On April 17, 1980, President Shehu Shagari set up a tribunal of enquiry into the allegation of the misappropriation of N2.8 billion from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). The allegation was made in the National Assembly and newspapers. The tribunal was headed by Justice Ayo Irikefe of the then Supreme Court. Other members of the tribunal were Chief Arthur Christopher Izuegbunam Mbanefo, Past President of the Nigeria Institute of Chartered Accountants, Mr. A.O. Akinrinmisi, Executive Director of Union Bank of Nigeria Ltd., Alhaji Hassan Sunmonu, President of the Nigeria Labour Congress and Alhaji Sule Kurfi, an Engineer and Oil Marketing Executive. Chief Vincent Aleleye George Warmate was appointed the Secretary of the tribunal. Mr Warmate who was appointed permanent Secretary in the Rivers state Public Service in 1974, was from Buguma.
The tribunal was to examine contracts and/or other arrangements entered into by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), or by any person or authority acting on behalf of Nigeria, for the sale or other disposal of crude oil between January 1, 1976, and December 31, 1979, with a view to determining (a) whether crude oil supplied to customers and payments thereof are all in respects in accordance with the terms of their contracts (b) whether any proceeds of any such contracts or other arrangements for the sale or other disposal of crude oil, particularly the alleged N2.8 billion, were missing or not properly accounted for in the account of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation or of any other appropriate authority or agency of the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (c) whether any such proceeds were ever deposited in any private account in any bank anywhere in the world, and if so, whose accounts, how much, and for how long (d) whether the deposit of any such proceeds in any private account was authorized by any person whatsoever and if so to identify such person (d) whether any person or persons wrongfully benefitted, directly or indirectly, from interests which accrued from the deposit and if so to ascertain the amount involved and to identify the person or persons and the extent of the benefit (f) whether any person has been guilty of fraud in connection with the contracts or arrangements for the sale or other disposal of crude oil and to name such person and recommend measures that may be necessary to prevent a recurrence of any fraud that may be discovered and to punish any person that may be found guilty and (g) to make such other recommendation or recommendations as the tribunal might deem fit in all the circumstances.
It should be recalled that the incident was first raised in a national daily in September 1979, that the external auditors of the accounts of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation had discovered that a sum of N2.8 billion was missing from the Corporation’s accounts. A few days earlier, the Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Chief Festus Remilekun Ayodele Marinho (84) denied the allegation, asserting that the alleged missing amount represented the total revenue from the corporation’s crude oil sales for 1977.
After inaugurating Justice Irikefe’s panel, President Shehu Shagari suspended the board of the NNPC including the Chairman and Chief Marinho. He also sent on compulsory leave some Senior Management staff of the Corporation. Chief Marinho who is from Ijebu-Ode, Ogun state, had his childhood in the “Brazilian Quarters” of Lagos Island and attended St. Gregory’s College Obalende, Lagos. He matriculated into the then University College, Ibadan in 1956, became a ‘College Scholar’ in 1957 and graduated with Bachelor of Science (Special Honours) in Physics of the University of London in 1960. Upon joining the public service as the nation’s second Oil Technologist-in-Training, ever, he proceeded to the imperial College, London for post-graduate studies in Petroleum Reservoir Engineering from 1960-61. Rising through the ranks in the emerging petroleum resources ministry, Marinho was appointed Managing Director NNPC at its inauguration on April 1, 1977.
On June 30, 1980, Justice Irikefe submitted his panel’s report to President Shehu Shagari. The findings of the report were never made public and all those suspended were never recalled. In accepting the report, President Shagari declared” I would like to assure all of you that my government will carefully study the report and your recommendation and ensure that prompt actions are taken on them. Government action on the report and its findings will be taken and made public in the interest of justice”. He said further “it is hoped that the Tribunal was availed of this vital information and that the findings would reflect it. As pointed out in the statement made on appointment of the Tribunal to do this assignment, this Administration is fully committed to the principle of public accountability as enshrined in the constitution and every effort will be made to ensure that the public is fully informed of the outcome of your investigation and findings”.
He later appointed Chief Odiliyi Lolomari as Managing Director of the NNPC. Chief Lolomari is a fellow of the Institute of Petroleum, London and the Nigerian Mining and Geosciences Society. He later became Nigeria’s OPEC representative. There was a school of thought then that by back dating the tenure of the NNPC probe from 1976-1979, President Shehu Shagari was indirectly probing the military which was a dangerous thing to do at that time since the military were like the untouchables. The repercussion came later.
Shortly after receiving the report, he flew to Salisbury. I was part of the entourage of President Shehu Shagari that witnessed the Independence celebrations of Southern Rhodesia. On that day in Salisbury now Harare, one would think it was Nigeria that was celebrating independence. A grateful Robert Mugabe accorded Nigeria for its role in his country’s independence. There was applause at Rufaro stadium in Salisbury that afternoon when President Shagari announced a donation of 15million American dollars to the new country of Southern Rhodesia which was later renamed Zimbabwe. On the Eve of the independence, the legendary musician Bob Marley sang his famous song ‘ONE LOVE’ at the Rufaro stadium which was cheered by thousands.
During his tenure, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, who was then number 2 by virtue of the constitution and the speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Edwin Ume Ezeoke, who was number 4 were both from Anambra state which is now regarded as South-East while the then Senate President, Dr. Joseph Wayas who was number 3 was from Cross River, which is now part of south-south. Against the advice of his top party officials in the NPN, he honoured the leader of the UPN, Chief Obafemi Awolowo with the GCFR award making Chief Awolowo the first person who is not head of state to receive such award.
Eric Teniola, A Former Director At The Presidency Wrote From Lagos.

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