Top Magnates, Emeka Offor, Orjiako, Atiku’s In-law, Abdullahi Haske, Battle For Addax’s Oil Blocks

-Abdullahi Haske

Following its decision to leave Nigeria, Addax Petroleum, part of China’s state-owned Sinopec group has created a stiff competition as Nigeria’s local oil magnates are waging a ferocious battle, part of it before the Nigerian Federal High Court, to gain control of its production blocks.

Lagos business circles are being kept in suspense by the battle for control of the 25,000 bpd Nigerian production blocks held by Addax Petroleum, part of China’s state-owned Sinopec group. A page will turn when Addax leaves the Nigerian oil sector, even though, along with its counterpart in Cameroon, the Nigerian subsidiary is Sinopec’s biggest on the African continent. According to our sources, the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NURPC) has given Addax until the beginning of March to reach agreement with state-owned NNPC on the transfer of its assets. In the meantime, Nigeria’s private sector billionaires, who are always on the look-out for a good business opportunity, are battling for control of the company’s blocks, which still have considerable potential.

NURPC director general Gbenga Komolafe said on several occasions in 2021 that Addax’s interests in OML 123, 124, 126 and 137 would be taken from it because of its slowness in developing a certain number of discoveries, indicating that the assets would be transferred to the NNPC. In March 2021, when it was still known as the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), the regulatory authority officially sold Addax’s stakes to the Nigerian companies Kaztec and Salvic. Kaztec is headed by billionaire Emeka Offor and owns a yard in partnership with Addax on Snake Island in the state of Lagos. Salvic is owned by businessman Ambrosie Bryant Chukwueloka “ABC” Orjiako, who founded local oil company Seplat (AI, 20/04/21). The DPR’s head at the time, Sarki Auwalu, was publicly disavowed, however, by the Nigerian president’s office, Muhammadu Buhari taking the view that it was for the NNPC, which already has interests in the blocks, to take charge of Addax’s assets. Since 2015, Buhari has, in effect, been Nigeria’s oil resources minister.

Following the failed takeover of the permits by the DPR in March 2021, Addax sent a letter of protest to the body, dated 6 April, from its Nigeria manager Yonghong Chen. He threatened explicitly to take the affair to court and to involve the embassy in Abuja and the authorities in Beijing. Since then, Addax has not been heard of. There has been no official statement, as if the loss of its blocks, representing an output of 25,000 bpd, was no longer an issue. Addax has in any case for several years been in the process of leaving Nigeria. The Nigerian authorities accused it of failing to develop a number of fields despite their having been declared as having commercial potential. The Chinese company is also embroiled in a major fiscal dispute over these oil blocks. Nigeria even took action before the Federal High Court in Abuja in 2018, claiming $1.3bn in royalties from the firm and $1.7bn in unpaid profit taxes. Even if the NNPC takes over Addax’s assets, it will have to compensate it for equipment left on site.

Despite having been disavowed, the DPR decided to find new buyers for the assets. In June 2021, Auwalu chose not two companies but three. Kaztec and Salvic were to get a 49% share and Mars E&P the remaining 51%. Kaztec and Salvic were furious and told Auwalu, who was then close to the end of his time in office, that they wanted to return to the previous arangement, under which they would have full ownership of Addax’s assets. Auwalu refused. Kaztec decided at the end of 2021, therefore, to take legal action before the Federal High Court of Nigeria against the Ministry of Oil Resources and Mars E&P to reestablish its right to full ownership of OML 123, 124, 126 and 137. According to court documents, neither the NNPC nor Salvic are involved in the action.

Kaztec’s lawyers succeeded in having any change in ownership of the assets frozen for the duration of the court case. At the end of 2021, however, there was a major surprise. The NURPC took over from the DPR following adoption of the Petroleum Industry Act in August 2021 and its head, Gbenga Komolafe announced that, as the licence holder on Addax’s blocks, the NNPC was the only party which could decide whether to take over from Addax as operator or find new partners to do so.

Komolafe knows NNPC boss Mele Kyari well. Kyari was one of his assistants in the early 2010s in the NNPC’s crude marketing unit. The role of the unit, which was particularly prominent because of the revenues it generated and the advantages this brought, was to sell all the crude oil produced by the state-owned group, amounting to hundreds of thousands of barrels daily.

Kaztec and its boss, Emeka Offor, now have two possible strategies. They can involve the NNPC in the legal action it is taking to force it to meet its demands or try to negotiate with it a return to the original arrangement, excluding Mars E&P and giving Kaztec and Salvic full ownership of Addax’s assets.

Yet, Mars E&P made Addax Petroleum an unsuccessful offer for its assets in 2019. It even succeeded in obtaining a credit line from Afreximbank to buy them.

However, Mars E&P was founded by Abdullah Bashire Haske, a man in his thirties from the northern state of Adamawa who recently made a spectacular debut in the oil sector when the company drilled a number of promising wells in Gombe Basin in north east Nigeria. Haske was close to the NNPC’s group managing director, Maikanti Baru, who died in 2020 shortly after he retired. Haske married one of the daughters of former Nigerian vice president Atiku Abubakar, who also comes from Adamawa. Abubakar plans to run in the primaries being organised by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to choose its candidate in the presidential elections due in February 2023. He also obtained exploration rights on a marginal field as part of a call to tender organised in 2019 by petroleum resources minister Timipre Sylva.

Haske runs a number of other companies, including agricultural concern AA&R Investment Group. It has been producing rice in Adamawa since 2016, after it acquired 5,000 hectares of land there, and has since expanded into states of Taraba and Kwara. In 2018, Haske even signed an agricultural partnership agreement with the New Nigeria Development Company Limited, which represents 19 states in northern Nigeria. All these states are shareholders in the company, which has its headquarters in Kaduna and is headed by Malam Tanimu Yakubu Kurfi, who was an economic adviser to former Nigerian president Umaru Yar’Adua.

Additional report from The Capital.

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