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. He also spoke extensively on how Appeal Tribunal vindicated him and said there was no iota of corruption in him. 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, especially somebody that you served so well.
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 but 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 from the Head of State 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. I was surprised when SSS invited me for interrogation. I told them the fact.
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.
But why did Aminu fault it? It was because I was very critical of him. We exchanged articles against each other in newspapers. When he finally had a big interview against me, I knew he was out to do something against me. I said okay, if he had the fact, why not. But I knew it was not true.
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 to me. I insisted he must come to Nigeria to open the negotiation. The company was in Geneva and Stinness was in Vienna.
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. Nigeria voted to represent Africa in the powerful Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) Executive Council.
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 matter was closed.
How did they mess up themselves with the Stinness? When I was giving evidence, they asked me that I negotiated with the president of this ompany. I said I never negotiated with him. When the negotiation between his experts and my experts collapsed, then he invited me that when they were talking, we should go and have coffee. So, they were negotiating downstairs, we went to another room, another coffee place to have coffee. When we came back, they still never came to conclusion. We said we could not continue to stay here, tell your people to come to Nigeria.
When I was giving evidence, I said there was nothing wrong in talking directly with president of the company. The first day I appeared before the tribunal, they had a Black Maria waiting for me. They had already made up their minds what to do. They had not heard from me, what was the Black Maria doing at the tribunal? This was over four years after I had left the government. I left the government in1986 and the case came up in 1991. The first day, I appeared begore the tribunal, they did not allow me bail. I came out and they took me into the Black Maria, waiting for me.
My lawyer filed no case submission, which the judge did not accept. They jailed me for life. Then, 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 22 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.
My lawyer, Tunde Olojo, said ‘as your lordship pleases.’ The judge, may his soul rest in perfect peace, did not know the difference between concurrent and consecutive. They were all bundles of errors and mischief. The law allowed him to jail me for 22 years, why should he be sorry for me to jail me for 20 years? Why did he ask the court to stop? He went to check with Babangida.
I heard from intelligence that they thought they could change the decree, and make punishment for my alleged offence life jail. But the decree had not been changed. The judge did not know. The judge was told in confidence that before he finished his case with me, the decree would be changed to make my offence life imprisonment.
I found out later on that the decree was made and nobody agreed to sign it. The former military vice president, Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, refused to sign the decree. The judge was told that the decree was ready, he did not know that the decree had not been signed. So, they jailed me.
During my trial, four Yoruba obas sent staff of office to the military tribunal sittings.
What did you go through and how did you survive in prison?
I spent six days in Kirikiri Maximum Prisons in Lagos and from there, I was moved to Bama Prison in Borno State, where I served nine months. All of them were arranged by Babangida. It was nine months in terrible condition. My next door neighbour in Bama Prison was Tony Ogboru, the younger brother of Great Ogboru, who was jailed because of coup. He was not a soldier. They said he collaborated with his brother to escape from the country. He also was innocent. Tony Ogboru has a church in Lagos now.
Even, since I was in secondary school, I never slept on bunk bed. Myself and my brother had our beds. But in Kirikiri Prison, for the first time, I slept on bunk bed. One prisoner was down, I was up. Mind you, my sentence had not been confirmed by the Supreme Military Council. In Kirikiri Prison please, there’s a building they put VIPs, the people that have money. It is not exclusive cell anymore. All sorts of people were there. On my floor, eight to 10 of us shared the same toilet. Then, you have to stand in the queue to know when you are going to have your bath.
My people did something, all my foods were brought from outside. I didn’t eat prison food. My daughter would bring food for me from outside. Normally, the prison officials would check them and asked them to taste the food before giving it to me. I spent six days there probably. It was a terrible place.
Why did they take you to Bama Prison?
Justice Gusau ordered that I should serve my jail term outside Lagos. It was stated in the judgment, contrary to the law, that I should not serve my jail term in Lagos. Why he did not want me to serve in Lagos was because the support for me was too much. Students all over the country were coming to Lagos. He thought if I had served in Lagos, they might break out the prison for me. My lawyer said it is against the law.
How did it end? When Justice Gusau finished with me, they made him chief judge of Sokoto State. He was found fraudulent and was jailed. Finally, he died. Each one of them that was involved in this mischief against me, God has answered my prayers. Some of them died, some of them were retired and all sorts of things happened to them. God has fought for me.
One day, I was sleeping, and before 6a.m., they woke me up. I didn’t know where I was going. They said they were taking me out of Lagos. I asked if I could go and brush my teeth. They said yes. I did not have anything in the Kirikiri Prison other than my Bible, a bag and what I was wearing. Then, they hurried me into a car that was waiting for me. My supervisor came to meet me privately and said he heard they were taking me to somewhere called Bama.
Then, they raced to the airport. I believe in God, he is a wonderful God. When we arrived airport, the plane could not start. What they wanted to do was to take me out of Lagos before dawn so that people would not know where I am. They wanted to smuggle me out.
