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My Life After Seplat

By Austin Avuru

In my last five years as Chief Executive Officer of Seplat I had an official, professional mentor resident in London, who acted as my sounding board on most critical decisions. As I was winding down, the issue of my post retirement plans came into stronger focus.

I was clear in my mind what I was going to do. In my planning, I started by isolating what I was NOT going to do….

  • I would not go into consulting
  • I would not run a contracting (Service) Company
  • I would not go into the Oil and Gas downstream business.

I decided that I was going to set up a Family Office – a family funded investment vehicle, through which I would incubate new businesses and manage any investments that I have. I zeroed in on four areas of interest that I would seek business opportunities….

  • Upstream Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate
  • Green House Farming
  • Investments in Nigeria listed equities.

I went ahead to set up an Isles of Man and Nigerian registered family trust, “Austin Avuru Holdings Limited” as the holding company for all my business interests. In the last two years of my service in Seplat, I held quarterly review meetings with my mentor and crystalized, both my succession plans in Seplat as well as my post retirement business plans. By August 2018, I started putting the building blocks in place.

I bought a piece of property on Oba Elegushi Road, Ikoyi, at the time occupied by a private primary school. There is an interesting story to the purchase of this property.

When my estate agents called me to inform me about the sudden availability of this property, I did not immediately have cash. The property cost ₦450,000,000.00 (Four hundred and fifty Million Naira only) and I could internally raise ₦150,000,000.00 (One hundred and fifty Million Naira). I called my GM Finance and the General Counsel in Seplat and asked them if they could arrange a short-term company loan of ₦300,000,000.00 (Three hundred Million naira only) which I would pay back as soon as dividends were paid in about six months. The General Counsel laughed out loud and announced to me that, that would amount to an insider loan to a director. She said it was a governance red flag and that it didn’t matter whether it was ₦3,000,000 or ₦300,000,000.00, the exercise was forbidden. I said to myself …. “So much for the monster I have created in the name of Corporate Governance”. But, so it was. The discussion didn’t go any further than that. Next, I put a call through to the MD/CEO of Platform Petroleum, my parent company where I was Vice Chairman of the board… “Are you guys able to advance me a soft loan of ₦300 Million. I will pay back within six months”. There was no hesitation in the answer . . . “Sure. When will you need it?” It did not surprise me; we had always run Platform Petroleum like a family and the compassionate requests of staff, directors and shareholders were always adequately attended to. The money was in my account in four days and subsequently I paid for the property. Of course, I paid it back within the promised time period.

We closed the transaction in November 2018 but because we could not disrupt the school calendar, we agreed to wait until July 3rd 2019 when the kids vacated for the summer holidays before taking possession. In the intervening period, we had concluded all the design work and processed the approvals for our proposed office building. Days after taking possession we moved in, demolished the existing buildings, and started the construction of our new office building.

In January 2019, I started the process of hiring the anchor staff for AA Holdings Limited. Working with a trusted HR Consultant, we went through a rigorous selection process to pick one out of four identified candidates for the position of Chief Investment Officer (CIO). We finally settled for a young, brilliant investment banker, Emeka Okolo, who assumed office on April 2nd 2019 in a rented office suite in Ikoyi. He quickly settled down to work, focusing on the following key assignments.

  • Supervised the construction, finishing, outfitting, and furnishing of the new office to top-notch standards. The office was finally ready at the end of November 2020, even though we moved in on September 1st, one month after my disengagement from Seplat.
  • Organised AAHoldings into a proper holding company with Professional Support Limited as a wholly owned subsidiary. All my shares in Seplat were transferred to Professional Support Limited while my shares in Platform Petroleum Limited were held by AAHoldings and Professional Support Limited. All my shares in listed securities on the Nigerian Stock Exchange were similarly transferred to AAHoldings. Two new subsidiaries, Professional Support Property Development Company Limited and Professional Support Farms Limited were created to warehouse our real estate and green house farming businesses respectively. A property which we owned, following our purchase of Nerine Properties Limited (part of Nerine Services Limited, a company ABC and I sold off due to pressures of RPT from Seplat) was transferred to Professional Support Property Development Limited.
  • Organised a beauty contest among four Communications Consultants for the design of our logo, letterheads, business cards and other stationery items. The chosen design from this exercise is what we use today.
  • Worked with Auditors and our retained external counsels to bring all statutory reports in respect of AAHoldings and all its subsidiaries to date. By the time I assumed duties on 1st September 2020 as Executive Chairman of AAHoldings, the audited annual report for all the companies for the year ended 31st December, 2019 (and all previous years as relevant) were ready and filed with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). Similarly, tax returns had been filed with the FIRS for all the companies.

