War over Nigeria’s oil resources turns global in ‘The Shadow List’
Title: The Shadow List
Author: Todd Moss
Publishers: G.P. Putman & Sons, New York
Reviewer: Theophilus Abbah
Todd Moss, a United States diplomat and scholar, who spent six years in West Africa, brings his knowledge, insight and experiences to bear in his thriller, ‘The Shadow List’. An expose on the intercontinental web of the criminal underworld that spans the borders of kidnapping, piracy, oil trade war, Advanced Fee Fraud, prostitution, spying and political manipulations, ‘The Shadow List’ is an eye opener on how seemingly domestic criminal activities are connected with a grand design controlled from another end of the earth. In this case it is Russia.
Set in cities in the United States, United Kingdom, Russia and Nigeria, the plots, which begin on Monday and ends on Saturday, comprise of intrigues between the authorities in the US State Department and the head of the global criminal underworld tagged The Bear. The Bear’s desire to channel the global oil wealth to Mother Russia’s coffers overwhelms international politics and economy, and leads to the death of the high and mighty. In his desperation, The Bear even compromises of top government functionaries against their own countries and regimes.
The central characters – Judd Ryke and Jessica Ryke, a couple who works in the intelligence unit of the State Department- are challenged with the wild puzzle created by the activities of the criminal underworld. But the themes of ‘The Shadow List’ coalesce in the international struggle for the control of the Nigerian oil resources, a struggle among industrialised nations – United States, Russia, and China. The author has weaved the scattered criminal activities like kidnapping, bombing of oil facilities in Niger Delta, Advanced Fee Fraud, assassinations and corruption into a composite whole in the battle for the country’s oil wells. In this way, the hands that pull the trigger of the militancy in that region, the arms proliferation, and the unrest are revealed as the conspiracy from Russia to control the country’s oil wealth by edging out United States and Chinese competitors.
Beginning with phrase ‘Free Money,’ the novel explores how the snare of cheap money has led to huge financial losses, ruins and eventual kidnap of Jason Saunders, a hedge fund arbitrage. Saunders follows the trail of a letter which promised to boost his firm’s financial gains by administering some $1.2 billion dollars on behalf of a fractured ruling family of the Republic of Syria. Instead of laying his hands on this juicy fund and realising 5% interest on it, Saunders is kidnapped at an office supposedly linked to the Windsor in London, thereby creating the suspense that sustains the reader from the beginning to the end of the story. Judd Ryke, an expert in conflict resolution, who is attached to a special unit in the State Department, is asked to unravel the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Saunders in order to please Congressman Shep Truman who heads the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The same Congressman laments his country’s loss of global oil resources to other corrupt countries and breathes down the neck of State Department officials to unravel the mystery of ‘The Bear,’ a faceless Russian whose finger manipulates and gives direction to the flow of Nigeria’s oil resources. The texture of the conflict is captured in a conversation between the Congressman and some of his associates thus:
“It’s war out there, Shep. A goddamn war. And what is our government doing about it? What do I pay my taxes for? Can’t we get the Navy to patrol the Celebes Seas? Or the Gulf of Aden? Can’t you get the FBI to investigate these Chinese oil contracts stolen right out from under American companies? What about raising this with the State Department? Isn’t that why we have ambassadors in the first place?” (Page 40)
As the disposition and body language of top political leaders are akin to law in the United States, the State Department has to jump into the task of answering some of the questions raised in the above excerpt. However, the thread of the basic intelligence available at the State Department point to Russia, not to China. The Chinese are winning bids for Nigeria’s oil, but the criminal underworld that contaminates the business environment is in another part of the planet. Coincidentally, Jessica is given this assignment. In the process, both Judd and Jessica have to leave the comfort of their homes to Nigeria and Russia respectively, on separate assignments in search of the answers to the Congressman’s questions.
