Ex-NCDMB Boss, Wabote Accuses Lokpobiri of Pushing to Inflate His Office Budget at Agency by N30bn

•Debunk’s minister’s allegation of wasted $500m investments, loans at local content board  

•Reels out status of projects invested on by board  

•You are still nursing wounds of being replaced after spending seven years at NCDMB, Lokpobiri tells Wabote 

•Agency’s loan scheme with us performing in excess of 90% payback rate, says BOI

Peter Uzoho

The immediate-past Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB), Mr. Simbi Wabote has fired back at the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources (Oil), Heineken Lokpobiri, accusing the later of pushing for an increment of his office budget at the board by N30 billion last December, when he was still in the saddle.

Wabote, made the accusation in a statement he issued yesterday, sent to THISDAY, where he debunked the minister’s earlier allegation that the former NCDMB ES wasted $500 million investments, loans at local content board.

However, in swift reaction, the Minister accused Wabote of still nursing the wounds of his replacement even after spending seven years at the Board.

In a statement, the Minister’s Special Adviser, Media and Communication, Nneamaka Okafor, noted that Wabote’s response was a clear case of “when you fight corruption, corruption will fight back.”

Lokpobiri had while responding to questions at the recently held Petroleum Club’s Dinner in Lagos, alleged that the NCDMB under Wabote made bad investment decisions, adding that over $500 million invested in private companies through equity and loans were wasted investments.

The Minister had specifically alleged that over $190 million invested by NCDMB in private projects in the oil and gas industry including the Brass Fertiliser Plant and the Atlantic Refinery, all located in Bayelsa State, were wasted as no construction was going on at those two sites.

He had also accused Wabote of disbursing funds meant for those two projects at $35 million and $20 million respectively, without following the disbursement threshold laid down at the agency.

But in his rebuttal, Wabote stated that the minister’s “reckless” statements in the past months was not new to him.

He stated that Lokpobiri had at the same event tried to throw the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) under the bus by saying that Nigeria was losing 400,000 barrels of oil per day because of not signing the Seplat-ExxonMobil asset sale and purchase deal.

By that assertion, Wabote said the minister allegedly tried to indict the NNPLC, which is a parastatal under his supervision.

Wabote stated in the statement: “Further to the earlier interview granted to a newspaper in reaction to the snippets of the remarks made by Hon. Minister of State for Petroleum – Oil (HMSPR-Oil), Mr. Heineken Lokpobiri at the Petroleum Club recently, it has become pertinent to release this press statement having gotten full details of the reckless and bundles of lies unbecoming of a Minister of State of the Federal Republic.

“I wish to state that his reckless statements in the past months is not new to me. As only recently, he tried to throw NNPCL under the bus as he stated that Nigeria is losing 400kb of oil because of not signing the Seplat deal, thus trying to indict NNPLC, a parastatal under his supervision.

“As a Minister and a presentative of the substantive minister, are you not supposed to canvass government position or represent your principal correctly? Rather he chose to act like a militant activist.

“My problem as ES started with Lokpobiri in December 2023, when he sent one of his undocumented aids within his Ministry to my office in Yenagoa (Blackson) requesting me to increase NCDMB budget by N30 billion for the office of the Minister, and I said it had never been done before.”

The executive secretary said he told the minister that he served two ministers and none of them had ever made such request to NCDMB, adding that the board only make provision for the office of the Chairman of the council which covers his travel expenses.

Wabote, said he explained to the minister that the maximum budget NCDMB had ever gotten in the past was circa N80 billion for all their activities, noting that, “adding N30 billion will be too much for the minister’s office and I was not going to do it.”

He said at that time, he asked stakeholders to review NCDMB budget from 2016 to 2023 and also look at what got approved in 2024.

In August 2023, Wabote said he had led the management of NCDMB to provide full briefing of the board’s activities to Lokpobiri and the Minister of State for Petroleum (Gas), Ekperikpe Ekpo.

He said the presentation, which was contained in more than 250-page slides, provided information on the status of the board’s projects, partnerships, interventions funds, Treasury Single Account (TSA) balance, Human Capacity Development (HCD) programmes, forensic audits, and other strategic initiatives under the NCDMB 10-year Strategic Roadmap.

He maintained that the presentation was followed up with invitation to the Ministers of State to embark on familiarisation visits to the boards headquarters and other project sites located across the country.

He added that familiarisation visits to other sites were lined up before “my unceremonious removal from office right after our flagship event, Practical Nigerian Content (PNC) Forum in December 2023”.

Wabote further said, “While I have moved on from the unsavory incident, I never knew that the HMSPR-Oil lacks 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.”

He, however, faulted Lokpobiri for asserting that 90 per cent of the Nigerian Content Intervention Fund (NCIF) managed by the BOI was not performing.