On September 1st 2020, one month into my retirement from Seplat, the AA Holdings office opened for business at 1C Oba Elegushi Road, Ikoyi. Apart from office support staff (security, maintenance, front desk, etc), there were four of us. . . . My executive assistant of eighteen years, the Chief Operating Officer, Mr. Johnnie Eni, who was the GM Business Integrity in Seplat, the Chief Investment Officer and myself. On October 1st, a Finance Manager, Mrs. Judith Alex-Oni joined us. When we prepared our 2021 Work Program and budget, the key highlights, which represented our four areas of investment interest were . . . .

  • Agriculture:

We decided to acquire a small parcel of land, about 1,500 square meters in the Lekki/Ajah axis of Lagos for a pilot project on greenhouse farming. Working with Dizengoff (a notable agricultural equipment supplier) we set up a greenhouse farm to produce pepper and tomatoes. After ten months of experiment, six of which was spent harvesting and selling products, we had enough data to start the planning of a larger scale farm. We acquired four hectares of land from the Lagos State Agric Scheme in Epe where we are now planning a proper, commercial greenhouse farm for Pepper and Tomatoes. We also have eight hectares of land in Delta State where we will expand into once the one in Lagos proves as successful as we envisage.

  • Real Estate:

Our first real estate project was the development of a service outlet for two anchor tenants on a 2,900sq meter plot of land we already owned in Ikota, Lagos It is a well-crafted building on four floors with one wing housing a restaurant chain and the other housing the film house cinemas (Imax). The second project, still at pre-construction stage, is an iconic 44-Unit luxury apartments complex on Alexander Road, Ikoyi. It is a huge project, and we are still twicking the design to achieve commercial cost effectiveness. To hedge our currency risk, we have also started acquiring (one piece at a time) commercial, residential real estate in the USA.

  • Equity Investing:

We have rationalized our holdings of Nigerian listed equities to three Nigerian banks which, in our view, consistently deliver above 7.5% dividend yield. We will continue to build on this portfolio to a point where our dividend income can support our Naira-based businesses and overheads.

The three sectors above represent our future areas of diversification away from Oil and Gas. To date, our big play still remains the Oil and Gas Sector.

Excerpted from My Entrepreneurship Journey, by Austin Avuru. Published in Nigeria by RADI8 LIMITED, Lagos, 2022.

Matola Takes Hold of Moza’s Leading Electricity Firm

Tomás Matola, the head of state investment bank BNI, has been named the new chairman of the Cahora Bassa hydroelectric company, HCB.

HCB is the largest company with public capital in Mozambique, with the State holding 85%; the Portuguese company REN has 7.5%; 4% of the shares in the hands of various national citizens and companies and 3.5% held by HCB itself.

Matola 44, replaces Boavida Mahambe, who has been the company’s Chief Executive since March 2021.

Matola  held various management positions in BNI over the last 11 years, and was Chairman of the Executive Committee in the last eight years.

BNI’s latest report and accounts, announced profits of more than 200Million Meticais ($3.13Million) from which it paid the Mozambican State, its shareholder, 60Million Meticais ($0.94Million) in dividends.

The Cahora Bassa Hydroelectric Board of Directors comprises Aida Magaia, Nilton Trindade, Hermínio Chiau and José Munice.

At Seplat, Chioma Afe Takes Over from Chioma Nwachuku

Chioma Afe has taken over from Chioma Nwachuku as Director of External Relations and Sustainability at Seplat Energy.

Nwachuku, 60, who has held the company’s lead spokesperson’s job since September 2010, first as General Manager Public Affairs & New Business Development, before moving up to Directorate level position, retires in August 2023.

In her place, Afe has settled in. She coordinated the company’s Annual General Meeting on May 10, 2023.

