Hundreds of Nigerian oil contractors held heated talks with Italian oil major Eni over unpaid wages, even though production has been restored following militant attacks in the Niger Delta, with tensions escalating to the point that police were called in, Reuters reported Thursday.
Contractors gave Eni two weeks to settle the debt, threatening to escalate protests if unsuccessful.
Eni’s representative in Nigeria blamed the payment delays on debts owed by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
Unpaid contractors are not the only problems Eni is facing in Nigeria.
Last month, Italian prosecutors asked for Italian oil major Eni SpA’s chief executive Claudio Descalzi and 10 other people to be tried for alleged international corruption, according to judicial sources.
Prosecutors in Milan on Thursday called for the trial for Descalzi, Eni’s former CEO Paolo Scaroni, and others—including managers and mediators—over the alleged payment of US$1.3 billion in bribes to the former Nigerian government in 2011, for which Eni and Royal Dutch Shell secured exclusive rights to develop one of Africa's richest oil blocs oil block OPL-245 offshore Nigeria.
According to prosecutors, Eni had allegedly paid US$1.092 billion and Shell another US$200 million to a Nigerian government account.
For its part, Nigeria’s anti-graft agency filed charges against European oil majors, alleging that they bribed former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete and his Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd. in relation to the purchase of License 245. In January, Nigeria seized the oil block in question.
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At the moment, Nigeria is pumping about 1.8 million barrels daily, after the government managed to restore peace in the Niger Delta, with attacks now becoming less frequent.
However, protests over unpaid wages are expected to increase, partly because low global oil prices mean that oil firms are firing hundreds of workers and cutting back on contractors.
Moreover, Nigeria could lose its exempt status in the OPEC oil production cut deal, as it restores its daily output to levels last seen before militant attacks on infrastructure
By Damir Kaletovic for Oilprice.com
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Damir Kaletovic is a veteran investigative journalist covering Europe and the Middle East, and a senior consultant for Divergente Research.