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Oil investment: Shell squeezing Nigeria, wants us to set aside our laws – NCDMB boss

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Shell has, reportedly, withdrawn from the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC) signed with the international oil companies (IOCs), introducing a hiccup in Nigeria to reduce upstream projects’ contracting cycle and enable quick development of major oil and gas assets have hit a brick wall.

THISDAY reports that Shell might have pulled out of the deal to force the Nigerian government to suspend the country’s laws and grant it more waivers, after some waivers were granted it as an incentive to quicken development of some of its offshore projects that had been lying fallow for decades.

Simbi Wabote, Executive Secretary of NCDMB, who hinted at Shell’s withdrawal from the September 2023 tripartite pact, during his intervention at the just-ended 41st Annual International Conference and Exhibition of the Nigerian Association of Petroleum Explorationists (NAPE), held in Lagos, said the IOCs, especially Shell, were no longer interested in investing in Nigeria.

The assertion came as NNPC lamented the return of portfolio managers into the Nigerian oil and gas industry due to the advent of the Nigerian Local Content Act.

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As part of the steps to address the waning investment in the upstream oil sector, continued production decline, and infrastructure deficit, NNPC and NCDMB had in September signed the landmark MoU with the IOCs to reduce the contracting cycle by 81.6 per cent.

The move was expected to cut down the current contracting cycle to an optimal level of not more than 180 working days from the current 327 days.

NNPC, in a statement at the time, said the deal was expected to improve the ease of doing business, reduce cost and drive efficiency, which would eventually translate to production growth, increased revenues, and, ultimately, improved profitability.

The statement said: “The MoU is also expected to contribute significantly to the double-digit economic growth rate agenda of the federal government and generate tremendous value for all the stakeholders, which include investors, companies, host communities and the nation at large.

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“Key benefits of the framework in the MoU include a reduction of the contracting cycle for open competitive tender, selective tender, and single sourcing tender to 180, 178, and 128 working days, respectively, compared with the current best effort performance of 327, 333, and 185 working days, respectively.”

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But contributing during a panel session at the NAPE conference, Wabote stated that the reliance on the IOCs would not help Nigeria make progress in the development of its assets, stressing that Shell no longer wants to invest in the country.

Referring to Shell’s attitude in the September MoU between the IOCs, and NNPC and NCDMB, Wabote argued that the company had continued to demand more waivers after some had been granted it, adding the company wanted Nigeria to set aside every of its laws and allow it to develop the prolonged prolific Bonga Southwest project and some of its shallow offshore projects on its terms.

Wabote stated: “I don’t think Shell wants to invest in this country again. I’m sorry to say it, because I give you an example. Bonga Southwest started before I was even recruited in Shell and that is 26 years before I left Shell.

“Today, Shell wants Nigeria to set aside every law and do Bonga Southwest on their terms. Same thing with some of the shallow offshore projects. They want you to set all your laws aside and they want to create an emergency situation to tell you it is now very critical.

“But we started HI development almost 20 years ago, now it is very critical for Shell. HA development is now becoming critical for Shell. That’s how they leave their projects, such that it becomes critical, they write all the justifications, set aside your PIA, set aside your Local Content Act for them to do those projects. I personally don’t think they want to invest in those projects, they will prove me wrong, but time will tell.

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“We in local content sat down with all the IOCs (myself and Mele Kyari) and we said, what are the issues to enable us increase production. They listed those issues. We agreed on waivers that we would give. Later, I wrote a letter and submitted back to Shell to say, three months ago, we agreed to all the waivers you requested, where is the progress? The next response was that they were looking for further waivers.”

The NCDMB boss encouraged the local exploration and production companies that are now taking over assets divested by the IOCs to apply strict corporate governance so that they could create a joint venture that would help the country to develop its assets. He said Nigeria needed to be deliberate and realise that some of the multinationals were not prepared to help the country move forward, adding, “Let’s take our destiny in our hands and progress accordingly.”

In her intervention at the panel, Executive Vice President (Upstream), NNPC, Oritsemeyiwa Eyesan, who listed the challenges confronting the country’s oil and gas industry, revealed that despite its gains, the Nigerian Content Act had encouraged the return of portfolio managers in the industry.

