By NBF News

For many, it is surprising that with the abundant resources in Nigeria, she has failed to take her pride of place in the comity of nations. And over the years, it has remained a puzzle why successive governments in the country have not been able to improve the lot of the people.

The result of the development is a growing feeling of discontent and disenchantment among the people. One of those not comfortable with the state of the nation is the former Minister of Petroleum, chief Don Etiebet. In a recent interaction with a select group of journalists in Lagos, he was emphatic that Nigeria does not have much to show for her nearly 50 years existence as a corporate entity. Here, Sunday Sun captures his feelings on the state of the nation.

From your vantage position as a former Minister of Petroleum, what would you say is the problem with the nation's oil sector?

The oil sector is part and parcel of all the sectors in Nigeria and Nigeria has not been able to benefit from all the other sectors, 50 years after our independence. So, there is a generic and endemic problem.

But what are those problems?
The problems are enormous. Here we are in 2010 and in a few months, we would be 50 years old. What do we have as a nation to show for it? On the Independence Day when Nigeria would be 50 years, what are we going to do? To parade dancing girls? What else? But at least so far, we have achieved one thing- unity in Nigeria and it is important we have achieved that. But then we would have gone beyond that and achieve quite a lot to improve the living standards of Nigerians.

When I decided in 1996 to float a political party to contest for the presidency of this country and I did and was cut short by the government of that day, I had good intentions to see what I could contribute to making Nigeria great. But if you say what are the problems, there are many of them. The problems are so multifarious. Today, I would say that the Acting President has a great opportunity to make history for Nigeria and himself. It does not require 150 million Nigerians to change the country. It requires only one person and that person comes as a result of so many things and opportunities knocking on the door.

Nigerians are tired of the recurring decimals of the past either in politics, economy and so on in the administration of the country. If our next 50 years is not going to be like this finishing 50 years, some thing has to be done to be different from what we have been doing before. Jonathan has an opportunity and all the balls are in his court. He is the Acting President of Nigeria today. He is the Acting number one Nigerian today.

What Nigeria would be tomorrow, its history today would be told. So, he should look at that and find out what needs to be done to bring about a new Nigeria so that our next 50 years would not be like the last 50 years. He should look around and find out what happened, what went wrong and what should be done to change that. Now, the opportunity is there. Nothing is working in Nigeria.

Power is not working and all the industries are dead, our children are not working and because of that, they take to all kinds of vices. Many people who have come to Nigeria have scolded us for being the sixth oil-producing nation but just have one working refinery when a country just across the border doesn't produce crude oil but has a working refinery. It is a big security risk to Nigeria that we do not have a working refinery. Something has to be done.

Is our electoral system faulty that we are not able to choose leaders of the people? That has to be looked at very seriously because that is where everything starts. We cannot hold anybody responsible. In the past 50 years since Independence, I have not seen a Nigerian Head of state or President or Prime Minister who stood up and said I want to be either Head of state, President or Prime Minister.

They have always been asked and forced to come out. Obama came out and said I want to be President. No single President in Nigeria had stood up to say I want to be President. When they are asked including Obasanjo to come, they say 'I am not ready'. Obasanjo said only mad people can play Nigeria politics and then he later became President. So, in the last 50 years, we must be able to look back and see what went wrong and find out how to shape the next 50 years. The whole balls are there in Jonathan's court. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is the government party and right now, it is in turmoil.

The PDP is the mother and father of the government but right now, it is in turmoil. The Acting President is the leader of the party and that resolution was taken in council. So, as the Acting President today, he is the acting leader of the party. A party cannot take a decision that would affect the party without the Acting President knowing. No matter what happens, he has a responsibility to make sure Nigeria is stable. If the party that put him in office does not confer with him on very important decisions that affect the structure, membership and power of the party, it means that something is going wrong.

He should take immediate steps to make sure that nothing goes wrong because he is the one on the table. Everything is under his watch. Nobody is going to blame Ogbulafor or the National Working Committee (NWC). He should ensure that his party survives. So, there is a lot to be done. If after our 50 years of independence, all we can talk about is instability in PDP which if you have that, it dovetails into government because the government is the son or daughter of the party. So, we all know the factors but the point is that there is no need crying over split milk. Let us find out how to move forward.

In 2003 when Obasanjo was faced with some difficult situation of whether he would be re-elected or not, he declared a 'do-or die affair'. He was the President and did not allow the country to fall on his head, so, he declared it. That is the situation we are today.

Are you going to run for any election in 2011?
Don't keep asking me that.
But looking ahead, do you think the 2011 general election would be possible without a holistic reform of the nation's electoral process?