 According to Wabote, the minister was fully briefed that it was because NCDMB was not a bank that made the board to partner with BOI as a foremost development bank in the country, to manage the intervention fund for the oil and gas industry, with each loan secured by bank guarantee.

As at December 2023, the ex-ES said it was on record that the NC intervention funds managed by BOI 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 BOI.

Wabote said the fund was intact when he left office, as could be verified from BOI, adding that, “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 declaration. Industry watchers must not allow the secured funds to be diverted under any pretext.”

On the projects, Wabote said the board’s presentation and briefing notes to the minister on Brass Fertiliser Plant clearly informed him that the partnership arrangement with NNPC and DSV Engineering was for the establishment of 10,000TPD Methanol plant.

“It is therefore FALSE that the partnership was for ‘fertiliser factory’.

“Perhaps, Mr. Lokpobiri should have checked with the Hon Ekperikpe Ekpo, the Hon Min of State for Petroleum Resources (Gas) and NNPCL for details of the project and the latest developments rather than the false accusations to castigate NCDMB.

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

Providing current status of the 15 projects partnered by NCDMB, Wabote revealed that one had been inaugurated and operational which is the Waltersmith Refinery in Imo State.

He said five are ready for inauguration, four under construction, four in search of debt financing including Brass Fertilier plant, and one under divestment considerations, which is the Acctlantic Refinery.

While imploring the minister to visit the construction sites to avail himself of facts on ground, Wabote advised Lokpobiri to also check the Ministry of Petroleum Resources archives of the strategic plan to diversify oil and gas development clusters in the Niger Delta using Bonny Island, Brass Island,  Onne, Ogidigben, Ibom among others.

Wabote concluded, “Perhaps, this will cure his aversion to any developmental initiative in Brass Island and the Niger Delta in general.

“Apart from his undiplomatic language as a Cabinet member implying that China is an undemocratic nation that sends its citizens to jail without fair hearing, it is important to draw the attention of the HMSPRO to the international dimension of his false statements on the image of Nigeria.

“His self-serving outburst in the face verifiable facts is a dent on the enviable heights attained by Nigeria in local content practice as attested to by several countries within the continent and beyond.

“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.”

Meanwhile, in a counter statement issued yesterday in response to Wabote’s, Okafor stated that they stood by her principal’s earlier position that under the former NCDMB boss, over $500 million of the industry’s fund was wasted in equity investments in private establishments and in loans that were now non-performing.

Okafor said, “Our position is that he who alleges must prove same. So, if Mr. Wabote has proof of such conversation, he is challenged to provide same.

‘’Secondly, the Minister has no aide called Blackson. All 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 (of NCDMB) 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 media aide noted that the said Atlantic Refinery was supposed to be built in Wabote’s home town, urging him to show Nigerians where that refinery was.

She added that the Brass Fertilizer and Petrochemical company was also paid for and that the media should also visit the site to verify the facts for themselves.

Okafor said investigations were ongoing and that the truth would surely come to light, adding that monies belonging to the generality of Nigerians would be recovered for Nigerians.

The minister’s aide noted that those revelations were not new as they were first made during an investigative hearing of the House of Representative Committee on Local Content.

She maintained that the records were available for those interested in verification of the facts.

Further dismissing the alleged request by the minister for increment of budget at the board, Okafor said Lokpobiri had never been part of any budgeting process of any parastatal under the Ministry of Petroleum.

She maintained, ‘’Finally, the Minister’s office is run with a budget superintended by the permanent secretary, and so, one will wonder how the minister will ask another entity to make provisions for the budget of his Office. The minister has an impeccable record from his time as Minister of Agric 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 course to read Mr Wabote’s release and every one can see that he is still nursing the wounds of being replaced even after spending seven years at the Board. At best, this is a clear case of when you fight corruption, corruption will fight back.”

In the meantime, the BOI has stated that the NCDMB’s NCIF Fund with the bank was currently performing in excess of 90 per cent payback rate.

In a brief note sent to THISDAY, on the status of the NCIF Fund, a top official of BOI, who declined having his name in print, said over $300 million and over N43 billion had been disbursed to more than 70 beneficiary companies.

The official said the fund had been a successful and rewarding partnership between NCDMB and BOI as it had opened doors for access to finance to key local players and stakeholders in the oil and gas sector.

The BOI official said, “So far, over $300m and over N43bn have been disbursed to more than 70 beneficiary companies.

The pay back rate has been in excess of 90 per cent thus far.

“The NCI Fund has been a very successful and rewarding partnership between NCDMB and BOI. It has opened doors for access to finance to key local players and stakeholders in the oil and gas sector through BOI’s management of the fund, and helped to further on NCDMB’s mandate to promote local content.”

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