Eyesan said, “I must at this point just also introduce the challenges we have with local content. When the Local Content Act was passed, we were all excited and looking forward to the growth of local capacity.

“Indeed, there had been some gains in the past in this regard. But you will also agree with me that it has brought with it a lot of challenges, to the extent that we have more or less encouraged portfolio managers rather than build competences and capabilities that the local content law was supposed to achieve.”

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Eyesan explained that the return of portfolio managers made projects’ financing more difficult, “because when you have middlemen, sometimes, you have several layers in these middlemen that it becomes almost impossible to complete projects profitably”.

She said another challenge facing the oil and gas industry in Nigeria, which was causing the exit of the IOCs and discouraging new entrants into the sector, was the difficult and lengthy contracting process. She described it as an operational challenge, which NNPC Limited was not insulated from.

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Eyesan lamented as dismal a situation where a contracting process would linger for 24 months, instead of two to three months obtainable in other climes.

Citing political and regulatory risks as one other challenge in the industry, Eyesan said the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) was supposed to be an enabler for investment, explaining that if well implemented, it would enable and attract investment into the industry.

She said financial risk was another major encumbrance in the sector, explaining that currency and exchange rates instability make it difficult to structure financing deals that would deliver on the expected return. She added that investors were leaving the shores of Nigeria partly because of the financial risk.

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The NNPC EVP further said, “First of all, we all agreed that virtually all the IOCs are leaving onshore, not to say they are leaving Nigeria completely, and we’ve articulated some of the reasons why they are leaving. Security is a major one, because if I’m not assured that I would get my money at the end of the day, then there is no reason why I would continue.

“The other risk that confronts participants in the sector is operational risk. We talk about insecurity in the Niger Delta and in the entire country as a whole. Again, I want to invest, I’m not assured my investment will be realised. That definitely will not make it possible for me to come.

“Technology deployment as well: when we are not able to deploy cutting-edge technology because we cannot afford it, it becomes even more difficult for us.

“There are other in-country reasons: stability in our regulations, stability in the fiscal environment. Until you solve those problems, it will be difficult for you to start saying you want to attract foreign investment.”

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BREAKING: One week after US Congress threat, Court frees, Binance boss

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Exactly one week after the US Congress, moved against Nigeria, Tigran Gambaryan, Head of Financial Crime Compliance of Binance, was let off the hook on Friday, as the Federal Government, dropped charges against him, with a Federal High Court in Abuja, discharging him on the four-count charge of financial crimes.

Sixteen members of the US Congress, had last week, written a letter of protest to President Joe Biden, demanding his intervention into the case of Gambaryan, who holds US citizenship, who they said was in danger of losing his life under terrible conditions in detention in Nigeria, while insisting on his immediate release.

The letter had alleged that Gambaryan, “has been wrongfully detained since late February after granting the Nigerian government’s request for discussions regarding the crypto giant’s business in the country. The government of Nigeria took Mr. Gambaryan hostage and thus needs his government’s help to be freed.”

Raising alarm over the state of his health, the group of lawmakers, which said: “Mr. Gambaryan’s health and well-being are in danger, and we fear for his life. Immediate action is essential to ensure his safety and preserve his life. We must act swiftly before it is too late,” had emphasised “on behalf of Mr. Gambaryan, his family, and concerned Americans, we, the undersigned, urgently request and strongly encourage the transfer of his case to the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs.”

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Confirming that the government had dropped the charges against the Binance boss, on Friday, Dare Adekanmbi, spokesman to the FIRS, said: “Please note that the charges are being dropped against the second and the third defendants in the matter,” adding that the accused had been confirmed not to be a decision-maker at the cryptocurrency firm.

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He said in a statement: “We are relieved that the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) has served and filed amended charges today, resulting in tax charges against Tigran Gambaryan being dropped. Further illustrating that Tigran is not a decision-maker at Binance and does not need to be held in order for Binance to resolve issues with the Nigerian government. We await the court’s ruling on this, discharging Tigran from this matter completely.”

Elsewhere in court, the Federal High Court sealed the freedom of the accused, whose ordeal began on February 28, with Justice Emeka Nwite, discharging him of all the charges, bothering on tax evasion charge preferred against the company by Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).

