Governor Uduaghan’s Government Allocation of Stores to Sapele Traders Not Illegal- Akpeki

Chief Paulinus D.O. Akpeki, the Ugo of Okpe kingdom

• Igbuya should Have Some Sense of Reasoning
• Okowa should beware of those Around Him

Chief Paulinus D.O. Akpeki, the Ugo of Okpe kingdom is a veteran of politics in Nigeria. The political tactician and a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Delta state, came into lime light during the second republic when Alhaji Shehu Shagari was the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria beginning from 1979 when he contested and won the election into the defunct national assembly to represent the then Okpe federal constituency of Okpe, Sapele, Uvwie and Udu local government areas representing under the platform of the National arty of Nigeria (NPN) at the house of representatives. During that election, he won convincingly his closest opponent Barrister J.Y Odebala.

During the 1991 elections that brought Olorogun Felix Ibru to power, he was appointed special adviser to the first Executive Governor of Delta state where he played a very significant role in that administration and from the beginning of the Chief Ibori’s administration until the terminal end of Uduaghan led government, he also featured prominently while holding sensitive positions as Commissioner, Special Adviser, Chairman of waste management board and Chief of Staff Government house respectively in the very last regime before Okowa mounted the saddle of leadership on May 29th, 2015. Today, Chief Akpeki, having garnered wealth of political
experience from the national assembly to every segment of Delta state politics, he could be best described as a dependable political consultant.

In this interview with selected journalists at Asaba, the Okpe high chief who hails from Oviri-Okpe and Sapele local government areas respectively, spoke extensively on the politics behind Sapele market, the construction of Sapele stadium, his role in the ongoing construction of the Sapele ultra-modern market while at the helm of affairs as the commissioner in the ministry of housing. Chief Akpeki while dwelling on other issues with the Okowa’s regime, he also ventured into the national scene as he talked on some salient programs of the Buhari’s regime particularly his last 100 days in office.

Here is the excerpts:

There has been serious controversy trailing the construction of Sapele Market, how would you enlighten the public about the contending issue?

It is sad that some persons who do not seem to understand how Sapele market is all about, are seen making noise especially the current speaker, Delta State House of Assembly Hon. Monday Igbuya, who failed to realize that as a Council Chairman which he claimed, he was not a member of the state Exco that awarded the contract. And being one of the boys to the former Governor James Ibori does not mean that the Governor told him everything that happened about the market.

Having said this, let me say something that transpired about the Sapele market. The Sapele market got burnt some years ago and the state government decided that there should be a modern market in Sapele. As at the time the market got burnt, there were only 356 stores, which included some warehouses.

In 2006, Governor James Ibori as part of his efforts to alleviate the pains of Sapele people, he awarded the contract of Sapele modern market. Even before the State Governor awarded the contract, they knew that the Sapele Local Government Council whose constitutional duty is to build and maintain market was not having the resources to execute such project.

The Governor, however, invited the then Council Chairman Chief Monday Ovwigho Igbuya and said that State Government was going to build the market since there was no sufficient fund in the Council though on condition of “build, operate and transfer”. So, this was how the state took the building of Sapele modern market from the Council on the basis of “build, operate and transfer”. And the contract was awarded by the State Governor led by Ibori at N1,460,232,734.74 (one billion, four hundred and sixty million, two hundred and thirty-two thousand), seven hundred and thirty naira and seventy four kobo, as at 2006, and the contractor was immediately paid 50% down payment to enable work commence quickly. The contract was awarded to Premium Construction Company.

This contract was later reviewed by the State Governor that awarded it in less than few months to N1,883,569,443:64 (one billion, eight hundred and eight three million, five hundred and sixty nine thousand, four hundred and forth three naira sixty four kobo), based on certain challenges which the contractor claimed he had to contend with. But even then, rather than taking a full advantage of this opportunity provided, they started blaming the construction company, who submitted the proposal again for the shore line reclamation to texture and reinforced concrete jetty work which the contractor claimed were not in the contract award initially. Because of this, the Governor went ahead again to recommend for another upward review.