Mrs. Afe oversees a division consisting of departments responsible for managing Corporate Communications, Media Relations, Branding, Business and Joint Venture Partner Relations, Community Relations, Government Relations, Public Relations, Corporate Social Responsibility, ESG and Sustainability.

She moved to Seplat after four and half years as Access Bank’s Head of Marketing Communications, a job she took after heading Corporate Communications at Diamond Bank Plc.

Chioma Afe has worked in Public Relations, Marketing and Brand Development across various sectors for 25 years, beginning with a National Youth Service job in Tequila Nigeria, a pioneering Below the Line (BTL) advertising agency in the country. She has attended leadership and management courses at Wharton University, Metropolitan Business school, Lagos Business School and Imperial College Business School, London.

Seplat’s new spokesperson has worked with such brands as British American Tobacco (BATN), and KPMG; as Senior Brand Manager with Cocacola Nigeria Limited from 2006 to 2011, Senior Manager, Brand Assets and Activations with Airtel Nigeria from 2011 to 2012, and then as Marketing Manager, Cadbury Nigeria Plc from 2012 to 2013.

She was Marketing Manager at MultiChoice Group until 2016 when she took the Diamond Bank job.

All that multisectoral experience will be required to keep the Seplat Energy in as much positive glare in the media, as various contending shareholding and founder interests battle for the soul of Africa’s most successful indigenous E&P firm through case after spontaneous court cases.

Nwokedi, Veteran NGA Member, Takes the Helm of the Gas Advocacy Body

The Nigerian lawyer Akachukwu Adeyinka Nwokedi has been elected the President of the Nigerian Gas Association (NGA), the country’s leading natural gas advocacy group.

It is just as well. He has been part of the organizing machinery of the association for its close to a quarter century of being.

It is telling that Mr. Nwokedi is the current General Counsel and Company Secretary of Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG)Limited, a company which, close watchers have come to associate with being the life force behind the birth and growth of the NGA.  That the association was registered in the same year the NLNG delivered its first export cargo of LNG, fortifies the narrative that NGA was created to popularize the idea of ‘the business of natural gas’ at a time when NLNG was a rank outlier, struggling against the tide in an economy focused on the pure oil play.

But as Nwokedi’s acceptance address on the night of his election shows, tying the birth of NGA with the fortunes of NLNG is a single story which leaves out a complicated background and context.

“Today is certainly a day for reflection because when in 1999, I was saddled with the responsibility by the then GMD of NNPC, Dr Gaius Obaseki, to register the NGA and become its first legal advisor and Deputy Secretary-General, I could not have known that many years later I would be standing here today as President of the association”, the new President told a roomful of guests at the dinner.

Translation: the NGA is a child of many parents.

“It is indeed an honour and a privilege to be taking over the mantle of leadership of this very important body to the Nigerian Gas Industry, an association to which I have remained committed for the last 20 plus years”.

Nwokedi holds a first degree and a Master’s degree in law from the University of Buckingham, United Kingdom and was called to the Nigerian Bar. He is a legal professional with over 25 years’ experience, mainly in the oil and gas industry.

A pioneer Human Resources Manager for Career Development and Talent Management in NLNG and later the Human Resources and Services Manager for NLNG’s Production Division, Nwokedi delivered the Gas Supply Agreements (GSA) for NLNG’s Trains 3, 4 and 5 and the financing agreements for the NLNGPlus Project in his position as Senior Counsel, Technical and Projects for the company, his profile says.

He also served as Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of NLNG Ship Management Limited (NSML), an NLNG subsidiary, “repositioning the company from loss making to an organization delivering strong performance and sustained profit for the NLNG Group”, the profile explains.

Descalzi Will Continue as ENI’s CEO for the Fourth Consecutive, Three Year Term

By Macson Obojeminmoin

Claudio Descalzi will continue his role as one of ENI’s longest running Chief Executive Officers (CEO) in history.

It is official.

Giuseppe Zafarana, an Italian Military General, will replace Lucia Calvosa, the law professor who has been Chairman of ENI’s Board since May 2020.

General Zafarana and Mr. Descalzi’s names are among those of six candidates submitted for the office of Directors by Italy’s Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF), The candidates’ names are to be approved at the company’s Shareholders’ Meeting on May 10, 2023.

