OPL 245 (Oil Prospecting Licence 245) covers a defined deep-water offshore area (over 1,000 m bsl), approximately 150 km off the Niger Delta. On 29 April 1998, the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN), when General Sani Abacha was President, awarded OPL 245 to the Nigerian company Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd., which counted Dan Etete, Minister of Petroleum Resources, among its shareholders. The signature bonus was set at $20 million. During the same period, the FGN awarded other prospecting licences to Nigerian companies, also with a signature bonus of around $20 million: OPL 246 to South Atlantic Petroleum, OPL 247 to Heritage Oil, and OPL 248 to Zebra Energy.
Nigeria’s then Defence Minister, General Theophilus Danjuma, had interests in South Atlantic Petroleum, which he later sold to Total and other investors. Previously, in 1991, the OPL 216 licence had been awarded to BP and Statoil (now Equinor), and was then claimed back by the FGN and awarded to Famfa Oil Ltd. instead. All the exploration blocks, including Block 245, were awarded in accordance with the Indigenous Concession Programme (ICP), launched by the FGN in 1991 to encourage Nigerian companies to play a role in the country’s oil industry in view of local entrepreneurial development, as claimed by Professor Fidelis Oditah, Eni’s expert witness for the trial held at the Court of Milan, without substantial objections by the public prosecutor.