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Delta 2019: Gov. Okowa’s ambition cripples Asaba Airport upgrade…. • As ULO Construction Company pulls out • Okowa allegedly diverts N1.5Bn budgeted for the project

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The ripples generated by the build-up to the next governorship polls in Delta State is rubbing off on some infrastructural developments in the state starting from the Asaba International Airport project.

 

Society Reporters NG Government House sources have seen a letter sent to the governor by ULO Construction Company, owned by Asaba-born billionaire Uche Okpuno on the company’s desire to pull out of the construction work it is currently carrying out in the state airport.

 

Detailed findings by our team of reporters authoritatively link the refusal of the state governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa to review the contract upward in line with global standard as a subtle way of fighting the chairman of ULO.

We gathered that the governor is already gearing up for 2019 elections and sees Okpuno as a rival whose financial war chest must not be allowed to grow beyond measure.

 

According to one of our sources, the governor is jittery as he believes one of the APC aspirants eyeing his seat has the backing of Okpuno. He fears that if the very influential aspirant decides to throw his hat in the ring, the billionaire businessman would be one of the financial pillars during the campaign period, which will not go down well with his camp.

 

To clip the wings of the powerful APC governorship hopeful, the governor has decided to frustrate ULO by not making any payment to it or reviewing the contract upward, but insisted that it completes the job with specification of 2014, which will definitely lead to a huge loss for the company should it fall into the booby trap set by the governor, a source noted.

 

A copy of the Delta State 2017 budget at our disposal under the Economic Sector, Sub-sector transport, Subhead No. 261, shows that a whopping sum of N1.5 billion was budgeted for it while N2.51 billion was budgeted the previous year for the construction company to continue its work, but the state government refused to release it. Deltans who spoke to us expressed dismay and believe that the money may have been diverted to private purse.

 

We gathered that the decision by ULO to pull out of the construction site is as a result of Gov. Okowa’s inability to come to terms with reality that the quotation used for 2014 cannot be used for 2017 as prices of construction materials have shot up astronomically.

 

“It is also pertinent to note that the estimate prepared by the Ministry of Works in 2014 without our inputs negates due process and principles of contract. Neither our company nor any other civil engineering company of competence was involved in the preparing of a competitive Bill of Engineering measurement and evaluations”, ULO wrote.

 

The company also noted that the state government’s inability to review cost of materials that have tripled since the adoption and measurement of actual works by them makes it unfavorable for it to carry out construction and maintenance work to international standard and to maintain its integrity, it has decided to serve a notice of disengagement.

We reliably learnt that several correspondences from ULO to Okowa have been ignored while entreaties for meetings were re-buffed.

 

The company declared its readiness to engage the services of construction reputable firms to carry out comprehensive cost audit jointly with officials of the Ministry of Works to determine who will make refunds be-tween them and the state government, after evaluation of all the woks done.

THE AVIATION CONSEQUENCE ON ASABA AIRPORT

 

The decision by ULO to pull out of the rehabilitation of the Asaba International Airport Runways and Taxiways has been viewed by aviation experts as a terrifying time for the governor and the state if a roundtable discussion is not held between the company and the state government urgently.

 

Our findings revealed that if the disengagement is allowed to happen, anyone using Asaba Airport to fly to Abuja and Lagos should consider going to the neighboring state for flight, as Asaba Airport may likely be downgraded or completely shut down.

 

The downgrade of the airport, according to a source in the Ministry of Works, will be a case of penny wise and pound foolish, as the state government will spend more in bringing its subsequent upgrade, as it must still review the price upward and even more to any company that it will engage to carry out such rehabilitation.

 

When we tried to confirm the story, neither the Commissioner for Information, Mr. Patrick Ukah nor the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Charles Ehiedu Aniagwu responded to our enquiry as at press time.

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FCMB Manager Arrested For Hoarding New Naira Notes

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A manager of the First City Monument Bank (FCMB) branch in Osogbo, Osun State capital, has been arrested for allegedly preventing Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) loaded with cash from dispensing money to customers.

The spokesperson of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offenses Commission (ICPC), Azuka Ogugua, in a statement on Friday said the cash bundles were loaded into the ATMs while still wrapped, and as such, could not be dispensed through the machines

“The ICPC Compliance Team in Osogbo has busted an FCMB in Osogbo, Osun State, where some ATMs were loaded with cash with their wrappers un-removed, thus preventing the cash from being dispensed.

“The Team, therefore, directed that the wrappers be removed, and the cash loaded properly’.

Similarly, seven Point of Sale (POS) operators as well as a security guard were arrested during the ongoing exercise in Osun State for charging exorbitant commissions for cash.

Investigations, however, revealed that they got the money from Filling Stations that collect new notes from fuel buyers, but they then resell the cash to the public at exorbitant rates.

The arrested persons are helping the Commission with information to assist investigations and bust any syndicates involved in the hoarding or sales of the redesigned notes.

 

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New naira: ICPC arrests Stanbic IBTC Bank manager over sabotage

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The Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), has arrested an official of Stanbic IBTC Bank in Abuja for alleged sabotage.