The “Shareholder Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF)”, as ENI describes it in a statement, is holder of 4.41% of the share capital of ENI SpA. The MEF also owns, through the Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, a further 26.21% stake, for a total of 30.62% of the share capital.

Mr. Descalzi, who joined ENI as a reservoir engineer in 1981, has held the reins of the Italian E&P major for nine years. This re-appointment, for a fourth term of another three years, is clear indication that he has won both the politics and the legal battles of the most important challenge to his reputation. For most of the past half a decade, an arm of the Italian judicial system indicated, consistently, that it was convinced that the company, under his watch, was involved in corrupt dealing with Nigerian officials in the course of the purchase of the Oil Prospecting Licence (OPL) 245, in 2011. The state prosecutor vigorously pursued, in the court of Millan, “a conviction of the current CEO”.  Those charges were dismissed by the court in 2021.

General Giuseppe Zafarana has been the commander general of the Guardia di Finanza since May 2019. His military career began in 1981, attending the 81st “Osum II” course at the Corps Academy. Put into service in 1985, he has held numerous operational positions in Lombardy, Veneto, Lazio, Calabria and Sicily. In particular, he commanded the Lieutenancy of Conegliano Veneto (1985 – 1987) and the Company of Lamezia Terme (1987 – 1989); he assumed positions in the leading investigative departments of the Corps, such as the Central Tax Police Unit (1991 – 1995) and the Tax Police Unit of Palermo (1997 – 2000); he was Provincial Commander of Rome (2003 – 2008) and Regional Commander of Lombardy (2015-2016). Zafarana was Interregional Commander of Central Italy, to whom command, coordination and control functions are attributed to the Departments located in the Lazio, Umbria, Abruzzo and Sardinia Regions. He was awarded numerous decorations and honours, including that of Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.

The other candidates submitted by the Ministry for the office of Directors include: Cristina Sgubin, Elisa Baroncini, Federica Seganti and Roberto Ciciani.

Abdulrazaq Isa Retakes the Reins of Waltersmith Petroman

By Macson Obojemuinmoin, in Lagos

Addulrazaq Isa has returned to executive role at Waltersmith Petroman, the Nigerian E&P firm he co-founded.

The former banker retreated into a Non-executive Chairman role four years ago, as Waltersmith appointed Chikwezie Nwosu as Chief Excecutive Officer. Nwosu’s appointment at the time was meant to be part of Waltersmith’s next phase of evolution.  “where the owner/founders no longer ran the company on a hands on basis”.

Ayokunle Okusanya, CEO, Waltersmith Industrial Park

That evolution has apparently been disrupted and a new company structure has taken shape, in which Isa is the President/Group Chief Executive Officer of the holding company, overseeing three subsidiaries, namely:  Waltersmith E&P, the upstream arm of the company; Waltersmith Refining and Petrochemical Limited and Waltersmith Industrial Park Ltd. The last company is the “Landlord” of  both the upstream and downstream properties as well as the burgeoning facility that will provide a number of services including gas and power supply, refined petroleum products and other ancillary services, to tenants.
Dapo Filani will become the Chief Executive Officer of Waltersmith E&P; Ayokunle Okusanya will move up from the position of Chief Investment Officer to CEO of Waltersmith Industrial Park and Abdu Isa, (no relations to the Group Chief Executive Officer), has been promoted from General Manager Refinery, to CEO Waltersmith Refining and Petrochemical Limited.

Dapo Filani, Incoming CEO, Waltersmith E&P Ltd.

Filani arrives Waltersmith from First E&P, where he was Deputy General Manager Corporate Strategy & Business Delivery, a job he has held for close to two years after a stint as Business Adviser to that company’s MD/CEO. Filani spent the first 13 of his 23 years of industry experience, in reservoir engineering and field development management roles.

Okunsanya, who has been a steady, right hand man to the Group CEO, is a certified Nigerian accountant, who worked as Head, Fund and Portfolio Management at both Kakawa Asset Management and  IEI Assets Ltd, before joining Waltersmith in 2010.

