Senate Commences Probe Into N175 Billion Malabu Oil Scam
After weeks of disappearing from public discourse, the controversial N175 billion oil bloc deal in which some top government officials and a local firm, Malabu Oil and Gas were fingered returned to the plate again today as the Senate resolved to commence investigation into the sale of the OPL 245 oil bloc to the firm and the sharing of the slush fund.
The Senate resolution to probe the less transparent deal in which the country’s controversial Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke featured prominently followed a motion sponsored by the Deputy Majority Leader, Abdul Ningi and 46 other senators.
While justifying the need for the probe, Ningi had reminded his colleaques that Nigeria signed up to the Global Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in 2003, began implementation in 2004 and took a step further with the Nigerian Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI) Act 2007, adding that the objective of the Act as contained in Section 2(a and c) of the Act, included ensuring due process and transparency in payments made by all extractive industry companies to the Federal Government and statutory recipients.
The Act, it was also noted, seeks to eliminate all forms of corrupt practices in the determination, payment, receipts and posting of revenue accruing to the federal government from the extractive industry companies. The motion expressed concerns over recent developments as regards “circumstances surrounding a tripartite transaction involving the Federal Governemnt, Shell/Agip as well as Malabu Oil and Gas Limited in respect of Oil Bloc referred to as OPL 245”, as well as “legal and ethical issues surrounding the transaction and pattern of distribution of proceeds to beneficiaries which could make Nigeria a subject of sanctions by EITI if nothing is done to investigate the weighty allegations that appear to have violated the dictates of the global initiative.”
Spirited efforts made by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Water Resources, Senator Heineken Lokpobri from Bayelsa state to shoot down the motion proved abortive. He had argued that the senate should not get involved in an issue it knew little or nothing about.
His words, “I rise to oppose this motion in its root, stem and branches. The Senate as the highest making body should not be made to go on a voyage of this nature. There must be sufficient fact to make Senate decide whether there would be investigation or not. The first issue is whether you can sell what you do not have because the bloc does not belong to the federal government and it cannot sell what it does not have.”
Lokpobiri who appeared desperate not to allow the motion sail through insisted that the controversial oil bloc was allotted to certain individuals by the administration of late General Sani Abacha and later revoked by President Olusegun Obasanjo.
“When Chief Olusegun Obasanjo came into power, he purportedly revoked those licences and these companies went to court and the court declared the revocation null and void and as such, the oil blocs were restored to the companies including Malabu Oil and Gas. The truth was that when Obasanjo revoked this, he gave it to Shell in 2002”, he had argued.
Ruling on the opposition to the motion, Senate President, Mr David Mark declared that there was no crime if the Senate decides to investigate the entire transaction with a view to putting the controversy to rest, stressing that “I know close to nothing about oil blocs and what I want to ask is whether there is anything wrong with Senate Committee investigating these facts and bringing them to us.”
With the declaration, the Senate agreed to probe the deal in which billions of naira were said to have been wired into the bank accounts of top government officials using known proxies. The Senate will tomorrow begin its 2012 annual recess and expected to reconvene on September 17.