Upon the dawning of the age of commercial crude oil discovery and exploration in Nigeria and particularly Bayelsa State as the pace setter, the people of oil producing communities like Azamgbene, which hosts the lucrative Atala oil field and Bayelsa State as a whole, were licking their lips in anticipation of the benefits that a major oil asset would offer.
This in reality turned out to be a mere consolation for the varying levels of devastation crude oil exploration would later bring to such communities. Oil exploration is turning out to be a bitter pill to swallow because of the callous desire of certain individuals to use their positions and loopholes in the system to steal the commonwealth of the people for themselves.
It is believed that having a prominent individual firmly seated on the table of national decision making is a plus to any state, as the interest of the state, its communities and people are expected to be upheld to ensure that certain benefits do not elude them. It is regrettably sad that the reverse is the case, especially for the people of Azamgbene communities of Ekeremor Local Government Area and indeed for Bayelsa State as a whole regarding the case of the Atala Oil Field, a major oil asset belonging to Bayelsa State and the crooked diversion of the benefits of this asset to personal pockets, due to the greed and putting personal interests and gains above corporate ones by somebody who ought to be a representative of the people. For personal aggrandizement, the commonwealth of Bayelsa people was cornered into private pockets.
It is also a pity that Chief Timipre Sylva, a former Minister of State for Petroleum, while on air on a radio programme in Yenagoa, referred to the Atala Oil field as a “Spilled milk” as if to say it was there for the taking, clearly signified an attempt by Silva to justify the wicked action of denying the state of its prized asset and the role he has played in the whole saga.
History would record the perpetual struggle forresource control which was spear headed by the late former governor of Bayelsa State, DSP Alamieyeseigha, which allowed states gain more control of their valuable assets, especially oil and gas and the accruing benefits it offers. The struggle clearly gained some level of success as President Olusegun Obasanjo thought it wise to propitiate the state by handing over the license of the Atala Oil Field, OML46, to Bayelsa State, officially making it a state owned asset, albeit still paying returns and royalties to the federal government. The Oil field was to be managed by the Bayelsa Oil Company Limited (BOCL) alongside Century Exploration and Production Limited (CEPL) and Hardy Oil Nigeria Limited, with all three
retaining a shareholding structure of BOCL 51%, CEPL 20%, Hardy 29% respectively.
Clearly, men who are deeply engaged in the dark arts of public assets stealing and funds thievery do not rest and are always on the lookout for new targets.
Investigative details gathered from operatives of the then Directorate of Petroleum Resources revealed that Silva may not come out clean over the diversion of the Atala Oil field in collaboration with his then aide, one Dr Kelechi Ofoegbu, who presumably is an expert in such matters and the Technical Assistant to Sylva. He had reportedly written Silva to use his position in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources to approve the revocation of the license of operation of the oil field and a swift reallocation of same and also raising the percentage control to Halkin Exploration and Production, which was incorporated in September 2019 with registration number RC 1611389. The oil field was sold to Halkin Exploration and Production with no proof of payments and development.
This plan was set in motion in 2020, when Silva in his capacity as the Minister of State for Petroleum had announced the revocation of licences of about nine oil fields, the Atala Oil field inclusive, citing a lack of returns to the federal government as reason. A reason which to a large extent proves to be untrue according to available records of renumeration by the BOCL to the federal government.
Investigation revealed that there was criminal personal interest in the Atala oil field when the revocations were made and this fact was proved when the internal moves to reallocate a huge percentage of the BOCL’s 51% stake to Halkin E & P was revealed. Clearly, this move was only going to be possible if a high ranking official of the BOCL was on board with the plan, therefore it was no surprise that Mr Ebikabowei Charles Dorgu, who was the Managing Director of Bayelsa Oil Company was also listed as a director of Halkin E&P upon its registration in 2019.
Revelations by credible sources show that Silva’s plan was in full swing when he allegedly gave authorisation to a written letter authored by Dr Kelechi Ofoegbu via the the then Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR) enroute the office of the Minister of State for Petroleum seeking official stamping for the sales of 41% of BOCL shares to a private company Halkin E&P citing a resolution from the company’s board as reason. Same board that had Charles Dorgu as MD, same Halkin E&P that has Charles Dorgu listed as a director.
This clearly raised eye brows with huge suspicions of foul play and rightly so.
Looking at the initial reason of lack of returns to the federal government as a catalyst for the revocation of license for about nine oil fields including the Atala Oil field announced by Silva in 2020, proper check on records to verify the claim shows it to be invalid to a large extent.
At the time, the reason for such revocations of license was quite unbelievable for many, especially those with good information and access to records and transactions on the matter. infact a check on records reveals that the Atala Oil field has been producing and remitting funds to the federal government. Records show that on Nov. 27, 2018, Century Exploration, on prompting of the BOCL, paid the sum of $110,269.45 to the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) as remittance for the sales of 64, 283 barrels of crude oil. DPR issued a payment receipt for the sum of $15,695.54 to Century Exploration on behalf of BOCL on the same date, as oil royalty for Atala OML 46 for the sales of 17, 699 barrels of crude oil.
Further records also reveal that between March and June 2018, the Atala Oil Field produced 87,411 barrels of crude oil as stated in the production data of DPR and $125,000 was paid to the DPR as remittance. furthermore, on January 15, 2020, the BOCL and its joint venture partners paid the sum of $12,000 being outstanding National Data Repository Annual Fee for six years.(2014-2019). Also in the same January 2020, DPR received the sum of $31,827.88 as payment for the outstanding crude oil royalty and gas flared, $2,752.31 from BOCL and its partners.
The records debunk the original reason for revocation of licenses and exposes it as only the first steps by Silva to perpetrate a hostile take over of state assets for personal gain. This is further cemented by the fact that of all the nine oil fields affected, only the Atala Oil field has since been handed over to a new company.
As expected, upon resumption of office the current Governor of Bayelsa State, Douye Diri, in his usual patriotic nature waded into the matter with a view to stopping this heist on the commonwealth of the state and putting a halt to the use of political power to siphon state’s assets into personal pockets and control. The matter was brought to the knowledge of the then President of the country, Muhammadu Buhari, who gave an order to stop any sales pertaining to the oil field. Governor Diri’s intervention has taken the matter to the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly where subsequent fraudulent dealings are being revealed as time goes on.
It is known that evil always finds a way to fight back and in this case, there have been attempts by high placed individuals to negatively influence the outcome of the hearings and deliberations on the issue by the National Assembly, but there is optimism that by the help of God, the prayers of Baylesans and the sacrifices for those that sadly lost their lives in the past due to the struggle to assume rightful control of state assets, justice will prevail at the end and the perpetrators of corruption, greed and selfishness will be revealed. This Atala Oil field saga is well publicized and the people of Bayelsa are already marking those individuals who due to their greed and wickedness are seeking to rob the state and its people of their
commonwealth. In this case, we will hold even the present governor and the Minister of State Petroleum as accomplices, if they don’t act appropriately to reverse this criminality perpetuated by a man who has decided to sell our common patrimony.
Reading between the lines it obvious that his mission is to Creek Haven is consolidate his already stolen asset and wreck havoc if not why the desperation for a man who once stated categorically that the chapter of contesting the governorship elections is closed.
- By Allison Abunah, a Political Analyst from Yenagoa