FROM THE ARCHIVES: THE CASE OF IMO STATE
Imo State Dep. Gov. Jude Agbaso
MARCH 28. 2013
OWERRI (NATIONAL MIRROR)--Imo State Deputy Governor, Sir Jude Agbaso is facing impeachment over an allegation bordering on receiving N458 million bribery. In this interview with WALE IGBINTADE, he tells his story.
You have been accused of receiving N458 million from JPros Nigeria Ltd, a contractor, as kickback. What is your take on this issue?
The barrage of misinformation that is being fed members of the public, especially concerning the allegation that I received bribe money from the contractor, JPros Nigeria Ltd, has become important that I must continue to state my innocence.
It is in the public domain now all over the country that I received bribe money from JPros Nigeria Ltd to the tune of N458m. That is not true. I state in the clearest of terms that I never solicited for such payment from JPros Nig. Ltd or any contractor. Never at any time did I receive any such money or any amount of money from any contractor whatsoever. I will continue state this clearly so that our people will understand my innocence.
If you’re claiming innocence, how come the Imo State House of Assembly has commenced impeachment proceeding against you?
Let me take your mind back to the issues in question. The issues that have agitated my mind are the questions of how I or anybody could pay N458m to a man who did him no favour or service.
The contract in question that JPros Nigeria Ltd is executing in Imo State was approved by the Executive Governor of Imo State. It was really negotiated by the Executive Governor of Imo State, my boss, Owelle Rochas Okorocha. While the approval was sought and given, I wasn’t really in the country. When the approval was given, the principal secretary to my governor conveyed the direct approval of the contract and payment of the sum of N1.151 billion to the Commissioner for Finance, who directed the Accountant General to make payment. However, the normal process was when such approvals are made; the money should be paid into the coffers of the State’s Ministry of Works where due processes are now applied.
Certificates will be raised based on the vouchers, then application will be made for payments to the contractor instead of what transpired in February of last year when wholesale payment of the entire 100 per cent, representing the cost and value of the contract was paid out directly to the contractor. I am not the commissioner, who caused that payment to happen. I am not the Accountant General who made the payment directly to the contractor. I am not the Accountant General who paid on verbal instruction of the governor to the contractor. I was then, the commissioner for Works and deputy governor who wrote the contract ab initio for N1.151 billion, and never at anytime did I cause this 100 per cent payment or any payment to be made. I only found out that payment had been made to the contractor, four months after the payment had been made.
Also, recall that before the payment of N1.15 billion was made to JPros Nigeria Ltd that a payment of N200 million had been made to the same contractor from the Government House. I did not approve the payment of the N200 million. The payment of the N200 million never came to the Ministry of Works and did not receive my approval. My question is this: for a man who has access to the governor, Commissioner of Finance, Accountant General of the state who paid him directly; why would he pay me N458 million which represents a 46 per cent of the total contract sum.
You and the contractor appeared before a committee set up by the Imo State House of Assembly. What exactly transpired during the hearing?
When this man (contractor) was asked why he paid me such huge amount of money, he said because I promised to give him jobs in the local governments – 15 kilometres of road construction in the local government. In Imo State, the local government’s roads – rural roads – are built at N60 million per kilometre. But suffice to say that the local government jobs are not awarded by the local government chairman or can be influenced by the Commissioner for Local Government but by the governor who has sweeping influence over this.
But in the case of Imo State in particular, it is common knowledge how this contracts were awarded; that then I, as the deputy governor or as the then commissioner for Works had no influence whatsoever, in the giving out of local government jobs. How could somebody now give me almost half a billion naira claiming that I would influence the award and payment of a job?
So, why do you think they want you impeached?
It truly agitates my mind that these spurious allegations are continually being brought to public consciousness in the print media; in the electronic media day after day. Recently, the state Commissioner for Information on television implied that I cajoled the governor into approving the payment to JPros Nigeria Ltd. Everybody understands that I have a cordial and brotherly relationship with the governor, but the business of the state is the business of the state and due processes are due processes.
