By Alex Enumah
The federal government, Shell Nigeria Exploration, Nigeria Agip Exploration Company and others yesterday failed to stop hearing in a suit seeking to reclaim the Oil Prospecting License (OPL) 245 originally awarded to Malabu Oil and Gas Limited, following the dismissal of their preliminary objection to the suit by a Federal High Court in Abuja.
Justice Binta Nyako in dismissing the notice of preliminary objections filed by the defendants, held that the court has jurisdiction to hear the case which relates to oil and gas.
The suit, marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/201/2017 was filed in the name of Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd by Mohammed Sani Abacha, son of the late Head of State, Sani Abacha, who claimed to be the majority shareholder of the oil firm.
However, Justice Nyako in her ruling in the preliminary objection also held that the suit was not caught by the Public Officers Protection Act and as such, was note statute barred.
She further held that the plaintiff was right to have included the Minister of Petroleum as a defendant, because the minister being a juristic personality, could sue and be sued.
The court noted that contrary to the argument of the defendants, the suit did not amount to an abuse of court’s process, because there was no evidence before it that issues raised have been determined by any other court.
However, following assurances by parties of their readiness to proceed with the substantive suit, Justice Nyako adjourned till March 9, 2021 for hearing.
Defendants in the suit are the Federal Government of Nigeria, the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Shell Nigeria Ultra-Deep Ltd, Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Ltd, Nigeria Agip Exploration Company Ltd and former Petroleum Minister, Dan Etete.
In its statement of claim, the plaintiff stated among others, that it was not part of the purported allocation of the OPL 245 to Shell and Agip and for which they allegedly paid $1.3billion to Etete, with the federal government providing the account into which it was paid as its actual shareholders were excluded from the process.
The plaintiff added that it was also not part of the Block 245 Resolution Agreement of April 29, 2011 entered between the federal government, Shell, Agip and Etete, purporting to represent Malabu Oil, adding that it “did not relinquish any or all of its rights and interests in OPL 245 to any person or persons.”
Plaintiff is therefore praying the court for, among others, an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants from carrying out any exploration or prospecting activities in connection with or in relation to the area covered by OPL 245.
It wants the court to make an order compelling the defendants to restore to it, its right to the exclusive possession of OPL 245.
He also wants a declaration that, not being a party to the Block 245 Resolution Agreement dated April 29, 2011, any payment purportedly made by the defendants into any bank account purporting to be the plaintiff’s bank account and or made to the 7th defendant (Etete) purportedly in the name of the plaintiff, was not payment made in pursuance of the said bloc 245 resolution agreement.