Nominated to the Noble Peace Prize after financial donation

Kjell Magne Bondevik’s organisation the Oslo Centre received NOK 600 000 from the foundation of a very wealthy Catholic pastor from Nigeria. Six months later, Bondevik’s collaborating partner Aamir J. Sheikh asked a Member of Parliament to nominate the pastor for a Nobel Peace Prize. "This had nothing to do with the Madonna Foundation's support for the Oslo Center," says Sheikh.

RECEIVED AWARD: The Nigerian Pastor Father Edeh (no. 2 from left) cuts a cake together with former Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik during the ceremony in which the pastor was awarded the Bridge Builder Award - an award directed by Conservative politician Aamir J. Sheikh. A few months later, Sheikh asked a member of Parliament to nominate the pastor for a Nobel peace prize. Image: Foundation Dialogue for Peace
RECEIVED AWARD: The Nigerian Pastor Father Edeh (no. 2 from left) cuts a cake together with former Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik during the ceremony in which the pastor was awarded the Bridge Builder Award - an award directed by Conservative politician Aamir J. Sheikh. A few months later, Sheikh asked a member of Parliament to nominate the pastor for a Nobel peace prize. Image: Foundation Dialogue for Peace Vis mer
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In June 2015, pastor Emmanuel Edeh, one of Nigeria’s best-known religious leaders, visited Norway. Conservative Party politician Aamir J. Sheikh and former prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik hosted the visit.

Dagbladet can now reveal that:

  • The Oslo Centre – of which Bondevik is the chairman – received NOK 600,000 from Pastor Edeh’s foundation in Nigeria in 2015.
  • Aamir Sheikh, Bondevik’s collaborating partner, asked a fellow Conservative Party member to nominate Pastor Edeh for a Nobel Peace Prize six months later.
  • Conservative Party politician Kristin Ørmen Johnsen confirmed to Dagbladet today that she nominated Edeh for a Nobel Peace Prize after a meeting with Sheikh and Edeh’s adviser, even though she did not know who Edeh was before the meeting.

“The fact that the Oslo Centre received payment puts the matter in a different light to what I was presented with at the time,” says Kristin Ørmen Johnsen.

"Cannot buy the prize"

Dagbladet has sent Kjell Magne Bondevik and Aamir J. Sheikh a number of questions regarding this article. In an email to Dagbladet, Bondevik writes:

- My experience with Dagbladet's journalists is that I get a number of questions, full of suspicion, based on a biased agenda. This is also the case now, writes Bondevik.

- Therefore, I will not answer all the new questions, but only give the following comment. I visited the Madonna Foundation's center and work in Nigeria in June 2015 and was impressed by what they do for many poor people with kindergartens, schools, job creation and protection of girls who had been kidnapped by Boko Haram, writes Bondevik.

- When Aamir Sheikh in a meeting with parliamentary representative Ørmen Johnsen is said to have said "that Bondevik “approves” of Father Edeh, it may have been on this background. I was then not aware of the accusations that have now emerged. Father Edeh viewed the work of the Oslo Center positively and wanted to support it. The Madonna Foundation's contribution to the Oslo Center was based on the centre's work in supporting democracy and had nothing to do with peace prize nominations. It is a principle that there is no political connection to any of the financial support the Oslo Center receives.

He states:

- Father Edeh was first nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize an earlier year by someone other than the parliamentary representative Dagbladet mentions. I was not aware of this then and I did not know Father Edeh at the time. He was then nominated again in 2016, as Dagbladet mentions.

Bondevik emphasizes:

Genève, Dialogue for peace-møte med Aamir Javed Sheikh, Kjell Magne Bondevik og Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa. Foto: Lars Eivind Bones / Dagbladet
Genève, Dialogue for peace-møte med Aamir Javed Sheikh, Kjell Magne Bondevik og Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa. Foto: Lars Eivind Bones / Dagbladet Vis mer

“The Nobel Committee is completely independent, and it would call its integrity into question if anyone thought that they could ‘buy’ the prize.”

Aamir J. Sheikh wrote in an email that Dagbladet has had “a determined agenda to undermine my dialogue work and damage my reputation”.

”I will therefore not respond to all the questions, but I will say the following: during my visit to the Madonna Foundation centre in Nigeria, I saw with my own eyes the extremely positive work they were doing for many children and young people in poverty and need,” wrote Sheikh, and continued:

”It is true that based on this I contacted Member of Parliament Kristin Ørmen Johnsen and recommended that she nominate Fader Edeh for the Nobel Prize. I know that Ørmen Johnsen made additional enquiries and consultations. All Members of Parliament are free to make their independent evaluations. Father Edeh had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize at an earlier occasion, before parliamentary representative Ørmen Johnsen, with whom I was in contact, did so.

