For the upteemth time, former Governor Owelle Rochas Okorocha has contempously and with levity and total disregard, shunned the Imo State Judicial Commission of Enquiry probing the various contracts awarded between May 29, 2011 and May 29, 2019, essentially and precisely, those contracts awarded and executed by the Ogboko born Ethelbert Anayochukwu Okorocha alias “Rochas” while in office as Governor of Imo State.
Though the actual reason for his latest inability or unrepentant refusal to appear before the panel was not adduced by his lawyer who usually appears on his behalf.
At the last sitting of the Judicial Panel, one Ududua Collins who claimed to be the Accountant of “Kilcornam Constructions Company” that handled the Assumpta Cathedral and Nworie river hanging tunnel, explained that the ex-governor, Rochas Okorocha had verbally or orally awarded to them, the contract for the sum of N240 million which was paid upfront and in full before ever the job commenced. He however expressed satisfaction that the job was accomplished.
Giving the details of the transaction from the witness box, the Accountant of Kilcornam Construction Company, Mr. Ududua Collins, said that the firm was only involved in the construction of the tunnel across Assumpta Avenue.
His words, “the company was involved in only one project and that is the construction of the tunnel across the Assumpta Avenue, in 2016. The former Governor, (Senator Rochas Okorocha) approached the company to know if we can construct a tunnel across the road”.
We affirmed our ability to deliver on the job. He (Okorocha) paid us the full contract sum of N240 million before we commenced work. He then took us to the site.
There was no contract paper or agreement before we commenced and finished the job. It was a verbal agreement. Not even a letter of award for the contract, was given to the Company”.
On how the Company was guided on the terms and conditions of the contract, Ududua maintained that the award was verbal.
“The Company’s engineers prepared the Bill of Quantities, but I do not know if engineers from the state Ministry of Works supervised the work, while it lasted. There was no certificate of completion for the job”, Ududua said.
While saying that he did not know the office that paid the bill, Mr. Ududua however said; “we were paid the net. The state government deducted N24 million, representing the withholding tax and Value Added Tax, VAT, at source”.
When reminded that a document from the Accountant General’s Office indicated that the Company was paid N267 million, Ududua said, “I will be surprised to hear that the tunnel cost N267 million”.
Answering a question on who designed and prepared the Bill of Quantities, the witness said the company’s engineers made the design after receiving the N240 million from the government, through electronic transfer.
When the Judicial Commission sought to know why the company did not asphalt the top of the tunnel despite the contract sum of N267 billion, Ududua said it was not part of the contract.
He not only denied ever hearing that the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), raised an alarm on the shoddy construction work on the tunnel, but also denied knowing that any engineer working in Nigeria, must be registered by the COREN.
In another development, when the former Board Secretary of Imo State Universal Basic Education Board (IMSUBEB), Mr. Okey Anyikwa, mounted the witness box, he told the commission that although he was the administrative head of the board, no contract passed through his office neither was he involved in making payments for jobs or contracts executed by his board.
His words, “ordinarily, I was the administrative head of IMSUBEB, but no contract for the construction of primary school buildings passed through my office, but I heard about these awards later.
The much I know is that the state government decided to construct 305 primary school buildings in all the wards across the state. It was the policy of the administration, after it started the free education policy.
Ordinarily, the board should initiate the action plan, which would be forwarded to the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) Abuja, for approval. When approved, UBEC sends it back to the board, who will then award the contract
Answering another question, Anyikwa denied knowing that the 305 primary school building project, was initiated by the Board, and if UBEC ever approved the action plan before it was executed by the Imo State government. He could not confirm who converted such schools to IMSUBEB schools.
“I am not aware if the 305 primary school building project had counterpart funding from the state government. As the Board Secretary, I was not aware of the 91 primary school building project awarded to White Label International Company Limited”, Anyikwa said.
He further explained that he did not know anything about the projects because his office was bye-passed, side-tracked and considered irrelevant by the Chairman, Dr Mrs Uche Ejiogu.
“I remember that the Chairman, Mrs Ejiogu admitted paying N3.3 billion to White Label International Company Ltd on the orders of then Governor Owelle Rochas Okorocha”. It was also reported that instead of the 91 school block project, a list of top government officials to benefit from the N3.3 billion IMSUBEB windfall was handed over to Hon Kennedy Ibeh, the owner of White Label International Company with which the entire money was shared for a reason or purpose that was yet to be ascertained at press time.
Earlier Dr Paschal Obi, then Principal Secretary to the Governor had admitted that a whopping N39.6 billion was paid to a contractor also in full, who had after receiving the money eloped and all efforts to recover the huge sum of the money has failed. A total of N680 million according to Paschal Obi,was paid in full for the construction of Ministry of Land office complex Owerri which foundation is yet to be laid several years after. Another N680 million was as well paid in full for a Ministry of Transport office complex but the job is yet to start anywhere in the entire Owerri capital Territory, yet the amount is yet to be recovered.
Meanwhile the Judicial Panel of Enquiry appears highly handicapped on what to do with Senator Okorocha’s continued snubbing and obduracy by refusing to appear before it. Though, they have the option of issuing to Senator Okorocha a warrant of arrest, it appears they are more satisfied that they have given him more than enough opportunity for fair hearing, proving that he is no sacred cow nor does the law respect his person.
Under this circumstance, any damning report indicting Okorocha for financial sleaze, recklessness or gross misappropriation of funds and indiscretions automatically stands and would be more than enough fact to send the former Governor to prison in the event EFCC is bold enough to arraign him in court for the monumental fraud and massive looting of public treasury as reported by the different witnesses including the N3.3 billion IMSUBEB funds paid to him by Mrs Uche Ejiogu, without any written authorization or acknowledgement from either parties.