That is what I am saying that the whole balls are in the court of the Acting President. He knows and should know what happened in the last 50 years. From today that he is in office, he should put in place what could achieve a better Nigeria. We would support him with all our strength and might because he is on the seat. If he is removed today, that would be part of his history. He should take the bull by the horns.

He should go to Nigerians and leave the godfathers because they do not have votes. Godfathers don't win votes, they buy votes. Nigerians are fed up with what is going on today in the country. They want to be employed. They want their children to be educated. They want food on their table. They want to have the basic necessities of life. They do not want the resources of Nigeria to be concentrated in 10 fingers of the hand or in few fingers of the hand. Even if it is concentrated, they should pay enough tax to take care of the poor.

This is the situation, therefore, the electoral system must be reformed to enable Nigerians elect a man of their choice so that when he is in office, he would remember that people elected me on this platform based on this manifesto. The electoral reform is the number one issue to address in Nigeria because throughout the last 50 years, we have failed to bring out Nigerians that have the interest of Nigeria at heart. This is so that Nigeria would have a say. Then the number two is the issue of corruption. That is why I called you on this Halliburton issue. Go and find out. If I am guilty, take me to where you like. I am ready for prosecution if found guilty.

If corruption is not tackled in its roots, in the next 50 years, we may have no hope. Corruption is like the forbidden apple and when you eat it, your eyes would open. Why are the refineries not working and why is the power situation not improving? Look at the road network. When I came back to this country in the 70s, I could drive. All the roads in the South are bad and you can't go there now. That is why you hear all sorts of things happening on the road. People stop vehicles and put the passengers as wedge and run over them.

That is Nigeria for you. So, we must sit down and look at what happened in the last 50 years in order to face the challenges of the next 50 years. The starting point is the electoral reform so that Nigerians would elect whosoever comes out to say I want to serve Nigeria. I am offering myself to serve you and the people would now say we would elect you to see how you would perform. If he doesn't perform, in the next four years, they would vote him out. That is democracy.

You were recently reported in the media as having benefited from the controversial Halliburton Scandal. What is your side of the story?

I want to refute the statement in the media publication of April 21which was captioned 'Halliburton scandal'. The report says Abdulsalami Abubakar, Etiebet and Bayero got $50 million. The publication also went on to say that the Okiro report said that Abdulsalami Abubakar and Etiebet allegedly got $37.5 million between 1999 and 2000 apparently out of the $50 million because there were other people indicated in the write up.

I hereby want to state to you categorically on my honour that I did not collect or receive any money or payment by way of bribe or whosoever or howsoever either directly from Halliburton or his agents or any person acting on their behalf in connection with or in relation to, and arising from in any manner whatsoever associated with the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) project or any other project. I want to emphasise that I did not collect any money. Nobody gave me money on their behalf and nobody discussed Halliburton bribery or alleged inducement with me whatsoever and I stand by that. This thing is not new.

It started in 1994 and by 1995 and 1998, the stories were all over the place and there were investigations all over the world.

There was no where in all these investigations either in France or in USA or in court papers that my name, Don Etiebet, former Minister of Petroleum had been mentioned. Other names had been mentioned but my name had never been mentioned by anybody that any inducement or payment or gift was made to me and I received it or anybody acting on my behalf received it. Secondly, the publication by the national daily said Abdulsalami Abubakar and his Minister.

I want to say that I was not the Minister of Petroleum under Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar. If you would recollect, I was appointed first as Secretary of Petroleum in August 1993 under the Interim National Government (ING) of Ernest Shonekan. When Sani Abacha took over from Shonekan in November 1993, I was re-appointed as a Minister of Petroleum and Mineral resources.

I worked with Sani Abacha as Minister of Petroleum until 1995 when he dissolved that cabinet. Since February 1995, I never had any public appointment either as a Minister or adviser. It was when Abacha reconstituted his cabinet in March 1995 that chief Dan Etete was appointed the Minister of Petroleum and he worked with him until Abacha died. In June 1998, Abdulsalami Abubakar took over as Head of state of Nigeria and ran the government until May 29, 1999. When Abubakar took over, he did not have a Minister of Petroleum. He was the Minister of Petroleum and he only appointed a Special Adviser.

So, that shows you that I was not the Minister of Petroleum during Abdulsalami Abubakar's time and the national daily said his Minister of Petroleum, Don Etiebet. That is very, very untrue. It went on to say that Okiro report said Abdulsalami Abubakar and Etiebet got $37.500 million between 1999 and 2000. That is very, very untrue. It went on to describe how the transaction got through with some other people and it never mentioned my name in those transactions and reports and the only area my name was mentioned is those two places. It was in the headline of the publication and that between 1999 to 2000 that I got $37.5 million with Abubakar, with no explanation whatsoever, with no details whatsoever of the transaction, with no details of who gave me the money and how much was given to me.

