Justice John Tsoho of the Federal High Court, Abuja has deferred a ruling on whether or not to vacate his order on the ceding of Oil Prospecting License, OPL 245, to the Federal Government to March 17, 2017, pending investigation and prosecution of suspects in the $1.2billion Malabu Oil scam.
The OPL 245, an oil field believed to be the largest in Africa, was said to have been fraudulently acquired by Malabu Oil and Gas Limited in 1998 and afterward sold to oil giants, Shell and Agip, in shady transactions.
Justice Tsoho had on January 26, 2017, ordered the interim forfeiture of the oil field to the federal government following an ex-parte motion by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Following the order, Shell Nigeria exploration oil production company Ltd and Agip exploration Ltd on February 1, 2017, filed two applications asking the court to dismiss, or in the alternative set aside the interim order of attachment earlier granted by it.
On February 27, when the case came up for hearing, counsel to EFCC, Johnson Ojogbane, countered the applications, urging the court to preserve its order. He submitted that “to vacate the order on OPL 245 is a disservice to not only the federal government but to Nigerians as the order was given properly with facts provided copiously”.
After exhaustive arguments from the parties involved, Justice Tsoho adjourned the hearing to Monday for a ruling. At the resumed sitting today, Abdullahi Haruna, counsel to Malabu Oil and Gas, again, asked the court that to put on hold it’s ruling in order to entertain two fresh applications filed before it by his clients.
Apart from urging the court to defer its ruling, Haruna is also praying the court to reopen a hearing into the case to enable them to be joined as parties.
“The purpose of these two applications is to seek the indulgence of your lordship to hear our two pending applications, seeking to enter as respondents to the two motions filed by both Nigeria Agip exploration limited and Shell Nigeria exploration company, seeking to discharge the ex parte order. We also seek your lordship indulgence to reopen hearing of the said application to enable our two applications to be taken so that we can respond to the two applications”, Haruna pleaded.
Counsel to Agip Exploration Limited, Babatunde Fagbolu, SAN, opposed the applications. Adopting a written address dated March 8, 2017, Fagbolu described the applications as “frivolous and offensive”. He urged the court to dismiss them and proceed in delivering its ruling.
The learned silk further said that “there is absolutely nothing in the affidavit supporting the application that shows that it cannot wait for your lordship to deliver the ruling.”
Ogunmuyiwa Balogun, counsel to Shell, also aligned himself with the argument of the senior advocate, urging the court to dismiss the applications.
In his argument, Ojogbane said
“we do not intend at this stage to join issues with the applicant, depending on where the pendulum swings on this current application. We may join issues with them eventually if it becomes necessary.”
He said that the decision is at the discretion of the court on whether or not to refuse the application.Consequently, the case was adjourned for a ruling.