Nwite, in a ruling, discharged and struck out the names of Gambaryan and Nadeem Anjarwalla, who had since fled Nigeria, after escaping from detention, in March, after Moses Ideho, lawyer to the FIRS, filed a fresh amended charge wherein Binance is listed as sole defendant.

Gambaryan, who was in court during Friday’s proceedings, had stepped into the dock, when Tonye Krukrubo, SAN, who appeared for Binance (1st defendant), then informed the court that the cryptocurrency firm had just appointed a representative in Nigeria in the name of Ayodele Omotilewa.

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Ideho, who confirmed that his office received a notice of appointment of a representative by Binance, also told the court that the notice was dated June 13, 2024, appointing Ayodele Omotilewa as its agent in the country, adding that against the development, an amended four-count charge listing Binance Holdings Limited as sole defendant was filed on June 13 and therefore Omotilewa should be docked to take a plea on behalf of the company.

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But Krukrubo in vehement disagreement argued that the company’s representative was yet to be served with the fresh amended charge, said Omotilewa was only appearing in court for the first time, adding: “I think my learner friend should confirm whether he has served him or not first. We are not there yet. The prosecution has not served us with the amended charges. He ought not to enter the dock. He was appointed for specific purposes, to receive processes. He is one of us; a legal practitioner. The proper thing for the prosecution to do is to address the court on the charge he intended to substitute.

Also arguing in the same direction, C.J. Caleb, who appeared for Gambaryan, argued that law on criminal trial of a corporation did not contemplate that a corporation or its representative should be in the dock, while the Administration of Criminal Justice (ACJA) Act, particularly Part 47, was very clear on how a trial should proceed in respect of a corporation.

“The Act also specifies all that is required for a representative in criminal trial in Sections 478 , 481, 482 and 483. So I align with my learner colleague that the representative is enough to be in court but does have to be in the dock,” he said.

Ideho, however disagreed, citing Section 481 of ACJA to back his argument, while adding: “If my lord is to look carefully at the provisions of this section and subsection, a representative cannot just sit in the gallery and watch like a spectator how the trial is conducted. He should be in the dock because this is a criminal charge not civil matter.”

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But, Krukrubo while jumping into the matter, argued that there was no where in the section cited by Ideho where it was said that a company’s representative must be in the dock, adding: Section 481 is written in black and white and it does not say that a representative of a corporation must be in dock. What he is saying is not contemplated by ACJA.”

When Nwite directed Ideho to move the latest application, the FIRS, lawyer, said: “We will like to amend and substitute the charge with the earlier one of May 17, 2024, which was our last amended charge my lord,” which neither Krukrubo, nor Caleb, opposed.

Subsequently, Caleb applied that the court should strike out the two earlier charges that listed his client, Gambaryan, as 2nd defendant, dated March 22 and the amended charge dated May 17, adding that Gambaryan should be discharged from the dock and from the proceedings in its entirety.

Nwite, before adjourning the matter to July 12 for pleas, granted the Federal Government’s request for the substitution of the June 13 amended charge for the May 17 one, set aside the earlier order, directing Gambaryan to be served on behalf of the company, and thereafter discharged him from the dock, while ordering parties to file written addresses as to whether Binance representative should be docked or not.

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NLNG signs agreement for new cooking gas vessel

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Shipping and Marine Services Limited (NSML), a subsidiary of the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas (NLNG) and Temile Development Company Limited on Tuesday, signed a Vessel Management Agreement (VMA) to provide comprehensive vessel technical management services for the new 23,000 cubic metre LPG vessel, LPG Alfred Temile 10.

At a ceremony in Abuja, NSML’s Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Abdulkadir Ahmed, and Temile’s Chief Executive Officer, Alfred Temile, signed the VMA at the event, witnessed by Adegboyega Oyetola, Minister of Marine and Blue Economy, represented by Ekanem Ogegere Celia, Deputy Director, Cabotage and Shipping; Felix Omatsola Ogbe, the Executive Secretary, Nigerian Content Development & Monitoring Board; Andy Odeh, General Manager, External Relations and Sustainable Development; Salihu Jamari, Chief Investment Officer, NNPC Gas & Power Investment Services, among others.

