FORMER first daughter Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello may have used her mother’s maiden name to conceal her identity in the N3.5 billion contract over which an Austrian firm is protesting.
She travelled to Austria to sign the power project contract papers with M. Schneider GMBH and Co. as Mrs Damilola Akinlawon. Her mother Mrs Remi Obasanjo is nee Akinlawon. Damilola is Ms Obasanjo-Bello’s younger sister, it was revealed yesterday.
A huge row has broken out over the sharing of money. The International Court of Arbitration in Paris is examining the claims of two parties – Prince Albert Awofisayo, a Lagos businessman, and Akiya Nig. Ltd., said to be owned by Ms Obasanjo-Bello, which filed a breach of contract case against the Austrian firm.
Attorney-General and Justice Minister Michael Aondoakaa has referred the Austrian company’s petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences (ICPC). He spoke with The Nation last night.
Ex-President Obasanjo’s wife, Remi Obasanjo (nee Akinlawon), is from Oje, Gbagura, Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, where her mother, Mrs. A.O. Akinlawon, 85, will today be honoured by the Senior Citizens Assistance Leisure Centre in the city. It will be at a special Christmas programme tagged “Cherishing The Elderly”.
“She (Obasanjo-Bello) must have used her mother’s name to hide her identity. Iyabo’s mother is nee Akinlawon before she changed her name to Obasanjo when she married Segun (ex-President Obasanjo). I suspect that must have been what happened,” an Egba high chief said yesterday.
According to him, the likely impersonation deserves investigation.
“Nigeria cannot develop if we continue in this way; people should not take advantage of their positions to deceive others. Thank God, this is democracy; the issue must be probed to get to the bottom of the matter,” the chief, who pleaded for anonymity, said.
The company alleges that Ms Obasanjo-Bello claimed to be Mrs Akinlawon to benefit from the N3.5billion power project contract.
Awofisayo has sued the Austrian firm at the arbitration court over a disagreement on money sharing and control of the Nigerian branch of the company, which was registered to handle power project contracts.
But the Austrian firm petitioned The Presidency and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), complaining about what it referred to as Obasanjo-Bello’s “fraudulent, corrupt and criminal nature.”
Claiming that the impersonation was carried out while Obasanjo-Bello was “serving as a commissioner with the Ogun State Government”, the firm alleged that she “fraudulently” presented herself as Mrs Akinlawon while entering into a contract to float a company which bid for contracts in the power projects embarked upon by the government then headed by her father.
It also claimed, in the petition dated August 30, copies of which were sent to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and other anti-corruption agencies, such as the Code of Conduct Bureau and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Ethics, that Obasanjo-Bello was involved in the fraud with the “sole consideration of shielding her father, former President of Nigeria, from being perceived as having breached relevant laws in the award of power projects indirectly to her daughter.”
The chairman of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Petitions Senator Omar Hambagda, said last that he was not aware of the petition.
M. Schneider urged the EFCC to investigate the case with a view to ascertaining whether Nigeria’s laws were broken by Obasanjo-Bello “acting either for herself or on behalf of the then President”.
Disclosing that the controversy surrounding the contract and the enormous power wielded by the Nigerians involved “culminated in our being frustrated out of Nigeria after investing an excess of one million Euros,” M. Schneider alleged that Obasanjo-Bello and Awofisayo wilfully deceived it and contravened Nigerian laws, leading to the nullification of the agreements with it.
Documents obtained by our correspondent, including pictures of Obasanjo-Bello and Awofisayo, purportedly signing the contract paper in Lienfelderg, Austria show that the business was packaged by Awofisayo who was said to be the brain behind Vamed Engineering Ltd, a company favoured by President Obasanjo to refurbish 17 teaching hospitals.
Other documents show that Awofisayo drafted Obasanjo-Bello into the project in the belief that her involvement would help the company secure the contract.
Awofisayo, it was found, entered into negotiations with M. Schneider of Austria to set up a Nigerian company named M. Schneider Energy Nigeria (MSEN) Ltd as a special purpose company to secure power project contracts.
In an e-mail to Mag Andreas Altenhuber, Managing Director of M. Schneider of Austria dated June 1, 2006 and presented as exhibit in the petition to the EFCC by the Austrian company, Awofisayo said: “The reason for inviting Akiya (a company owned by Obasanjo-Bello and one of her siblings, Busola) was the strategic role Akiya could play in M. Schneider Nigeria’s affairs in seeking projects and facilitating government’s approval”.
