For now, peace seems to have eluded Bala Wunti, the Group General Manager of the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS), so much that even his shadow scares him.
Instructively, as part of the restructuring and consolidation of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited, NAPIMS is now known as the NNPC Upstream Investment Services (NUIS).
Until his elevation as GGM, one of the most influential roles in the Nigerian oil industry, Wunti was the Chief Upstream Investment Officer of the NNPC Upstream Management Services.
It was reliably gathered that Wunti got the job through the influence of Malam Abba Kyari, the late Chief of Staff to President Buhari.
He hails from the same Bauchi State as Mrs Kyari.
If fortune smiled on him generously in that post among others that he had occupied in the oil and gas industry where he had been a player for about three decades, the NAPIMS job ushered him into a higher level of mammoth wealth.
Those close to him allege that between 2020 and now, he has acquired so much wealth that would make Forbes query their Richest List research team.
Because of his sensitive position, he is not extravagant but is as financially solid as they come.
He is reputed to, however, have a bias for acquiring luxury properties and has a mouthwatering property portfolio in Abuja.
Beyond his influence in the oil and gas industry, Wunti is a close ally of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party.
With an Atiku presidency, Wunti was convinced he would retain his juicy portfolio or be elevated.
Thus, as the 2023 electioneering approached, sources said that Wunti went all out, mobilising and mopping up funds for the PDP candidate.
It was rumoured that his financial involvement in the Atiku campaign is in tens of millions of dollars. At his level, they don’t transact in naira; it is either dollars or pounds!
Another impeccable source disclosed that Wunti never believed in Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the All Progressives Congress candidate, which further fuelled his investment in Atiku.
Unfortunately for Wunti, Tinubu is now the president-elect and will be sworn in on May 29. And that is the crux of his problems.
Wunti is currently racing against time.
He knows and has confided in close associates that the new administration will ease him out for his partisanship, among other infractions.
Significantly, there is the overhanging allegation of his role in Nigeria’s oil production decline.
Last October, a group, the Concerned Citizens of Nigeria, accused Wunti of being involved in some contract fraud and engaging in multi-billion-dollar corruption.
In an open letter, the group alleged that Wunti is notorious for frustrating oil development operations for personal gains and using his position as a top official to exclusively give contracts to companies he favours in flagrant violation of the procurement procedures.
“A major concern is the country’s participation in the Deepwater field development space, which is the major contributor to the nation’s oil production.
Despite the rise in the crude oil price in the past months, with countries all over the world taking advantage of this opportunity by aggressively embarking on reserve growth and field developments to ensure they derive maximum benefit (economy, job creation, etc.), this high prices currently present, Nigeria has only one (1) deep offshore drilling rig currently carrying out drilling operations, which is the SNEPco Bonga OML 118 drilling operation.
“Despite this challenge in the nation’s oil development, Bala Wunti, due to his greed, personal interest, and inherent fraudulent character, is willing to frustrate this field (Bonga) development to the detriment of the sufferings and yelling of the nation and Nigerians in general.”
The group highlighted Wunti’s alleged involvement in contract irregularities, stating: “Investigations show that on the 18th March 2022, SNEPco wrote requesting for NAPIMS approval to exercise the two (2) years optional extension of the existing NNPC approved contract with OCEAN DEEP DRILLING (ODNEL)/VALARIS by extending the contract duration for another two years for the Provision of Deep Offshore Drilling Rig Services.
The Valaris DS-10 drillship is currently carrying out drilling operations in the Bonga field of OML 118.
“This approval request will ensure an uninterrupted drilling activity in the field.
Interesting to note is that to date (about seven (7) months delay), NAPIMS GGM has yet to and refuses to approve the contract extension.
From our investigation with some SNEPco personnel, we understand that follow-up letters were sent to the GGM’s office, and various phone calls were made but yielded no positive results.”
The group lamented that despite sending several whistle-blowing emails to the GMD of NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum Company) for the past one year, “No action has been taken till date to address various concerns raised which could have resulted into NNPC being a better company for the over 200 million concerned Nigerians which the corporation is saddled with the responsibility of protecting their interest and the interest of our unborn children.”
Curiously, despite the overwhelming evidence of his serial malfeasance, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has turned a blind eye to wunti. But, for how long?
On the home-front, there are insinuations that relations between him and the late Kyari family, which used to be very robust, has now broken down because of his alleged neglect of the Kyaris.
Not even Kyari’s wife who solidified the relationship between the two men or her kids are getting any form of support from the NAPIMS boss.
The family source who disclosed this said that the Kyaris got frustrated and decided to keep him at arm’s length when several attempts to get his attention for one thing or the other came to nought.
Beyond this, another problem for Wunti is that he does not have a cordial relationship with his boss, Mele Kyari, the chief executive officer of NNPC Limited.
Whether or not Wunti’s animosity borders on eyeing Kyari’s post could not be independently verified, but he has been fingered as one of the brains behind the negative stories in the media against the NNPC boss.
So frustrated is Kyari with Wunti’s antics and campaigns of calumny that he overtly rues that he cannot sack him.
Even if Wunti escapes Kyari’s axe, he is confident that the evil he has done will not make him escape the new administration’s.