Two days ago, Nigeria’s Leadership newspaper reported an out-of-court settlement of an ongoing criminal and civil case filed in Nigerian courts against Pfizer, the US pharmaceutical giant. What many Nigerians do not realize is that Nigeria's Attorney General, Michael Aondoakaa, will become one of the biggest beneficiaries from the settlement.
The controversial attorney general and minister of justice has paid more than a cursory attention to the cases in recent times, in reality pursuing a double agenda.
In public, Aondoakaa has bragged about the determination of the Federal Government to make Pfizer pay for its 1996 unauthorized Trovan drug trial in Kano that claimed at least 11 lives and incapacitated some 200 victims. Those illegal drug trials, which were covered in the local and international media, precipitated the criminal and civil cases filed in Kano and Abuja courts.
Despite the attorney general’s saber rattling, earlier and recent investigations by Saharareporters reveal that Aondoakaa had entered into secret negotiations with Pfizer officials to settle the case out of court. Several sources familiar with the negotiations told Saharareporters that Mr. Aondoakaa was working out a deal favorable to Pfizer in return for a hefty fee “in the millions of dollars,” one reliable source said. The sources revealed that the attorney general threatened to scuttle any “out-of-court” settlement negotiations unless the company obliged him. While the exact figure of Aondoakaa’s haul remains unknown, our sources revealed that Aondoakaa at one point raged at a settlement figure proposed by Pfizer for settlement, an amount said to be in the region of $10 million cash.
Aondoakaa immediately pulled a stop on the negotiations after learning that Pfizer paid its lawyers, Mr. Afe Babalola, $17 million for the civil case, while another $5 million was paid to a firm of lawyers led by Anthony Idigbe for handling the Kano case.
Aondoakaa was pushing for a $1 billion settlement amount so that he can pay himself $10 million through his first cousin, Dr. Paul Botwev Orhii. The AG earlier engineered Orhii’s appointment as an expert witness and “pharmacological litigation support specialist” in the cases pending at the high courts in Abuja and Kano. Orhii’s appointment was relayed in a February 2008 letter signed by Aondoakaa. Orhii and Aondoakaa are paternal first cousins, and both hail from Ushongo local government area of Benue State. They are believed to be nephews to Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu who is effectively Nigeria’s second-ranking Supreme Court justice.
Before cooking up the latest scam through his cousin, Aondoakaa had earlier tried to use Orhii as an "international legal consultant" to the Federal Government. In the early months of the Umar Yar’adua regime, the AGF traversed the US purportedly to make an inventory of cases involving the Nigerian government. Following a disagreement between Aondoakaa and Emmanuel Ogebe, son of Justice James Ogebe who presided over the five member presidential elections tribunal, Aondoakaa moved to offer lucrative briefs to Orhii, including the Willbros bribe case in Texas which the Yar’adua regime has now abandoned for political considerations. At one point, Emmanuel Ogebe threatened to expose the deal to the media unless he was allowed to handle those briefs. The younger Ogebe made a point that Orhii was a new comer to the law profession. Orhii graduated from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law and was called to the bar in 2007 with Bar number 1683 in the State of Texas.
Aondoakaa saw another opportunity to deploy Orhii as a proxy for his money-grubbing schemes. He asked Orhii to write Yar'adua a letter asking to represent the Federal Government and the Kano State government in the Pfizer case. Sources told Saharareporters that Aondoakaa personally took Orhii's letter to Yar'adua and got the Kano State government to accede to have him as an "expert witness". Shortly afterwards, Aondoakaa wrote a letter to his cousin appointing him an expert witness in the Pfizer case.
The February, 2008 letter reads in part: “Having dispassionately read your letter, considered the attachments thereof, including but not limited to your Resume, and after due consultation with the Attorney General of KANO State, Government is of the opinion that you be engaged. I am by this letter, therefore, formally engaging you as "Expert Witness" for or on behalf of the Federal Government of NIGERIA and KANO State Government respectively in the pending court cases against PFIZER Inc. at the Federal High Court, Abuja and the High Court of Kano State.”
Orhii reportedly graduated from the University of Jos with a degree in medicine. He then traveled to Russia for further studies in medical research and later came to Texas where he worked as a biomedical researcher at the University of Texas in San Antonio. He currently lives in the Bissonet area of Houston, Texas.
Since leaving law school, Orhii is said to have focused on making big money out of Nigeria. Towards that goal, he was deeply involved in the US campaigns to support former military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida, in his failed presidential run. A source told Saharareporters that Orhii played a prominent role in reconciling IBB with some of the former coup plotters who sought to overthrow him through the "Gideon Orkar" aborted coup. One of the formerly estranged coup plotters is Saliba Mukoro.
When Babangida was frustrated out of the race, Orhii was said to have nursed his frustration until Aondokaa was appointed as Nigeria's AGF.