Documents obtained by our correspondent from the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) listed Dr. Iyabo Obasanjo of 101, Oduduwa Crescent, GRA, Ikeja as a consultant. Busola Obasanjo, a businesswoman with the same address as Iyabo’s, is also a director of Akiya Nigeria Limited.
For the strategic role it was expected to play, Akiya was given 10 per cent equity in the company on incorporation.
Akiya is also to collect a 10 per cent commission on any contract secured for M. Schneider (Nig) Ltd.
The government awarded the company contracts relating to substations in Benin North and Line Bay at Obudu for more than 15 million Euros in offshore cost and over N762million in local cost.
The breakdown of the contracts is: Lots 19-2-Offshore Price €13,595,940.31 and local price of N569,440,123.00. The second contract, Lot 20-2 has a price of: Offshore € 2,077,416.34 and Local price of N193,535, 970.00, bringing the total value to €15,673,356.60 and N762,976, 093.00.
However, when Awofisayo’s request for N112 million, being expenditure he allegedly incurred in facilitating the contract was rejected by the Austrian firm, he requested for arbitration at the International Court of Arbitration in Paris on June 29, 2007.
Other documents show that when the Austrian company rejected the request, Awofisayo demanded the payment of 10 percent commission of the contract sum which he claimed was agreed upon by the parties to the deal. The Austrian company rejected this demand as well. As a last resort, Awofisayo requested M. Schneider to give up its equity in the business to enable him convert his expenditure to equity.
There was also a disagreement between the partners on who should be signatory to the contract papers at the Ministry of Power and Steel. The Austrian company objected to Awofisayo as signatory. When the parties resorted to the courts and arbitration panels over the contending issues, the government cancelled the two contracts and two others lined up for the company. The partners are now trading blames on who was responsible for the cancellation.
While the Nigerian partners attribute it to the intransigence of the Austrian company and are demanding compensation, the Austrian company is blaming it all on the decision of the Nigerian partners to register another company; Transnatio-nal Energy Nig Ltd, which they had hoped would execute the contract to the exclusion of the Austrian company.
The Austrian firm, which also claimed to have been forced out of Nigeria by the EFCC, is seeking compensation for loss of the contract.
As a last resort, Awofisayo approached the International Arbitration Panel in France to get reprieve. Akiya (Nig) also approached the Arbitrators to make similar claims.
In his request for Arbitration before the International Court of Arbitration, Awofisayo, in a bid to justify his request for a refund of the money which he claimed to have spent to facilitate the contracts, admitted that MSEN did not possess the requisite experience or record of performance to secure the contracts.
“The claimant expended a lot of money on building a very strong profile and goodwill for the new company in Nigeria since the company, MSEN was unknown in Nigeria and had never undertaken any power transmission and substation projects in Nigeria or possessed any track record of performance of such projects anywhere in the world,” he stated.
M. Schneider of Austria objected to these demands of Awofisayo and Obasanjo-Bello on the ground that all the agreements signed by the parties were null and void.
M. Schneider contends that the agreements are not valid because Awofisayo, who invited Obasanjo –Bello into the deal, conspired with her to hide her true identity while claiming to be Mrs Damilola Akinlawon.
The company provided several documents to prove that the woman who signed agreements with it, purporting to be Mrs Akinlawon was actually Dr Iyabo Obasanjo –Bello. These include an application by Otunba Awofisayo to the Austrian Embassy in Nigeria for Schengen Visa for Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello and Busola Obasanjo. The Austrian company argues that it was this visa that Iyabo Obasanjo utilised to visit Austria to sign the contract in December, 2005. The company also attached records of Renaissance Penta Vienna Hotel with the names of Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello and Mr Richard Awofisayo as evidence that the person who signed the contract papers with them was actually Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello and not Damilola Akinlawon.
Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello was recorded as staying in the hotel between December 14 and 18, 2005. Awofisayo stayed in the hotel between December 12 and 18, 2005. Also, the Austrian company attached eight photographs of the agreement signing ceremony between Nigerian promoters of the company and M. Schneider of Austria in December 2005, featuring Obasanjo-Bello dressed in a cream jacket.
M. Schneider attached a Certified True Copy of the Memorandum and Articles of Association of Akiya Nigeria Limited in which only Dr Iyabo Obasanjo and her sibling Busola Obasanjo are listed as directors.
M.Schneider is contending that there is nobody listed as Mrs Damilola Akinlawon as a director of Akiya Nigeria Limited contrary to the claims by Awofisayo and Akiya Nigeria Limited that the said Mrs Damilola Akinlawon is a director of Akiya Nigeria Ltd. representing the company on the board of M. Schneider Nigeria.
The petition was received at the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Michael Aondoakaa (SAN), on September 4.
– The Nation