National Assembly Complex
There were strong indications over the weekend that the decision of the House of Representatives to probe the sale of Oil Mining Lease (OML) 26 to First Hydrocarbon Nigeria (FHN) Limited was targeted at a former Minister of Petroleum, Dr. Rilwanu Lukman, THISDAY has gathered.
THISDAY gathered that Lukman was a former non-executive chairman of Afren Plc, a United Kingdom-listed independent exploration company, which co-established FHN as a local vehicle for the acquisition of Nigerian acreages.
Apart from Afren, which has about 45 per cent stake, two leading Nigerian banks are also believed to have 10 per cent stake each in FHN.
Though other Nigerian investors, including a businessman, Mr. Dele Fajemirokun and Century Energy are also believed to have stakes in the company, it was learnt that the actual target of the House probe, which report would be submitted in the next four weeks, is Lukman because of his previous privileged positions in government.
A former Deputy Managing Director of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Mr. Egbert Imomoh, who was the managing director and executive chairman of Afren Energy Resources Limited, is the current non-executive chairman of the London-based firm.
Investigation has also revealed that though Lukman is widely credited to have founded Afren Plc in 2004, the company records indicate that its principal founder was Mr. Ethelbert Cooper.
As a non-Nigerian company, Afren Plc had to set up FHN Limited as a local vehicle for the acquisition of Nigerian oil blocks.
It was on that capacity that FHN acquired the stake of Shell, Total and Agip in OML 26, comprising Ogini, Isoko Deep, Ofa and Ovo oil fields located in Isoko North Local Government Area, Delta State.
A source familiar with the OML 26 deal told THISDAY that the Deputy Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Leo Ogor, who brought up the issue on the floor as a matter of urgent public importance, was apparently referring to Lukman when he reportedly stated that he was convinced that “First Hydrocarbon Nigeria Limited is owned by persons who have served in government in very high capacity and by virtue of the position they held have knowledge of the vast potential of OML 26 and merely used their position to secretly and fraudulently buy OML 26, against office etiquette”.
Ogor also accused Shell of selling the oil block “in secret, under questionable circumstances and without any notice to the public, land owners, families and host communities”.
But a source close to Shell told THISDAY over the weekend that there was no provision in the Joint Operating Agreement (JOA) between Shell and its partners – Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Total and Agip that required the oil giant to inform the host communities before selling its assets.
“What will be the input of the communities? Will they say that Shell and other partners should not sell the block? What was secret about the transaction? Didn’t the NNPC and the Federal Government know about the deal? The point is that it seems they (House) wants to get at Lukman because they believe that he used his previous positions to have an insider knowledge of the potential of the field,” he said.
He however wondered why the House of Representatives waited for over one year after the transaction was closed before instituting the probe.
FHN acquired a 45per cent interest in the OML 26 portfolio of assets from the SPDC, Total and Agip in December 2011.