A popular adage in Igbo language has it that the moment a child is crying and pointing at a particular direction, two things are certain – it is either that an adult has snatched his/her beans cake (akara) or that his/her mother is heading in that direction.
The above picture is the exact scenario playing itself out in Imo State, South East Nigeria where a man widely regarded as a political maverick holds sway as the Chief executive officer and Governor.
Last Friday 21st June 2013, a prominent Imo State born contractor and a politician Chief Emmanuel Osita Okereke who is reportedly the Chairman of Nnutouch Ventures Incorporated and company limited with registered address as Number 6 Leeward Road, Belverere California, United States of America raised alarm alleging that the Imo State governor extorted N24 million out of the mobilization fees paid to his firm to construct the 7 – storey building of the new Imo State judicial headquarters in Owerri.
Approval for the new controversial contract totaling One Billion, three hundred and twenty million naira to Nnutouch global ventures limited was conveyed in the letter endorsed by the principal secretary to the governor Dr. Paschal C. Obi.
The Imo State government had in a letter of award dated 27th March, 2012 titled; “Notification for award of contract” averred thus; “I am directed to refer to a letter Ref No. GH/PL/S.64/XX dated 23rd March, 2012 on the above mentioned subject matter and to convey His Excellency, the Governor’s approval for the award of contract of 15,00 square meters of the Imo State Judiciary Headquarters Building at the cost of N88,000.00 per square meter totaling N1,320,000,000.00 (One Billion, Three Hundred and Twenty Million Naira) to Nnutouch Global Ventures Ltd”.
“You are kindly requested to indicate interest in this offer by addressing an acceptance letter to the Principal Secretary to the Governor of Imo State within a period of two weeks from the date of this offer”.
But one year after the contract was awarded, the contractor wrote to the Imo State government requesting that the mobilization fees be paid to his firm so they can execute the job without let or hindrance.
In a June 6th 2013 letter endorsed jointly by Engineer Marcel Uzegbu and Chief Osita E. Okereke for the contractor, the Imo State government was requested to fulfill its obligation of making the mobilization fees available.
Titled; “Imo State 7 – storey Judicial Complex, Owerri,” the contractor wrote as follows; “We are respectfully writing to request payment of the balance of the mobilization in the amount of three hundred and twenty eight million Naira, (N328,000,000.00) as stipulated in the contract agreement on the subject project. We have been working onsite since the 24,000,000.00 was released to Nnutouch Global Ventures Limited (NGVL). We have made good progress on the project. The N24,000,000.00 has been utilized for the building foundation; and it is now exhausted. NGVL has spent more than the amount provided to us. We respectively seek your approval and payment as further delays in releasing the funding for the project will impact the project further.”
“The project was meant to be completed in April this year, but due to funding delays, the project is still under construction. NGVL has sent numerous letters requesting payment of the balance, but we have not received any response or payment. NGVL submitted the invoices for prior four sites as instructed on March 4, 2013, but the Imo State (the State) has not given us any response.”
“The State has delayed the project by not releasing the funding in accordance with contract agreement. This delay forced the construction of the project into the rainy season, creating additional costs of NGVL, and made the project much more expensive. As the project progresses, we would like re-evaluation to determine the actual cost of the project.”
“Some of our materials are long lead items and require early procurement. The State’s delays have made it difficult for our banks to issue performance bonds or Letter of Credit to secure our materials in a timely manner.”
“We are determined to complete this project, and need the release of the mobilization balance, and costs incurred on prior sites. We need your assistance to move this project forward. Copies of our prior letters are attached. We look forward to your kind consideration.
But the relationship between the contractor and the state governor nosedived when governor Rochas Okorocha visited the site of the new judicial head office and discovered to his chagrin that job has not gone beyond any significant level and he threatened before the media to annul the contract.
But the contractor has cried blue murder and sensationally alleged that the governor demanded and received gratification of N24 million.
Not happy with the allegation made by the contractor, the Imo State governor voided the contract through a public announcement made by the commissioner for lands, survey, Housing and Urban development.
The Commissioner alleged that an initial N200 million was released to the company to enable it complete the foundation and that another N24 million was released to the contractor since the firm reneged on its word in the first instance to deliver the foundation of the edifice but has also failed to deliver.
Nnutouch global ventures through Chief Okereke is however standing by the allegation that Imo State governor failed to pay the mobilization fees intact.
