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$500m funds: Lokpobiri, ex-local content boss clash


Heineken LokpobiriThe face-off between the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources (Oil), Heineken Lokpobiri, and the former Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board, Simbi Wabote, took a new twist on Tuesday as the duo exchanged words over claims that the NCDMB under Wabote mismanaged $500m on various projects and loans.

This is as Wabote accused Lokpobiri of asking him in December 2023 to increase the NCDMB budget by N30bn for the Office of the Minister and he refused; a claim Lokpobiri described as untrue.

Lokpobiri had last week said the government was reviewing the loans and projects estimated at $500m executed by the NCDMB, accusing Wabote of wasting the funds on questionable projects and loans.

Lopkobiri, who spoke at a dinner held in Lagos last week by The Petroleum Club, alleged that Wabote paid $35m for the Brass modular refinery in Bayelsa State without anything to show for it.

Also, he claimed that $20m was paid for a fertiliser factory, which has yet to be seen. The minister alleged that about $350m was taken to the Bank of Industry by the board to give loans to investors, stating that the fund was mismanaged with 90 per cent non-performing loans.

However, in a statement made available to The PUNCH, the former NCDMB boss said Lokpobiri’s “reckless statements” in the past months were not new to him.

He said, “My problem as the Executive Secretary started with Lokpobiri in December 2023 when he sent one of his undocumented aides within his ministry to my office in Yenagoa (Blackson) requesting me to increase the NCDMB budget by N30bn for the office of the Minister and I said it had never been done before.”

Wabote claimed he told the oil minister he had served two ministers and none of them ever requested such thing from the NCDMB, saying the board only made provision for the office of the Chairman of the Council which covers his travel expenses.

“I said to him that the maximum the NCDMB budget has ever got to in the past is circa N80bn for all our activities, adding N30bn will be too much for his office and I was not going to do it,” he stated.

He spoke further that in August 2023, he led the management of the NCDMB to provide a full briefing of the board’s activities to Lokpobiri and the Minister of State for Petroleum (Gas), Ekperikpe Ekpo.

The presentation, which he said had more than 250-page slides was claimed to have provided information on the status of the board’s projects, partnerships, intervention funds, TSA account balances, forensic audits, and other strategic initiatives of the NCDMB.

He added that the presentation was followed up with familiarisation visits alongside the ministers to the board’s headquarters and other project sites located across the country; including the Nigerian Content Tower in Yenagoa; the NCDMB Fire Station in NCT; the 204-room NCDMB Conference Hotel under construction; the NCDMB NOGAPS Industrial Park in Bayelsa; the Waltersmith Refinery in Imo State and others.

“Familiarisation visits to other sites were lined up before my unceremonious removal from office right after our flagship event, Practical Nigerian Content Forum in December 2023.

“While I have moved on from the unsavoury incident, I never knew that the minister lacked any understanding of the brief I had given to him complete with necessary facts and figures or prefers to broadcast mischief to industry stakeholders.

“We had told Mr Lokpobiri that our projects, interventions, and partnerships were driven by the enabling provisions contained in the NOGICD Act and extant government policies on modular refineries, Decade of Gas, jobs creation, and poverty eradication.

“It is, therefore, shocking that the HMSPR-Oil chose to present false narratives before the Petroleum Club in his foray into character assassination, treachery and ‘waste’ agenda,” Wabote maintained.

While describing as false, claims by Lokpobiri that 90 per cent of the NC intervention loans managed by BOI were non-performing, Wabote stated that Lokpobir was fully briefed that it was because the NCDMB is not a bank that made it partner with BOI to manage the fund for the oil and gas industry.

“As of Dec 2023, it is on record that the NC intervention funds managed by the Bank of Industry helped cushion the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the industry and that the fund has yielded millions from the low-interest rates with the principal fully secured with bank guarantee.

“The fund was intact when I left office as can be verified from BOI. If the fund is now being declared as ‘wasted’ by the HMSPR-Oil, he should be asked what he has done or intends to do with the fund, to make such a declaration. Industry watchers must not allow the secured funds to be diverted under any pretext,” he alleged.

