By Funso Muraina
Thursday December 20, 2007- Thisday Newspaper
Dr. Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, daughter of former president Olusegun Obasanjo and senator representing Ogun senatorial district, has been named in a controversy surrounding N3.5billion contracts in the power sector.
In a matter which has gone before the International Court of Arbitration in Paris, France, her business partner, M. Schneider, an Austrian company, has petitioned the Presidency and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over what it called the “fraudulent, corrupt and criminal nature involving Senator (Mrs.) Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello (alias Mrs. Damilola Akinlawon), then serving as a Commissioner with the Ogun State Government.”
The Austrian company alleged that Iyabo Obasanjo “fraudulently” presented herself as Mrs. Damilola Akinlawon while entering into contractual agreement with it to float a company which put in bids for contracts in the power projects embarked upon by the government headed by her father.
In the petition dated 30th August 2007 and copied to other anti-corruption agencies like the ICPC, Code of Conduct Bureau and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Ethics, M. Schneider of Austria alleged that Iyabo concealed her identity and presented herself as Mrs. Damilola Akinlawon 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 company pleaded with the anti-corruption agencies to investigate the case with a view to ascertaining whether Nigeria’s laws were broken by Iyabo “acting either for herself or on behalf of the then President.”
Many letters exchanged between the parties indicated that the business which has pitched its promoters against each other was packaged by an acquaintance of the Obasanjo family, Prince Albert Awofisayo, who is also chairman of Vamed Engineering Ltd which got contracts to refurbish 17 teaching hospitals in the country for N27billion.
The involvement of Iyabo in the power project was said to have been at the instance of Awofisayo who in several correspondences with M. Schneider of Austria allegedly insisted that the involvement of Obasanjo-Bello was the guarantee that the company would secure the power project contract.
Awofisayo had entered into negotiation with M. Schneider of Austria to set up a Nigerian company named M. Schneider Energy (Nig) (MSEN) Ltd as a special purpose company to secure power project contracts in Nigeria.
In an e-mail message to Mag Andreas Altenhuber, Managing Director of M. Schneider of Austria, dated June 1st, 2006 and presented as exhibit in the petition to the EFCC by the Austrian company, Awofisayo had explained that “the reason for inviting Akiya [a company owned by Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello and one of her siblings, Busola] was the strategic role Akiya could play in M. Schneider Nigeria?s affairs in seeking for projects and facilitating Government’s approval.”
For this strategic role, Akiya was given 10 per cent equity in the company at incorporation. Akiya was also to collect a 10 per cent commission on any contract secured for M. Schneider (Nig) Ltd.
M. Schneider Nigeria eventually won two of the bids for power projects while it was on the line to win another two before disagreement among its shareholders put spanners in the works.
The company was awarded the contracts relating to Substations in Benin North and Line Bay at Obudu respectively at values totalling over 15 million euros in offshore cost and over N762 million in local cost.
The breakdown of the contracts is: Lots 19-2-Offshore Price, 13,595,940.31 euros and local price of N569,440,123.00. The second contract, Lot 20-2 has a price of offshore 2,077,416.34 euros and local price of N193,535,970.00, bringing the total value to 15,673,356.60 euros and N762,976,093.00.
However, a disagreement over money sharing and control of the company soon set in and the parties to the business deal soon landed themselves in court. The contracts were eventually cancelled.
The partners are now trading blames on who was responsible for the cancellation. The Nigerian partners blame it on the intransigence of the Austrian company and are demanding compensation through the Arbitration panel. The Austrian company on the other hand is blaming it on the decision of the Nigerian partners to register another company, Translational Energy Nig Ltd which they had hoped would execute the contract to the exclusion of the Austrian company.
The Austrian company is now claiming compensation for loss of the contract.
Awofisayo approached the International Arbitration Panel in France to get reprieve. Akiya (Nig) owned by Obasanjo-Bello and one of her siblings, Busola also approached the Arbitrators to make similar claims.
In his Request for Arbitration before the International Court of Arbitration, Otunba Awofisayo, 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 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 said.
M. Schneider of Austria objected to these demands of Awofisayo and Obasanjo-Bello on the ground that all the agreements signed by the parties in the deal were null and void. Schneider contends that the agreements are not valid because Awofisayo who invited Obasanjo-Bello into the deal conspired with her (Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello) to hide her true identity while claiming to be Mrs. Damilola Akinlawon.
The company provided several evidence to prove that the woman who signed agreements with them purporting to be Mrs. Damilola Akinlawon was actually Obasanjo-Bello. These include an application by Otunba Awofisayo to the Austrian Embassy in Nigeria for Schengen Visa for Obasanjo-Bello and Busola Obasanjo. The Austrian company argued that it was this visa that Iyabo Obasanjo utilised to visit Austria to sign contract papers with it in December 2005.
The company also attached records of Renaissance Penta Vienna Hotel with the names of Obasanjo-Bello and Mr Richard Awofisayo as evidence that the person who signed contract papers with them was actually Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello and not Damilola Akinlawon.
In the record, Obasanjo-Bello was recorded as staying in the hotel between 14 and 18 December 2005. Mr. Awofisayo stayed in the hotel between 12 -18 December 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 Obasanjo-Bello and her sibling Busola Obasanjo were 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 Otunba 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.
Relying on these pieces of evidence, the Austrian company claims that both Obasanjo-Bello and Awofisayo wilfully deceived it and contravened several aspects of the Nigerian law which makes the agreements with them null and void.
The Austrian company indicated in its petition that EFCC had investigated the matter in 2006.The company claimed that the underlying dispute “culminated in our being frustrated out of Nigeria after investing in excess of one million Euros.