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By John Helmer, Moscow

Gazprom, Russia’s largest company and the world’s leading exporter of natural gas, says it will delay all investment spending in Nigeria at least until next year’s Nigerian presidential election result is decided, and new legislation enacted to secure foreign investment in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry. The statement of Gazprom’s nervousness came just before Nigerian pirates attacked a Russian oil tanker off Lagos, injuring four seamen.

Yevgeny Yadryshnikov, a spokesman for Gazprom EP International, told Business Day that his company, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Moscow-based Gazprom, has been planning projects in Nigeria, but will keep them on the drawing-board for the time being. “The projects in Nigeria imply production of hydrocarbons,” he said. “We have also expressed interest in the intention previously announced by the Government of Nigeria to build a 491-km long pipeline between Calabar and Ajaokuta, the tender for which is to be held in the near future.”

Yadryshnikov said that Gazprom is not currently interested in liquefied natural gas production in Nigeria “because that requires a major resource base which Gazprom does not control.” That last statement contradicts earlier claims by Gazprom briefers on their Nigerian plans.

Yadryshnikov added that “it’s not quite correct to say that Gazprom has postponed its projects, because other players on the Nigerian oil and gas market are in the same situation.” He said Gazprom and the others are waiting for the outcome of next spring’s presidential elections, and also for finalization of the new Nigerian petroleum industry bill (PIB). “The current situation allows neither Gazprom, nor other international companies as well, to make swift progress in the [Nigerian] industry, ” Yadryshnikov told Business Day.

A leading Nigerian analyst in London commented that Gazprom’s position is “quite right. Until a new president is elected in April 2011 and the PIB is passed, the political and commercial risks are quite high. The PIB would determine the ratio [of profit-taking and tax] on every production-sharing contract and joint venture with the international companies.”

A memorandum of understanding between Russia and Nigeria was signed in 2009 to build a pipeline network to supply Niger Delta gas to Europe. That was during President Dmitry Medvedev’s one-day stopover in the country in June of 2009. But since then on the Russian side, officials are reluctant to rely on undertakings from Nigerian officials.

Underscoring the mutual suspicion and nervousness, there has been a fresh Nigerian attack on Russian crew members of an oil tanker off Lagos this week. The tanker, the NS Spirit owned by Novorossiysk Shipping Company (Novoship), was boarded by 12 Nigerian gunmen firing automatic weapons. The 22-man crew retreated to the vessel’s secure room, but not quickly enough. The ship’s cook was shot in the liver; the captain broke his arm; and two other crewmen suffered superficial injuries. The pirates then ransacked the vessel’s stores, and left. The wounded mariner has been operated on in a Lagos hospital, and was in stable condition on Monday evening, according to news bulletins issued in Moscow today.

For two years between 2004 and 2005, the 13-man Russian crew of the African Pride, a Greek-owned oil tanker, was held hostage in a Lagos prison. Russian government sources have said they considered several options, including a commando rescue operation, before deciding to pay the ransom demanded by Nigerian officials through a Russian state company. There have been two other incidents of African piracy and hostage-taking involving Russian seamen and vessels on the west Africa coast since then.

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