Alleged Contract Fraud: Benue State Government vs Doyin Okupe

The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) brought this to the fore again yesterday as they traded verbal darts over the former’s call for the resignation of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, over alleged corruption.

The altercation between the parties may have indeed forced the Benue State government to start looking into its present and past transactions with various contractors with a view to recovering monies from those who collected mobilisation fees but allegedly failed to deliver.

Although the Gabriel Suswam administration claims it is not ready to probe its predecessor, it is however prepared to recover monies allegedly collected by various contractors, who did not perform, to augment its financial fortunes.

On the heels of the controversy over Okupe, Benue Government House sources confirmed that one of such companies, Messrs Value Trust Investments Ltd, reportedly owned by Okupe, was awarded a contract on April 24, 2004 to construct 230 kilometres of rural roads in the state at the cost of N2.3 billion, using loamy soil stabilisation.

The sources claimed that 30% mobilisation fee was paid to the company to execute the contract in 18 months but it failed to do so. The Benue officials added that after collecting the sum N886.8 million on July 17, 2006, the firm abandoned the projects.

According to them, the state government pressured the firm to complete the projects but it failed until the contract duration elapsed, adding that the company is still indebted to the state government to the tune of N635.7 million after about N55.2 million was recovered from it.

It was also discovered that among the 230 kilometres of rural road contract were the University of Agriculture-Gbajimba, Sankera-Ayati-Sai and Aliede-Obariketo roads.

Yesterday, lawyers to Okupe confirmed that the Benue State government actually “awarded a rural road contract to Messrs Value Trust Investments Ltd, one of the companies in which Okupe served as chairman.”

In a statement signed by Yemi Gbonegun, the Lagos-based firm, Yemi Gbonegun and Co., described the contract award as “purely a commercial transaction.”

The firm explained that trouble however started when the administration of the state changed hands and incumbent governor (Suswam) took over from former Governor George Akume. “Disputes arose as to the payment of outstanding payment certificate submitted by Value Trust Investments Ltd” as a result of which the matter was referred to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which conducted a thorough investigation into it.

“There was no evidence of any criminality,” the statement said, adding that “the parties then agreed to settlement by arbitration and the issue is in the process of being resolved amicably by both parties.

“Our chambers represents Value Trust Investments Ltd in the negotiations,” the statement added.

A source at the EFCC confirmed that Okupe and his company’s file had been with the commission and would be treated at the appropriate time. According to the source, the file is connected with the road contracts in Benue State to the tune of N2.3 billion.

Residents of the of the areas where these rural roads were to be constructed, Atoo Sokpo, Benjamin Verashe and James Torwa, told The Guardian that they were waiting for the government to compel the contractor to complete the projects’ execution.

Indeed in 2004, Okupe after signing the contract for the construction of the rural roads in Makurdi, addressed the press, where he promised the people of the state of timely completion of the project.

Source: Joseph Wantu/TheGuardian