December 4, 2017

OPL 245: Court defers hearing on Abacha’s move to reclaim disputed oil bloc

OPL 245: Court defers hearing on Abacha’s move to reclaim disputed oil bloc

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Federal High Court in Abuja, on Monday, fixed February 13, 2018, to hear a motion the Federal Government filed to stop move by son of late military head state, Mohammed Abacha, to reclaim ownership of disputed Oil Prospecting License, OPL, 245.

Late Sani Abacha

Justice John Tsoho adjourned to hear FG’s objection on day that Mohammed, who was personally in court to witness the proceeding, through his lawyer, Mr. R.O. Atabo, applied to amend some of his claim with respect to the said oil bloc which is regarded as one of the richest in Africa.

Justice Tsoho said he would hear both FG’s objection and Mohammed’s application on the next adjourned date.

FG had in a pocess that was filed by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, asked the high court to dismiss or strike out Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/201/2017, wherein Abacha is claiming ownership of Malabu Oil & Gas Limited.

Those FG equally urged the court to ignore their joint claim with Mohammed Abacha were Oyewole Fashawe and Pecos Energy Ltd, saying their claims of membership/ownership of Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd, “is not yet ascertained and same is still the subject of adjudication in suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/206/2017, between Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd & 2 Ors V. Mr. Kweku Amafagha & 9 Ors which is pending before this honourable court”.

In a six-paragraphed affidavit that was deposed to by one Friday Atuh, a litigation officer in the office of the AGF, FG told the court that the outcome of all the pending suits would determine the existing of any legal rights in favour of Abacha, Fashawe, Amafagha, Munamuna Seidougha, Dan Etete or any other person or entity laying claim to having any interest in OPL 245.

According to FG: “That plaintiff was well aware of the re-allocation since May 2011 up to September 2016 as evidenced from available facts in suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/206/2017 between Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd & 2 Ors V. Mr. Kweku Amafagha?& 9 Ors.

“That the re-allocation of OPL 245 to plaintiff was not subsisting as at the time of execution of the bloc 245 resolution agreement. Plaintiff could not have been involved in the execution of this agreement as it had already relinquished its entire interests in OPL 245”.

It told the court that a period of over three months had elapsed from May 2011 to March 2017 when the suit was filed.

It said the re-allocation of OPL 245 to the plaintiff was not subsisting as at the time of execution of bloc 245 resolution agreement.

“Thus the re-allocation to plaintiff in 2010 was mutually terminated. It is in the interest of justice and equity to grant the instant application (objection) of the 1st and 2nd defendants”, FG added.

Aside FG and the Minister of Petroleum Resources who are 1st and 2nd defendants in the matter, others are Shell Nigeria Ultra-Deep Limited, Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Ltd, Nigeria Agip Exploration Company Ltd, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and Chief Dan Etete.

The court was notified on Monday that all the defendants have filed different preliminary objections in opposition to Abacha’s claim of ownership of the disputed oil bloc.

In the Writ of Summons before the court, the plaintiff (Malabu Oil), is praying the court to declare that its rights a‎nd interest in OPL 245, which was re-allocated to it during the administration of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, is still valid and subsisting.

The plaintiff, through its lawyer, Mr. J.A Achimugu, said it would in the course of the hearing, expose many ugly details about the controversial oil bloc which is presently the subject matter of two pending criminal charges.

Aside Mohammed who it said would lay evidence in the matter, the plaintiff, said it would also move the court to issue subpoena for some “highly placed individuals” that played roles in the alleged oil bloc allocation fraud, to be summoned to appear and testify as witnesses in the matter.

The plaintiff told the court that it was not part of a purported settlement agreement that was executed by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, an alleged “fraudulent” arrangement that was implemented by the immediate past Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Mohammed Adoke, SAN.

Specifically, the plaintiff, wants the high court to make a declaration‎ that not being a party to the bloc 245 resolution agreement dated April 29, 2011, it was not bound by the terms of the said agreement as it relates to or concerns OPL 245.

In addition, it is seeking a declaration that not being a party to the bloc 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 9th defendant (Etete) purportedly in the name of the plaintiff, was not payment made in pursuance of the said bloc 245 resolution agreement.

Also, the plaintiff wants a declaration that the allocation of OPL 245 by the 1st and 2nd defendants to the 4th and 5th defendants, via the 2nd defendant’s letter on May 11, 2011 titled “Re: OPL 245 Resolution Agreement/Letter of Award”, while the plaintiff’s rights and the interests to OPL 245 was subsisting, is in violation of the plaintiff’s exclusive right under paragraph 5 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.

As well as a declaration that the grant of OPL 245 by the 2nd defendant to the plaintiff in the exercise of the 2nd defendants powers under Section 2 of the Petroleum Act Cap. P.10 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, does not constitute an offence under any penal law in Nigeria and OPL‎ 245 is not the proceeds of any offence or crime under EFCC (Establishment) Act Cap. E1 Laws of the Federation 2004 or any other law in force in Nigeria.

Besides, the plaintiff is praying the court to make an order compelling the defendants to restore to it, its right to the exclusive possession of OPL 245.

It is also praying the court for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants and in particular the 6th defendant from treating and or dealing with OPL 245 as a proceed of an offence and from interfering in any manner whatsoever and howsoever with the plaintiff’s exclusive right to explore and prospect for petroleum in the area of OPL 245.

More so, Malabu Oil & Gas wants an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants from carrying out any exploration or prospecting activities in connection with or in relation to the area covered by OPL 245.

OPL 245 has been subject of controversy and multi-dimensional investigation that has led to preferment of criminal charges against many oil giants, including Shell and Agip, in a case involving alleged $1.2billion fraud.

FG alleged that Abacha fraudulently awarded the disputed oil bloc to Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd against all known regulations, a process it sai involved “high scale bribery and corruption by top management of the company and some government officials”.

It alleged that Adoke, Etete, an oil mogul, Aliyu Abubakar and Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd, had sometime in 2000, corruptly received the aggregate sum of $801,000,000.00 (Eight hundred and one million Dollars) in relation to the grant of oil prospecting license in respect of OPL 245 from Shell Nigeria Exploration Production Company, Nigeria Agip Exploration Ltd, and ENI SPA.

Aside Shell and Agip who are still laying claim to the controversial oil bloc, FG also cited four Italians, Ralph Wetzels, Casula Roberto, Pujatti Stefeno, Burrafati Sebestiano and ENI SPA, as defendants in the suit marked CR/124/17 and dated February 28, pending before the high court.

Neverthless, Adoke had since denied any wrongdoing in the OPL 245 deal he said was brokered by Obasanjo but approved by both late ex-President Umaru Musa Yaradua and Jonathan.

Adoke maintained that the deal was concluded before Jonathan’s tenure when he said the final implementation of the Terms of Settlement was approved.

The former AGF said he only executed the resolution agreements since the implementation was situated in the Federal Ministry of Justice, saying recent actions of the EFCC was to impugn a settlement done in the national interest.

He therefore urged his successor in office, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, to go ahead and reveal to Nigerians that ex-Presidents Obasanjo and Yaradua were equally part of the deal.

Meantime, ex-President Obasanjo equally distanced himself from the arrangement, saying Adoke should go and answer to charges pending against him over OPL 245.