Nigeria: Documents Reveal Seplat Chairman ABC Orjiako's Role in Malabu Scandal

29 November 2021

<i>The Seplat chairman helped negotiate payment for the lucrative oil block and in the end, his firm took a slice of the huge pay-out.</sub>

Ambroise Orjiako played the role of a top adviser to Dan Etete in the infamous Malabu scandal, in which the Nigerian government controversially handed a lucrative oil field to Mr Etete, who sold it to Shell and Eni and shared part of the proceeds with some senior government officials.

New court records show that between 2009 and 2011, Mr Orjiako, who is the chairman of <a target="_blank" href="https://www.seplatenergy.com/">Seplat Energy,</a> Nigeria's biggest quoted oil and gas company, took part in several meetings between Mr Etete, Shell and Eni, where they negotiated the amount to be paid to Mr Etete for Oil Prospecting Licence (OPL) 245.

Mr Orjiako, who previously led Shebah Petroleum, helped arrange at least one of such meetings, and informed Shell officials that the attorney general at the time, Mohammed Adoke, was willing to meet with them to move the discussions forward.

He attended a meeting on October 6, 2009, alongside Mr Etete, Umaru Bature (a former member of the House of Representatives who prosecutors said represented the interest of Aliyu Gusau, former National Security Adviser), Peter Robinson (Shell's commercial vice president for sub-Saharan Africa) and Guy Colegate (senior business advisor of Shell International Exploration & Production) where OPL 245 was discussed.

In the end, Helko Nigeria Ltd., a company in which Mr Orjiako was director, got $2.2 million from the booty.

The revelations are contained in documents filed by Agip, a subsidiary of the Italian oil major, Eni, at a U.S. court, and obtained by PREMIUM TIMES.

Mr Orjiako could not be reached for this report. Phone calls and email messages to his firm, Seplat, were not responded to.

Abacha Connection

The Malabu case, possibly Nigeria's biggest government-backed corporate heist, began in 1998 when Mr Etete was petroleum minister under Sani Abacha.

Alongside the kleptocrat dictator, they seized the OPL 245 and awarded it to Malabu, a company set up by Mr Etete and Mr Abacha's son.

Mr Etete assumed control of the firm after Mr Abacha's death, and controversy over the ownership of the block and the company lingered for years with the Olusegun Obasanjo administration at one point revoking the award, triggering legal battles.

The Jonathan government eventually recognised Mr Etete as the owner of the block, and helped negotiate its transfer to Shell and Eni for $1.3 billion. The windfall was shared between Mr Etete and top cabinet members in the government, court records show. Shell and Eni and their officials have been tried in Europe for their roles in the transaction.

While it was known Mr Orjiako had links to the Malabu case, reported by PREMIUM TIMES for years, it was not exactly clear what his role was - until now.

Mr Orjiako announced last week he will be stepping down from Seplat Energy's board of directors in May 2022.

The board of Seplat Energy thanked him for his "strategic vision, drive and limitless energy".

Mr Orjiako said, "The past 12 years at Seplat Energy has been exhilarating for me. As a chairman, I am proud that the board, management and entire staff of Seplat Energy were able to achieve several enviable milestones and exceptional successes.

"Notably, the acquisition of eight oil and gas assets, expansion of the Oben and development of the ANOH gas plants and the dual listing on both the Nigerian and London Stock Exchanges - a first by a Nigerian company.

"While there were challenges along the way, we overcame these by the special grace of God, the outstanding performance and professionalism of each member of the board and management, and the sterling efforts of our staff.

"I will continue to give my utmost energy and commitment to the company until I step down from the board at the next AGM."

Advising Etete

New documents say Mr Orjiako's entry into the Malabu talks as an adviser to Mr Etete was helped by his past relationship with Shell officials who trusted him.

He attended meetings where the amount to be paid to Mr Etete was discussed.

One meeting spoke about reverting to a 1998/99 arrangement in which Shell acted as a technical partner to Malabu in exchange for 40 per cent of the oil field. Shell would then pay Mr Etete for the 40 per cent equity.

The oil firm demanded that its payment take into account the funds it already expended on the field (exploration and signature bonus, together $600 million - according to the court document).

The talks reached a stalemate when Mr Etete turned down Shell's initial offer of $300 million. Mr Etete said other investors were interested in the oil block and held talks with Eni separately. He also rejected Eni's offer.

"Etete asked Shell to come up with a figure for what they would pay for the 40% farm-in. We made it clear that after stripping out costs incurred to date the number was going to be very low and almost certainly way off what he was aspiring to," one Shell official wrote in an email.

"Etete keen though for us to name a figure so we could start negotiating... . We agreed to go back and do some work on this, and get back to him in a couple of weeks - but underlining that Shell internal processes could mean this taking a little longer."

At this point, Mr Orjiako assured Shell officials that Mr Etete would accept a better offer.

To resolve the deadlock, the attorney general, Mr Adoke, met with all sides, including Shell, Eni, and Malabu, the records said.

"The following persons participated: For Shell: Peter Robinson (Regional Vice President), German Burmeister (Commercial Manager), and Keibi Atemie (Legal); For Malabu: Chief Seidu Munamuna (Board Director), Rasky Gbinigie (Company Secretary), accompanied by Alhaji Abubaker Aliyu, Femi Akinmade, and ABC Orjiako, as advisors. For ENI: R. Casula, V. Armanna, G. Zappalà, E. Caligaris in continuous contact with the departments at head office," the document said.

Mr Adoke said he had President Jonathan's mandate to resolve all issues and asked all sides to draft a resolution. He promised to get the finance and petroleum ministers to sign the agreement after the companies had signed first.

Mr Adoke later rejected Shell's plan in the draft agreement to pay the new agreed amount only after a licence had been issued for the block. Shell insisted it could not do otherwise, setting off another impasse.

It was Mr Orjiako who helped arrange another meeting, advising Shell officials that the attorney general was willing to meet and continue talks.

Shell later agreed to make payment at the time of signing the agreement, ahead of the issuance of a licence.

Helko Nigeria Limited, owned by Mr Orjiako was later paid $2,208,201.90 from the Malabu money. The real estate and property firm was registered in 1997 as a subsidiary of Ordrec Group Limited, according to corporate registration documents seen by PREMIUM TIMES. It had two directors: Mr Orjiako and his wife, Chioma Orjiako.

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