Yemi Osinbajo and Ibe Kachikwu
A Premium Times report has shown that Nigeria’s Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, on Tuesday held a closed-door meeting with Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, with one of the major subjects of discussion being the Malabu OPL 245 scandal.
Tuesday’s meeting comes about five days after Mr. Kachikwu told journalists that ongoing investigation and prosecution of two multinational oil firms, Shell and ENI, in Nigeria and Italy, for their alleged roles in the Malabu scandal, will not lead to a stoppage of work on the controversial oil block, OPL 245.
The Tuesday meeting at the Aso Villa, Abuja, was also attended by ENI officials represented by officials of its Nigerian subsidiary, NAOC; as well as officials of the Nigerian state oil firm, NNPC.
Mr. Kachikwu confirmed to journalists after Tuesday’s meeting that Zabazaba field, part of the OPL 245, was a major topic of discussion during the meeting.
“The Acting President chaired two meetings this morning. The first was with the ministry of Petroleum, NNPC and Agip Oil Company.
“In the first meeting, we dealt largely with issues relating to Agip’s investment on Zabazaba Field,” Mr. Kachikwu said, adding that the discussion also centred on “their cooperation with us in terms of repairs of the Port Harcourt refinery where they are working with Oando and a few other people.”
Mr. Kachikwu’s stance on the OPL 245 scandal, which saw ENI and Shell pay $1.1 billion through the Nigerian government to private accounts of a convicted money launderer, is at variance with that of the anti-graft EFCC which wants the block returned to the Nigerian government since it was ‘fraudulently’ obtained.
Premium Times reports that the block was awarded in 1998 to Malabu, a firm partly owned by then petroleum minister, Dan Etete, in violation of Nigerian laws. Mr. Etete would later be convicted of money laundering in France.
Tuesday’s meeting appears to be Mr. Kachikwu’s way of getting Mr. Osinbajo to agree with his position on resolving the scandal, which is to focus more on the business side of the oil block rather than the EFCC’s criminal trial.
“Total investment from Agip involved in both the Zabazaba field, the power plant and the new refinery is in excess of $15 billion. That is major push in terms of our search for investment,’’ Mr. Kachikwu said after the meeting.
The potential deal would also allow Agip to “build a brand new refinery of 150,000 barrels capacity in Port-Harcourt or Brass, Bayelsa State,” Mr. Kachikwu said.
The minister did not explain if the proposal for the refinery is tied to ENI and Shell continuing to operate OPL 245 or if they were separate unrelated deals.
The minister said Nigerian government and Agip officials are currently drafting a memorandum of understanding that will see the new deals through.
Mr. Kachikwu said last week that the administration would focus on getting Shell and ENI to continue work on Zabazaba field, which is part of the OPL 245 in offshore Bayelsa.
“We need to talk because without any impact in terms of the project, which must continue, these are huge billions of dollars of investment in Nigeria, I am not going to shut that down.
“The issue of the criminality is outside my realm,” he said. “My realm is doing two things: Make sure the investments go ahead so we can get returns, and two, get back the one billion dollars from wherever they said they have put it and give me back the money so that the Federal Government can have it back.”
The Zabazaba deepwater is a greenfield offshore licence block located in the OPL 245 along the eastern coast of Niger Delta with water depths ranging from 1,200 to 2,400 metres.
The OPL 245 is considered one of the richest oil blocks in Africa estimated to contain billions of barrels of crude oil.
Mr. Kachikwu’s insistence that Shell and Eni must continue the project contradicts ongoing efforts by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to charge the Malabu scandal suspects to court and recover the entire field for the Nigerian government.
Although a court granted an EFCC request to return the oil block to the Nigerian government, the court reversed that ruling after Shell and ENI appealed against it.
In Italy, prosecutors are ramping up plans to arraign a former Attorney General, Bello Adoke, former Minister of Petroleum, Dan Etete, and 11 others, including Shell and ENI officials, for their alleged roles in the controversial deal.
The EFCC accused Mr. Adoke of being on the run, and the anti-graft agency earlier this month sought a court order to compel him to appear for trial.
Last month, Mr. Adoke vowed not to return to Nigeria until he secured assurances from the Nigerian government that he would not be persecuted.
“I will definitely come back, if I have the assurance that they will not harm me, they will not humiliate me any further, they will respect the laws of the land,” Mr. Adoke told The Cable in an interview published on April 18.
Apart from the ongoing criminal probe of the field, Mohammed Abacha and other stakeholders in the Malabu Oil and Gas Limited, a questionable company that secured the OPL 245 in 1998, are also seeking to repossess the oil block in an ongoing litigation.
On April 10, Shell, which desperately sought control of the OPL 245, admitted after years of denial that it knew the $1.1 billion it paid alongside ENI for the block would be used as kickback to settle Mr. Etete, a convicted money launderer.
Also last month, the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee investigating the Malabu scandal, said it planned to summon Mr. Jonathan to testify following claims that the former president might have received up to $200 million as kickbacks from the deal.