Like Bondevik, Sheikh also emphasises:

"No one can "buy" themselves a nomination or an award. This had nothing to do with the Madonna Foundation's support for the Oslo Center."

Neither Pastor Edeh nor his secretary martin Anagboso have responded to Dagbladet’s enquiries.

Let's go back to June 2015. When Sheikh and Bondevik visited Pastor Edeh in Nigeria.

“The Bridge Builder Award”

“Free Our Chibok Girls,” the poster read.

Like a number of other world leaders and celebrities, Bondevik and Sheikh were pictured calling on terrorist group Boko Haram to release the 276 abducted schoolgirls from Chibok in Nigeria

The gruesome case was also high on the agenda in Norway. According to the website for Aamir Sheik’s foundation, he and Bondevik were briefed on Pastor Edeh’s campaign to get the girls released – as well as the pastor’s anti-terrorism work.

Despite major international mobilisation, military operations, prisoner exchanges and high-level diplomacy, around 160 of the girls are still missing, according to the BBC.

In the middle of June 2015, Pastor Edeh repaid the visit. Sheikh and Bondevik had organised an extensive programme for him in Norway. Father Edeh’s website states that the pastor gave a lecture at the House of Literature and was shown round Oslo and Drammen.

On 14th August 2015, Father Edeh received the ‘Bridge Builder Award’ – a prize awarded each year by Aamir J. Sheikh’s organisation, the 14th August Committee.

Father Edeh sat at a table with the then County Governor, former Christian Democrat leader and cabinet member Valgerd Svarstad Haugland and former Prime Minister Bondevik himself.

Dagbladet has tried to reach Haugland - without any luck.

The pastor’s adviser, Martin Anagboso, visited Norway once again. In November 2015, he sat just a few seats away from the Crown Prince and Princess and NRK Senior Director Charlo Halvorsen at a fundraising concert for Syrian refugees, as shown in images published by Aamir J. Sheikh’s foundation.

The same summer as Pastor Edeh visited Norway, and Bondevik and Sheikh visited Nigeria, a previously undisclosed agreement was signed.

Funds transferred

Dagbladet has access to a document dated 28th July 2015, signed by the then director of the Oslo Centre, the organisation established by Bondevik.

In the document, the director confirms that the Oslo Centre would receive USD 72,000 from Pastor Edeh’s organisation the Madonna International Charity Peace Award Foundation (MICPA).

The director requested that the funds be transferred to a DNB account “in the name The Oslo Centre for Peace and Human Rights”.

AT A CONCERT: Nigerian pastor Father Edeh’s adviser sits in a red tie, three seats to the right of Crown Princess Mette-Marit. Photo: Dialogue for Peace
AT A CONCERT: Nigerian pastor Father Edeh’s adviser sits in a red tie, three seats to the right of Crown Princess Mette-Marit. Photo: Dialogue for Peace Vis mer

The document was signed after Bondevik and Sheikh had visited the MICPA foundation in Nigeria, which carries out emergency relief work, among other things, according to their website.

Sheikh confirmed, as stated above, that after this visit he believed Father Edeh was worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize nomination.

However, according to the regulations, neither Bondevik nor Sheikh had the power to nominate anyone for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Sheikh asked a Member of Parliament to do this instead.

Meeting at the Storting

“I was introduced to Emmanuel Edeh by Aamir Sheikh and Edeh’s adviser, Martin Anagboso,” Kristin Ørmen Johnsen (C) told Dagbladet.

She is a fellow Conservative Party member of Aamir J. Sheikh and from 2001 until 2004 served as Secretary of State in the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development in Kjell Magne Bondevik’s second government. From 2013 until this year, she was a Member of Parliament for Buskerud.

Ørmen Johnsen now confirms that she nominated Nigerian pastor Father Edeh for a Nobel Peace Prize after a short meeting with Aamir J. Sheikh and Martin Anagboso – the pastor’s adviser – at the Storting.

In the meeting, Sheikh and Anagboso told her about Pastor Edeh’s work, and asked whether she would nominate the pastor for a Nobel Peace Prize. Sheikh posted a photo from the meeting on Facebook in February 2016, as revealed by Dagbladet’s review of Sheikh’s Facebook page.

“I met them in the gallery in the Storting, and we then went into a meeting room, where I was told about the work he was doing, in particular related to poverty, health issues and women’s rights.”

On 7th January 2016, Sheikh sent an email to Kristin Ørmen Johnsen, which Dagbladet has been able to access. In the email, Sheikh wrote:

”I have spoken to Kjell Magne Bondevik and informed him that you will propose Father Edeh as a candidate for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize, which he was very pleased to hear.”

