• As ULO Construction Company pulls out
• Okowa allegedly diverts N1.5Bn budgeted for the project
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.
NIGERIAN WITNESS 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.
NIGERIAN WITNESS 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 NIGERIAN WITNESS 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.
NIGERIAN WITNESS 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 NIGERIAN WITNESS 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.