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Nigeria: 25 Years After, Govt May Restore Controversial Malabu Oil Well

In a bid to ramp up Nigeria’s oil production output, for the first time in 25 years the federal government is now ready to benefit from what is considered one of the juiciest oil blocks in Africa, the controversial OPL 245, an online media, Empowered Newswire reports.

The oil block is estimated to hold over nine billion barrels of crude oil, nearly a quarter of the nation’s total proven oil reserves.

Authoritative sources say the Tinubu administration is open to releasing the oil block to prospective developers, including local and foreign investors.

Specifically, it was learnt that Shell with headquarters in Netherlands, and ENI, an Italian energy firm, which had both been involved in previous attempts to develop the oil field, are favoured to get President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s nod.

In fact, an Oil Mining Licence, OML, may be issued to the two international oil companies, both of whom have been collaborating on the controversial oil block and the scandal-ridden Oil Prospecting Licence (OPL).

Already, the April 29, 1998 controversial licence to Malabu Oil & Gas Limited has now expired over two years ago and both Shell and ENI – the Dutch and Italian IOCs which had been involved in the oil block deals – have indicated willingness to partake in further development of the block if the Tinubu Presidency grants approval.

A statement from ENI says to further develop the oil block, investments running into billions would still have to be made by whoever gets the mining licence.

An Aso Villa source confirmed that the president is keen to explore the oil block, especially considering its huge reserves at a time that Nigeria’s oil output is struggling to meet its OPEC quota. At the last count, in June this year OPEC had to reduce Nigeria’s future quota by over 20 percent from 1.74 mb/d to 1.38mb/d. This new quota will become effective next January if Nigeria’s output remains low.

Already the federal government has decided to end the legal cases abroad on the contention around the ownership of the oil block.

However, the former attorney-general of the federation Mohammed Adoke, SAN, who was the country’s chief law officer when an agreement was signed for Nigeria to be paid $1.1billion for OPL 245, is still facing prosecution in Nigeria on various allegations, including fraud and money laundering.

But inside sources say no conclusive evidence has been found to prove the allegations against Adoke, on which grounds the former AGF is seeking an exoneration with the emergence of a new administration. The case against Adoke was brought by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the case files are still open.

But investigators say certain properties were traced to Adoke suspected to have been bought with proceeds of the bribes drawn from the settlement of the case. However, Adoke was said to have shown proof that the property was purchased through a bank loan.

Adoke also argued that he got then President Goodluck Jonathan’s approval for the agreement which saw the $1.1bn settlement money moved from Nigeria’s JP Morgan account in New York to two Nigerian banks where the money was allegedly shared to individuals, according to investigation documents seen by Empowered Newswire. Specifically, it is believed that $800 million was paid to Malabu out of the over $1billion settlement. Nigeria got only about $200 million.

Several local and international court cases were instituted since the OPL 245 was questionably awarded on April 29, 1998 to Malabu Oil and Gas, RC 334442, owned by then petroleum resources minister, Dan Etete, and members of the late General Sani Abacha when he was the head of state.

Meanwhile, authoritative sources also confirmed that the federal government is in fact aware that Malabu Oil and Gas, owned by Dan Etete and members of the late General Sani Abacha never paid up the signature bonus of $20 million it was obliged to pay within 30 days of the licence grant.

Sources said Malabu initially only paid $2.04 million on May 15, 1999. The legal opinion, according to senior lawyers in the Tinubu administration, is that in fact “Malabu never earned a legal title to OPL 245.”

In 2019 President Muhammadu Buhari rejected a request from ENI seeking to convert the OPL into a mining licence. In the circumstances, authoritative sources say President Tinubu is much more favourably disposed to granting the request now.

Meanwhile, efforts to get comments from the federal government, the oil sector regulator and the operators yielded no positive outcome.

LEADERSHIP sent an email request to the head, Public Affairs And Communications, Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission, Mrs Olaide Shonola but at the time of filing this report, she was yet to respond.

Also, Nneamaka Okafor, the special adiver on Media and Communications to the minister of Petroleum Resources (Oil), Senator Heineken Lokpobiri promised to revert with responses from the minister but failed to do so at press time.

The spokespersons of Shell and Eni too failed to respond.

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