By Our Reporter
President Bola Tinubu has restored the ownership of OPL 245 to European oil majors Eni and Shell, all but assuring an end to a yearslong corruption inquiry into the massive yet highly controversial deepwater oilfield.
According to PG report, Tinubu agreed to the deal largely to expand his own riches when he was supposed to maximise its benefits for the Nigerian people, according to two officials familiar with the development.
Months ago, as a precursor to the agreement finalised in London and Paris over the past week, Eni had transferred its onshore assets to Oando, run by the president’s nephew Wale Tinubu.
The publication was told that there was an arrangement brokered by Tinubu’s controversial ally Gilbert Chagoury that helped Oando acquire Nigerian Agip Oil Company Ltd and other Nigerian assets of Eni towards the end of 2023. The president also withdrew all existing cases against Shell and Eni from international tribunals and allowed both firms to take back control of OPL 245 based on the old contract under Goodluck Jonathan and without fresh dues to Nigeria.
Following the transfer, which came in September 2023, Oando rapidly doubled its oil reserves to nearly one billion barrels, the company said. Both Eni and Oando did not disclose the amount involved, saying it was “price sensitive.” American investment banker Jefferies Group, however, said the deal was around $500 million.
The sale appeared to have landed a hitherto struggling Oando its biggest-ever payday just within the first six months of its CEO’s uncle, believed to own a secret interest in the firm, being Nigerian president, the report stated.
According to the publication, the deal came last week after Nigerian officials departed Abuja on January 23 for London, where a so-called “new resolution agreement” was entered with representatives of the two oil firms. The officials on the trip included state petroleum minister Heineken Lokpobiri, head of Nigerian upstream regulator NUPRC Gbenga Komolafe, attorney-general Lateef Fagbemi and anti-graft chief Ola Olukoyede.
The publication reports that after signing the deal in London, the officials left for Paris to meet the president with the details.
Lokpobiri mounted enormous pressure on the Nigerian team to ensure the deal was reached, a source said.
“He kept saying the president had an interest in the deal,” an official said. “We later found out that the deal was the main reason the president travelled to Paris.”
However, one seething official feared the agreement could backfire and ensnare Nigeria in another round of international corruption controversy. Already, the newly revamped national oil company NNPC earlier distanced itself from the deal, saying it was never consulted by Eni despite holding interest in the business as a joint venture.
In a September 4 letter to Eni, NNPC decried the Oando sale as a major breach and threatened to explore options towards reversing it and holding the Italian group accountable.
“NNPC has a pre-emption right on the JV shares, but Eni doesn’t have any contractual obligation to inform beforehand NNPC about the deal, also because the information was price sensitive for the potential buyer,” the firm stated.
NNPC has since backed down after learning of the Tinubu’s involvement in the contract. A spokesperson for the firm did not answer a call seeking comments.
According to the publication, the deal appeared to suggest that Tinubu was not ready to let go of his reputation as one of Nigeria’s fabled plutocrats, another official said this week.
“We thought that he would want to use the office of the president to rehabilitate himself,” a senior administration aide told the publication under anonymity on Tuesday evening. “But it seems that he spends every day trying to validate his worst inclinations as a dyed-in-the-wool con man.”
Presidential spokesman Bayo Onanuga won’t speak on the deal when reached Tuesday night, suggesting instead that only NNPC and NUPRC can clarify questions surrounding the deal. Shell, Eni and Oando did not comment between Monday and Tuesday.
With PG report