Economy Maritime Politics

Akpobolokemi ballooned budget to embezzle NIMASA’s N687.2m, witness alleges

Written by Maritime First

…As DMO says Investors bid N234bn for N150bn bonds offer***

A prosecution witness, Mr Ekene Nwakuche, has told an Ikeja High Court in Lagos, that former strongman and Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA)  Patrick Akpobolokemi, inflated the agency’s budget, so as to embezzle funds.

Ekene stated this while testifying against Akpobolokemi who is facing a 12-count trial charge of conspiracy, forgery and stealing a N687.2 million alongside two former Executive Directors of the agency, Ezekiel Agaba and Vincent Udoye.

Ekene Nwakuche, a former Personal Assistant to Agaba while being cross-examined by Mr Kunle Gbolahan, Akpobolokemi’s Defence Counsel, told the court that in order to allegedly siphon funds, draft budgets for the agency were always inflated by the defendants.

“I am not the personal assistant to the first defendant (Akpobolokemi) but rather to Agaba.

“What they (the defendants) do is that they request that we do a draft budget, present it to them and they have a meeting between themselves and readjust and increase the budget.

“It’s not possible for me to present the draft budget here in court because the draft budget that is made is usually destroyed,” he said.

While being cross-examined by Mr E. D. Onyeke, Agaba’s Defence Counsel, Nwakuche revealed that he was not a member of the Voluntary International Maritime Organisation Member State Audit Scheme (VIMSAS) set up by Akpobolokemi in 2014.

According to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), a VIMSAS bank account received funds from the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) which was allegedly embezzled by the defendants.

“The defendants never held VIMSAS meetings to discuss budget or expenditure, they held meetings on audit. I was at those meetings. I never write my name on the minutes but my boss, Mr Udoye and others can testify.

“The second defendant (Agaba) only reported to the first defendant (Akpobolokemi) how the funds of the VIMSAS committee were expended,” he said, stressing that there was no official letter available that stated that projects budgeted in 2014 and 2015 by VIMSAS were not executed.

Nwakuche also denied being a staff of Arrow World Consulting, a firm the EFCC alleged was used by the defendants to steal funds from the agency.

“I have no memo or document where the second defendant asked me to forge Arrow World documents,” he said.

Nwakuche, Governor Juan and Adegboyega Olopoenia were initially facing trial alongside the three defendants over alleged N754.8 million fraud committed in NIMASA, until they entered into a plea deal with the EFCC, and the charges against Nwakuche, Juan and Olopoenia were dropped in exchange for them to testify on behalf of the EFCC, against the embattled maritime bosses.

According to the anti-graft commission, Akpobolokemi, Agaba and Udoye are alleged to have committed the offence of conspiracy on Aug. 29, 2014.

According to Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, the lead EFCC prosecutor: “Between Oct. 30, 2014 and the May 6, 2015 in Lagos the three defendants stole N346.8 million property of NIMASA released to them for the implementation of VIMSAS.

“On May 28, 2015, Akpobolokemi and Agaba converted N257 million to their own use.

“Udoye on Feb. 2, 2015 with a dishonest intent converted to his own use the sum of N67.4 million and N16 million belonging to NIMASA.”

The EFCC alleged that Akpobolokemi and Agaba had allegedly on Jan. 20, April 28 and May 25, 2015, forged documents purported to have been issued by Arrow World Consulting.

The offences contravene Sections 285, 363 and 409 of the Criminal Code Laws of Lagos State, 2011.

Justice Raliatu Adebiyi adjourned the case until March 4 for continuation of the cross-examination of the witness.

Meanwhile, the Debt Management Office (DMO) indicated Wednesday that Federal Government’s February bonds received over N234 billion from investors for the N150 billion that was offered.

A statement obtained from the DMO website on Wednesday in Abuja said that the auction had three instruments, for five, seven and 10-year tenors.

“Total bids received from investors for the bonds exceeded N234 billion, with a total subscription level of 156 per cent.

“The focus of investors was principally on the 10-year bond which had a subscription level of 392 per cent.

“Successful bids were allotted at rates notably lower than those at the January auction, with 14.52 per cent for the five year, 14.79 per cent for the seven year and 14.93 per cent for the 10-year bond.”

It added that the DMO allotted the full N150 billion offered to successful bidders across the three tenors.

The statement also said that the over subscription was a continuos trend, judging from the N197 billion subscription it got for N150 billion offered in January.

However, N116.98 billion was allotted in January.

In a break down of the auction results for February also obtained from the website, the five year paper had N9.52 billion subscriptions, but N1.50 billion was allotted, the seven year had N28.85 billion subscriptions, but N12.25 billion was allotted.

However, the 10 year bond which investors showed much preference for had N195.98 billion subscriptions and was allotted N136.25 billion.

Nigeria issues sovereign bonds monthly to support the local bond market, creating a benchmark for corporate issuance and funding its budget deficit.

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