The ICPC spokesperson, Azuka Ogugua, said the development was in continuation of ICPC’s clampdown on elements frustrating efforts in making the redesigned Naira notes available to members of the public.

The bank official, who is the branch service head of Stanbic IBTC Bank, Deidei Branch in Abuja, was taken into custody for her deliberate refusal to upload cash into the branch’s Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) even when the cash was available and people were queuing at the ATM points.

The statement reads: “When the ICPC monitoring team stormed the bank at about 1:30pm on Friday to ensure compliance, and demanded explanation as to why all the ATMs were not dispensing cash, the team was informed by the branch’s head of operations that the bank just got delivery of the cash.

“However, facts available to the ICPC operatives indicated that the branch took delivery of the cash earlier around 11:58am and either willfully or maliciously refused to feed the ATMs with the cash.

“Against this backdrop, the ICPC team compelled the bank to load the ATMs with the redesigned Naira notes and ensured that they were all dispensing before arresting the culprit.

“The ICPC said investigations were still ongoing and the Commission will take appropriate actions as soon they are concluded.

“Similarly, seven Point of Sale (PoS) operators as well as a security guard were arrested during an ongoing exercise in Osun State for charging exorbitant commissions for cash.

“Investigations, however, revealed that they got the money from Filling Stations that collect new notes from fuel buyers, but they then resell the cash to the public at exorbitant rates.

“The arrested persons were helping the anti-graft commission with information to assist investigations and bust other syndicates involved in the hoarding and sales of the redesigned Naira notes,” the anti-graft agency said.

 

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N24Billion Fraud: Appeal Court Okays Trial Of Ex-Accountant General, Otunla, After Refunding N6.4 Billion To Nigerian Government

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The Court of Appeal in Abuja has set aside the judgment of a lower court barring the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, from initiating either civil or criminal proceedings against former Accountant-General of the Federation, AG-F, Jonah Oguniyi Otunla.

In a judgment, a three-member panel of the Court of Appeal marked: CA/A/657/2021, on Monday, January 30, 2023, held that Otunla failed to prove that there was actually a non-prosecution agreement between him and the EFCC.

The court upheld the arguments of the lawyer for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Sylvanus Tahir, SAN, and resolved the four issues, identified for determination, in favour of the Commission.

 

Justice Danlami Senchi, who read the judgment, noted that Otunla did not provide any written commitment, except his words and that of his lawyer, that such an agreement existed.

Justice Senchi held that Otunla could not halt his prosecution by merely claiming that there was an agreement, which existence he failed to establish with any credible evidence.

 

“In the instant case, there is no evidence to support the pleading of the respondent (Otunla) that he will not be prosecuted; that criminal or civil proceedings should not be instituted or initiated against him.

“There is no plea bargain or any documentary evidence relating to the President Panel for the Recovery of Funds. On the whole, the appeal is meritorious and it is allowed. The judgment of the Federal High Court, in suit number: FHC/ABJ/CS/2321/2021 delivered on the 16th day of July 2021 delivered by honourable Justice I. E. Ekwo is hereby set aside,” he said.

 

Other members of the panel – Justices Stephen Adah and Elfreda Williams-Daudu – agreed with the lead judgment.

The EFCC investigated Otunla in relation to two cases: The alleged diversion of about N24 billion meant for disengaged staff of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) and the N2 billion allegedly received from the office of the National Security Adviser, ONSA.

 

In July 2021, Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja upheld Otunla’s claim of an existing verbal agreement between him and the then-acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, that he would not be prosecuted if he made a refund to the Federal Government.

Justice Ekwo, in the 2021 judgment on the suit, marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/2321/2021 filed by Otunla, held among others, that, in view of the assurance given to him by Magu, which informed his refund of the money, he could no longer be prosecuted for his actions while in office between 2011 and 2015.

 

Otunla had, in an affidavit, claimed that Magu promised him that he would not be prosecuted should he return funds traced to him and companies linked to him and his associates.

He stated that sometime in 2015, he was invited by a team of EFCC investigators to probe the alleged diversion of funds from the office of the National Security Adviser, ONSA, and the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, pension funds. Otunla said he later met with Magu, in the course of the investigation, when the then acting EFCC chair told him in person to “refund the monies linked to your companies and nobody will prosecute you.”

 

He said, based on Magu’s promise, he had a reconciliatory meeting with the team of investigators, where he immediately undertook to make available some funds as refunds.

In line with the agreement, Otunla said one of the companies linked to him – Stellar Vera Development Ltd – refunded N750 million, another company – Damaris Mode Coolture Ltd – refunded N550 million, while the two firms later made an additional joint refund of N2,150,000,000.00 (Two billion, One Hundred and Fifty Million Naira only).

 

He added at a point, he raised several managers’ cheques for N10 million in favour of the EFCC, which he handed to the Economic Governance Section.

Otunla said, in all, he made a refund of N6,392,000,000.00 (Six Billion, Three Hundred and Ninety-Two Million Naira only) to the Federation Account through the EFCC.

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