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Petroleum Minister Confirms Tinubu’s Involvement with Shell-Eni on OPL 245 Following Oando’s Deal; Accuses Peoples Gazette of Unpatriotic Exposure

February 1, 2024

Photo Credit: Daily Trust

 

Nigeria’s junior petroleum minister, Heineken Lokpobiri, confirmed on Thursday that President Bola Tinubu has decided to return ownership of the controversial OPL 245 oilfield to European giants Shell and Eni but still criticised Peoples Gazette’s unmasking of the deal as unpatriotic.

Mr Lokpobiri’s comments came in a post on his X (formerly Twitter) account hours after The Gazette exposed how Mr Tinubu greenlit the restoration of the massive oil block to Shell and Eni after first cornering a massive onshore oil assets for Oando Plc, run by his nephew and confidante Wale Tinubu.

Because the president had already cut a deal for his family business, he backed down from Nigeria’s civil lawsuits against Shell and Eni over a spurious 2011 payment that was plagued by corruption charges across multiple international jurisdictions. The $1.1 billion was cleared in 2011 by the Goodluck Jonathan administration on behalf of Shell and Eni, who were looking to settle a former Nigeria oil minister and convict Dan Etete.

Mr Etete had claimed ownership of the oil block from his days as the minister under former military dictator Sani Abacha, and Shell and Eni were desperate to pay off Mr Etete, resolve the dispute and take over the lucrative block, believed to be holding billions in oil reserve. The transaction was later found to be fraudulent, although an Italian court said Shell and Eni were not guilty of criminal conduct.

Still, Nigeria under Muhammadu Buhari tried to hold Shell and Eni liable for the questionable deal they believed significantly shortchanged Nigeria, seeking roughly $1.1 billion in damages from both firms. But Mr Tinubu, upon assumption of office in late May, promptly initiated efforts to resolve the matter, and by the end of 2023 all pending legal actions by all parties had been withdrawn.

While Mr Lokpobiri and other allies of the president claimed the administration was desperate to return the oil block to Shell and Eni in Nigeria’s economic interest, multiple sources familiar with the deal disclosed to The Gazette that the president acquiesced to the deal after Eni transferred its onshore assets to Oando. The transfer was announced in September, but the parties were silent on the amount involved until an American firm, Jefferies Group revealed that the deal was worth over $500 million.

With Eni having transferred its onshore assets to Oando, Mr Tinubu proceeded with the return of OPL 245 ownership to Shell and Eni without any dues to Nigeria, officials said.

In his account of the details of the arrangement on Thursday, Mr Lokpobiri confirmed that the directive to return the deepwater oilfield licence was executed under the directive of Mr Tinubu, who “has supported the resolution of all issues” around the oilfield.

During a meeting held hours after The Gazette’s story, Mr Lokpobiri told ministry officials and media at his office in Abuja that the president designated him and other Nigerian officials to strike the deal, including head of Nigerian upstream regulator NUPRC Gbenga Komolafe, attorney-general Lateef Fagbemi and Ola Olukoyede of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

“If we do not do whatever we can to attract investment, the crude oil deposit we have here will be a souvenir not seen by you and I that will translate to nothing,” the state petroleum minister said, adding that Nigeria could earn up to $10 billion from Shell and Eni operation of the oil block while also attracting foreign investors on the sides.

The minister conveniently left out Eni’s transfer of its Nigerian assets to Oando, as well as the initial objection of the state-run oil firm NNPC to the deal. After learning the president had sanctioned the contract behind the scenes, NNPC backed down from its anger that Eni breached a joint venture contract by transferring the onshore assets to Oando without being carried along. Eni strongly denied the allegations, acknowledging that NNPC was a partner while still maintaining that it was under no obligation to inform the Nigerian oil firm.

Criticism immediately trailed Mr Tinubu’s conduct as exposed by The Gazette, with many Nigerians saying it showed the president was not serious about curbing corruption to improve Nigeria’s global reputation.

Yet, administration officials and supporters took to social media to laud the president’s action as appropriate and a welcome development for the country’s economy.

Mr Lokpobori admonished The Gazette to be patriotic in its coverage of the administration. “We must remain patriotic in our statements,” he said.

 

The minister also falsely claimed that he was never contacted; otherwise, he would have supplied details of the deal, even though The Gazette spent two days calling and messaging him before running the story. He answered but abruptly hung up when asked about the deal on Tuesday afternoon.

 

 

Culled from Peoples Gazette

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