You will be surprised that what I was jailed for had nothing to do with Stinness Oil Company. We negotiated with the company. Aret Adams was the Managing Director of NNPC then. I was not part of the negotiation directly because I sent my team, including Aret Adams, to negotiate with the company.
The company finally agreed to pay $93million or so to Nigeria as our share, after three negotiations with my team. So, my team came to report to me. I commended them.
Then, I told the MD of NNPC and other members of the team, that they should tell the company that the minister is a simple-minded professor, who likes round figures. They should make it $100million. Some members of my team are still alive.
The negotiation they did to arrive at $93million share for Nigeria was based on calculation. The company brought their papers and our accountants were also there and did the calculations together. My people were prepared to take the amount they calculated as Nigeria’s share, which was $93million or so.
Did the company actually pay the $100million?
But we were surprised that the company agreed to pay the $100million, and everybody was happy. We signed the documents. But the agreement we signed stated that either of the parties could back out within 60 days. But the company did not. Also, NNPC did not back out of the agreement because it was a good deal to NNPC and government. In fact, the $100million was claimed by NNPC long after I was no longer oil minister. They hailed it as windfall for NNPC and government in the Concord Newspaper. This was during Rilwanu Lukman’s time as oil minister.
The $100million was not paid during Buhari’s era. It was paid when Ibrahim Babangida was in power.
When Babangida came to power in August 1985, I was retained as Minister of Petroleum. Later, I was re-deployed to the Ministry of Mines, Power and Steel. I left as minister in 1986, and the $100million was paid after I had left as minister.
In 1991, which was about five years after leaving the government, the Babangida government accused me that out of the $157 million, I accepted $100 million for Nigeria and got the remaining $57 million for myself.
They said the company must have given me $57million as bribe. The government set up a tribunal, which sat many years after I had left office. In December 1990, I was summoned on a two-count charge to appear before a Special Military Tribunal. But they had made up their minds to jail me. I told the tribunal that Nigeria was lucky to get $100million from the company because the company had sued Nigeria previously in the United States, claiming that NNPC broke the offshore processing contract with them. We contested the case in America.
Nigeria won a breach of contract case instituted by Stinness in USA. The New Jersey Court awarded us $10million. In fact, I was able to get for NNPC and the government $10.5million extra entitlement. So, there was nothing like bribe. Yet I was sentenced to life jail. It was fraudulent, wicked and sadistic.
The company that gave me tea and wristwatch was different from Stinness. But the government mixed up the two. The company that gave me tea did not have any contract with Nigeria. How can an oil minister take as bribe a lady’s wristwatch and a cup of tea? Stupid. In fact, $57million can buy a tea factory and wristwatch factory.
How did you meet the president of the company that gave you the cup of tea and the wristwatch?
I met the president of the company that gave me the tea and wristwatch in Geneva. The company’s president invited myself and my team for a dinner. I was not the only one at the dinner. I was there with my team from Nigeria. All of us were served cups of tea.
The dinner was held at the restaurant of the hotel, where we lodged. The company’s president said he wanted to have an oil contract with Nigeria. Then, I asked him to negotiate with my team so that my team would report the outcome of the discussion with me. I insisted he must come to Nigeria to open the negotiation. The company was in Geneva and Stinness was in Vietnam.
The following day after the dinner, my manager, public relations, Alex Nwokedi, brought a packet for me, saying it was from the man that gave us dinner the previous day, as a safe journey present. We were about to leave Geneva for Nigeria on that day.
Honesty, I am saying this on my honour as a Nigerian, as Tam David-West and as a Christian. The packet was opened before my team. It was a Piaget lady wristwatch, maybe he meant I should give it to my wife. The company’s president did not contact me anymore and he did not come to Nigeria.
The first day I appeared before the tribunal, they had a Black Maria waiting for me. The tribunal sentenced me to life imprisonment. My lawyer, Tunde Olojo, who is now a monarch, and Peter Ige, who is now a judge, and A. Raji, who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) now, told the tribunal presided over by Justice Gusau that the maximum sentence by law was 20 years for the two counts, not life imprisonment.
The judge stopped the proceeding and said the court would resume after 20 minutes. But the court actually resumed after one hour. When he came back, the judge corrected himself. The sentence should be 10 years on each count to run consecutively, which meant 20 years. But the Judge said concurrently, which meant 10 years.
What did you go through and how did you survive in prison?
I spent six days in Kirikiri Prisons in Lagos and from there, I was moved to Bama Prison in Borno State, where I spent nine months. All of them were arranged by Babangida. It was nine months in terrible condition. Justice Gusau ordered that I should serve my jail term outside Lagos. On the day I was moved out of Kirikiri Prison, the plane that was to take me from Lagos to Maiduguri refused to start. I was to be taken out before the dawn of the day, but the plane that refused to start delayed us till people started reporting for duty. So, I stepped out of the car and many people saw me and greeted me.
Eventually, they got another plane that took me to Maiduguri. On the way, I said I wanted to ease myself and the pilot had a stopover at Jos for me, though the officers on board did not want him to stop, but he insisted he would stop for me. Many people also saw me at the Jos Airport. So, the Lagos and Jos encounters were well reported in the media the following day.
Your students at the University of Ibadan, where you were a consultant professor, must have suffered during the tribunal period?
No. Throughout the two months the military tribunal sat, I did not fail to give lectures to my postgraduate students. I had five Master’s degree students and one doctorate degree student. I always gave the lecture at night because I would leave Ibadan for Lagos in the morning and come back in the evening. I usually fixed the lectures for 8p.m.
At Bama Prison, I examined one PhD student. I knew I was innocent. I was calm and composed. But I made fun of the whole situation. I saw the prison hut they gave me as a five-star hotel. I named it IBB Presidential Suite II.