JV partners task Senate on justice over revocation of Atala Oil Field
As the struggle for the ownership of Atala Oil Field (OML46) shifts to the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petition, one of the respondents, Halkin Exploration and Production Limited, has sued the National Assembly at the Federal High Court, Abuja, challenging the powers of the committee to sit on the matter.
But the Atala Joint Venture Partners (JVPs) have interpreted the move as a ploy by the firm to avoid appearing before the Committee to answer questions relating to its claim to have invested $60,000,000 in the Atala Marginal Field and the acquisition of 41 per cent of Bayelsa Oil Company Limited’s (BOCL) participating interest in Atala Field.
They noted that the award of the Atala Oil Field to Halkin by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) was based on these claims, which they described as unfounded, and therefore urged members of the committee to conduct a thorough investigation into the matter and ensure that justice is done.
Hardy Oil Nigeria Limited (HONL), one of the JVPs with BOCL, and Century Exploration and Production Limited, had in letter dated September 24, 2021, petitioned the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petition complaining against the alleged fraud, criminal breach of trust, forgery, corruption and the improper manner in which the DPR revoked and rewarded the Atala Field (OML 46) to Halkin Exploration and Production Limited.
HONL had stated that the JVPs of the Atala field had invested over U.S. $89,000,000 in developing the oil field between 2004 and 2018 and that the field was producing and paying Royalties to the Federal Government prior to its revocation.
It also alleged that there was an effort by people with connections in high places to reap from the efforts of the Atala JVPs.
The Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, chaired by Senator Ayo Akinyelure, had in a letter dated October 15, 2021, invited the parties comprising, Hardy Oil Nigeria Limited, Bayelsa Oil Company Limited, Century Exploration and Production Limited, DPR and Halkin Exploration and Production Limited to a Public Hearing of the Committee on October 21, 2021.
It was gathered that the proposed hearing scheduled for October 21, 2021, was rescheduled to November 4, 2021, on the request of Halkin, which had via a letter dated October 12, 2021, signed by its Managing Director (MD), Mr. Ebikabowei Dorgu, who was until recently the MD of Bayelsa Oil Company Limited, asked for two weeks extension to enable his company put together their documentation to give a proper presentation.
However, according to the report of the committee’s sitting made available to The Guardian, all the parties invited for the hearing were present on the rescheduled date except Halkin, which wrote a letter through its solicitors, stating that it had on November 2, 2021, filed an action at the Federal High Court to challenge the sitting of the committee.
In the report, the committee frowned on the tactics adopted by Halkin, interpreting it as an attempt to impede the performance of the oversight functions of the legislature.
The committee, therefore, resolved to continue with the hearing, taking cognisant of the fact that HONL’s petition was pending at the National Assembly prior to the action filed by Halkin and that Halkin’s action was an attempt to use the judicial arm of government to stultify the performance of the constitutional responsibilities of the legislature, which is an equal and independent arm of government.
In its presentation to the committee, HONL stated that the Corporate Affairs Commission’s (CAC) records of Halkin Exploration and Production Limited showed that the company was only incorporated on September 29, 2019. Meanwhile, the field development and production of the Atala Marginal Field were achieved between 2004 and 2018 long before Halkin was incorporated.
HONL, therefore, called for a thorough investigation of Halkin’s investment claims in the Atala Oil Field.
It further challenged Halkin to show proof of the alleged Farm-in Agreement with BOCL and by extension the Atala JV Partners, and evidence of its alleged investment of $60,000,000 in the Atala Field through the production of its bank statement of accounts showing evidence of the alleged funds transfer from its bank account and the funds destination account.
It also called for the company’s audited accounts and tax records as a way of enabling the Senate Committee determine the truth or otherwise of Halkin’s claim.
HONL also questioned Halkin’s track record of performance in the oil and gas sector, part of which the DPR used to justify the award of the field to the firm.
The public hearing on the matter has been adjourned to the first week of December 2021 for continuation.