Comrade Peter Esele
By Chika Amanze-Nwachuku
The Federal Government has been called upon to cancel the sale of one of Nigeria’s most prolific onshore oil blocks, Oil Mining Lease (OML) 30, sold by Shell and its multinational partners to Heritage Oil, a British oil and gas company.
This was sequel to the revelation by THISDAY last week that a key player in the deal, Tony Buckingham, the founder, chief executive and leading shareholder of Heritage, boasts a less than salubrious past.
There are also mounting concerns that a man with Buckingham’s reputation could pose a security risk in the already unstable Niger Delta.
Prior to his entry into the Nigerian oil and gas sector, Buckingham, a British national, had supplied mercenaries to fight insurgents in Angola and Sierra Leone and had ties to the masterminds behind the coup plot to overthrow the government of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea in 2004.
Popularly known as the Wonga Coup, the coup d’etat was masterminded by Simon Mann, a mercenary who had worked for Buckingham, but was foiled when the Zimbabwean police impounded an airplane from South Africa at the Harare airport with 67 mercenaries on board.
The plane was allegedly headed for Equatorial Guinea to overthrow the government of President Teodoro Obiang and install the opposition leader who would have given them unrestricted access to the country’s oil resources.
Reacting to the sale of OML 30 to Buckingham’s Heritage Oil yesterday, the President of the Trade Union Congress, Peter Esele, called on President Goodluck Jonathan and the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, to do everything in their power to rescind the transaction, pointing out that by the sale, Nigeria had become the “laughing stock in Europe over the deal.”
However, Shell, in a response to THISDAY’s enquiries at the weekend to ascertain if the oil multinational had carried out a background check on the owners of Heritage Oil and notified the Nigerian government accordingly, insisted in a terse statement that it had complied with relevant laws in the sale of OML 30.
The TUC president warned that if the deal is allowed to remain, it would prove to the world that Nigeria truly is a dodgy country, because it takes a dodgy country to sell its valuable assets to a dodgy person.
“I am using this opportunity to call on the Federal Government to save the image of our country and the little reputation, if any, that we have left, to go ahead and cancel the deal
“We are already the laughing stock in Europe over the transaction. If this deal is allowed to remain, it will prove to the world that we are truly a dodgy country,” he said.
The labour leader, who questioned Shell’s ethics, wondered how the oil giant could have gone ahead with the sale of such a valuable asset to a person with a questionable character.
“How could Shell with all its acclaimed best practices and due diligence have gone ahead with the sale of such a valuable asset to man with a questionable character. My worry is, was it possible for Shell to sell the block without the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) being aware. If NNPC was aware, what did it do?
“The Minister of Petroleum must do everything in her power to rescind the transaction. I am using this opportunity to call on the Federal Government to save the image of our country and the little reputation, if any, that we have left, to go ahead and cancel the deal,” he said.
Pointing out that in a democratic setting, the people deserve the right to know how their collective commonwealth is being managed, Esele directed Shell to henceforth make public from the onset all sales of Nigeria’s oil assets as well as the characters involved in the transactions, adding that it is the surest way of entrenching transparency and best practices in that sector.
He expressed regrets that every transaction in that sector by the state and operators are always shrouded in secrecy, unlike what obtains in other parts of the world.
“In a military government, we will understand that it is a dictatorship. However, in a democracy where we expect that it is government of the people, by the people and for the people, why then will we not get regular updates on how our collective commonwealth is being managed?
“This further drives home what the TUC has been fighting for: Freedom for NNPC to run as a business and deliver dividends to the people and for our politicians to go ahead and mind their business, because our politicians lack the competent skills to unravel so many things in that sector.
“It is also for this reason that we are still on our feet on the PIB (Petroleum Industry Bill), nine years after its conception,” he said.
He called on the president to pull the plug on the transaction in the interest of Nigeria’s image.
Shoreline Natural Resources Limited, a joint venture between Shoreline Power, a private Nigerian energy and infrastructure company and Heritage Oil, last November had announced the successful completion of the acquisition of a 45-per-cent stake in OML 30, with effect from November 1, 2012.
Prior to the transaction, Shell had attempted to sell the same oil block to Conoil, belonging to telecoms, banking, and oil and gas mogul, Dr. Mike Adenuga Jnr.
However, efforts by Conoil to acquire the block were thwarted following the decision by NNPC to assume operatorship of the block.