The Ministry of Housing that was in-charge of the Bill Of Quantity (BOQ) and all other documents then recommended again for the proposed additional works and the contract was again reviewed to be N1, 791,969,360 (one billion, seven hundred and ninety one million, nine hundred and sixty nine thousand, three hundred and sixty naira).All these amounts were for the State Governor to contend with and not the Local Government. The State Government prepared all of these and the Ministry of Economic Planning as at that time confirmed that it was only N350,000,000.00 (three hundred million naira) that was in the vote of 2008. But then, government still went ahead to award the contract, promising that every other amount to be provided, was in subsequent budget.

Having said this, this upward review of the contract sum and the additional works for the shore line reclamation, to texture and reinforced concrete jetty work, which were not in the initial
contract, brought the contract to N3, 448,977,855.08 (three billion four hundred and forty eight million, nine hundred and seventy seven thousand, eight hundred and fifty five naira, eight kobo). As at that time, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan was already in power as Governor.

Was the contract bided for by the Ibori led Government?

No! Ibori paid initial sum and when work was to start the contractor did not start the work claiming he has some challenges to contend with. When Uduaghan assumed office as Governor, nothing has been done and when the contractor was invited, he complained he had issues which he did not plan for. Because the Ibori’s government had paid 50% of this contract sum, Governor Uduaghan on assumption of office, could not go back. As at that time, Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Okowa was SSG.

In fact, it was Dr. Okowa who was the Secretary to the State Government and the head of cabinet office then that prepared papers for the contract of Sapele Market. They managed the contract, these are the documents (he pointed at some documents before journalists). The documents were managed from the SSG office who was then Okowa and he knew everything about the contract.

As at that time, how many phases were already completed in the market?

Nothing had been done. The first place former governor Uduaghan visited after his inauguration was Sapele market, where he said, he would definitely construct Sapele market, those were his words, if you recall.

Was it under Uduaghan’s government the market was constructed?

When we now came into power, because of the above challenges from the contractor which he claimed to have, the contract was again reviewed to the amount of N3,448,977.855.8 (three billion, four hundred and forty eight million, nine hundred and seventy seven thousand, eight hundred and fifty naira, eight kobo), because upward duplicate was N1.5 billion added to the former N1.8 billion. The challenges the contractor claimed to have, such as the shore-lines, reinforced company jetty, shore line reclamation protection and all that Igbuya is claiming were in the contract, were not initially in the contract which were the excuse the contractor gave for his failure to start work.

When Uduaghan took over power from Ibori, there became a new directorate of infrastructure, which was not in place during the Ibori led administration, as he (Ibori) only appointed a project director that was brought in by Chief Monday Igbuya and Chief Ighoyota Amori and the name of that project director was Etah, not the father but his son who was invited from London to be a project director, and that board was being managed by Igbuya.

So, nothing was done as regard the building of Sapele market until former Governor Uduaghan came into power and gave upward review of the project because of the shore-line and so on and so forth, which Igbuya claimed Uduaghan did not do. It was Uduaghan who prepared and approved the new agreement in 2008 after which he ordered the contractor to start work immediately.

Unfortunately, the contractor again, claimed that the first set of money paid to him was collected by the bank and as such could not start work as directed by the state government. Based on this, former governor Uduaghan had to provide another fund for the contractor to start work. This was how the project was transferred from the SSG office to Directorate of Infrastructure headed by Hon. Orezi who is currently a member of the State House of Assembly.

Despite this second fund provided, work was still going on at a slow pace which was why he (Uduaghan) later transferred the project from the Directorate of Infrastructure to the Ministry of Housing and said Chief Akpeki should take over, promising to devise means to complete the Sapele market project.

This was how I took over the contract of Sapele Market with the same company though Exco resolved that if the company handling it could not complete it, the project was going to be re-awarded to another contractor.

