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Timipre Sylva Versus Atala Oilfield– The Verdict Of History, By Pere Sam

Timipre Sylva Versus Atala Oilfield– The Verdict Of History By Pere Sam
January 25, 2023


The story about OML46, otherwise called ATALA Marginal Oilfield has been in the trend, like an agitating voice in the wilderness crying for justice; as the people of Bayelsa State are constrained to cry out loud and clear the pains of injustice being perpetrated against them. 


Just like the reggae maestro, Peter Torch sang in one of his lyrics, “Equal Right and Justice, noting that, everyone is talking about peace, but no one is talking about justice as a precursor to peace, which cannot come without justice.


In the case of oil-producing communities in the Niger Delta, the common expectation is for peace to reign in the area to exploit the natural endowment; but no one cares if they have been treated justly.


For Bayelsa State, where crude oil was first discovered in commercial quantity is often likened to the proverbial beautiful woman used and abandoned by her male admirers. This crude oil was excitingly described by the first Prime Minister of Nigeria, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa as the Black Gold has brought more pains of marginalisation and grotesque neglect than real benefits to oil-producing communities. This is the root cause of the waves of violent agitations. Anyone who fails to learn from history is certainly preparing to fail in the art of statecraft.


It is a fact of history that the core reason that inspired the first armed insurrection against the Federal Government was the marginalization and neglect of oil-producing people of the Niger Delta.


One had thought the Federal Government had learnt some lessons from the Isaac Boro revolution, it is however evident that it has not learnt any lessons from that episode and that is why more agitations by more Militant Youths of the Creek have continued to thrive which often paralyse economic activities until late President Musa Yar'Adua tried to nip it in the bud by initiating the Amnesty programme; a programme designed to address some of the critical issues of agitation in the Niger Delta.


The OML46-Atala Oilfield was among the Marginal Oilfields put out for bid by former President Olusegun Obasanjo along with OML56 and OML14 respectively.


The policy intention of former President Olusegun Obasanjo was that government should begin to wear human face in addressing the genuine demands of oil-producing communities in the interest of fairness, peace and justice in the overall peaceful co-existence in the country.


Apart from creating the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, the allocation of oil Bloc like that of OML46-Atala Oil was another direct measure to allow oil-producing states to be active players in the oil and gas sector to assuage their years of agitations and shore-up revenue profile of oil-producing states so that they would not always go cap in hand to the centre in tackling their development challenges.


It was against this background, the former governor of Bayelsa State, Chief D.S.P Alamieyeseigha administration deemed it necessary to incorporate the Bayelsa Oil Company Limited to bid for OML46 and got it. 


Sadly, the great expectations of Bayelsans were dashed when NUPRC (Former DPR) announced on April 6, 2020, the revocation of the OML46-Atala marginal oil field, on the ground that Bayelsa Oil Company Limited, BOCL, JV had failed to turn the assets around for the nation to derive maximum value from the resources by accusing Atala Oil of non-production.


As flimsy as the excuse is and like calling a dog a bad name in order to hang it, the rumour about the conspiracy to rob the Bayelsa State government of their prized oil asset was an open secret and well-known by players in the oil industry. According to an industry source, this decision seemed to have been taken without consideration of the fact that, the OML46-Atala oilfield had been developed, crude oil produced and sold from the same field at different stages of test crude production. Royalties on crude oil sold from the field had been paid to the Federal Government several times and even up-to-date before the revocation, a fact which can be verified at the central bank with receipts to that effect.


Interestingly, President Muhammadu Buhari had earlier instructed and approved that marginal fields including OML46 be re-awarded on a discretionary basis to qualified and competent companies with consideration given to previous operators of the respective fields, subject to the demonstration of technical and financial capacity and payment of applicable good and valuable consideration (GVC). Painfully, out of the ten fields Mr. President directed to reverse their revocation, only Atala oilfield belonging to the Bayelsa State Government was not complied with.


The mind-boggling questions are:

Why would Timipre Sylva, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources preside over the handover of a prized state asset OML46-Atala oilfield to Halkin E & P Nigeria Limited in 2020, a Company which was hurriedly packaged and incorporated only in 2019 without any financial and technical capacity? Many people are baffled and wondered what was going on, that the letter of the revocation of Atala oil from DPR was written by Timipre Sylva’s former Technical Assistant on Legal Matters, Dr. Kelechi Afoegbu, who allegedly acted at the instance of the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources one does not need a spiritual surgeon to decipher the complicity of Timipre Sylva.


