OML 46-Atala Oil Saga: An Impunity Taken Too Far, By Pere Sam


In the past couple of months, OML 46, an oil bloc otherwise known as ATALA MARGINAL OILFIELD has been in the news for the wrong reasons. The news about the oil bloc which has become an official scandal rocking the Muhammadu Buhari administration is, unfortunately, coming in the twilight of his government. Sadly, this is one scandal too many, coming in quick succession just when the dust over the stamp duty financial scandal is yet to be settled.

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Given the constitutional mandate as a journalist provided in section 22 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, it will be a disservice to keep mute to sweep the mind-boggling facts of corruption in the criminal revocation of the OML 46 belonging to Bayelsa Oil Company Limited, BOCL, owned by the Bayelsa State government.

It is against this background that one is constrained to altruistically place the facts of the scandal in proper perspective for public scrutiny and hold accountable the corruptive influence of public officeholders in the country.

Without qualms, the protagonist in the centre of this whole saga is the Bayelsa-born politician and Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva and one Dr Kelechukwu Afoegbu who is widely believed to be the hatchet man used by Chief Timipre Sylva. Dr Afoegbu, you recall was the Technical Assistant of Chief Timipre Sylva that was grilled by the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petition who promised to furnish the Committee with relevant documents backing the revocation and re-allocation of Atala to Halkin E & P, a company that was incorporated on the 5th of September 2019 with no single financial and technical track record. Curious advocates have continued to ask the pertinent “How can a company claim to have developed a field that was already producing before its incorporation?

Prior to the events leading to the revocation of the OML 46, when ten oil blocs whose licenses were revoked for inexplicable reasons, but were later reversed through a presidential order including OML 46.

Interestingly, despite the presidential directive, a new twist to the effect of withholding the license of OML 46 was patently hatched.

On March 8, 2021, an application to re-award OML 46 to HALKIN E & P Nigeria Limited was sent to the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva and the same day, he gave express approval, in breach of the earlier presidential directive.

Just like adding salt to an injury, Chief Timipre Sylva who unmasked himself as the big masquerade behind the conspiracy against the land of his birth, Bayelsa while granting an interview to Yenagoa-based radio station in October 2022 during his visit to empathize with the ravaging flood victims in his state.

Speaking on the controversially revoked licence of the state-owned OML 46 – Atala Marginal Oilfield, which the people of Bayelsa State are sentimentally attached to as their prized asset; it was most shocking to hear their only Ministerial representative in the Federal Cabinet speaking to justify the revocation in unflattering terms and to some extent a mocking tone, that the general outcry and efforts by the Diri administration to reverse the revocation according to Sylva were akin to crying over spilt milk.

Bayelsans felt disappointed and heart-rendering to hear Sylva, their son and former governor of the state driving the nail into the coffin with the authority of finality to the Atala Oilfield debacle.

According to one Samuel Ebiowo; “The unkindest cut was that this state of hopelessness and outright heist was perpetrated with the obvious grand conspiracy under the supervision of a Bayelsa son.”

According to Sylva in that radio interview, the Atala Oilfield licence was revoked 17 years after it was not productive; an oil bloc allocated to the Bayelsa state government in 2003 by former president Olusegun Obasanjo, to assuage the people as an oil-producing state, following years of agitation for development.

It was also essentially to boost the state’s internally generated revenue, IGR, profile and create employment opportunities and address its infrastructure concerns.

It is a sad commentary that it is a son of the state that is pushing hard to deprive his people of this prized asset in the pursuit of his self-serving interest as evident in his open interview.

If Sylva says the Atala oil bloc was revoked because it was unproductive, the questions which are begging for honest answers from Chief Timpre Sylva are:

1. Did Bayelsa Oil Company Limited (BOCL) alongside its partners, Century Exploration and Production Limited and Hardy Oil Nigeria Limited, not pay royalties to the Federal Government, the NUPRC (former Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR)?

2. Did the NUPRC (DPR) receive the sum of $110, 269.45 dollars as oil royalty for Atala OML 46 for crude oil sale of 64, 283 barrels from Century Exploration on behalf of Bayelsa Oil Company Limited (BOCL) on November 27, 2018?

3. Did the NUPRC (DPR) not issue a receipt for the sum of $15, 695.54 dollars as a royalty for OML 46 for the crude oil sale of 17, 699 barrels to Century Exploration on behalf of BOCL on the same date?

4. Between March and June 2018, did the Atala Marginal Oilfield produce 87, 411 barrels of oil as stated in the DPR production data?