Abdul Isa was, as of 2010, Waltersmith’s  Crude Export and HSE Manager. He wa

Abdul Isa, CEO, Waltersmith Refinery & Petrochemicals

s named General Manager, Refinery at the newly created Waltersmith Refining and Petrochemical Company in March 2020.

The three CEOs will be busy; in the midstream/downstream Waltersmith Petroman is about to launch the construction of a second, 5,000Barrel Per Stream Day modular refinery. In the upstream, the company looks forward to a drilling campaign on the Assa field, which was discretionally awarded to Waltersmith by President Buhari in April 2021 (one of the last discretionary awards of upstream acreages). The Industrial Park has a load of a work, including the finalization of feasibility study by its partner, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), fencing the 65 hectare park site, commissioning the architectural design, executing the 30MMscf/d gas off take agreement with Seplat and starting the design, permitting and installation of 8km gas pipeline from ANOH gas plant to the industrial park.

Nafi Chinery Confirmed as Africa Director, Natural Resource Governance Institute

The Ghanaian development specialist, Nafi Chinery, has been formally appointed Africa director of the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI).

She had been the interim Africa Director of the Institute since November 2022, a role in which she was specifically directed to oversee the activities of NRGI’s Africa team and provide strategic leadership for NRGI’s work in the region and globally.

“Since joining NRGI in 2017, Nafi has been a strategic leader, a dynamic ambassador and an innovative implementor”, says Suneeta Kaimal, president and CEO of NRGI. “In her service as interim Africa director since November 2022, she has demonstrated her ambition and vision for our Africa programme”, Ms. Kaimal explained. “Nafi is the right leader to ensure that NRGI deepens engagements with women and vulnerable communities, and supports the strong African movement to accelerate a just energy transition and manage natural resources accountably in the interest of citizens.”

With this appointment, the NGRI has concluded a search that had been ongoing since 2016. The Africa director, in the organisation’s description, is one “who can build relationships with a diverse range of critical partners and harness the strengths of the organization to advance accountable and effective governance in Africa”.  The institute says that the role is a unique opportunity “to cohesively improve natural resource governance across Africa”.

In the last four months, Ms. Chinery had combined the job of Interim Africa Director with her role of West Africa regional manager (Anglophone) at the Institute, where she supervised the design, implementation and coordination of NRGI’s strategic engagements and programmes in Anglophone West Africa.

What this appointment means is that the role of West Africa regional manager (Anglophone) is open.

“In this new role, my vision is to prioritize transparency and accountability across the extractive sector value chain and help shape a sustainable energy future for Africa,” Chinery offers, in her response to the appointment. “This means actively promoting a just and equitable transition to renewable energy across the continent. It requires constructive engagement with governments, key regional and global institutions, civil society, local communities, vulnerable populations, and the private sector to promote policies and practices that enable African countries and citizens to thrive in the future. From minerals needed for green technology to building economic futures beyond oil, this transition is critical to addressing the twin challenges of climate change and energy poverty in Africa.”

Nafi Chinery has over 20 years of experience in development work. Prior to joining NRGI, she worked with Oxfam GB and the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF), a pan-African grant-making foundation for women’s rights. She has a longstanding career in organizational development and transformative and strategic leadership. For 17 years, Nafi has worked to develop and strengthen credible well informed women’s rights organizations and leaders to accelerate the respect for women and rights of marginalized groups across Africa.

She holds a master’s degree in social development and sustainable livelihoods from the University of Reading, U.K., and a bachelor of arts and diploma in education from Cape Coast University, Cape Coast, Ghana. She was also a 2014 Aspen New Voices Fellow.

Carrara Is Saipem’s New Spokesman

The engineering service firm Saipem has announced the appointment of a new Director of External Communication and Brand Management.

Rossella Carrara will report directly to CEO Alessandro Puliti, with the responsibility of defining corporate communication strategies and developing the company’s image and reputation.

She takes over from Loretana Cortis, who is leaving the company.

Ms. Carrara will “specifically coordinate media relations activities, digital PR, crisis communication, and develop strategies for corporate image and identity management”, Saipem explains in a release.