When were going, the security man, leading me was talking to somebody, saying everything was alright. When I heard ‘everything was alright,’ I knew what they were doing that they were coordinating. They must take me out of Lagos before dawn. When we arrived the airport, it wasn’t dawn yet, it was still dark. I stayed in the car. The plane refused to start. When it was 6:30a.m., there was daylight and people had started coming to work at the airport. I came out of the car. I stood by the car. People were greeting me, saying ‘Prof, Prof, Prof.’ The security men said I should go back into the car, I should not greet them. I said no, I would not go back into the car, I must greet them.
It was a case that was well covered by the media. People then knew that I was being taken out of Lagos. They secretly wanted to take me out of Lagos. Unfortunately, God never allowed the plane to start. They had to get another plane to take me out. On that day, my daughter went to Kirikiri Prison with food, and she was told her father was not there anymore. She asked for my whereabouts and they said they did not know. It was as bad as that. My daughter is still alive.
Then, when we were flying, I felt like easing myself. So, I told them to tell the pilot I wanted to ease myself. They told the pilot not to stop at Jos. But he was a fantastic pilot. He insisted he would stop for me to ease myself. He said he was the captain of the plane and that he would stop in Jos. He defied them and stopped in Jos.
When I eased myself, I was coming back again into the plane, more people saw me at Jos Airport. So, we left Jos for Maiduguri. We stopped at Maiduguri Airport. That same pilot, we met many years after; he came to introduce himself to me, saying he was the pilot that took me to Bama, that he defied them and stopped in Jos. I said ‘Thank you very much, officer.’ So, the Lagos and Jos encounters were well reported in the media the following day.
When we arrived Maiduguri Airport, about four to five security cars were waiting for me to take away me to Bama. From Maiduguri to Bama was about 70 miles. I made a fun of them. I said: ‘Do you know I have come to Maiduguri three times, and all of them I came as VIP. The first time, I came as Very Important Personality, as Minister of Petroleum. The second time, I came as a Minister of Mines and Power. The third time I have come as a Very Important Prisoner.’
The interesting thing was that the first and second visits, there were dozens of cars, waiting for me. But the third time, there were four or five security cars waiting to take me to Bama. From the airport, they took me to Bama and locked me up. I stayed up to nine months there under very terrible condition. Nine months is one prison year.
All I was doing was my prayers. But the cell they gave me was full of faeces on the wall. I had a cousin, who was a controller of customs. He came to visit me and said the family would paint the wall, but they refused. But I survived it. I always had my Bible with me. The only thing I took to Bama was my Bible. The heat there was terrible.
There was something interesting that happened in Bama Prison. One of the inspectors stole my money. Whenever my people brought money to me, they would take it. They would not give the money to you. When your family brought money for you, the prison officers would take it. When they leave, the money would not be given to you.]
So, when I went to take my money, he had stolen part of my money. So, I reported him, and then smuggled article out of prison to the press. It blew up that a prison officer stole David-West’s money in Bama Prison. It was a big story. I will not disclose how I did it, but I had a way of smuggling things out of prison. When people come to visit me, they would bring books pack, and they would allow me to read the books. When I finished reading the books, I put in-between two pages what I wanted to get across to the press. When they take the books, they would open the pages they would not find anything.
One day, they said one minister would visit Bama Prison, when the news blew up. Then, I told Tony Ogboru to ask them to bring cardboard for us. So, Tony Ogboru came with the cardboard and I wrote on it: ‘Honourable Minister, welcome to Bama Five-Star Hotel.’ I was making fun of the Bama Prison. I put it there.
When the minister came to see me with the prison superintendent, he saw the cardboard and laughed. I said: ‘Your Excellency, you are welcome. This is my five-star hotel, come into my suite. My suite is called Babangida One.’ He laughed. If you are in that situation, you must make a fun of it, otherwise you are going to collapse. I made light of whatever they were doing. I knew they were wicked and I knew God would answer my prayers.
I had a very good relationship with other prisoners. I found out that there was no medicine in Bama Prison.
So, when my people brought disinfectant items and other things to me, I gave many of them out to the other inmates, who were sick to heal them. Finally, my case was appealed. The Chairman was the late Justice Dahunsi Coker of the Supreme Court. The Appeal Tribunal found me completely innocent in the judgment delivered on August 8, 1991. I won the the appeal. The Appeal Tribunal Chairman was Justice Dahunsi Coker. The judgment said there was no iota of corruption and that everything they said about me about Stinness was a lie.
Ray Ekpu wrote a column: ‘Tam’s Testimonial.’ He said the judgment was like a testimonial on how I served the country. Chief Rotimi Williams (SAN), who was my father and a great mentor, said: ‘Prof, I have not seen this type of judgment before; more than half of the judgment was praising your qualities and what you did for the country. They said you were jailed without any foundation at all.’ No iota of evidence. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) said ‘Nigerian oil minister has been jailed without any evidence.’ The Great Zik sent me letter of commendation. I was completely innocent. Something they should have known if they were not wicked. I did not do anything. When I was Minister of Petroleum, we made International Monetary Fund (IMF) irrelevant by our prepayment strategy for selling crude oil, which London Financial Times described as extraordinary.
