The Federal Government says the Zabazaba deepwater project in Oil Prospecting Lease (OPL) 245 will continue in spite of controversies surrounding the oil block.
The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, said this in Houston Texas, U. S. while addressing journalists on the sidelines of the annual Offshore Technology Conference.
According to him, the project, which is to be carried out by the trio of the Federal Government, Shell and the Nigerian Agip Exploration Limited (NAE), will go on as scheduled and the protracted dispute on the block with Malabu oil will not affect it.
The Zabazaba Deepwater is a Greenfield offshore licence block located in the OPL 245 in the Eastern portion of the Niger Delta with water depths ranging from 1,200 to 2,400 metres.
“Malabu continues to be a worry. It happened before this administration and it is in court. This matter is being handled not just in Nigeria; action is going on in France and some other countries, the facts are there.
“As a lawyer with years of experience, I try not to comment on this.
“There is a difference between recovering the illegal payments and dealing with the benefits of the block itself.
“The Zabazaba and other projects that have been signed on and so would have to go on. That has nothing to do with recovering the money. In recovering, the money we should keep trailing the money and get it.
“One of the things I have said to companies that are involved in this is that for me, once there is a question mark in terms of transaction you did, we will still look at it, and then you need to come clean to the stable.
“My simple read is that if there is one billion dollars that was paid illegally, that is one billion dollars the Federal Government should have gotten if you didn’t do illegal bribe,” he said.
The Minister disclosed that there would be roundtable on the matter aside what the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, was doing.
“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.
“My realm is doing two things: Make sure the investment 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.”
“In fact, there are question marks, it is almost becoming apparent from all the data that we see that monies were paid, we will need to sit down with them.
“For me as a business man, there is $1 billion that is lying out there, paid to the wrong person; we need to see how we can get that $1 billion and therefore give you a clean bill of health,” he explained.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported on how majority of the $1.1 billion paid by Shell and Eni into a Nigerian government account ended up in private pockets of individuals including persons suspected to be fronts for officials of the Goodluck Jonathan administration. In Nigeria, two former ministers and other individuals and firms, including Shell and NAE are being prosecuted for their alleged roles in the scandal. The two former ministers, Dan Etete and Mohammed Adoke, are currently believed to be on the run. A similar indictment has occurred in Italy where Shell, ENI (owner of NAE) and others await possible prosecution.
The EFCC recently asked the court to hand over OPL 245 to the Nigerian government pending the conclusion of its investigation. Although the court granted the order, it later reversed it.
Mr. Kachikwu’s statement is the first yet by a Nigerian official to show that despite the criminal investigations and trials, the Nigerian government appears to be more concerned about the commercial benefits on OPL 245, considered one of the richest oil blocks in Africa.
The minister’s statement also comes despite a current court case involving a firm Malabu Oil and Gas, which claims to be the original owner of the block, and is asking the court to stop Shell and NAE from operating the block. The court case continues on May 18. It was Malabu that allegedly sold the oil block to Shell and ENI through the Nigerian government in 2011. But Mohammed Abacha, the majority shareholder in Malabu, said that transaction was fraudulently done as Mr. Etete, who represented Malabu and directly received most of the $1.1 billion paid, had no authority to do so.
Mr. Kachikwu’s statement also comes despite Shell admitting for the first time that they knew the money they were paying was going to end up in private hands, including of Mr. Etete, who was earlier convicted of money laundering in France.
On the issue of the Nigeria Liquefied and Natural Gas Train-7, the minister said gas investments were challenged worldwide but within the next 18 months, partners should take the Final Investment Decision (FID) to enable the project proceed.
He said that the government’s recent payment of joint venture cash call debts to International Oil Companies (IOCs) would also boost the confidence of its investors to now proceed with the FID.
The Train 7 project, which stakeholders say is very significant to Nigeria’s economy, is expected to lift the total production capacity of gas and was formed to satisfy local requirements as a result of the shortage of gas but its progress had been hampered.
On Project 100, the minister said: “We need to develop a team, put parameters in place and hopefully in the next six weeks we should know.”
Project 100 is a concept conceived by Kachikwu to develop 100 projects to drive investments in the oil sector. PREMIUMTIMES.M