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OPL 245: Echoes of Malabu

FG must move fast to disentangle it from the present legal maze  

A few weeks back – a group –  the Niger Delta Indigenous Movement for Radical Change (NDIMRC) reportedly called on President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently approve the $13.5bn Zabazaba Deepwater Project. The group urged the president to ‘give the nod for the take-off of the project as it is too precious to Nigerians.” It cited the proven reserves of 560 million barrels of oil, the potential new record in local content development, particularly with major project contractors already submitting competitive costs and concrete plans to fabricate and integrate over 50 per cent of the topsides of the Floating Production Storage Offloading (FPSO) units, subsea installations and drilling rigs” in the country, and, its potentials to generate over eight million jobs for Nigerians, among other reasons for the call.

To start with, if it comes across as a new thing that an amorphous Niger Delta group would take it upon itself to prod the president to act on a rather arcane geo-technical issues of oil exploration, this can only be on account of an unknown Oil Prospecting Lease (OPL). That we are talking of the controversial OPL 245 –the same OPL acquired by Malabu Oil and Gas in 2012 for $1.3 billion and currently the subject of a corruption probe and prosecutions in at least three continents obviously raises serious question of the group’s motives.

We say this because OPL 245 story is certainly as long-running as it is controversial. A story of many twists and turns, the last has certainly not been heard of it. It started in 1998, when as Minister of Petroleum Resources, Dan Etete, awarded the oil block to his firm, Malabu Oil. That process would be nullified by President Olusegun Obasanjo on coming to power in 1999, only to reassign it to Shell — without a public bid. After a protracted litigation and then an out-of-court settlement, it was restored to Malabu by the same Obasanjo administration in 2006. Determined not to let go of the lucrative block, Shell, after Jonathan assumed office in 2010, resorted to negotiating directly with Etete in what became the heist and sleaze of the century.

By January 2017, the story would be back in court with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) getting a court order to return OPL 245 to the Federal Government. Only recently at a consultative meeting on assets recovery held in Abuja in October 2017, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, would announce a recovery of $85million from the United Kingdom as part of the stolen funds from the Malabu Oil deal.

That, in short is the story of OPL 245 now curiously christened Zabazaba field. NDIMRC may be right that a lot work has been done by the promoters on the project. Executive Secretary, Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB), Simbi  Wabote, has since confirmed that much when he admitted the entire approvals and evaluations for Zabazaba were completed on August 30, 2017. Unfortunately, if the unique background serves to explain the president’s wariness to grant approval at this time, it does nothing to lighten his burden at a time the nation needs to get fresh bursts of investments in the sector going.

Our position in the circumstance is straightforward: staking the fortunes of one of the nation’s highly prized jewels on the activities of a few delinquent actors, past and present, is unacceptable. Disentangling the lucrative block from whatever legal maze into which it was thrown by various shades of opportunists masquerading as investors has therefore become a task that must be done and very urgently too. This is without prejudice to the renewed bid by the anti-graft body to get those that subverted the process to make illicit gain at the expense of the nation appropriately punished for their crimes.

The post OPL 245: Echoes of Malabu appeared first on The Nation Nigeria.

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This post was syndicated from The Nation Nigeria. Click here to read the full text on the original website.

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