What did you do after you won the appeal as a way of getting compensation from the government?
No, nothing can compensate my honour. Babangida and Aminu, if they are not proud of their names, I and my family of hundreds of years history, cherish that name, David-West. The name is so important to me. What can they give me to compensate me? I don’t want anything from them, even if they want to use all the money in the Central Bank as sorry, I will not take it because money cannot buy my name. What they did to me, I have forgiven them as a person. But that they disgraced that name, David-West, I will not forgive them. Christianity never taught me like that. I will not forgive Babangida or Aminu for trying to put stains on that name, David-West. But whatever they did to me as Tam, I have forgiven them. What they did to that name, David-West, I will not forgive them; never, I will not forgive them. I will not retaliate, but I will not forgive them. I know God will take care of it.
Why do you still feel so hurt?
I was working seven days a week when I served as a minister. I worked seven days of the week from 7:30am to 7pm most days. The earliest time I closed from NNPC was 7pm, sometimes 8p.m.
I was earning less salary as a minister than I was earning in the university. How many people know that? My salary in the university as Professor/Consultant Virologist at the University of Ibadan, was higher than the salary I was earning as Minister of Petroleum.
Buhari is here to confirm it. Later on when Buhari discovered that I was earning less as a minister, they wrote to the University of Ibadan to get my payslip, and they increased my salary as a minister. So, how can you serve your country so well with so much dedication and sacrifice, and go through this absolute nonsense? They are liars and they are going to pay for it one by one. It was Justice Gusau Babangida sent to punish me. Sooner after the judgment, that night he could not stay in Lagos.
He was taken away to Sokoto. Sooner after, he was made Chief Judge of Sokoto State. How did it end? He was disgraced out of government as chief judge for fraud, and he died later. My chief prosecutor also suffered in government. For three months after I was appointed as a minister, I had no salary because I was working seven days in a week. It was not because of the government’s fault. It was because I did not have a bank account in Lagos. They asked me to open an account in Lagos so that they could be paying into my account. I was working so much that by the time I closed, the banks would have closed. I had no time to go and open an account.
When I told Buhari, he laughed, and he said: ‘Professor, you are working so hard, you forgot your salary!’ Then, I had what I called ‘accountability quotient.’ Every public officer must subject himself to what I call accountability quotient. What you are doing for the country and what you are getting from that office. If what you are doing for the country is less than what you are doing for yourself, you are a bad public officer.
What did you suspect made Babangida and Aminu to do what you said they did?
I was very critical for them. I won’t be specific, but they know.
You were very critical of them in what sense?
The way they operated.
Well, Babangida was a very foxy person and likable. There different beliefs of Buhari and Babangida. Buhari is stiff, but pleasant. But Babangida foxy, smiles all the time, but not sincere. Buhari is stiff and sincere. Buhari will not plant evil to the best of my knowledge.
How can you tell me a minister that any contract up to N20million, you don’t bring members of council, so that they can negotiate one-on-one with the president? There was another issue about Ajaokuta. I was very critical of Ajaokuta, which is a very fantastic programme. But it can never take off. They are wasting their time.
The technology that was installed at Ajaokuta is no longer existing. It is cheaper to buy steel than to produce it at Ajaokuta. The technology is completely outdated. Then, they made a mistake of bringing Russia and Britain together in the same context in Ajaokuta because they are two rivals. The Russian people at Ajaokuta were so broke that they drank and sold all their vodka. They were looking for Nigerian food. It was as bad as that. When I went to Ajaokuta, I discovered that Itakpe to Ajaokuta is more than 90 kilometres. There is iron in Itakpe. But Nigeria was importing iron from Brazil at greater high cost. I said it was a stupidity. When they wanted more money, I put there in their visitor’s book ‘I will not ask for more money, let this monument stay here as a monument for our idiocy.’
I was very critical of Aminu. In fact, my open letter to him, was published by The Guardian and Vanguard, and one great economist commented on my critical letter to Jibril Aminu. I was critical of Aminu the way he was running NNPC.
I told him, ‘For goodness sake, if I am guilty, go ahead and punish me. I deserve it if I am so stupid. If I am not guilty, go ahead, though I cannot fight you, all the angels will fight you for me. I will not fight you, I will just pray to my God that you know I am innocent, fight for me.
I was not surprised that all of them that were involved in that mischief suffered one by one, and it is not finished. The judge, after jailing me, that same night, he ran away from Lagos to Sokoto. I found out that the judge was brought to them by Sultan Dasuki. I found out that Dasuki and Babangida were very close.
Can you recall the name of the company that was mistaken for Stinness?
It was the president of the company that had dealing with us. In my second book, his name is there. He’s a Jew and has about five banks in Europe. He’s a very wealthy man.
But he put me off. When we first met, we talked and when he left, I said I did not like his personality. He would spend a lot of time, talking about how important he’s in Europe. He would say ‘I have five banks. I am president of this and that. In Nigeria, I know General this and General that. He’s a very famous and very important man. But the way he talked, I did not like it. But he has no company in Nigeria.
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.
Editor’s note: This interview is rerun because of omissions in the copy published last week.