A federal high court in Abuja has declined attempts by the Nigerian government to prevent the hearing in a case filed by Mohammed Abacha over the controversial Malabu Oil Prospecting Licence (OPL 245).
The suit was filed by Mr Abacha on behalf of Malabu against the Nigerian government and others, including Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Ltd and Nigeria Agip Exploration Company.
The government seeks to prevent Mr Abacha, son of late Nigerian dictator, Sani Abacha, from reclaiming the controversial oil licence.
Other defendants in the suit are the minister of petroleum resources, Shell Nigeria Ultra-Deep Ltd and Dan Etete, a former petroleum minister.
The suit by Mr Abacha, marked FHC/ABJ/CS/201/2017, was filed in the name of Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd, claiming to own majority shares in the oil firm.
But in her ruling on Tuesday, Binta Nyako said the court has jurisdiction to hear the case which relates to oil and gas.
Details of Tuesday’s ruling were reported by Guardian newspaper.
Dismissing the claim of the defendants (Nigerian government, Shell, Agip and others), Mrs Nyako ruled that the suit was not caught by the Public Officers Protection Act and, by implication, was not statute-barred.
She also ruled 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 judge explained that the suit did not amount to an abuse of the process of the court because no evidence exists that issues raised have not been determined by any court.
The OPL 245, regarded as one of Africa’s richest oil blocks with an estimated over nine billion barrels of crude, was controversially awarded to Malabu in 1998 by the then petroleum minister, Dan Etete.
Then, Mr Abacha owned 50 per cent of the company while Mr Etete owned 20 per cent through a fictional character, Kwekwu Amafegha.
Mr Etete would later claim total ownership of the company, claiming there were board resolutions that transferred the ownership to him. Mr Abacha, whose father died shortly after the block was awarded, however denies any such transfer, arguing that he still owns 50 per cent shares in the firm.
The oil block, OPL 245, was controversially sold to oil giants, Shell and ENI, in 2011 with a large chunk of the $1.1 billion paid for it ending up in Mr Etete’s accounts with the latter allegedly using a large chunk of it to bribe officials of both the Nigerian government and those of Shell and ENI.
The matter has become a subject of numerous litigations in Nigeria, UK, Italy and others with anti-corruption officials and advocates saying the deals, including the allocation of the oil block, reeks of fraud.
In her ruling, Mrs Nyako adjourned the hearing of the substantive suit till March 9, 2021.
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