According to the firm; “We requested payment of the balance of the mobilization in the amount of three hundred and twenty eight million Naira, (N328,000,000.00) as stipulated in the contract agreement on the subject project: We have been working onsite since the N24,000,000.00 was released to Nnutouch Global Ventures limited(NGVL). We have made some progress on the project. The N24,000,000.00 has been utilized for the building foundation; and it is now exhausted. NGVL has spent more than the amount provided to us. We respectively seek your approval and payment as further delays in releasing the funding for the project will impact the project further.”
“NGVL has sent numerous letters requesting payment of the mobilization balance, but we have not received any response or payment. NGVL submitted the invoices for prior four sites as instructed on March 4, 2013, but the Imo State (the State) has not given us any response. Since the state has not been able to release the balance of the mobilization for pay NGVL for the costs incurred on prior four sites, we will left with no other option than to stop work until funding becomes available.”
“The State has delayed the project by not releasing the funding in accordance with contract agreement. This delay forced the construction of the project into the rainy season, created additional costs to NGVL, and made the project much more expensive.”
‘Some of our materials are long lead items and require early procurement. The State’s delays have made it difficult for our banks to issue performance bonds or Letter of Credit to secure our materials in a timely manner. Our United States Partners are very concerned and have expressed their plan to write to United States and Nigerian Embassies to complaint non-payment by Imo State Government for their design work and other construction costs.”
“We are determined to complete this project, and need the release of the mobilization balance, and costs incurred on prior sites. Copies of our prior letters are attached. We look forward to your kind consideration.”
With the voiding of the said contract, both the contractor and the Imo State government have threatened to proceed to Court. The contractor believing that the contractual terms signed between it and the Imo State government is sacrosanct and since the State government has breached the terms, then the court of law is the best avenue to settle the dispute.
But why is the Imo State government under Rochas always having issues with contractors”? it was a failed contract whereby the State government lost nearly N1 Billion to a Lebanese Contractor allegedly linked to the governor’s wife that led to the impeachment of the Deputy governor Chief Jude Agbaso accused of collecting gratification from the contractor.
The impeached Deputy governor has hired a private investigator who allegedly traced the payment to that allegedly rogue Lebanese Contractor to a bank in Beirut, Lebanon. A special Adviser to Imo State governor linked allegedly to the disappearance of that huge money paid to that Lebanese contractor is cooling off his feets at the detention center of the economic and financial crimes commission in Abuja for nearly two weeks. The Imo State government has demanded the release of the Special Adviser but has not yet done anything concrete to ensure that the stolen Imo State money is retrieved and returned.
Few days back, Imo State government dragged a Spanish contractor Mr. Jose Marin Lopez-Pepe to a Lagos court over alleged stealing of over 1.6 million Euros belonging to Imo State government which the foreigner collected as mobilization fee and disappeared.
Ebere Uzoukwa, the special assistant (print) to Imo State governor issued a statement disclosing that the Spanish national is in police net over alleged 1.6 million Euros contract sum.
Mr. Lopez-Pepe was arrested in Lagos by the operatives of Inter-Pol and handed over to Imo State police command while trying to flee the country following a petition by the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the company, Mr. Emmanuel Benjamin Emenike.
Hormipresa is one of the major companies awarded monumental projects by the government of Imo State having secured a contract worth about 3.5 Billion Naira.
The State government claimed that it released 30% of the contract value of over N1 Billion Naira to the company as mobilization funds.
The Managing Director, Mr. Benjamin Emmanuel Emenike, it was gathered transferred the sum N1.6 Million Euros to the Spanish Bank account of Lopez-Pepe for the purchase of essential materials from Spain for the execution of the project which are yet to be supplied.
The big question begging for a response is why Imo State government under governor Rochas is constantly on collision course with contractors which the government validly engaged? Is it that the government officials in Imo are fraudulent to an extent that they engage fake contractors or that these series of dramatic scenarios are staged to enable some persons in the Imo State government to disappear with public fund?
One allegation that should not be allowed to be covered under the carpets is the raging controversy of alleged bribery of N24 million to the Imo State governor made by Nnutouch Contractor headed by a prominent Imo state citizen who is well known in the political circle of the nation’s capital and who has been found consistently worthy by the Independent National Electoral Commission to run for the highest office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria not once but thrice. This damaging allegation must be investigated.
* Emmanuel Onwubiko; Heads; Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria and [email protected]; www.huriiwa.blogspot..com