Oil giant, Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited (ExxonMobil) found itself in a debt mess of N684 billion after the involvement of Human Rights lawyer, Femi Falana in the investigation of its financial transactions. The company has however left a trail of doubt in a bid to clear its name.
What Femi Falana did: He petitioned the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPIP) to investigate an alleged payment of $600 million (N216 billion) out of $2.5 billion (N900 billion) the company was expected to pay for the renewal of three oil blocks in 2009.
Femi Falana is not new at aiming ExxonMobil’s jugular, as the lawyer had weighed in on a case between the company and its 860 staff who were sacked. Falana wrote to the then Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige, in 2018, requesting that the government compel Mobil to obey the Supreme Court ruling that ordered reinstatement of the staff and the payment of their outstanding entitlements.
Falana confirmed his involvement in the investigation, attesting to drafting a petition requesting for an investigation into the financial transaction of the oil blocks.
About the blocks: The company was expected to pay for the renewal of three oil blocks – Oil Mining Leases 67, 68 and 70.
Plot twist: ExxonMobil, however, refused to pay the fee since 2009. A letter had been addressed to Mobil’s Managing Director at Mobil House, Victoria Island, Lagos, by the SPIP, issuing a three weeks ultimatum for payment of the outstanding balance of $1.9 billion to the Federation Account. The demand was however ignored.
The letter read, “In 2009, Mobil Producing, instead of liquidating the $2.5bn, elected to pay only $600m into the Federation Account.
By this letter, you are required within three weeks of the receipt of this letter to show cause why Mobil Producing should not be subjected to a criminal investigation by your failure to pay the outstanding balance of $1.9bn into the Federation Account, thereby contributing to the economic adversity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
SPIP’s next action after Mobil’s snub: According to report, the company’s refusal led to the Panel, headed by Mr. Okoi Obono-Obla, to report the oil company to the United States Government.
The Panel said, “The petition against Mobil was filed before the Panel by one of Nigeria’s illustrious lawyers, Femi Falana, SAN.
USA has a law known as Foreign Corrupt Practices Act 1977 which prohibits American companies doing business abroad from indulging in corrupt practices. The panel shall lodge a complaint against Mobil to the US Government.
USA will open a criminal investigation against Mobil for economic sabotage against the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
Mobil’s defense raises doubt: Falana’s petition was based on the amount paid by Mobil, but while insisting the company had renewed the blocks in 2009, Mobil didn’t disclose the amount that was paid for the renewal in a letter addressed to SPIP Chairman and signed by the company’s Executive Director and General Counsel, Sadiq Adamu. The statement was dated July 5, 2018.
It read, “We refer to your letter dated June 13, 2018, with reference number SPIP/MPN/2018.VOL.1/1, seeking the payment of $1.9bn owed the Federal Government by Mobil Producing Nigeria due to the renewal of its Oil Mining Leases in 2009. Your letter, unfortunately, did not provide a basis for the alleged claim.
The Oil Mining Leases 67, 68 and 70 renewed in 2009 referenced in your letter were renewed in full compliance with the provision of the leases, the Petroleum Act, other applicable laws and the renewal terms agreed between the Federal Government of Nigeria and MPN.”
Note: Mobil informed the Panel to fact-check with the Department of Petroleum Resources, the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, the Ministry of Finance and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to confirm its payment for renewal.