Consequently, I summoned the Premium Construction Company. I called the Managing Director and held series of meetings with him, set up different committees that were headed by the then Director of Public Building, Architect Akpodoma. We worked over the project, two phases 1 and 2 respectively comprising about a thousand and fifty stores were completed. The third phase is supposed to be the open stores, the shore – line reclamation, we did part of it when we completed the 1st and 2nd phases. As at the time we completed these two phases, the State Ministry of Environment or whatever was clearing the place and former Commissioner for Transport Hon. Ben Igbakpa was in charge who then complained to the Exco that Sapele people were suffering from lack of stores and no place to trade.

The council noted the information by the Commissioner for Special Duty, Directorate of Transport that he has received series of calls as regard the allocation of stores at the Sapele Ultra Market that after series of discussions on the matter, and promises by the Committee, the the stores were yet to be allocated.

Consequently, the Transport Commissioner was of the view that about a thousand and fifty stores already completed in first and second phases of the project be allocated to the Sapele Traders most especially when the demolition of illegal structures was on in Sapele as at that time, and a lot of their stores were affected. For this singular reason, the government set up a committee that was headed by me (Chief Akpeki), to go and allocate the stores which we did, and the committee allocated about 900 stores or so.

Sir, are you now saying that the allocation of stores at Sapele Market was not illegal as claimed by group of persons in this present government?

It cannot be illegal. You can see the documents to that effect (Chief Akpeki displayed other documents to journalists as regards the contracts at different time). We told the Chief of Staff at the government house then that because of the busy schedule of the committee in charge of the allocation, the stores would be allocated in one week which we did. Government even went ahead to appoint a manager for the market.

The present speaker does not know, he wants to play politics as he has been playing politics to people of Sapele. The Sapele market was built by the state government on “Build, Operate and Transfer”, basis. Although, it was part of the constitutional duties of the local government council to build and manage market in the area but there was no sufficient fund to accomplish this dream; which was why the state government had to intervene and build the market on the said build operate and transfer arrangement. This means that the Sapele market will be handed over back to the council after the state government has recovered the resources invested in it.

Sir, it was also alleged that you personally got the contract from the state government and when it couldn’t pay, you decided to use this as a strategy to recover your money. How true is this allegation?

Which money? How can the state government owe me? I’m not a contractor. State government did not owe me one kobo. I did not do any contract in that place. It was awarded to Premium Construction Company by the state government.

Which means every kobo the market women paid was paid to the state government coffer?

Sterling Bank – Warri, is where the traders paid their money. It is an Exco account that is being managed by the state government and the state accountant general. Nobody can approve anything from an Exco account. The Exco account is there and it is there at Sterling bank.
Although, the account was originally opened at the Asaba branch of Sterling Bank but for convenience sake, the market women were asked to use the Sterling Bank nearest to them in Warri which was also why the Warri Sterling bank decided to open a post at a strategic places in the market in Sapele, so as to ease the stress to pay in their money.

I want to state that as at the time Uduaghan was leaving office, a total of N400, 000,000.00 (four hundred million naira) was issued for certificate to be paid to the contractor. Unfortunately, the
contractor was not paid before we left office and he has insisted on not going back to site unless he is paid his N400,000,000.00 (four hundred million naira). This is the money the state government under Okowa paid recently for the project to continue, and not that it was released for a fresh project. This sum of money was released purposely for the certificate already issued by the Uduaghan led government. So, the contractor has collected the money recently and has gone back to site to continue from where he has stopped work from the Uduaghan led government and that is where they are now.

They are on phase 3 which is open stores having satisfied phases 1 and 2 respectively. Anybody that is going there to work now is for the phase 3 and probably part of the shore-line. Let me quickly add here. In order for the company to get money, government in its bond allocated 1 billion naira to enable the payment moves faster and it was the 1 billion naira that we used through milestone payment to construct the Sapele market to its present level and the money was being paid via the Guarantee Trust Bank. The contractor also did a good job according to the directives of government when we visited the site. We were very satisfied with his job before we left office. If the Uduaghan led administration had paid the last N400,000,000 four hundred million naira to the contractor, I am sure he would have gone back to site even before we left office, but because government is a continuum, it was the Okowa government that came into power few months ago that paid this money for the certificate already issued by the previous administration. It is very wrong for anybody to start playing politics with it.