Jessica demonstrates her brilliant skills as an undercover intelligence officer as she meets The Bear and effectively convinces the blood-thirsty Russian that she is Queen Sheba, a vicious criminal go-getter who could eliminate all those who stand in the way of the Russian’s desire to take control of the global oil trade. Jessica obtains the list of those being targeted for elimination. Shockingly, instead of Chinese competitors, the high target on the list is a Nigerian anti-corruption czar, whose enthusiasm and resilience has made it difficult for even compromised government officials to enjoy their stolen wealth. His name is Bola Akinnola who has “been building cases and kicking in doors. He even took down a corrupt governor in Nigeria who was skimming millions off the state budget.” (page 103). Actually Bola Akinnola is a fictional character who captures the essence of the anti-corruption battle fought by Malam Nuhu Ribadu, a former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Jessica is piqued by the inclusion of Bola Akinnola on The Shadow List because in the State Department this Nigerian is an invaluable resource in the United States’ effort to rid Nigeria of corruption. For The Bear to target him for assassination is an indication that Akinnola is a threat to the Russian criminal network in the oil industry. If the assassination effort should succeed, the US State Department would have lost a crucial partner in the war against graft in the country. Instead of playing the Queen Sheba role for The Bear, Jessica flies to Nigeria to protect Akinnola from being assassinated by The Bear’s network. She meets her husband who is assigned the role of negotiating the release of a basketball legend, Tunde Babatunde, who is kidnapped in Lagos traffic. As it is with every thriller, Judd and Jessica wriggle through impossible challenges to live and return to the United States against all odds.
Todd Moss’ style facilitates quick reading. His fast-pace simple and compound sentences; his straight-to-the-point dialogues and shock-filled plots keep the reader glued to the novel from sunrise through sunset and over the night till the break of dawn. The story line is an excursion into the world of investigation in global security and intelligence community. The admixture of smart human intelligence and data analyses provide insight into the activities of those in the criminal underworld and facilitate the efforts by Judd and Jessica to unravel the jigsaw.
One idea that Moss brings out clearly is the relevance of effective internal security intelligence in dealing with such a global network. Though Judd and Jessica are scholars and undercover agent respectively, their success in exposing the criminal network depends largely on the integrity, perspiration and commitment of Bola Akinnola, the Nigerian anti-corruption judge, in ensuring that corrupt politicians and government officials do not prevail in his court. He supplies the vital links with the networks that lead to the uncovering of the links between the global criminal network controlled from Russia and their local collaborators. Judd describes Akinnola’s role in the investigative effort in a dialogue thus:
“Bola Akinnola is one of our allies. He’s the one fighting against the cartels and the corrupt politicians. He is standing up for democracy. For everything we’re trying to do in Nigeria. We can’t give up on him now that his own government is trying to kill him.” (Page 171)
For the first time, a book makes it clear that corruption, which is perceived as a local problem, has an international dimension that overwhelms our local security operatives
As acknowledged by Moss, this work was inspired by the leadership and achievements of Malam Nuhu Ribadu while he was the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Several elements in the story prove this, among them the capture of a Nigerian governor, the haunt down of Advance Fee Fraud kingpins, the arrest of Yahoo Boys, the never-say-die courage of the anti-corruption judge, and the fact that at a point in his career as the EFCC boss, Nuhu Ribadu, like the fictional Akinnola, was even accused of corrupt practices. The fact that he (Nuhu Ribadu) had worked hand-in-hand with the American intelligence community is apparent in the storyline, as the kind of insight The Shadow List provides about corruption in Nigeria can only be gathered by an insider in the anti-corruption war in the country.
The Shadow List does not just make an interesting reading. It also brings a new perspective to the besetting problem of corruption in Nigeria. For the first time, a book makes it clear that corruption, which is perceived as a local problem, has an international dimension that overwhelms our local security operatives. In order to deal with the situation, Nigeria’s anti-graft bodies would need to change their thinking cap to a bigger one. They need to widen the extent to which they collaborate with other intelligence agencies in order to prevent the fire stoked in other parts of the world from consuming Nigeria.
First Published: https://www.dailytrust.com.ng/war-over-nigeria-s-oil-resources-turns-global-in-the-shadow-list.html