Speaking on the Brass Fertiliser, he explained, “Our presentation and briefing notes to the minister on Brass Fertiliser informed him that the partnership arrangement with the NNPC and DSV Engineering is for the establishment of a 10,000TPD methanol plant. It is therefore false that the partnership was for a fertiliser factory.

“For the records, the initial investments by NNPC and NCDMB are pre-FID equity injection for the estimated $3.2bn project. The Board’s additional investment is tied to achievement of financial close which has not been achieved by the project promoters”.

Wabote listed some of the board’s 15 partnerships to include Waltersmith, Butane Energy in Kastina State, NEDOGAS, Azikel, Triansel, Eraskon, LadolPower and others.

“The minister is implored to visit the construction sites to avail himself of facts on the ground. He should also check the MPR archives of the strategic plan to diversify oil and gas development clusters in the Niger Delta using Bonny Island, Brass Island, Onne, Ogidigben, and Ibom. Perhaps, this will cure his aversion to any developmental initiative in Brass Island and the Niger Delta in general,” Wabote claimed.

“The HMSPR-Oil should learn to separate the requirements of the office he currently occupies from his political ambition. He should look for another individual and agency of government to demonise in his quest to remain relevant. I am also aware that he is fighting a proxy war with his one-time principal (former MSPR) and only using me as a decor(sic),” he said.

He added further, “I strongly recommend that the minister channels his energy to position himself as the Guest of Honour and allow the board to commission the following partnership projects as part of the first anniversary of President Bola Tinubu: Nedo Gas Processing Plant complete with 300MMscf gas gathering hub in, Kwale, Delta State; Better Gas 500MT LPG Storage and distribution infrastructure at Dikko near Abuja; 48,000Liter per day Bunnor Base Oil Production at Omagwa, PHC; Butane LPG Plant Kaduna (2nd plant after the Katsina Plant commissioned in December 2021); Duport Modular Refinery, Egbokor ( Legal squabbles permitting).

“Per the plan in place before my exit from office, another set would be ready for commissioning by the second anniversary of Mr President if the minister of state for petroleum (oil) will allow the board to function without all the lethargy of woes he has brought to NCDMB since December 2023”.

I stand by my words, Lokpobiri insists

Meanwhile, Lokpobiri, in a statement by his media aide, Nneamaka Okafor, insisted that the former NCDMB boss mismanaged $500m while in office, saying if Wabote had proof of a conversation asking him to add N30bn to the budget, he should make it public.

Lokpobiri said he has no aide called Blackson, stressing that his aides were duly selected in line with extant laws and have documents to that effect.

“The minister in his capacity as Chairman of the Governing Council stands by his statement at The Petroleum Club’s quarterly event in Lagos, and as journalists, I welcome you to visit the places mentioned to verify the allegations for yourself.

“The said Atlantic Refinery was supposed to be built in Mr Wabote’s home town, he should show Nigerians where that refinery is. The Brass Fertilizer and Petrochemical Company was also paid for, you are welcome to visit the site to verify the facts for yourself,” the statement read partly.

He stressed that investigations were ongoing “and the truth will surely come to light and monies belonging to the generality of Nigerians will be recovered for Nigerians”.

He emphasised that the revelations were not new, saying they were first made during an investigative hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on Local Content.

While disclosing that the records are there for people to verify, the statement maintained that “The minister has never been part of any budgeting process of any parastatal under the ministry, you are welcome to visit these agencies to verify for yourself”.

It added that the minister’s office is run with a budget superintended by the Permanent Secretary, wondering how the minister would ask another entity to make provisions for the budget of his office.

“The minister has an impeccable record from his time as Minister of Agriculture and will continue to stand for the truth. The minister and Indeed the Chairman of the Governing Council of the NCDMB will not abdicate his responsibility to please anyone.

“He has a responsibility to ensure that, that which belongs to Nigerians is judiciously used for Nigerians. I have had the course to read Mr Wabote’s release and everyone can see that he is still nursing the wounds of being replaced even after spending seven years on the board.

“At best, this is a clear case of when you fight corruption, corruption will fight back,” Lokpobiri concluded.

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