I also want to say that I have been a Minister and I have said it many times and I have been interviewed by the international press and I have appeared before the House of Representatives committee on public petitions in a public hearing in Abuja in which the international press and the local press were there including all the people who work for Halliburton and oil companies and so on.

They were all there to make testimonies. Many media organizations reported that appearance and it was stated right there that I did not receive any money. Offordile was the chairman of that petition and the report stated that I did not receive any money. So, I do not know where the national daily got all those from but it claimed the Okiro report. I would say that I am the one who re-launched the NLNG project. It had been moribund for 29 years. All successive governments were not able to get that project going. I am a trained professional in the Petroleum industry.

My first degree was in Petroleum Technology from the Imperial College of Science and Technology, one of the best universities in the world. So, I know everything about the Petroleum industry and when I came in during the ING government, we worked to re-launch that project with the then Head of state, Shonekan and I worked on it till it reached the time that they were going to award the contract or what they called the selection of the Preferred consortiums. They were two consortiums that bided for that project-the Halliburton group called TSKJ and the BCSA.

When they selected what they called the preferred consortium in a board meeting of the NLNG in The Hague, I was not there. In fact, as the Minister of Petroleum, I was invited to attend that board meeting in The Hague as an observer during the award of the contract because I am not the chairman of the board. I disagreed with the process of selecting the preferred consortium which I came out openly in writing that it was not auspicious to award at that particular time because many people had protested against the process of selecting the preferred contractor. They said they had authority to go ahead and I said, ok, you can go ahead but I will not attend and I returned home. I never attended the meeting.

So, if I acted in that way and the contract was awarded to a consortium and a contractor was selected and they were scheduled for signing the agreement and do certain things before the actual signing, I was not there and this consortium knew that I was not with them, this was in September, 1994 and the contract was not finally signed until 1995, not by me but when I was out of office. So, I just want to ask a very basic and fundamental question. What would be the incentive of that contractor giving me money many years after I left office? That is a very basic question. They were not friendly with me because they thought I was working against them. So, how would they be giving me money many years after I had left office? That is one.

The next point I want to make is concerning Okiro panel which President Umaru Yar'Adua set up. I want to state here to you that I was invited by the panel whose letter of invitation was signed by the Acting chairman of the panel, Okiro himself. It was his panel but he delegated the function of chairing the panel and interrogating all those invited to another person, a Commissioner of Police who acted as the panel chairman. I was invited as a former Petroleum Minister to assist in clearing some pertinent issues in which my name had been mentioned.

The date in the letter of invitation was May 21, 2009. It was the panel of the investigation of the Halliburton scandal. The letter originated from the office of the Inspector General of Police. It was signed by a Commissioner of Police, Amodu. I appeared before the panel on May 25, 2009 and in the panel, there were different representatives of the different security agencies.

I want to state categorically on my honour and it is verifiable that none of the members of the panel asked me any question bordering on whether I received money or that somebody alleged that I had received money.

After answering all the questions, they said ok, as the Minister of Petroleum, tell us all what happened and they were very impressed. I want to reiterate the point that at no point during my appearance did any member of the panel including the chairman ask me any question on the receipt of money or somebody giving me money.

I am dumbfounded that according to the national daily, a preliminary report would have talked about Abdulsalami Abubakar and I sharing $37.5 million. From that report, how could it come from the panel when it did not ask me anything about receiving money or being given money or gifts? The panel members are there and they are human beings. The acting chairman is there. So, how would the panel now go back to write a report that in 1999, Abdulsalami and I collected money? I was not in government with Abdulsalami Abubakar. Secondly, after I finished with my question and answer, they told me to go back and write them down. I wrote everything down and took it to the panel as they requested. When I submitted it, they took it and brought out the statement sheet.

When you go to the Police, they give you a statement sheet. In it you fill your name, local government, religion, state of origin, date of birth and all that. They took the form and attached it to the statement and marked on the form 'Witness statement' and not as an accused. I was never arrested and I was never detained. More importantly, they never asked me any question like whether I knew Abdulsalami Abubakar or not. But they asked several other questions about practitioners or people who were connected with the contract by name. Apparently impressed with my answers, the panel had asked me, what advice would I give them on how to stop things like that in the country.

So, for my image and character to be assassinated like this is not acceptable. It is not like other allegations where Sahara reporters would publish 80 names and so on.