What happened that prompted the Market women go to Court, to restrain the Delta State government from removing them from their stores?

They went to court because Hon. Monday Igbuya moved a motion at the state House of Assembly requesting the relocation of the traders at Sapele Market to enable them to complete the on-going construction of the market. You can see, it is politics, but such politics I do not understand. Like I have said, the third phase is going on now and how is it affected by first and second phases? The contractor was only waiting for the certificate to be paid for which has been paid recently and the contractor has moved back to site. The idea of saying that Uduaghan did not do anything is nonsense. Because, the level of work done so far in the Sapele market is Uduaghan handiwork.

I was also made to understand that Hon. Monday Igbuya is going about telling people that Uduaghan did not commission Sapele market. I do not know what sense of reasoning Igbuya is made up. As the speaker, I expected him to have some level of good sense of reasoning. Why would the governor commission a project that is not completed yet, which is what Igbuya is complaining about, that Uduaghan should have come to commission the Sapele market project before leaving office.

What advise do you have for Sapele market traders who have stores inside the completed phases 1 and 2 but have refused to trade therein instead, they chose to trade on the road side?

I advise them to go and trade in their stores because those stores have been duly allocated. Government of the day has the right to do anything that pleases it, and nobody can challenge the government, but I also do know that governor Okowa is a very reasonable man, a man familiar with the system just as I am sure Okowa also understands the politics some persons are trying to play. That is why he has not spoken on the so-called moves by this set of people in Sapele.
How would you assess Governor Okowa’s 100 days in Office?

I have been following up media reports on the performance of governor Okowa so far but I am not ready to speak on them now until after September 16th, 2015.

Why is the Sapele township stadium not fully completed by now?

It is unfortunate that Igbuya is part of why the stadium is still not fully completed by now, although, the project was awarded by the Ibori led administration but nothing was done until Uduaghan came in and mobilized the contractor to site. In fact, the level of work done so far on the Sapele Stadium was made possible by former governor Uduaghan; the tracks, field and all of that.

Emmanuel Uduaghan was only waiting for just the flood light to be installed before commissioning the project and I am sure the contract of the flood light was awarded but not fully executed before the he left office. Aside this flood light, every other thing is already in place which makes it possible for different activities to hold at the stadium today. The idea of saying that the stadium is not completed by Igbuya and his team is not right after-all. It is only the flood light that is not in place out of all the things needed to be installed at the stadium, but the kind of politics Igbuya is playing baffles me though I sympathize with him.

Hon. Igbuya has alleged on several occasion that the Uduaghan led government under which you served, did not recognize Sapele especially in area of development. How would you react to this allegation?

Yes, I would state clearly here that the Uduaghan led government did a lot for Sapele. Virtually all the government projects in Sapele are tied to Igbuya including DESOPADEC projects. The school desks and tables projects in Sapele, it was also Igbuya. In fact, from road projects to water, street light projects, drainages etc, all was Igbuya.

I want the Sapele public to find out the original owner of a company called Moovig. It is Igbuya, yet he is crucifying Uduaghan’s government unjustly. This is why I keep advising government not to appoint or vote contractors into power. My experience as a Commissioner for housing has taught me this. May be, I would have done same i.e. contracting project for myself during this period I was commissioner if I were contractor like Igbuya and others, who are in government to contract project for themselves. For this singular reason, I wish to advise Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to be wary of those he allows to shout Hossanah so that at the end, they will not say crucify him. Because those that sat beside Uduaghan yesterday, chanting Asamaigor, are the same persons demanding his crucifixion today.

What is the fate of those that took your party, PDP to court after the last general elections?

I have no comment on that for now may be in the near future, I will attempt on that.

How would you assess President Buhari’s 100 days in office?

Buhari has done very well, far beyond every other successive government had claimed to have done. As for the insurgency, it is known all over the world that fighting terrorists is usually a big
deal and President Buhari, from all indications is not folding arms watching the situation going out of hand, rather, he has been working tirelessly to ensure that the reign of insurgents is over in no
distant future.