5. If OML 46 was not productive as Chief Timipre Sylva claimed as one of his flimsy excuses, what was the oil royalty amounting to $125, 000 for?

6. Can a company pay royalties for an unproductive oilfield?

7. Should the Federal government not then refund Bayelsa state such monies collected for an oilfield it claimed was not productive?

8. Did the Bayelsa oil company limited and its joint venture partners not pay DPR the sum of $12, 000 dollars being outstanding National Data Repository Annual Fee for six years (2014-2019) on January 15, 2020?

9. Did DPR not receive the sum of $31, 827.88 as outstanding crude oil royalty and gas flared payment of $2, 752.31 from the same Bayelsa Oil Company Limited (BOCL) and its partners on the same date?

10. If nothing was fishy, why revoke the OML 46 license, just a few months after collecting all these monies as royalties?

11. It is pertinent to also ask why Sylva could not make the Atala Oil productive while he served as governor of the state for five years.

Is it not an indictment on him? After all, he appointed Managing Directors for BOCL twice without any result. Why then blame your successors while you did nothing to make the state-owned oilfield productive?

12. Why did Sylva, curiously advise the Bayelsa State government during his radio interview to jettison the Atala Oilfield and focus on yet-to-be-tapped OPL (now PPL) 240 which he claimed to be bigger and more lucrative?

Bayelsans and Nigerians in general are awaiting better answers from the Bayelsa Ministerial representative working against his own people.

As a matter of fact, the general opinion is that Chief Timipre Sylva did it out of malice, by taking his pound of flesh from the people of Bayelsa state over an incident which occurred years ago when he was publicly stoned with sachet water and sticks while he was addressing a political gathering as governor of the state seeking re-election.

That public stoning which marked the height of rejection by his people culminated in the event leading to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP denying him the platform to seek re-election.

According to a Yenagoa-based commentator on public affairs, Mr Peretimi Martin;

“Sylva should not take Bayelsans for granted. His Ministerial appointment should be seen as an opportunity to redeem his battered image in the state. As governor of Bayelsa state, he introduced a security outfit, known as Famtamgbe, which literally means kill and throw away. That security outfit was used for suppression of perceived political enemies and even sent innocent people to their untimely graves. It was also used for unnecessary interference in civil and personal matters of debt demand and settlement. It was so bad that then the Inspector General of Police had to disband the outfit. It was all these factors that led to the public stoning of Sylva. We thought he had learnt his lesson. Today he is at the centre of the Atala oilfield scandal.”

Happily, a sigh of relief came to the people of Bayelsa state when the governor of the state, Senator Douye Diri led a high power delegation to the presidential Villa to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari to brief him over the criminal revocation of Atala Oilfield.

Without any hesitation, Mr President who is known for his zero tolerance for criminality and corruption and having to listen to the merit of the matter gave a marching order to return the OML 46 to the original owners which is the Bayelsa state government. Mr President was even surprised at the breach of his earlier directive. This was followed by a resolution by the Senate in plenary, following a report by the Senate Committee on Public Petitions, Ethics And Privileges over the revocation of OML 46 without due process and in breach of the standing presidential directive who happens to be the Minister of Petroleum Resources.

The angry Senate unequivocally condemned all the actions taken by the junior Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and the NUPRC leading to the revocation of the OML 46 license and directed them to comply with the presidential directive to return the oil bloc to the original owners.

Sadly, in spite of the combined effect of both the presidential order followed by the senate resolution, the order is yet to be complied with. This is indeed impunity taken too far. It is a simple administrative process for the NUPRC and Chief Sylva to do the needful.

In sane climes, all the people involved would not only be weeded out of government but would also be made to face trial for corruption and breach of public trust.

While commending Mr President and the Senate for their sense of honesty in frankly addressing the Atala issue, Mr President in particular needs to take an audit of the activities of his political appointees. It is not out of place to open an Ombudsman box to monitor public complaints like the Atala case at hand.

The people of Bayelsa state are earnestly looking forward to the fulfilment of the presidential order to return OML 46 Atala Oilfield to the government and people of Bayelsa state. The relative peace in the Niger Delta was hard won.

The provocative revocation of the ATALA oilfield is capable to trigger off avoidable restiveness and agitations in oil-producing communities in which injustice, impunity and official insensitivity are the root causes. A stitch in time saves nine

By Naija247news
By Naija247news
Naija247news is an investigative news platform that tracks news on Nigerian Economy, Business, Politics, Financial and Africa and Global Economy.

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