By Ikechukwu Nnochiri – Abuja
The Abuja Federal High Court, on Tuesday, dismissed the preliminary objection filed by the Federal Government to stop the hearing of a lawsuit that the son of the late Military Head of State, Mohammed Abacha, filed to claim ownership of the Prospecting License of oil, OPL 245, which was originally awarded to Malabu Oil and Gas Limited.
The court, in a ruling by Judge Binta Nyako, held that, contrary to what FG held, the lawsuit was not prohibited nor did it constitute an abuse of the judicial process.
Judge Nyako held that the court has the necessary jurisdiction to investigate the case.
Other than FG, other Defendants in the lawsuit 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 the former Minister of Petroleum, Dan Etete.
OPL 245 is considered one of the largest oil blocks 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 that, according to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, was against all known government regulations.
EFCC said its investigations revealed that Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd secured OPL 245 through a fraudulent scheme that involved bribery and large-scale corruption by the company’s top management and some government officials.
The proceedings brought by the anti-bribery agency in court further revealed that the oil block was subsequently withdrawn from Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd on July 2, 2001, based on the directive of the Presidential Oil Advisor to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, after which he was reassigned to Shell Nigeria Ultra Deep Ltd.
However, after a series of litigation, OPL 245 was returned to Malabu, which according to EFCC subsequently entered into a fraudulent agreement with Shell and Agip, in which the companies paid a $ 210 million signing bonus to FG, while that an additional $ 1.2 billion bribe was received. given to some owners of Malabu Oil $ Gas Ltd run by a former Abacha Oil Minister, Chief Etete, who was already a convict at the time.
The EFCC alleged that it was the former Federation Attorney General, Mohammed Adoke, SAN, who helped Shell and Agip send the bribe money through FG’s escrow account with JP Morgan Chase Bank in London.
However, Adoke had since denied the accusation, insisting that he was innocent.
Meanwhile, in the lawsuit filed on behalf of Malabu Oil, Abacha’s son, Mohammed, claimed to be the majority shareholder of the oil company.
The plaintiff told the court that the oil company was not part of OPL 245’s alleged allocation to Shell and Agip and for which they allegedly paid $ 1.3 billion to Etete.
He told the court that the real shareholders of the company were excluded from the process.
The Claimant added that the oil company was not part of the Resolution Agreement of Block 245 of April 29, 2011, entered into between FG, Shell, Agip and Etete, which purports to represent Malabu Oil, and added that “it did not yield or all its rights and interests in OPL 245 to any person or persons “.
It added that the alleged assignment of OPL 245 to Shell and Agip in 2011 violated Malabu Oil’s rights as holder of “OPL 245 to exclusively explore and prospect for oil within the area of its license, in accordance with paragraph 5 of the First Schedule. of the Petroleum Law and, therefore, is null and void “.
The plaintiff is asking the court to, among other things, issue a perpetual injunction preventing the defendants from conducting exploration or prospecting activities in relation to or in relation to the area covered by OPL 245.
He wants the court to enter an order forcing Defendants to restore his right to exclusive possession of OPL 245.
Plaintiff also wants a statement that, not being a party to the Block 245 Settlement Agreement dated April 29, 2011, any payments allegedly made by Defendants to any bank account purporting to be Plaintiff’s bank account or made to 7th Defendant (Etete) supposedly on behalf of the Claimant, it was not a payment made in compliance with said resolution agreement of block 245.
As well as a statement that the assignment of OPL 245 by the 1st and 2nd Defendants (FG and Minister of Petroleum) to the 4th and 5th defendants (Shell and Agip), by letter from the Minister of Petroleum, the May 11, 2011, entitled “Re: OPL 245 Resolution Agreement / Award Letter”, while the plaintiff’s rights and OPL 245’s interests subsisted, violates the plaintiff’s exclusive right under paragraph 5 of the first annex of the Petroleum Act, to explore and prospect for petroleum within the area covered by OPL 245 and, therefore, is invalid, unlawful, null and void.
Meanwhile, Judge Nyako postponed the lawsuit until March 9, 2021 for a hearing.