The Nigerian government has said that it will not interfere in the on-going court actions in respect of the Malabu Oil Prospecting Lease, OPL 245 scandal.
The Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, made this known in a letter addressed to the Chairman of the Civil Society Network Against Corruption, CSNAC, Olanrewaju Suraju.
The organization had written the minister, warning the government against compromising the investigation and prosecution of Malabu and by extension ENI with his (Mr. Kachikwu's) recent endorsement of ENI on his recent trip to Italy.
Earlier, while addressing journalists on the sidelines of the annual Offshore Technology Conference in Houston Texas, U. S. A in May, Mr. Kachikwu had disclosed that the Zabazaba deepwater project in OPL 245 will continue in spite of controversies surrounding the oil block.
According to him, the project, a Greenfield offshore licence block located in the OPL 245, which is to be carried out by the trio of the Federal Government, Shell and the Nigerian Agip Exploration Limited (NAE), would go on as scheduled and the protracted dispute on the block with Malabu oil will not affect it.
"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 had said.
"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."
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.
epa05113059 (FILE) A file photo dated 30 July 2015 showing a company flag flying infront of the head office of Royal Dutch Shell in The Hague, The Netherlands. Royal Dutch Shell plc on 20 January 2016 reported a sharp fall in profits for the last quarter of 2015 as low oil prices hit earnings and the company restructured to reduce costs. Shell said it expected fourth-quarter earnings to be between 1.6 billion and 1.9 billion dollars, down from 4.2 billion dollars in the fourth quarter of 2014. Full-year earnings, including the impact of lower prices on the company's oil inventory, are expected to total 10.4 billion to 10.7 billion dollars, about 45 per cent lower than the 19 billion dollars reported in 2014. EPA/JERRY LAMPEN [Photo Credit: Financial Times]
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how the block was awarded in 1998 to Malabu, a firm partly owned by then petroleum minister, Dan Etete, in violation of Nigerian laws, since the company was later found to have a fictitious director on its board.
But in his response to the CSNAC enquiry, Mr. Kachikwu said the government would await the actions of the court before taking far-reaching decisions in terms of its dealing with ENI.
He added that in the meantime, to the extent that ENI is involved in a thorough-going relationship with the Nigerian government as a Joint Venture Partner, the government would continue to engage the company for the benefit of the country.
Mr. Kachikwu, however, noted that while the government pursues its commercial interest in the deal with ENI, it will not hesitate to enforce the nation's laws if the need arises.
"Please be assured that the Federal Government has no interests in interfering with the court processes and investigations into the issues surrounding the award of OPL 245 to Malabu oil, least of all in matters relating to corrupt dealings," he said.
"Hence, whist we will continue to superintend the interest of the Federal Government in our commercial relationship with the upstream partners, the Government will not refrain from pursuing the enforcement of our laws," the minister added.