I was made to understand few days ago that about 24 countries in the world declined selling arms to Nigeria during the Goodluck Jonathan led administration and I asked why? This goes to show that these countries have no confidence in us. But today, Buhari has crisscrossed the world and I am confident enough that something better will happen to curb insurgency shortly in this administration especially going by the words of President Barrack Obama while discussing the country’s terrorism with Buhari, recently. Niger Delta should also count themselves lucky because they are likely to benefit more from this administration than previous one that could not complete the East/West road project, even though it was their own son who was at the helm of affairs during this period in the country.

What is your take on the appointment President Buhari has made so far?

It is wrong for anybody to accuse President Buhari of favouring the northerners more in his appointment. We must not forget that all the appointment so far, were his personal aides and it will be unwise for the president to appoint those he does not know very well as aides.
After all, John Kennedy of U.S.A. once appointed his own brother as Secretary for Justice when the former was president in 1963. Although, the American citizens reacted but Kennedy succeeded after asking them, “who do I know better to be appointed into this position other than my brother, my fellow Americans”?

So, as for the case of Nigerians and President Buhari, I would say it is too early in the day to accuse Buhari of being tribalistic in his appointments. This kind of mixed feelings are only relevant in the
appointment of the federal cabinet which I believe Buhari will do according to the provisions of the constitution and as of today, Buhari has a grasp of every activity in every Ministry. This goes to show that Buhari cannot be cajoled by his ministers by the time he appoints them because, the main technocrats manning those ministries have fully briefed Mr. President. Nevertheless, I prayed that God should direct President Buhari to appoint a good presidential advisers, reason being that advisers are closer to the President than the ministers and if they are people of sincerity, they are supposed to be saddled with responsibility of looking into various ministries and report same to Mr. President as well as give appropriate advice.

As a PDP Chieftain in the state, what is the party doing to make it formidable ahead of the next general elections in 2019?

Chief Akpeki is not willing to speak on that now because some persons who claim to know best have started side-lining some persons in the party. It is only when you are called by the party for solution that you can do that but when you are not, you can remain in the party and just watch them. So, as for solution and advice for the party, I must be called first before I could do that.

Despite the ongoing reform by Mr President in various sectors, power still remain epileptic, why?

You will recall that power has been privatized. Thus, my advice to Mr. President which I think he is doing is that as usual summon the ministry of power and energy for a decisive action to be taken on this issue.

You appeared so optimistic that PDP was going to win the last Delta State Governorship election even when your party (PDP) has lost the presidential election and eventually, PDP actually won in Delta State. What gave you such confidence?

At that time of the governorship election, I sat down like a politician I have been for years now to equate the chances of all the candidates contesting in that election. Believe it or not, Okowa was
the best candidate because he is a household name having been in the terrain for quite a number of years ago. From this assessment, it became very clear that Okowa was going to carry the day and that was how it happened. Again, if you noticed, you would understand that it got to a point during the electioneering campaign, people began to consider the personality of Okowa and not party anymore and this is the trend of politics in recent times where the electorates are after who is contesting and what party he/she is contesting as it used to be.

As a political tactician, what are the expectations of Deltans in this present government?

I still believe that they should build more infrastructures. The human capital agenda should be improved upon as well as sustain the peace and security agenda. I am sure Governor Ifeanyi Okowa who bears the same traditional title with me will not disappoint Deltans. I thank Okowa for the way and manner he has handled the issue of Sapele market.

As for my advice to Okowa, I would like to repeat the content of the message I sent him a day after his primaries that “Ekweme, only God choose people to lead at any given time. Now that God has found you worthy this time to lead the people, find a space in your large heart to accommodate everybody under the PDP umbrella”.

What is your advice to the people of Sapele, your immediate constituency?

My message to my Sapele people is to acknowledge them first and most, for all they have been doing. I advise them to always vote the individuals that can represent their interest in any subsequent elections. They should always remember that a poor man gives birth to a rich man and vice-versa. They should always remember that one man cannot do it alone. Once again, I thank Sapele people for standing firmly not only by me but also the state and Nigeria at large.