By Ikechukwu Nnochiri – Abuja
The Federal High Court in Abuja, on Tuesday, dismissed preliminary objection the Federal Government lodged to stop hearing of a suit that the son of late military Head of State, Mohammed Abacha, filed to reclaim ownership of Oil Prospecting License, OPL 245, which was originally awarded to Malabu Oil and Gas Limited.
The court, in a ruling by Justice Binta Nyako, held that contrary to FG’s contention, the suit was neither statute-barred nor amounted to an abuse of the judicial process.
Justice Nyako held that the court has the requisite jurisdiction to look into the case.
Aside from FG, other Defendants in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/201/2017, are; the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Shell Nigeria Ultra-Deep Ltd, Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Ltd, Nigeria Agip Exploration Company Ltd, and former Petroleum Minister, Dan Etete.
OPL 245 is regarded as one of the biggest oil blocs in Africa.
It was initially awarded to Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd in 1998 by the late military head of state, General Sani Abacha, in a process, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, alleged was against all known government regulations.
EFCC said its investigations revealed that Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd secured OPL 245 through a fraudulent scheme involving high scale bribery and corruption by top management of the company and some government officials.
Processes the anti-graft agency filed in court further revealed that the oil bloc was later withdrawn from Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd on July 2, 2001, based on the directive of the Presidential Adviser on Petroleum to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, after which it was re-allocated to Shell Nigeria Ultra Deep Ltd.
However, following series of litigations, OPL 245 was returned back to Malabu, which EFCC said subsequently went into a fraudulent agreement with Shell and Agip, in which the companies paid a signature bonus of $210million to FG, while an additional $1.2billion bribe was given to some owners of Malabu Oil $ Gas Ltd led by a former Minister of Petroleum under Abacha, Chief Etete, who as at then was already a convict.
EFCC alleged that it was former Attorney-General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, SAN, that helped Shell and Agip to route the bribe money through FG’s Escrow Account with JP Morgan Chase Bank in London.
However, Adoke had since denied the allegation, insisting that he was innocent.
Meanwhile, in the suit he filed in the name of Malabu oil, Abacha’s son, Mohammed, claimed to be the majority shareholder in the oil firm.
The plaintiff told the court that the oil firm was not part of the purported allocation of OPL 245 to Shell and Agip and for which they allegedly paid $1.3bn to Etete.
He told the court that actual shareholders of the firm were excluded from the process.
The Plaintiff added that the oil company was also not part of the Bloc 245 Resolution Agreement of April 29, 2011, entered between the FG, Shell, Agip, and Etete, purporting to represent Malabu Oil, adding that it “did not relinquish any or all of its rights and interests in OPL 245 to any person or persons.”
He added that the purported allocation of OPL 245 to Shell and Agip in 2011 was in violation of Malabu oil’s rights as the holder of the “OPL 245 to exclusively explore and prospect for petroleum within the area of its licence, pursuant to Paragraph 5 of the First Schedule to the Petroleum Act, and is therefore null and of no effect.”
Plaintiff is praying the court to among other things, issue 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.
It wants the court to make an order compelling the Defendants to restore to it, its right to the exclusive possession of OPL 245.
The Plaintiff also wants 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 7th defendant (Etete) purportedly in the name of the Plaintiff, was not a payment made in pursuance of the said bloc 245 resolution agreement.
As well as a declaration that the allocation of OPL 245 by the 1st and 2nd Defendants (FG and Petroleum Minister) to the 4th and 5th defendants (Shell and Agip), via a letter by the Petroleum Minister, on 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 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.
Meanwhile, Justice Nyako adjourned the suit till March 9, 2021, for a hearing.