Curiously, the same day the Minister received the letter proposing to revoke the Atala oilfield license and a clear mission to re-award it to HALKIN E&P, the same day it was approved with the speed of light. Another nagging question is, why did Sylva not make Atala viable or productive while he served as governor of the state?


After all the current governor of the state, Senator Douye Diri had demonstrated the political will to turn around the Atala oilfield through the BOCL by committing huge resources to it with a 51 per cent equity share. This singular act by the governor is enough for Timipre Sylva to join hands with his state governor to protect the state asset which is more or less under his custody, which is capable of generating over 2,000 employments and taking off the streets of Bayelsa army of unemployed youths and Niger Delta in general. 


According to sources in the oil industry, it was based on Diri’s commitment to make Atala oilfield work which resulted in what the source described as “Mr. President finally approving and directing the immediate reinstatement of the revoked licenses on a discretionary basis to qualified companies with consideration given to the previous operators of the respective fields”.


While the government and people of Bayelsa were basking in the joy to take back its asset, they were taken aback at the approval by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva revoking the license of Atala oilfield and re-awarded it to HALKIN E & P instead of Bayelsa Oil Company Limited.


The then DPR, now NUPRC and promoters of HALKIN claim to have in “2019”, through one of its subsidiary companies, received the approval of the board of BOCL, former operators of Atala oilfield to farm-in 41 execution of farm-in agreement and field management service agreement with BOCL. The claims to have invested over sixty million US Dollars to revive the asset in the process.


A quick check and investigation on the company, HALKIN shows that Halkin Exploration and Production Nigeria Limited was incorporated only in 2019, shortly before the revocation of the Atala oilfield in 2020 and has no evidence to prove that the company has been engaging in oil and gas services and production and it is not in a position to bring the field to production including the drilling of more wells. This is like one of the wonders of the world.


The big question is, who are the cabals hiding behind a company incorporated barely over a year old? Somehow, who are the men at the corridors of power promoting a company to appropriate a state asset for their personal aggrandisement, which is outrightly against the interest of Bayelsa state that is contributing well over 35 per cent of revenue to the coffers of the Federal government through crude oil production?


The truth starring at our faces is that there is a conspiracy and there is a deal to rob the government and people of Bayelsa State over their prized assets. Despite the combined instruction by President Muhammadu Buhari and the senate resolution to return Atala oilfield to the Bayelsa State Government, it is yet to be complied with, because of alleged undercurrent forces trying all means to frustrate the process while Sylva watches on like the Pontius Pilate.


The President further assured Governor Douye Diri when he led a high-powered delegation of prominent Bayelsans to confer with Mr. President on the Atala oilfield, still, the presidential order is yet to see the light of day. Worst of all, like pouring salt to an injury, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva who is a son of the soil and the sole representative of the state in the Federal Executive Council had described the hues and cries over the revocation of the Atala oilfield as spilt milk. This is impunity and the height of insensitivity taken too far unbefitting of a public office holder. He stated this during an interview with a Yenagoa-based Radio Station. Painfully the people are left with no option but to take their destiny into their own hands by pointing direct accusing fingers at Timipre Sylva as the architect of the current conspiracy against the land of his birth.


Already, there is brewing unrest in oil-producing communities with a threat to shut down oil installations, which amounts to taking the country back to the dark days of militancy in the Niger Delta. This is indeed an avoidable problem. 


The truth, however, must be told that Timipre Sylva has a moral burden to extricate himself of being culpable in what has fast become a scandal which he will contend with, in the rest of his sojourn on earth.


Bayelsa State has been very generous to chief Timipre Sylva, on whose goodwill he rode to national limelight, first as governor and currently savouring the state chance at the Federal Executive Council. What else does Sylva want? The weight of premonition within the African context by degenerating to allowing a whole community to cook for him because of the pursuit of the vain glory of wealth is not only an unfortunate narrative but also too pathetic to state the least.

The choice before Timipre Sylva is either he choices a good name or he choices the vain glory of Silver and gold. The hash verdict of history is certainly beckoning. As the administration of Muhammadu Buhari winds down, the people of Bayelsa State are looking forward to the return of the Atala oilfield as SYLVA’S gift to the people of Bayelsa state. In whatever we do we must at all times keep at the back of our mind the God almighty who superintendents over the affairs of mankind are watching us from a distance.


Sam Pere is a journalist and Advocate for good governance, writing from Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.