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Reps Probe Multi-million Dollars NCDMB Project Fraud

•As Reps Swing into Action

By Princewill Ebi Sede 

Investigative journalist and publisher of Niger Delta's bestselling news magazine Upfront News.

In an era where accountability and transparency are paramount, troubling revelations have emerged from the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB), exposing a web of corruption and misuse of authority. Central to these revelations is the discovery of over $300 million disbursement of public funds to private companies under the disguise of asset acquisition loans and loan financing and several moribund equity financing and investments, a staggering sum that has vanished into the ether due to fraudulent contracts and scams facilitated by high-level officials within the Board.

Since its inauguration, the House Committee on Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring of the 10th National Assembly has initiated a formidable crackdown on corrupt practices in the oil and gas sector.  

In a startling revelation, an in-depth investigation into the Board's investment in Atlantic International Refinery and Petrochemical Limited (AIRPL) has uncovered a series of concerning financial and operational irregularities. The $35 million investment in AIRPL, a modular refinery to be based in Bayelsa with beneficial ownership linked to Admantine Petrochemical, Duale Yusuf Adeniyi, and Akintoye Akindele, has raised serious questions about the board's oversight and due diligence.

Founded in June 2020, with a meagre authorized share capital of 10 million units of ordinary shares at N1.00 per share, AIRPL was quickly earmarked for substantial investment from the Local Content Board just five months post-incorporation. Despite the lack of a solid financial or operational track record, the NCDMB purchased 4 million units of shares at an unprecedented premium, securing a 40% minority shareholding for a staggering $35 million. This decision, facilitated by buying shares from Admantine Petrochemical and Refinery Ltd. rather than by issuing new shares, has sparked controversy and accusations of financial impropriety.

Critically, the rationale behind such an inflated investment in a developing company, establishing a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) named NCDMB-Capital Development Intervention Company Ltd by Guarantee, and the decision-making processes of the immediate past governing council have come under scrutiny. The lack of transparency and accountability in these actions, alongside the absence of a professional share valuation model to justify the investment's enormity, suggests a significant oversight or potential misuse of funds.

Furthermore, the due diligence—or notable lack thereof—before the approval and disbursement of funds raises additional alarms. The absence of a compelling financial and operational case from AIRPL, alongside the board's delayed legal due diligence, suggests a cavalier approach to investment that jeopardizes public funds and undermines the credibility of the Board. This is compounded by the discovery that subsequent audits and financial reports have failed to transparently account for the utilization of the invested $35 million, leading to further questions about the project's viability and the integrity of those involved.

The implicated officials of the Board, including the Former Director of Finance, Mr Isaec Yalla, The Former Director of Human Capacity Development, Mr Ama Ikuru, the former General Manager of Human Resources, Mrs Douris Opuwari, and The Director of Project Certification and authorization, who then also doubled as the General manager of Commercial Venture department, GM Strategy and transformational Project department, and as the same time the Senior Technical Assistant to the immediate past Executive Secretary, Mr Abayomi Bamidele are at the centre of these accusations. Their roles in approving and overseeing this investment, amidst the glaring procedural and ethical lapses, point to a broader culture of negligence and potential corruption within the board.

A significant breakthrough in this campaign was unmasking the unlawful activities of the recently appointed Executive Secretary. An internal memo unearthed during a recent investigation revealed unauthorized staff redeployments and promotions, blatantly contravening established procedures. These moves appear to have been strategically issued to obscure questionable transactions. Seemingly aimed to advantage close associates of the Executive Secretary and allies of his predecessor within the board through redeployment and undisclosed promotions. Underscoring a network of complicity and malfeasance.

Legal provisions under the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Act 2010 explicitly strip the Executive Secretary of any authority to appoint or redeploy management staff, a statute flagrantly disregarded as revealed by the case of Ifeanyi Ukoha, improperly elevated to Acting Director of Finance and Personnel Management. This act of defiance challenges legal boundaries and signals a deep-rooted culture of impunity.

Further investigation revealed startling revelations about many of the Management Board members, who were found to possess dubious reputations. Directors Ama Ikuru, Abayomi Bamidele, and Ifeayi Okoha—who is rumored to be in line for the position of Acting Director of Finance—were all discovered to be over 50 years of age at the time of their regularization from contract staff to permanent employees of the Board. This finding is in direct violation of the prevailing civil service regulations, which dictate age criteria for eligibility for employment within the civil service.

Amidst this disarray, the lower echelons of the workforce have voiced their grievances, only to be met with threats of termination, further illustrating the authoritarian regime presiding over the Board.

This scandal surfaced just as the House of Representatives investigated the NCDMB’s budgetary allocations for personnel and human resources, Activities of the commercial ventures department, project Certification and Authorization Directorate (PCAD), BOI loans, and many other actions of the Local content management Board. 

The efforts of the House Committee on Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board, poised to conduct a forensic audit and thorough investigation into these malpractices, are commendable strides towards restoring integrity within the Board. This investigative report informs the public of the depth of corruption within the management Board and upholds the principles of accountability and justice in the face of blatant corruption.

Despite the potential for reform, the journey may encounter significant hurdles if the new Executive Secretary (ES) continues to defy the authority of the Governing Council. The new ES must avoid the pitfalls of corruption that tainted the reputations of his predecessors. This entails strict adherence to the guidelines of the Local Content Act, especially regarding travel expenses, to prevent the lavish squandering of state resources witnessed in the past.

As this investigation progresses, the Nigerian populace's attention remains fixed. The results of this inquiry could signify a crucial turning point in the battle against graft within the country’s petroleum and natural gas industry, testing the government's determination to challenge deep-seated interests and implement significant reforms. This situation represents a crucial opportunity to instigate the needed changes within the Local Content Board and establish a new standard for transparency and ethical conduct across all branches of government.

As calls for transparency and accountability grow louder, the necessity for a comprehensive House Committee oversight visit becomes undeniable. Only through a thorough physical inspection and review of AIRPL's and the NCDMB's records can the true extent of the mismanagement and possible fraudulent activities be uncovered. This investigation serves as a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of inadequate oversight and underscores the urgent need for systemic reforms within Nigeria's oil and gas sector regulatory bodies.

This exposé invites public scrutiny and demands a reevaluation of investment strategies and governance within the NCDMB, aiming to prevent such questionable transactions in the future and ensure that Nigeria's natural resources are developed responsibly and transparently for the benefit of all Nigerians.

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