BY Ayodele Oluwafemi
The federal government has withdrawn its $1.1 billion civil suit against Eni in relation to the oil prospecting licence (OPL) 245 deal, according to Bloomberg, quoting the ministry of justice.
Nigeria will waive the claims against Eni before Italy’s highest court.
The federal government will withdraw the suit “unconditionally” and “with immediate effect” no later than November 17, according to the report.
The federal government will also “irrevocably” waive the right to further legal action in Italy against Eni, its affiliates, current and past officers as it relates to the controversial OPL 245 deal.
The publication said Eni confirmed receipt of the letter and that the company said it is ready to consider and work with the federal government to ensure the development of the oil block.
THE OPL 245 SAGA
On April 9, 1998, the federal military government awarded OPL 245 to Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd, which was said to be owned mainly by Mohammed Abacha, son of the Sani Abacha, and Etete, who was the petroleum minister at the time.
On July 2, 2001, President Olusegun Obasanjo revoked Malabu’s licence and assigned the oil block to Shell — without a public bid. Malabu went to court and ownership was reverted to it in 2006 after it reached an out-of-court settlement with the federal government.
Shell fought back and commenced arbitration against Nigeria, but when President Goodluck Jonathan came to power in 2010 and implemented the consent judgment returning the oil block to Malabu, the controversy appeared to have been resolved with Shell and Eni agreeing to buy the oil block from the Nigerian company for $1.1 billion.
The oil companies also paid $210 million as signature bonus to the federal government of Nigeria.
But activists launched an international campaign alleging that the OPL 245 deal was fraudulent and that the proceeds were used to bribe government officials.
A STRING OF LOSSES
When former President Muhammadu Buhari came to office in 2015, his administration started a series of litigation against Royal Dutch Shell, Eni/Nigeria Agip Exploration (NAE), Shell Nigeria Ultra Deep (SNUD) Ltd, and Shell Nigeria Exploration Company (SNEPCO) over the allegations.
On May 22, 2020, a UK court declined jurisdiction in a case filed by Nigeria against Shell/SNUD and Eni asking for compensation in the sum of $1.1 billion.
On March 17, 2021, an Italian court acquitted Shell, Eni and all defendants of corruption charges in the $1.1 billion deal.
Also in June 2022, Nigeria lost its $1.7 billion claim against JP Morgan Bank over the transfers of proceeds from the sale of the oil block to Malabu’s directors.
Previously, the US Department of Justice investigated the transaction and announced in October 2019 that it was closing the case.
In April 2020, the US Securities and Exchange Commission also closed investigation into the deal after it could not prove fraud or corruption.
However, Nigeria is still prosecuting cases against Shell and Eni in Nigerian courts but with the latest move, they may be terminated.
Meanwhile, Mohammed Bello Adoke, former attorney-general of the federation when the OPL 245 resolutions agreements were signed, was also charged to two Nigerian courts on various allegations, including fraud and money laundering.
He denies all allegations and has filed a no-case submission after the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) did not provide witnesses or facts to substantiate the claims.
Adoke recently said Ibrahim Magu, former acting chairman of the EFCC, has apologised to him over the criminal trials which he said Magu masterminded to help Nigeria win the cases in Italy and the UK to no avail.