UNAWARE: Kristin Ørmen Johnsen had not heard of Father Edeh before she was asked to nominate him for a Nobel Peace Prize. Photo: Fatheredeh.com
UNAWARE: Kristin Ørmen Johnsen had not heard of Father Edeh before she was asked to nominate him for a Nobel Peace Prize. Photo: Fatheredeh.com Vis mer

“Had you heard of Father Edeh before this meeting?”

“No, I do not recall that I had,” answered Ørmen Johnsen, and added:

”The meeting and the documentation I received made a good impression. I believe I received information that Bondevik also supported the nomination, which indeed carried some weight. However this had to be quality assured, and I did some research on Edeh’s work.”

“What happened at the meeting?”

”I was briefed about the work Edeh had done, particularly aimed at reconciliation, education and helping the poor, women and refugees.”

Felt used

“What do you think of the fact that the Oslo Centre has received NOK 600,000 from Edeh’s organisation?”

”The fact that the Oslo Centre received payment puts the matter in a different light to what I was presented with at the time.”

“Do you feel used?”, Dagbladet asked.

“Yes... in a way, perhaps,” Kristin Ørmen Johnsen responded.

Ørmen Johnsen continued:

“This is not the way to go about things, I don’t think. Firstly, all the facts must be presented. I did not speak with Bondevik myself that day, but I believe I was told that the Oslo Centre vouched for Edeh. For me this counted as assurance. However, the fact that the Centre had then received funds from the organisation of the person being nominated is not good practice, and I was not aware of this. As a Member of Parliament you have to be careful about putting your name to anything. I would not have otherwise done this.”

According to the Nobel Prize’s statutes, a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize is only valid if it comes from a person who fulfils certain criteria. Being a member of a country’s national assembly – such as the Storting – is one such criteria.

Karolina Olofsson, Executive Director of the Oslo Centre, wrote in an email that the Oslo Centre has no influence over the Nobel Peace Prize or the nomination process.

“This was before my time, but it is not something I can see previous directors having supported. Our work has nothing to do with the Nobel Peace Prize, but we are of course happy to see that people who work for peace are recognised for their contributions and sacrifices.”

She added:

”I would like to add that I take these allegations seriously and I am looking into them.”

Four Members of Parliament

Emails that Dagbladet has access to show that in January 2016, Sheikh contacted four Members of Parliament with the same request:

To nominate Father Edeh for a Nobel Peace Prize.

EMAIL RECEIVED: Hans Olav Syversen (Christian Democratic Party) does not remember the request from Sheikh. Photo: Berit Roald / NTB
EMAIL RECEIVED: Hans Olav Syversen (Christian Democratic Party) does not remember the request from Sheikh. Photo: Berit Roald / NTB Vis mer

Among them were Hans Olav Syversen (Christian Democratic Party) and Sylvi Graham (Christian Democratic Party). When contacted by phone, both of them said that they could not remember the request from Aamir J. Sheikh. Dagbladet has not been able to reach the other two Members of Parliament.

AWARD: In August 2019, the authoritarian state of Bahrain’s Prime Minister was given a special award. One month earlier, Sheikh – in an email with Bondevik copied in – had asked for NOK 704,000 from Bahrain for the event. Photo: 14th August Committee.
AWARD: In August 2019, the authoritarian state of Bahrain’s Prime Minister was given a special award. One month earlier, Sheikh – in an email with Bondevik copied in – had asked for NOK 704,000 from Bahrain for the event. Photo: 14th August Committee. Vis mer

Dagbladet has previously revealed two cases where prizes from Sheikh’s organisations have been awarded to others that have donated money or received requests for money.

This is according to documents possessed by Dagbladet.

In August 2019, the authoritarian state of Bahrain’s Prime Minister was given a special award. During preparations for the award ceremony, Sheikh sent an email to the regime in Bahrain – with Bondevik copied in – where he asked for NOK 704,000 from Bahrain for the event.

On 22nd November this year Muslim World League Secretary General Mohammad al-Issa was awarded the ‘Bridge Builder Award’.

Over the two years before the prize was awarded, his organisation paid NOK 12.8 million to Sheikh’s foundation. NOK 6.8 million was passed on to Bondevik and his foundation, the Oslo Centre. This cash flow is not disputed; the sums are shown in documentation Dagbladet has access to.

Bondevik, Sheikh and the Muslim World League have all denied any connection between the funds and the awards.

”No one can or has ever ‘bought’ the award. There have always been worthy award winners,” Aamir J. Sheikh wrote in an email about the ‘Bridge Builders Award’ to MWL General Secretary al-Issa.

They have also stated several times that MWL is disconnected from the dictatorship in Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and international experts believe otherwise. Bondevik and Sheikh have declined to comment on the Bahrain matter.

Imprisoned and tortured

So who is the pastor that Sheikh and Bondevik ensured was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize?