The Italian graduate of Political science has more than 20 years’ experience as a strategic consultant supporting multinational companies in various sectors. She joins Saipem after three years as Vice President Corporate Relations and Sustainability of the Costa Group, the leading European company in the cruise sector, for which she managed communication, institutional relations and sustainability activities at global level. Previously, she was Deputy Managing Director of Apco Worldwide in Italy, where she was responsible for public affairs, stakeholder engagement, corporate responsibility and communication activities, both nationally and internationally. Prior to Apco, she was Senior Director at Burson Marsteller, overseeing, in particular, corporate and crisis communications.

South Africa’s New Electricity Minister Is Vested with Enormous Powers

By Marshal Gungubele, in Windhoek

Kgosientsho ‘Sputla’ Ramokgopa, the South African civil engineer appointed as his country’s new minister of electricity, has a mandate that reaches way beyond solving the crises at Eskom, the one-time largest power utility in Africa.

Ramakgopa was appointed in the context of the national state of disaster, declared in February 2023 by President Cyril Ramaphosa, “to respond to the electricity crisis and its effect.”

The escalation of the crisis would allow the government to implement “practical measures that we need to take to support businesses,” President Ramaphosa had declared.

The state of disaster mode would allow the government to remove red tape for energy projects, the President said. It will enable the exemption of critical infrastructure such as hospitals and water treatment plants from crippling power outages, which had held down economic growth for 15 long years.

Mr. Ramakgopa will be expected to facilitate the coordination of the numerous departments and entities involved in the crisis response, work with the Eskom leadership to turn around the performance of power stations, and accelerate the procurement of new generation capacity.

That means he will be performing some of roles that ordinarily would have been the remits of the Minister of Public Enterprises (Pravin Gordhan) and Minister of Mines and Energy (Gwede Mantashe).

Weeks before Ramakgopa’s appointment, Mr. Mantashe, himself a powerhouse in the ruling party ANC, had described the role of the would -be-Minister of electricity, as “project manager”, focusing exclusively on power outages. President Ramaphosa apparently thought differently. “To effectively oversee the electricity crisis response, the appointed minister will have political responsibility, authority and control over all aspects of the Energy Action Plan,” Ramaphosa said in the speech making the appointment.

South Africa experienced more than 200 days of power cuts in 2022, the worst on record. Eskom is saddled with $26Billion of debt, along with an ageing, lack-lustre- performing, fleet of power generating plants.

Ramakgopa, 48, was, prior to the new role, head of the Investment and Infrastructure Office in the Presidency. He was formerly the member of the executive committee (MEC) in charge of Economic Development and Agriculture in Gauteng, the province which hosts Johannesburg and Tshwane (the city formerly known as Pretoria). Between 2010 and 2016, he was the mayor of Tshwane.

Marshal Gungubele is the new Southern Africa correspondent for Africa Oil+Gas Report.

Durogbitan Moves to Plusher Offices at Amni International

The Nigerian independent, Amni International Petroleum has promoted Abimbola Durogbitan to the role of General Manager, External Relations and Technical Assistant to the Group Managing Director.

He is now, in effect, the spokesperson for the company, which operates three shallow offshore acreages in Nigeria and one deepwater tract in Ghana.

An earth scientist with a doctorate degree from the University of Manchester, Durogbitan was previously the company’s General Manager, Subsurface.

He had worked in several senior technical positions at Petrofac Integrated Energy Services, prior to joining Amni. At Petrofac, he interfaced with several E& P companies ranging from Oil majors to independents.

Durogbitan is a recipient of the Petrofac Group Eve Award; which celebrates Petrofac`s best employees (individuals) in their area of work. Before Petrofac-he worked as an Associate Senior Geoscientist with PetroVision Energy UK for two (2) years.

With over 24 years of global oil and gas industry experience working in senior technical and management positions with integrated independents and Oil service companies. Durogbitan is also a Certified Project Management Professional (PMP) with the Project Management Institute (PMI), a fellow of the African Scientific Institute (ASI) and a fellow of the Nigerian Association of Petroleum Explorationists (NAPE).

A COMEG Registered Geoscientist, and active member of the Nigerian Mining and Geosciences Society (NMGS), the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), European Association of Geophysicists (EAGE) and Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE). He became the first (founding) UK/EUROPE Chapter Coordinator of NAPE in 2016, the first NAPE Chapter in the diaspora.

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