Speaking at the milestone event, NSML’s MD, Ahmed, emphasised that NSML will leverage its expertise and resources to ensure the safe, reliable, and efficient operation of the Alfred Temile 10. He stated that the relationship with Temile Development Company started with the delivery of the first LPG vessel – LPG Alfred Temile – to NLNG in 2020.

“The relationship grew and continued with the construction, supervision and delivery of the 2nd LPG Vessel – Alfred Temile 10 – to Nigeria in March 2024. This momentous occasion represents our shared commitment to excellence, safety, and innovation in the maritime industry. It also represents the tenacious can-do-spirit of Mr Alfred Temile who has grown his LPG vessel fleet within a span of four (4) years. The Alfed Temile 10 is a testament to our dedication to operating a modern, efficient, and environmentally responsible fleet. With its cutting-edge design and technology, this vessel will set a new standard for LPG transportation in Nigeria and the West Africa,” he said.

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Also speaking at the event, Mr. Temile, stressed that the new vessel will play a critical role in gas transportation in Nigeria, enhancing the company’s capacity to deliver high-quality services while adhering to the highest standards of safety and environmental stewardship.

“We are confident that this partnership will set a new benchmark in the industry, and we are excited about the opportunities that lie ahead. As we embark on this new chapter, we also anticipate further strategic investment decisions including a third gas carrier later this year, demonstrating our commitment to deliver sustainable growth and value to our shareholders and Nigeria,” he added.

The keynote speaker, Engr. Felix Ogbe, commended NSML and Temile Development Company for partnering together. He stressed that there was ample human capacity, resources and tenacity in-country to achieve great feats, calling for increased colloboration and cooperation in the maritime industry.

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Presidency to get two new aircraft for Tinubu, Shettima

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President Bola Tinubu and Vice President, Kashim Shettima, would be cruising in brand new aircraft soon, going by the indications coming from the National Assembly, which has announced its approval to allow the acquisition of two of the flying birds for the Presidency.

The House of Representatives, which gave indications on Wednesday, explained that the need to acquire the aircrafts was to ensure maximum security for the President and his deputy, as part of its findings after an audit of the presidential fleet currently serving the two principal officers of the nation.

The House relying on the recommendations of its committee on National Security and Intelligence, said: “The committee is of the strong and informed opinion that considering the fragile structure of the Nigerian federation and recognising the dire consequences of any foreseen or unforeseen mishap that may arise as a result of technical/operational inadequacy of the presidential air fleet, it is in the best interest of the country to procure two additional aircraft as recommended.

“This will also prove to be most cost-efficient in the long run apart from the added advantage of providing a suitable, comfortable and safe carrier befitting of the status and responsibilities of the office of the president and vice-president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

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The investigation, which was sequel to the inability of the VP to travel with his aircraft in May this year owing to technical faults, was instigated by a motion by Satomi Ahmed, member from Jere Federal Constituency of Borno State, who had raised an alarm over the matter, on the floor of the House, leading to a comprehensive investigation being ordered by the members.

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Despite the heated debates over the matter, with some lawmakers, who were uncomfortable with the suggestion, citing the current poor economic situation in the country, urging the Tinubu and Shettima to use commercial aircrafts of travel by road, Ahmed explained that the proposal remained the best solution at the moment.

The committee had met the commanders of the Presidential fleet, when Shettima, was forced to use a chartered plane from the Netherlands to Saudi Arabia during his recent trip abroad, after initially cancelling a trip to the US to represent Tinubu at the 2024 US-Africa business summit.

Ahmed, who told reporters on Wednesday that the committee would set up a technical committee to interface with the officials at the presidential air fleet and come up with a resolution.

Reports say the six aircraft currently in the Presidential fleet, include one Boeing 737 (19 years old, currently unserviceable and undergoing maintenance); one Gulfstream G550 (13 years old, in good condition), one Gulfstream GV (23 years old, unserviceable); two Falcon 7Xs (one serviceable, one unserviceable); and one Challenger CL605 (12 years old, serviceable).

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The helicopter fleet includes two Agusta 139s (17 and 18 years old, both unserviceable); four Agusta 189s (no information on their condition).

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