Seplat Energy Plc, a Nigerian and London-listed energy company, has expressed continued interest in acquiring oil and gas assets from Exxon Mobil Corporation.
The company’s Chief Executive Officer, Roger Brown, recently made a statement affirming their commitment to completing the deal that has faced delays for over a year.
The Lagos and London-listed Company is hoping that President Bola Tinubu, the new leader of Africa’s largest crude producer, would adopt a different approach from his predecessor, who reversed an initial decision to approve the transaction.
“We’re still interested in the assets,” Seplat Chief Executive Officer, Roger Brown, said in an interview at the firm’s UK office.
“We still like the company we’re buying. We think it’s a game changing operation,” he added.
Under the deal unveiled in February 2022, Seplat agreed to pay $1.3 billion for an Exxon unit that holds a 40 per cent operating stake in four shallow-water licenses in a purchase that would almost quadruple the independent company’s oil output to more than 130,000 barrels per day.
If the transaction goes ahead, it would be one of the biggest divestments in Nigerian history since energy majors like Shell Plc started offloading unwanted assets in the late 2000s, the Bloomberg report added.
Former President Muhammadu Buhari, who doubled as Nigeria’s oil minister, had endorsed the sale in August, before swiftly rowing back after the country’s energy regulator rejected his approval.
Days before Buhari stepped down last month, Seplat announced it had extended the agreement with Exxon to allow more time to finalise the transaction.
State-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC) Limited which owns 60 per cent of the permits had opposed the sale and had sued Exxon in the capital, Abuja, claiming it has the right to acquire the blocks itself from the U.S. major.
The Seplat boss disagrees with the NNPC Limited because his firm was purchasing a subsidiary rather than licences.
“What we are buying are shares sold by U.S. companies, so that is a completely different animal because we’re buying a company,” he said. “Exxon’s read of the situation is the same,” he pointed out.
Early signals from the Tinubu administration appear promising for supporters of the deal.
The new head of state met Exxon executives during his second week in office, saying on Twitter that the invitation demonstrated his government’s “efforts to secure the collaboration of critical players in the oil sector.”
Advisers also prepared a report for the president in the run-up to his inauguration recommending him to sell down NNPC’s positions in joint ventures to minority stakes and “close out” outstanding divestments in order to boost production.
The “hidden value” for Seplat in the Exxon deal is the natural gas in the blocks, according to Brown, whose firm is already one of the largest domestic suppliers of the fuel to Nigerian power plants.
Brown said it’s “most likely” that most of the gas in the licenses would be destined for export, either as a third-party source for Nigeria LNG Ltd. – an expanding venture whose shareholders include Shell and NNPC that is short of feedstock – or via a separate floating production facility.
After the meeting with Exxon officials at the State House in Abuja, recently, Tinubu had pledged to ensure competition in the oil and gas industry in the country.
Some of the key officials of ExxonMobil that visited Tinubu, who himself was a former Treasurer of the oil company were the President of ExxonMobil on Upstream Oil and Gas, Liam Mallon and the then Executive Director Mobil Nigeria, Adesuwa Dozie, who is now vice chairperson.
It also followed a similar meeting with the then President Muhammadu Buhari by both officials on the margins of the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, in New York, USA in September last year.
While making the meeting public on his Twitter handle, Tinubu had said it was part of his efforts to ensure collaboration among all stakeholders in the oil and gas sector.
“It was a pleasure to play host to ExxonMobil Executives, Liam Mallon and Adesua Dozie, at the State House earlier today.
“The meeting marks the continuation of this administration’s efforts to secure the collaboration of critical players in the oil sector towards ensuring stability, transparency and fair competition in the sector,” he said.