07 October 2016, Sweetcrude, Abuja – Members of Nigeria’s House of Representatives panel investigating the controversial Malabu oil deal have expressed strong reservations about the attitude of firms caught in the scandal.
At the resumed hearing on Wednesday, Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Razak Atunwa, scolded officials of Shell Nigeria and NNPC for their alleged attempts at frustrating the investigations.
Mr. Atunwa said he had powers to launch the investigation following repeated challenge by Shell questioning the essence of a new committee as well as its legal standing.
After blasting Shell officials for seeking “unnecessary adjournment” of the inquiry, Mr. Atunwa, chairman of the House Committee on Justice, delivered a harsh criticism of NNPC, saying the failure of the state-run oil firm to appear before the committee was “contemptible.”
“It smacks of a cover up that they’re running from contributing to this investigation,” Mr. Atunwa said.
The House in January 2016 set up another ad-hoc committee to look into allegations of financial crimes in the lease of OPL 245 oil block in Nigerian waters.
A former Minister of Petroleum, Dan Etete, awarded the lease of OPL 245 in April 1998 to Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd., a firm later traced to him.
The Nigerian government later in 2009 brokered a fraudulent deal that led to the transfer of the oil bloc to Shell and Eni Agip with the oil majors paying about $1 billion to Malabu accounts through the federal government.
Although Shell and Agip had long maintained innocence since the fraud was first uncovered by the administration of Olusegun Obasanjo, a leak of internal emails of the companies later indicated their involvement.
It is not immediately clear why the House launched an all-new investigation into the affair since the same body had also found the oil firms culpable and ordered immediate cancellation of the contract following a thorough enquiry in 2014.
All the House needed to do was ask that its previous resolutions be enforced by the new administration.
Also, the scandal had been a subject of a worldwide investigation in five different countries including in Nigeria by the EFCC.
Several officials of the Goodluck Jonathan administration, including former Attorney-General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, and ex-Petroleum Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke, are being investigated for the scam.
Atunwa adjourned the hearing to October 18 and warned of harsh consequences against further efforts aimed at stonewalling the proceeding.
“This committee will not tolerate any implicit or explicit attempts by anyone, no matter how highly placed, to frustrate or forestall this highly crucial investigation.”