31 May 2014, Abuja – The House of Representatives’ Speaker, Aminu Bello Tambuwal, has set out on another wild goose chase. It is one in a series of ill advised moves that is bound to end in self-ridicule. The lower legislative chamber has suddenly woken up from sleep, now it wants to launch an investigation into the role of the Minister of Petroleum Resources and Anglo/Dutch multinational, Shell, in the sale of Oil Mining Lease (OML) 29.
The oil asset is one of the four oil blocks being sold by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Total and Eni as part of Shell’s plan to dispose of global assets valued at $15 billion by 2015.
An ad hoc committee set up by the House for the purpose of investigating and establishing the validity of the transaction by Shell, has two weeks to submit its report. The irony here is that the house is about to probe a transaction that is yet to take place. Is it going to invite Shell for questioning on why it is selling its stake? or is it going to invite winners of the bid and question them on why they won or perhaps where it will get money to pay for the bid?
Shell, however, was not the only oil company identified for investigation, as other oil majors were also alleged to have hidden under the cover of waivers allegedly granted by the petroleum minister to embark on the sale of OML 29 and other oil leases.
Shell is divesting its 30 per cent stake, while Total and Eni are set to sell 10 per cent and five per cent, respectively in OMLs 18, 24, 25 and 29.
OML 29, the most prolific of the oil blocks, and the Nembe Creek Trunkline were won by Aiteo/Taleveras in conjunction with four other companies that make up the consortium, having submitted a $2.5 billion bid for the assets.
According to the lawmakers, OML 29 has been in the custody of Shell for more than 52 years and that one-half of the area of lease has not been relinquished to the federal government as stipulated by the Petroleum Act. They contended that Item 12(1) of the First Schedule in the Petroleum Act stipulates that 10 years after the grant of an oil mining lease, one-half of the lease shall be relinquished to the federal government. In the debate, Gerald noted that the outright sale of OML 29 and other oil leases was in direct contravention of the (Petroleum) Act and undermined national interest.
“Against the stipulation of the Act, the Shell Petroleum Development Company, in direct contravention of the Petroleum Act, is selling OML 29 and other oil leases, thereby undermining the national interest,” he said.
There they go again in the name of national interest. This is the usual ploy to initiate a probe and force the hand of companies to part with settlement. Mind you, Shell has not sold yet. It began a process last year to sell OML 29 alongside others. That process is nearing completion with the emergence of a winners or preferred bidders . Many companies bided for the different assets to be offloaded. The house cannot claim not to know that the bid process opened last year, and now that winners have emerged, it is suddenly launching investigation into a particular one of the block. What kind of probe is that? It is strange that just one of the blocks is attracting the house attention.
The oil giant has divested its interest in eight oil assets – OMLs 4, 38, 41, 26, 30, 34, 40 and 42 for a total of $1.8 billion, since 2010. Why didn’t the house probe all of these transactions? Why the interest in OML 29?
Last June, the oil major announced plans to sell four more onshore oil blocks in Nigeria.
Apart from the Aiteo/Taleveras group that clinched OML 29 in the current divestment programme, Midwestern Oil & Gas Plc/Mart Resources/Suntrust Oil, under the Erotron Consortium, also won the bid for OML 18.
Pan Ocean Oil Corporation Nigeria Limited, operator of the NNPC/Pan Ocean Joint Venture, clinched OML 24.
Even though the bidders have been informed of their status as preferred bidders, they are yet to pay for the oil blocks, as discussions are still ongoing with Shell on the terms of payment. What is the house probing? All other blocks have also been with Shell for very many years. Is the house saying Shell cannot sell its stake in an asset it jointly owns with multinationals alongside the federal government, which owns majority stake in the blocks? Or is the house saying the process leading to the bid was not transparent? What does the house want? Why is the house always so interested in probes that lead to nowhere? Probes by the house are selective and targeted at juicy sectors of the economy, where they can get maximum settlement and, then the issue is buried.
Nigerians know the modus operandi of house members. Probes have become a weapon of extortion and corruption by these unpatriotic elements in the national assembly. No one is deceived by the national interest talk by these people. While they posture as acting in the national interest, the greed of the members is bleeding the country to death. No one should give these guys a farthing!