For the umpteenth time, the Federal Government was again challenged to pursue rigorously the various cases in court on the controversial deep-water oil bloc OPL 245 deal popularly known as Malabu scandal worth $1.1bn.
The Chairman of Human and Environmental Development Agency (HEDA), Olanrewaju Suraj, at an interactive session with newsmen described the scandal as an international embarrassment.
The session which focused on global anti-corruption campaign/asset recovery was organized by the MacArthur Foundation/HEDA.
It would be recalled that HEDA in conjunction with Global Witness, RE: Common and The Corner House had jointly presented a report which suggested that Nigeria stands to lose about $6billion from the controversial deal.
Both Royal Dutch Shell and Eni, Italian oil giant, along with a number of their senior executives have faced lawsuits over role in the infamous OPL245 scandal.
The deal gave Shell and Eni the rights to explore OPL 245, an offshore oil field in the Niger Delta considered as the most lucrative in Africa but there are claims government officials were bribed to win the contract. The scandal has been dogged with several lawsuits.
Suraj warned against going into any out-of-court settlement that would affect the ongoing trials instituted by the Nigerian government against Shell and Eni, adding that any corporate out-of-court settlement should not cover the criminal aspect of the deal.
“We are not opposed to out-of-court settlement but certain conditions must be met. It should not confer legitimacy on an illegal deal”, he said.
The HEDA chairman stressed the need to address the opacity in the nation’s oil and gas industry, saying such opacity is not only an embarrassment to the country but a drain pipe on her resources.
According to him, the Malabu deal wasn’t struck in the interest of Nigeria because while $1.1billion went into private accounts, Nigeria got $250million whereas if the contract had been transparently done, Nigeria stands to benefit $5.6billion.
“They have convicted two people in Milan but in Nigeria nobody has been convicted. EFCC did a good job in tracing $800m to Keystone Bank which went to private accounts, Bureau De Change operators, buying of private jets, among others”, he said.
Speaking further, Suraj challenged some state governors to think outside the box and explore the possibility of bidding for oil bloc.
“The major challenge is we have lazy government officials without any creativity. They are comfortable with flying to Abuja every month on chartered aircraft for the federal allocation. It is now very easy for individuals who are hair dressers to the wives of Presidents, fashion designers to the wives of President to acquire oil bloc while our state governors are there just looking.
“We should begin to monitor every action taken by government. The regulatory agencies and law enforcement agencies must be made to work. There is a whole lot we need to do to ensure that we have our laws enforced”, he added.