By Alex Enumah in Abuja
The Abuja division of the Federal High Court has reserved till March 13 ruling on two separate applications filed by Shell Nigerian Exploration and Production Company and Nigerian Agip Exploration Limited seeking to set aside an order of forfeiture granted the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in respect of Oil Prospecting Licence OPL 245 also known as Malabu Oil.
Justice John Tsoho monday fixed the date after listening to submissions from counsel in the matter.
Prof. Koinyinsola Ajayi (SAN) represented Shell while Babatunde Fagbohunlu (SAN) and Mr. Johnson Ojogbane represented Agip and the EFCC respectively in the matter.
Justice Tsoho had on January 26, sequel to an ex-parte motion brought before him by the federal government, issued an order of forfeiture of the Oil Operating Licence of OPL 245 also known as Malabu Oil to the federal government.
Tsoho also ordered that the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) should in the interim, manage the Oil Processing licence of OPL 245 on behalf of the federal government.
At the resumed trial monday, counsel to Shell, Ajayi, arguing his application that the court vacates the forfeiture order, stated that EFCC did not meet the conditions prescribed in the EFCC Açt such as arrest, trace , and an application to the court for attachment before it rush to the court for an order of forfeiture.
According to him, the court should set aside the order made on January 26 because conditions precedent were not met by EFCC before the agency obtained the order.
Ajayi added that the EFCC Chairman did not only file a wrong court process but misled the court in issuing the forfeiture order without hearing from Shell and Agip.
Similarly, counsel to Agip, Fagbohunlu, who adopted the submissions of Ajayi, however, added that it was unconstitutional to attach properties belonging to parties through an ex parte motion because it denied them fair hearing.
But counsel to EFCC, Ojogbane, responding said the arguments of both counsel were misconceived and therefore should be discountenanced by the court.
Ojogbane while arguing that the OPL 245 was tangible, added that the order was properly made to prevent any action on the oil block.
He said: “OPL 245 is a subject of criminal investigation and prosecution. In fact; there are charges now before the court on the criminality.”
“The order was not only about preserving the subject matter but stopping criminality from progressing,” he added.
Ojogbane stressed that asking the court to vacate the order was a disservice to the country.
He therefore urged the court to dismiss the application for lacking in merit.
Earlier, during the sitting, the court had overruled Abdullahi Haruna who announced appearance for Malabu Oil and Gas.
The counsel had wanted the court to stand down the matter to enable him fetch an application he filed seeking to vary the court order.
The EFCC had approached the court last month following controversies and allegations of fraud associated with the licensing of the oil block.
The commission in a 21-paragraph affidavit, sworn to by one Ibrahim Ahmed, had stated that the properties attached are proceeds of crime that should be forfeited to the federal government.
According to the commission, sometime in April 1998, Malabu Oil and Gas Limited was incorporated in Nigeria with share holders namely Mohammed Sani, fronting for the late Gen. Sani Abacha, Kwekwu Amafegha representing Dan Etete, the then Minister of Petroleum Resources aand Hassan Hindu, on behalf of Ambassador Hassan Adamu.
It also stated that in the same month, the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources offered the company deep water oil block processing licence in respect of OPL 245.
That in June 1998, Abacha died, and between 1999 and 2000, the corporate status and share holding structures were ultterred severally through forged board resolutions which eventually divested Mohammed Sani of their shares while new share holders and directors were appointed fraudulently.