FIKK PENGER: Tidligere statsminister Kjell Magne Bondevik og senteret han etablerte skal ha fått millioner fra det eksperter sier er en regimetilknyttet, muslimsk organisasjon i Saudi-Arabia. Pengene ble formidlet via den profilerte Høyre-politikeren Aamir J. Sheikh. Her forklarer vi saken. Video: Lars Eivind Bones / Dagbladet Vis mer

According to a comprehensive presentation on his own website, Father Edeh is the man behind several peace centres and religious buildings in Nigeria. He has received praise from the media for his role in the healing process after several inflamed conflicts in Nigeria, and according to Nigerian media, he is also a successful businessman who has made a great deal of money from property, banking, cosmetics and soft drinks, among other things.

According to Nigerian media, his businesses have made Father Edeh into a wealthy man. The pastor’s wealth is however unclear – Nigerian media places it at everything from USD 3.5 to 90 million. Wealth is often measured in GDP per capita. In Nigeria, the average citizen has assets of around USD 2,100, according to the World Bank.

The pastor is also behind several educational institutions in Nigeria. However, he has been in several media storms in recent years:

”Father Edeh has done a lot of good, but he has been surrounded by very poor advisers,” a Nigerian student told Dagbladet.

He is one of seven members of a student group known as “The Madonna 7”. The seven were students at Madonna University, where Father Edeh is Chancellorthe University’s highest official.

“Why did you criticise the University on Facebook?”

“Several students were treated poorly at the University. If you criticised the University, you could be expelled,” the student explained to Dagbladet.

He refuses to be named out of fears for his own safety.

When the students criticised the university on social media; their lives were completely uprooted.

Madonna University accused the seven of everything from kidnapping to cybercrime and defamation, according to AllAfrica. The case received extensive press coverage in Nigeria.

The seven are alleged to have been tortured in prison, where, according to Sahara Reporters, they were incarcerated for seven months before an activist campaign helped to get them released. Madonna University has not responded to Dagbladet’s enquiries.

False allegations

“The police used violence against me, humiliated me and imprisoned me. I was held in custody for months,” the student told Dagbladet.

Neither Father Edeh nor his secretary responded to Dagbladet’s questions. Both Bondevik and Sheikh wrote in an email that they were not aware of the allegations against Father Edeh and the Madonna Foundation. The “Madonna 7” incident took place after Father Edeh was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

”It was not until Nigeria’s National Student Association and several support groups became involved, and the media began to write about the case, that it was brought to court, and we were acquitted,” the student continued.

The student's version of the story is supported by a number of newspaper articles and witness statements in Nigeria. According to several media outlets, including Vanguard, the false allegations were heard at the very top of the Nigerian legal system. There it was determined that the students had not committed any of the serious crimes they were accused of.

”What did they accuse you of?”

“Being involved in kidnapping and armed robbery. I knew that the accusations were crazy.”

He says the charges were later changed to defamation and cyber crimes. The student stated that he nevertheless agreed to write an apology to the University for having tarnished the University’s reputation.

ACCUSED: Seven students criticized Father Edeh's university on social media. It sent them to jail, accused of serious crimes. After months of fighting, they were acquitted. Photo: Private
ACCUSED: Seven students criticized Father Edeh's university on social media. It sent them to jail, accused of serious crimes. After months of fighting, they were acquitted. Photo: Private Vis mer

”Why did you agree to that?”

”Because I do not have the funds to face Edeh in court. Even if I managed to get hold of 1 million naira, he could pay 20 million instantly.”

Forced to explain themselves

The “Madonna 7” incident took place after Edeh was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

However, there had also previously been unrest in Father Edeh’s ranks.

According to the newspaper The Will three people from management at Madonna University were made to appear before the National Human Rights Commission in Nigeria (NHRC) after allegations that students had been subjected to torture.

This took place in 2015 – the same year that Father Edeh went on a peace visit to Bondevik in Norway. According to Channels TV, members of University management were forced to explain themselves after Nigerian media printed images of politicians and soldiers subjecting students to violence on University premises.

Bondevik explained to Dagbladet that they were completely unaware of the allegations.

"At the time, I was not aware of the allegations made against the Madonna Foundation and Father Edeh", Sheikh wrote in an email.

”I visited the Madonna Foundation Centre and saw the work in Nigeria and was impressed by what they were doing for many poor people by creating nurseries, schools, jobs, and protecting girls who had been kidnapped by Boko Haram. The Oslo Centre therefore felt positive about the Foundation based on their projects and nothing else. I was not aware at that time of the allegations which have now emerged,” Bondevik wrote.

Ultimately, it was Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016.

RECEIVING HIS AWARD: Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for 2016. Photo: Rune Hellestad/UPI/Shutterstock/NTB
RECEIVING HIS AWARD: Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for 2016. Photo: Rune Hellestad/UPI/Shutterstock/NTB Vis mer

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