Mobil-Seplat Deal: Buhari Backs NUPRC on Decline of Ministerial Consent

About 48 hours after granting ministerial consent regarding the N1.283 billion sales and purchase deal between ExxonMobil and Seplat Energy, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday rescinded the decision.

The president, who is the de facto Minister of Petroleum Resources, blamed the lack of coordination among the concerned agencies for the confusion, explaining that he had weighed the likely ramifications of the earlier decision.

On Monday Buhari overridden the long-drawn attempt by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) to block the deal, citing the need to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to the oil and gas sector.

No sooner had the process of acquiring the assets been announced than the state-owned oil firm moved to halt it from proceeding, claiming that it had a pre-emption right.

The Nigerian authorities thereafter put a halt to the proposed sale citing overriding national interest as one of the reasons for rejecting the deal, with the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), intimating ExxonMobil of the decision.

But in a surprising twist, months later, Buhari said he had consented to the deal, stressing that it would come with massive benefits for the country and the industry, in particular, highlighting the need to quickly ramp up production.

If it succeeded, the transaction would have seen the acquisition of the entire offshore shallow water business of ExxonMobil in Nigeria and was expected to deliver 186 percent increase in production from 51,000 bpd to 146,000 bpd or 170 percent increase in 2P liquids reserves, from 241 MMbbl to 650 MMbbl.

In addition, it was expected to deliver a 14 percent increase in 2P gas reserves from 1,501 Bscf to 1,712 Bscf, plus a significant undeveloped gas potential of 2,910 Bscf (JV: 7,275 Bscf)

Among others, it would also increase by 89 percent, the total 2P reserves from 499 MMboe to 945 MMboe, including offshore fields with dedicated, MPNU-operated export routes offering enhanced security and reliability.

The president had okayed the acquisition in a public statement on Monday by his Media Adviser, Femi Adesina, who stressed that Buhari was: “Considering the extensive benefits of the transaction to the Nigerian energy sector and the larger economy.”

But a few hours after Buhari granted his consent, the NUPRC Chief Executive, Mr Gbenga Komolafe, rejected the decision, explaining that the position of the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) was clear on the matter. He insisted that its consent to the deal remained declined.

Quoting relevant sections of the law which empower it to hold such a view, Komolafe stated that the status quo (its withdrawal of consent) was still subsisting, maintaining that it was purely a regulatory matter.

“So, the position of the commission as the authority involved in the regulation of the upstream which had earlier been communicated to Mobil stands. As far as the commission is concerned, nothing has changed. The status quo remains as far as we are concerned,” he maintained.

In throwing his weight behind the regulator’s decline of the $1.283 billion transaction yesterday through a spokesman, Garba Shehu, who was quoted by Premium Times, an online news outlet, Buhari said he decided that the best line of action was to stick with the regulatory commission.

“It has become clear that the various agencies involved in 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,” Shehu said.

Shehu further confirmed that indeed, the President had decided to stick to the law. “They called to confirm and I confirmed it.”

But the president’s earlier July 8 statement was said to have gone against a decision taken three days earlier in favor of the NNPCL, as the NUPRC and the national oil company fought to make the president change his mind on the matter.

It also came after an Abuja court granted NNPCL an order of interim injunction on July 6, 2022, temporarily barring ExxonMobil from completing the transaction.

Meanwhile, Seplat has pushed back on allegations that it had some underhand dealings in the process of trying to secure the consent of the president in the run-up to the Monday 8 announcement.

The indigenous oil firm, in a statement signed by its Chief Financial Officer, Emeka Onwuka, threatened to take legal action against all the parties that have propagated such false information relating to its business activities.

“Seplat Energy has become aware of news and social media reports alleging impropriety in the process of securing ministerial consent to the acquisition of Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited by Seplat Energy Offshore Limited.

“Such reports are wholly untrue and the company will pursue legal action against any parties involved in disseminating false information related to its business.

“This announcement is made pursuant to Rule 17.10 of the Rulebook of the Nigerian Exchange, 2015 (Issuer’s Rule),” it stated.

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