Chief of Staff to the former Governor of Delta State, Chief Paulinus Akpeki, in this interview with journalists in Sapele, reveals the politics and the power play behind the extensive Sapele Market in Delta State.
There has been serious controversy over the construction of Sapele market, please, enlighten the public on the contending issues?
It is sad that some persons who do not seem to understand how Sapele market came about, are seen making noise which they do not understand. The Sapele market got burnt some years ago and the state government decided that there should be a modern market to replace the burnt one. As at the time the market got burnt, there were 356 stores, which included some warehouses. In 2006, James Ibori awarded the contract for the construction of Sapele modern market. The former Governor awarded the contract because he knew that Sapele Local Government Council was not having the resources to execute the project.
Ibori, however, invited the then Council Chairman, Monday Ovwigho Igbuya, and intimated him of the state government’s intention to build the market. 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 Ibori at N1,460,232,734.74 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 Ibori in less than few months to N1,883,569,443:64, 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 State Government prepared all the contractual papers and the Ministry of Economic Planning as at that time confirmed that it was only N350m 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 the texture and reinforced concrete jetty work, which were not in the initial contract, brought the contract to N3,448,977,855.08. As at 2008, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan had taken over power as Governor.
Was the contract bided for by the Ibori’s administration?
No! Ibori paid initial sum and when work was to start the contractor did not start the work claiming he had some challenges to contend with. When Uduaghan assumed office as Governor, nothing had 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 Secretary to the State Government.
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. These are the documents (pointing at the documents to journalists). The documents were managed from the SSG’s office who was then Okowa, so, he knew everything about the contract.
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. The challenges the contractor claimed to have, such as the shore-lines, reinforced concrete jetty, shore line reclamation protection and all that some people are claiming were in the contract, were not initially in the contract which were the excuse the contractor gave for his failure to start work.
So, nothing was done as regards the building of Sapele market until former Governor Uduaghan came into power and gave upward review of the project because of the shore-line, which they claimed Uduaghan did not do. It was Uduaghan who prepared and approved these things 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, Uduaghan had to provide another fund for the contractor to start work. This was how the project was transferred from the SSG’s office to Directorate of Infrastructure headed by Hon. Orezi Esievo 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, hence, Uduaghan had to transfer the project from the Directorate of Infrastructure to the Ministry of Housing where I was Commissioner. 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 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. When we work 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.
It was alleged that you personally got the contract from the state government and when it couldn’t pay you, 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 and not me.
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 today. It was actually opened in Asaba but 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 place in the market 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 N400m was issued for certificate to be paid to the contractor. Unfortunately, the contractor was not paid before we left office and he has insisted that he won’t complete the market unless he is paid his N400m. That was the money the state government under Okowa paid recently for the project to be completed, and not that it was released for a fresh project. This money was released purposely for the certificate already issued by the Uduaghan’s government.
They are now on phase 3 which is open stores having satisfied phases 1 and 2. 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 N1bn to enable the payment move faster and it was the N1bn 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 N400m 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 therefore very wrong for anybody to start playing politics with the whole issue.
What happened that prompted the market women to go to court restraining 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 to enable them complete the on-going construction of the market. 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.
What advice do you have for Sapele market traders who have stores inside the completed phases 1 and 2 but have refused to trade there instead, they choose 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.