By Ben Ezeamalu
A former Zambian President has threatened legal action against the Civil Society Network Against Corruption, CSNAC, a Nigerian anti-corruption group, over an article published in the country’s newspaper.
Rupiah Banda said that The Post, a Zambian newspaper, ran an article on April 16 titled ‘Nigerians to follow their oil money in Zambia’ which was critical of his government.
The newspaper quoted Olanrewaju Suraju, CSNAC’s Chairman, as saying that Nigerians are ready to mount pressure on President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, to demand repayment of money realized from an oil concession deal with the Zambian government.
“A successful fight against corruption cannot be realized if it is restricted to anti-corruption institutions,” Mr. Olanrewaju had said.
The former Zambian president described the publication as “contemptuous and meant to undermine court proceedings as there is a matter currently going on before court relating to the said article.”
“We have since received instructions to commence contempt proceedings against you should you not retract within 48 hours, failing which process will follow for your arrest and trial for contempt of court,” Mr. Banda said in a letter to the CSNAC Chairman through his lawyers, Makebi Zulu Advocates.
“You may wish to know that, in this country the integrity of the court and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty are paramount and sacrosanct.
“Kindly oblige to avoid the rigmarole of court process.”
The controversial Nigeria-Zambia oil deal
The suspended Zambia’s Director of Public Prosecution, Mutembo Nchito, was in the middle of prosecuting Mr. Banda for abuse of office when Michael Sata, then president, died in office in 2014.
Mr. Nchito is currently battling to save his job over trumped-up charges that he himself had abused his office as Zambia’s DPP.
During the administration of the late Umar Yar’Adua, Nigeria entered an agreement with the Zambian government to supply 20,000 barrels of crude oil daily.
It is still unclear what the Nigerian government got in return, but sources close to the deal said it was part of the country’s contribution to Zambia’s development.
PREMIUM TIMES, however, learnt that the deal became necessary at the time due to a biting fuel scarcity in Zambia which was degenerating into a civil unrest.
Mr. Banda, 78, who was the Zambian president at the time the deal was struck and his son, Henry, allegedly personalized the proceeds of the deal which they banked in Singapore.
The money, commingled with funds laundered through Mauritius, was transferred to Japan for purchases that were then shipped to Zambia, according to the DPP.
The case reached an advanced stage with the DPP closing the state’s case, leaving the court to reach a decision on whether Mr. Banda had a case to answer when President Sata died.
Mr. Banda’s son, Henry, had earlier fled the country after his father lost his re-election bid to Mr. Sata in 2011.
Three weeks ago, Zambia’s Anti-Corruption Commission, ACC, announced that it had taken over Mr. Banda’s prosecution in the Nigeria oil deal case from the National Prosecution Authority.
According to court papers filed by the prosecution, between 2008 and 2011, Mr. Banda procured a government-to-government oil contract with the Nigerian government worth about US$2.5 million.
In November 2008, Mr. Banda, then Zambian president, arrived Nigeria on a two-day official visit.
According to a program released by Godfrey Musonda, then Zambian High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Banda was scheduled to hold private talks with President Yar’Adua before returning to Lusaka.
Mr. Musonda had stated that the visit would help cement existing relations between the two countries.
The prosecution said that the visit offered an opportunity for Richard Kachingwe, then Deputy High Commissioner to Nigeria, to introduce Mr. Banda to a Nigerian businessman, Akpan Ekpene.
“Mr. Ekpene introduced the concept of the government-to-government oil contract to the accused person (Mr. Banda). Once the accused person assumed office of president, he decided to pursue the government-to-government oil deal. He assigned Major Kachingwe as his special envoy to ensure that the transaction went through,” the court papers stated.
“Various correspondences were entered into between the accused person, in his capacity as the Head of State for Zambia on the one hand and the Nigerian President on the other hand.”
It was shortly after Mr. Banda’s visit to Abuja that the contract for the oil deal with the Zambian government was signed.
“All the while, Maj. Kachingwe and Mr. Ekpene were the ones who pushed for the contract to be executed,” court papers said.
“When the oil was ready for lifting, Mr. Ekpene personally travelled to Lusaka, Zambia to find out from the accused person how the proceeds of the sale of the oil would be channelled to Zambia.
“It is at this point that the accused person instructed Mr. Ekpene to deal with his son Henry Chikomeni Banda and it became clear that proceeds of the sale of the oil were never to benefit the Zambian people but were meant for the direct benefit of the accused person and his family.”
The ACC argued that it arrived at the conclusion because Mr. Banda’s son, Henry, was neither a public servant nor a hired agent of the Zambian government to transact business on behalf of the state.
It also stated that the Nigerian oil deal was meant to benefit millions of poor Zambians but Mr. Banda and his son diverted the anticipated profits to an account which did not belong to the government.
“The said money to be realized from the purported transaction was not remitted to the Zambian government coffers but to the accused person’s son, Henry Chikomeni Banda. Henry Chikomeni Banda falsified a contract for a company called IEXORA.
“He further bought an ‘off the shelf company’ which he registered in Hong Kong and used to open an account in Singapore.”