The Institute of Public Policy and Research (IPPR) has raised concerns over a plan by the African Energy Chamber (AEC), led by Cameroon's controversial businessman NJ Ayuk, to present president Hage Geingob with an award in South Africa next month.
"I think it is important that our leaders do not accept awards from people with very questionable track records as appears to be the case here," IPPR director Graham Hopwood said on Wednesday.
The AEC plans to grant Geingob the 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award for his commitment to advancing Namibia's energy sector.
The Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) reported in 2021 that Ayuk (also known as Njock Ayuk Eyong) was identified as a key player in the network of Gabriel Mbega Obiang Lima, Equatorial Guinea's former oil minister and son of its president.
The OCCRP report quoted anti-corruption expert Lucas Oló saying that Ayuk, the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Centurion Law Group - a law firm which has offices that span across seven African countries - represents an important channel for winning oil-related contracts in Equatorial Guinea.
Hopwood stressed the importance of safeguarding Namibia's emerging upstream petroleum sector from "corrupt influences and individuals".
He said the award may not necessarily put the president in a negative light, but it serves as a troubling sign that the development of the oil and gas sector in Namibia has not been adequately fortified against corruption.
"We have to avoid the examples of Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and Angola at all costs," Hopwood said.
A 2019 article in Mail & Guardian reported that Ayuk was convicted of fraud in the United States in 2007 and investigated in Ghana for money laundering in 2015, allegations his spokesperson strongly denied.
Despite this controversy, Geingob appears to have opened the door for an award from Ayuk.
The Office of the President has not responded to questions sent to presidential spokesperson Alfredo Hengari on Wednesday and yesterday.
Ayuk's controversial past has created a stir, with critics calling on the president to turn down the award.
Political analyst Rui Tyitende says considering that Geingob has been linked to controversial individuals such as Ernest Adjovi (regarding N$23 million for the Kora Awards) and Jack Huang (regarding N$1 billion in tax evasion charges), accepting this award would not bode well for his reputation.
"The president should know that generosity of such a nature has its own form of power as some reciprocity might be expected."
Tyitende also raised questions about the selection criteria for awarding Geingob and whether other candidates were considered for the award.
"To avoid national embarrassment, the president must decline this award as I do not think the intentions are sincere considering the moral compass of NJ Ayuk," he says.
Political commentator Ndumba Kamwanyah says the president should practise caution when offered accolades from institutions run by individuals with controversial pasts.
"Anyone who is credible, authentic and is fighting corruption would be careful not to be associated with any criminally tainted system.
"I think it is wise for president Hage Geingob to protect his legacy and his reputation," he says.
Kamwanyah says it is premature to grant Geingob the specific award, as the success of both Namibia's emerging green hydrogen and oil and gas industries is yet to be seen.
"Let's wait for the outcome to determine who deserves the award," he says.
AYUK DENIES CLAIMS
Meanwhile, Ayuk has denied all allegations against him, claiming they form part of a witch-hunt against him.
"From the outset, the AEC, Centurion Law Group and Ayuk categorically denies the allegations which have been a pattern and a witch-hunt from civil society groups because of our position on Africa's right to develop its oil and gas," AEC spokesperson Gradie Mbono told The Namibian this week.
She said Ayuk has no tainted past, adding that he is a highly respected lawyer and two-time bestselling author with the Wall Street Journal.
"He has undergone the most stringent scrutiny by all regulatory authorities which cleared approval. He has addressed the United Nations and participated in the Conference of the Parties. It is unfair to try to taint this man," Mbono said.
The chamber defended Ayuk's connection to Equatorial Guinea's former oil minister and current finance minister, saying his law firm, as a publicly listed entity, can represent anyone who requests its services.
Mbono confirmed Obiang as a client of Centurion.
She said while Ayuk personally has no business in Namibia, his law firm has referred business and clients to SNC Incorporated, led by Shakwa Nyambe.
"On a singular event, Centurion Law Group requested for legal service and SNC Incorporated provided such service.
"Other than the aforesaid singular event, SNC Incorporated is not aware of any business or client referrals from Centurion Law group to SNC Incorporated," Nyambe said yesterday.