Malabu oil: FG, Shell, Agip lose bid to stop hearing of Abacha’s suit

The Federal High Court, Abuja has rejected moves by the Federal Government, Shell Nigeria Exploration, Nigeria Agip Exploration Company and others to prevent the hearing of a suit seeking to reclaim the Oil Prospecting License (OPL) 245 originally awarded to Malabu Oil and Gas Limited.

The suit, numbered: 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 major shareholder of the oil firm.

In a ruling on Tuesday, Justice Binta Nyako dismissed the preliminary objections filed by the defendants in the case and held that the court has jurisdiction to hear the case which relates to oil and gas.

As against the contention by the defendants, Justice Nyako also held that the suit was not caught by the Public Officers Protection Act and as such, was not statute-barred.

The judge 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.

Justice Nyako held that the suit did not amount to an abuse of the process of the court, adding that no evidence exists that issues raised have been determined by any other court.

After counsel to parties, including Reuben Atabo (for the plaintiff) assured the court that they were ready to proceed to the hearing of 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 FG, 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.”

It added that the purported allocation of OPL245 to Shell and Agip in 2011 is in violation of its rights as the holder of the “OPL 245 to exclusively explore and prospect for petroleum with the area of its licence, pursuant to Paragraph 5 of the First Schedule to the Petroleum Act, and is therefore null and of no effect.”

The plaintiff is 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.

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