Seplat/ExxonMobil deal: Buhari orders investigation into alleged $100m bribe

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…As President backs deal’s rejection by regulator

By Uthman Salami

President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered immediate investigation into an allegation of $100 million bribe shared among top officials, which was reportedly done to scurry favour from the Federal Government’s in order to approve Seplat Energy Plc’s acquisition of shares and Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited (MONU).

Recall that the earlier botched approval in the share acquisition deal between Seplat Energy Plc and Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited (MPNU) was reportedly uncovered by the presidency, this is in accordance with the Persecondnews.

The largesse was reportedly shared amongs echelon officials of the Presidency directed at shortchanging the due process which almost led to the purported approval announced by President Muhammadu Buhari.

According to a report by Persecondnews the President, having felt embarrassed by the development ordered for the Department of State Service (DSS) to investigate the matter.

Meanwhile, having understood he had been hoodwinked, Buhari has ordered reversal of his earlier authorisation of Seplat Energy’s takeover of ExxonMobil’s shallow water business in Nigeria, throwing his weight instead behind the regulator’s decline of the $1.3 billion transaction.

The President decided the position of the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) is to be supported, and the earlier confusion was because “Various agencies involved in (the) decision had not coordinated well among themselves.”

According to the Premium Times, “It has become clear that the various agencies involved in the decision had not coordinated well among themselves and having looked at all of the facts with all of the ramifications, the president decided the position of the regulator is to be supported,” Spokesperson Garba Shehu said.

Earlier, the Presidential Spokesperson, Femi Adesina had said Buhari had approved the sale to Seplat.

He claimed the President’s approval was in his capacity as Minister of Petroleum Resources and the approval was in consonance with the country’s drive for Foreign Direct Investment in the energy sector and considering the “Extensive benefits of the transaction to the Nigerian Energy sector and the larger economy.”

In a swift reaction, the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) said the proposed takeover of Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited by Seplat Energy was a regulatory matter and it had notified ExxonMobil the transaction could not go through.

“As it were, the issue at stake is purely a regulatory matter and the Commission had earlier communicated the decline of Ministerial assent to ExxonMobil in this regard. As such the Commission further affirms that the status quo remains,” the CEO of the Commission, Gbenga Komolafe said.

“The Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) affirms that status quo remains in respect of ExxonMobil/Seplat Energy share acquisition.

“Responding to media enquiries on latest development about the transaction, the Chief Executive of the NUPRC Engr. Gbenga Komolafe clarified that the Commission in line with the provisions of the Petroleum Industry Act 2021 is the sole regulator in dealing with such matters in the Nigerian upstream sector.

Recall that the right over the assets had been secured by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Ltd while it has also in July won a court decision temporarily blocking Exxon Mobil Corporation from selling assets in Nigeria to Seplat Energy Plc.

Also, a federal high court judge in Abuja had granted NNPC an “Order of interim injunction” on July 6, 2022, barring ExxonMobil “from completing any divestment” in a unit that ultimately operates four licenses in Nigeria.

NNPC had prayed the State High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, to declare that a conflict happened between the state-owned oil company and MPNU over the “interpretation of preemption rights under their Joint Operating Agreement (JOA) and order NNPC and MPNU to arbitration as required by the JOA.”

Seplat Energy claimed neither itself nor Seplat Energy Offshore Limited was a party in the lawsuit, insisting the share purchase agreement remained valid.

The asset purchase would enable Seplat Energy to scale up production by 95,000 barrels of oil a 7day from assets in a joint venture ExxonMobil runs with NNPC.

After the President declined Seplat’s bid in favour of NNPC last week, it was shocking when the now botched approval was announced by the President, a move many stakeholders in the industry said it was counterproductive to the NNPC limited new status in the industry.