The Ministry of Mines and Energy has asked a Cameroonian lawyer who has been convicted of fraud in the United States (US) to advise on and review Namibian petroleum contracts.
This decision is seen as the ministry bypassing the Office of the Attorney General.
The lawyer, NJ Ayuk, also known as Njock Ayuk Eyong, is also close to the Equatorial Guinean finance minister, Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima, who is the son of the country’s president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.
Lima is also a former oil minister.
Acting executive director of mines and energy Bryan Eiseb has written to Ayouk, asking for legal advice and support in drafting and reviewing legal documents, contracts and agreements related to petroleum operations.
Ayouk was kicked out of the US and has a history of intimidating news organisations.
According to court documents seen by The Namibian, Ayuk was convicted of fraud in the US in 2007.
This occurred when he pleaded guilty to wrongfully using the official stationery and signature stamp of a US congressman, Donald Payne, whom he had served as an intern, to obtain visas for fellow Cameroonians.
Ayuk’s asylum status was then revoked and he was deported from the US back to Cameroon.
South African newspaper Mail & Guardian in 2019 also reported on his conviction.
Ayuk denies all allegations against him.
“These allegations are false and have been debunked many times,” Ayuk has said through African Energy Chamber (AEC) spokesperson Gradie Mbono.
Despite this, Eiseb wrote to the AEC on 9 August, asking for “legal support and training”.
Ayuk is the executive chairperson of the chamber, an organisation which has been showering Namibians with awards.
“The ministry, directorate of petroleum affairs, has been encountering a significant surge in legal challenges pertaining to the petroleum industry, both upstream and downstream sectors.
“In light of these escalating challenges, we are reaching out to your esteemed institution to request your assistance,” Eiseb wrote.
He did not clarify the legal challenges the ministry was facing.
“Additionally, we would greatly appreciate your assistance in training our personnel to establish a robust government defence position to effectively address and manage the legal challenges that arise within the petroleum sector,” Eiseb wrote.
Ayuk replied on 11 August, confirming AEC’s willingness to provide legal consultation and advisory services related to petroleum operations.
Commenting on the issue, Eiseb said the ministry requested the AEC’s assistance in advisory services, which include legal advisory services.
“The request is based on the AEC’s experience and willingness to provide training to our team . . . “
Asked whether the directorate could not employ the services of competent government lawyers to provide these services, Eiseb said all litigious and other legal matters of the ministry is handled by the government attorney.
“It is not a matter of incompetence, but rather getting assistance from the AEC, which has vast experience in oil and gas matters.”
On whether the ministry followed the correct procurement process to select the South African law firm, Eiseb said the AEC’s assistance would be provided free of charge on a voluntary basis.
Ironically in his letter to Ayuk, Eiseb wrote: “In view of the above, we kindly request that you provide us with a detailed breakdown of the cost implication associated with the (following) services.”
He stressed that the request to the AEC was on the basis that the AEC would provide these services “ex gratia to the ministry”.
Eiseb said this arrangement with the South African company did not require the attorney general’s approval, because the AEC would not be litigating on behalf of the ministry as this is done by the Office of the Attorney General.
“We will leverage their expertise on an advisory basis when required and if the AEC agrees to it. We want to underscore that this arrangement has not materialised, but is currently an initiative of the ministry,” Eiseb said.
Ayuk ended his reply, saying: “We will arrange a kick-off meeting with your primary contacts to on-board your requirements in detail and to enable our team to quickly get to work on the work streams you have requested of us.”
Attorney general Festus Mbandeka says his office would normally be approached on government legal matters to provide guidance, but he was not aware of the mines ministry’s engagement with the AEC and could therefore not comment on the issue.
The attorney general is the chief legal adviser to the president and government responsible for all legal matters.
Political and policy experts in Namibia have stressed the importance of safeguarding Namibia’s emerging upstream petroleum sector from “corrupt influences and individuals”.
Institute for Public Policy Research executive director Graham Hopwood says links to Ayouk serve as a troubling sign that the development of the oil and gas sector in Namibia has not adequately been fortified against corruption.
“We have to avoid the examples of Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and Angola at all costs,” he says.
In response to questions sent by The Namibian, Ayuk has confirmed, through Mbono, that Eiseb had contacted the AEC to provide support through “our technical assistance programme that has supported many African states and also the private sector”.
He says Namibia as a member of the African Petroleum Producers Organisation, is qualified for this support if applied for and approved.
“If the board of the AEC approves, the AEC will provide funding for oil and gas technical assistance, capacity building, local content development, and also social programmes,” he says.
Ayuk says the ministry will not pay the AEC for its services.
AEC DEFENDS AYUK
On Friday the AEC issued a response to an article published by The Namibian in which it denounced what it asserts to be a misleading representation of Ayuk and his organisation.
“Attacks on Mr Ayuk’s legal work and the fundamental principle of independent and confidential legal advice not only undermine the very fabric of a democratic society, but also adversely impact clients and public interests. The Namibian’s evident lack of understanding of these principles is regrettable,” the chamber’s statement said.
Last week’s article raised concerns surrounding the Ayouk’s plan to honour president Hage Geingob in South Africa next month.
The initiative, led by Ayuk, aims to recognise Geingob for his contributions to the energy sector and fostering international cooperation.
The Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) reported in 2021 that Ayuk was identified as a key player in the network of Lima.
The report quoted anti-corruption expert Lucas Oló saying Ayuk represents an important channel for winning oil-related contracts in Equatorial Guinea.