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The expanding Malabu quagmire

Adekunle Ade- Adeleye: March 19, 2017

IT will get to a point where OPL 245, the lucrative oil block with multiple, feuding owners, will not even recognise itself, not to talk of its owners. The block, believed to contain more than nine billion barrels of crude oil and much more natural gas, has an illustrious and convoluted history that began controversially in 1998 when the Gen Sani Abacha government awarded it to Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd, a company in which an Abacha son, a diplomat, and oil minister at the time, Dan Etete, had interests. In 2002, it was revoked by the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency and awarded to Shell, thereby prompting Malabu to sue the government and the new owners. To settle out of court, the oil block was again revoked and given back to Malabu in 2006. Naturally Shell also went to court, and in 2011 the block reverted to Shell which paid $1.3bn to the Nigerian government, $1.1bn of which was transferred to Malabu. Dizzying, complex back and forth, and labyrinthine.

But what is really dizzying now is not the peregrination of OPL 245, or the Shell and Eni sermons, or even the moralising tirades of everyone who has ever partaken of the negotiations involving the highly lucrative oil block since 1998 when the greedy and hedonistic Gen Abacha locked his snout into it. Today’s swoon manifests in the denunciation by ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo. He has repudiated the agreements reached during his presidency at a time when he was in fact the Petroleum minister. A former Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Bello Adoke, who featured prominently in the final agreement that laid the restless ghost of OPL 245 to episodic rest has, in defence of his own integrity, declared that Chief Obasanjo was among the former presidents who okayed a settlement that began in 2006 but was consummated in 2011. Chief Obasanjo, however, flared up, warning Mr Adoke to stop dropping his name for, as he said, he could never have okayed a deal that reeked of so much corruption.

Hear Chief Obasanjo: “They should not bring Obasanjo into an Etete deal. I was not part of any such deal…of any government functionary appropriating to himself or herself what he or she is in charge of. If I hold that view, I could not have approved a deal with Dan Etete. What Etete did is the height of corruption. He appropriated the asset to himself illegally, illegitimately and immorally…I can’t remember giving approval that the block be given back to Etete…We gave it back to Malabu? On what ground? Do you have any such evidence? Ask Bayo Ojo and Edmund Daukoru what really happened because the stand I took at the time was unassailable…If Daukoru has evidence that I approved that the block be given back to Malabu or Etete, let him produce it…If it is proven that I indeed approved the deal, I will be willing to apologise to Nigerians. But we have to get to the bottom of it all.”

This was solid denunciation, but one not based on chronology or unassailable facts. Often, however, presidents and other top public officers wriggle out of difficult situations by passing the buck. The OPL 245 buck, already laden with contradictions and confusions, will be easily passed on to the desks of junior officers, many of whom make themselves available and attractive as scapegoats. The denunciations and buck-passing are all because of the lucrativeness of the oil block and the prosecutorial persistence of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the anti-graft body that insists many underhand dealings occurred during the consummation of the out-of-court settlements.

No one is sure OPL 245 has reached its final resting place. Nor has Shell and Eni heard the last of the ubiquitous albatross called Malabu Oil and Gas. Mr Adoke is under pressure, and he will name names as avidly as the situation demands in Malabu’s widening gyre. For a matter that began rather innocuously and subterraneanly in 1998, waded through the courts and gathered steam in 2002, and received more amperage in 2011, it is not surprising that the country is witnessing a recrudescence in 2017, 19 years after the first shot in this unending, grisly affair was fired.

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OPL 245: Malabu oil sues FG

By Bridget Chiedu Onochie, Abuja   |   19 March 2017

Malabu Oil and Gas has filed a suit against the Federal Government and six others at the Federal High Court, Abuja, over the re-allocation of OPL 245 to Shell, ENI. The Minster of Petroleum, Shell Nigeria Ultra Deep Limited, Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Limited, Nigerian Agip Exploration Company Limited, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), as well as, former Petroleum Minister, Dan Etete, were also joined as defendants. 

The plaintiff, through its lawyer, J.A Achimugu in a writ of summons marked FHC/ABJ/CS/201/2017, is praying the court for a declaration that the rights a‎nd interest in OPL 245 granted to it is still valid and subsisting.  

It also wants a declaration‎ that, not being a party to the block 245-resolution agreement, dated April 29, 2011, it is therefore not bound by the terms of the said agreement as it relates to or concerns OPL 245. 

Furthermore, the plaintiff is seeking a declaration that not being a party to the block 245 resolution agreement dated April 29, 2011, any payment purportedly made by the defendants into any bank account, purporting to be the plaintiff’s bank account and or made to the ninth defendant purportedly in the name of the plaintiff was not payment made in pursuance of the said block 245 resolution agreement.  

Additionally, the plaintiff is seeking a declaration that the allocation of OPL 245 by the first and second defendants to the fourth and fifth defendant’s through the second defendant’s letter of May 11, 2011, titled “Re: OPL 245 Resolution Agreement/Letter of Award”, while the plaintiff’s rights and the interests to OPL 245 were subsisting, is in violation of the plaintiff’s exclusive right under paragraph five of the first schedule to the Petroleum Act, to explore and prospect for petroleum within the area covered by OPL 245, and is therefore invalid, wrongful, null and void and of no effect whatsoever.  The plaintiff however wants the court to make an order compelling the defendants to restore to it, its right to the exclusive possession of OPL 245.

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