Nigeria ‘Loses’ As Tinubu Returns OPL 245 To Shell-Eni, Secures Lucrative Deal For Oando Run By Nephew

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Nigeria 'Loses' As Tinubu Return OPL 245 To Shell-Eni, Secures Lucrative Deal For Oando, Run By Nephew

President Bola Tinubu has restored the ownership of OPL 245 to European oil majors Eni and Shell.

According to The Gazette, Tinubu agreed to the deal largely to expand his own riches when he was supposed to maximise its benefits for the Nigerian people, according to two officials familiar with the development. Months ago, as a precursor to the agreement finalised in London and Paris over the past week, Eni had transferred its onshore assets to Oando, run by the president’s nephew Wale Tinubu.

Added that there was an arrangement brokered by Mr Tinubu’s controversial ally Gilbert Chagoury that helped Oando acquire Nigerian Agip Oil Company Ltd and other Nigerian assets of Eni towards the end of 2023. The president also withdrew all existing cases against Shell and Eni from international tribunals and allowed both firms to take back control of OPL 245 based on the old contract under Goodluck Jonathan and without fresh dues to Nigeria.

Following the transfer, which came in September 2023, Oando rapidly doubled its oil reserves to nearly one billion barrels, the company said. Both Eni and Oando did not disclose the amount involved, saying it was “price sensitive.” American investment banker Jefferies Group, however, said the deal was around $500 million.

The sale appeared to have landed a hitherto struggling Oando its biggest-ever payday just within the first six months of its CEO’s uncle, believed to own a secret interest in the firm, being Nigerian president.

The deal came last week after Nigerian officials departed Abuja on January 23 for London, where a so-called “new resolution agreement” was entered with representatives of the two oil firms. Those The Gazette heard were on the trip included state petroleum minister Heineken Lokpobiri, head of Nigerian upstream regulator NUPRC Gbenga Komolafe, attorney-general Lateef Fagbemi and anti-graft chief Ola Olukoyede.

After signing the deal in London, the officials left for Paris to meet the president with the details, The Gazette heard. Mr Lokpobiri mounted enormous pressure on the Nigerian team to ensure the deal was reached, a source said.

“He kept saying the president had an interest in the deal,” an official said. “We later found out that the deal was the main reason the president travelled to Paris.”

One seething official feared the agreement could backfire and ensnare Nigeria in another round of international corruption controversy. Already, the newly revamped national oil company NNPC had distanced itself from the deal, saying it was never consulted by Eni despite holding interest in the business as a joint venture.

In a September 4 letter to Eni, NNPC decried the Oando sale as a major breach and threatened to explore options towards reversing it and holding the Italian group accountable.

But Eni promptly fired back, saying it was under no obligation to inform its Nigerian counterpart before disposing of the assets.

“NNPC has a pre-emption right on the JV shares, but Eni doesn’t have any contractual obligation to inform beforehand NNPC about the deal, also because the information was price sensitive for the potential buyer,” the firm stated.

The Gazette heard that the NNPC has since backed down after learning of the president’s involvement in the contract. A spokesperson for the firm did not answer a call seeking comments.

The deal appeared to suggest that Mr Tinubu was not ready to let go of his reputation as one of Nigeria’s fabled plutocrats, another official said this week.

“We thought that he would want to use the office of the president to rehabilitate himself,” a senior administration aide told The Gazette under anonymity on Tuesday evening. “But it seems that he spends every day trying to validate his worst inclinations as a dyed-in-the-wool con man.”

Prior to his election in February 2023, Mr Tinubu was the subject of a widely publicised U.S. court document that detailed his involvement in narcotics activities between the 1980s and 1990s. He was also previously exposed by The Gazette to have used his businesses to loot the Lagos treasury to the tune of billions of dollars.

Months after his election, the president was found to have gamed his way into power using falsified academic records in violation of the Nigerian Constitution. The Supreme Court sidestepped the case to keep him in power. It was the second time the now-Nigerian leader would escape accountability for forgery, coming over a decade after a federal prosecutor charged and subsequently withdrew a criminal case against him over a slew of fraudulent submissions to the electoral office INEC when he successfully sought office as Lagos governor.

Mr Tinubu has taken initial measures that convinced a section of the country about his readiness to combat corruption. He recently proactively suspended a minister accused of mismanagement, and queried another believed to be tied to the same scandal.

This week, the president also asked the NNPC to direct its revenues to the central bank, earning widespread accolades from public finance experts, including prominent members of political opposition like Kingsley Moghalu.

But beaming a spotlight on his handling of OPL-245 ownership could potentially remind Nigerians of the president’s unsavoury past and keep him under close scrutiny, one of his aides said.

As of the time of filing this report, neither the Presidency nor Eni and Oando have issued any official comment on the deal.

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