There are ways and means contracts are meant to be negotiated and awarded. If the establishment in Imo State chooses to do it differently; where the governor makes the approval differently, I cannot control. But I never went to the governor like he implied that I cajoled him into signing on the dotted lines, for him to sign for the approval the payment to JPros Nigeria Ltd. It is laughable. It’s truly laughable.
You were also accused of collecting a bottle of Blue Label Whiskey from the contractor.
Yes, there is the issue I heard today that Joseph Dina of JPros Nigeria Ltd gave me a bottle of Blue Label Whiskey. JPros had absconded from the site. He was sought after. The Ministry of Works called him on the phone repeatedly and we were continually informed that he had travelled out of the country and I had informed them to tell his people that as soon as he got back to site, to report to the Ministry of Works to make sure that proper work was done on site. When he came back to Imo State, he reported to the ministry to tell me that he had just come back from wherever he went to and I said okay, if you are back, go back to the site. Probably to prove his point, he said he bought me a bottle of Blue Label Whiskey and that he wanted to give it to me and said he didn’t have it here.
He said he was going to come to my house later in the evening to give me the whiskey and I said fine, but just go back to the site. He came that evening, saw me at home with everybody and gave me the bottle of whiskey and left.
By the time this happened, he had got his contract approval; his money had been paid by the various authorities. How does a bottle of whiskey tie into the N1.15 billion that he had been paid then? How does a bottle of Blue Label Whiskey tie into an over payment of N200 million that I was not party to? Who should be answering questions about who received what? Fellow Nigerians, is it important that the people who facilitated this huge payment, this non-adherence to due process, should be answering the questions I’m answering today?
The contractor further alleged that he communicated with you through SMS on the payment of the N458m. Is that true?
The man said he communicated to me through text message. In the text message I purportedly sent to his phone number, that I instructed him to pay the companies he mentioned – Three Brothers and one other company – the sums of money. But, I maintain that I never communicated through text message, instructing this man to pay a company through any account number, any sum of money to any bank and he told the committee in question that he was going to bring the text messages that I sent him, that he was going to send for his MTN line call log and details.
I also told the committee that I will also provide my MTN call log and details. The next day, I applied through the Director of SSS for my call log at the MTN detailing SMS messages for the month of February in question and the month of June 2012. But, the committee now has gone to town to spread these falsehoods that they had judged me, that they had brought me to book, that what is left is for them to jail me. They have accused me, sat over my case, passed judgement based on the hearsay of Joseph Dina of JPros Ltd who merely said that he gave me money and there was no iota of truth that I did communicate with him through text messages detailing him to pay amounts of money into these accounts or the companies he mentioned.
But, my argument is that these companies are limited liability companies in Nigeria, that the Corporate Affairs Commission has information as to the promoters, the owners, and the directors of these companies. Those pieces of information are accessible by members of the public, but more importantly by criminal investigations agencies – the Police, the SSS, the EFCC, and the ICPC. Such information can be sought to determine if there is a nexus or connection between these companies and my person directly or indirectly. Also, the text messages that I have mentioned can also be accessed through MTN.
Also, I had said earlier that N458m is awesome amount of money; it cannot vanish into thin air. If this money was paid by Joseph Dina into those accounts, those accounts should be accessed through the banks. In establishing those accounts, the owners and the promoters of the companies must have given information to the bank to enable them set up these accounts. Photographs of those who set up these accounts are there. Signatories to these accounts would be there. These are pieces of information the various agencies can seek for and access, even members of the public if they choose to. Such options should have been fully exhausted by my accusers and judges.
What is the way out?
I implore Nigerians to understand and appreciate the grand conspiracy to tarnish my image; which is all I have; which is all I have worked for. I have said at various gatherings in Imo State that I am not a politician; I merely came to serve the people and all I have done is to have a good relationship with the Executive Governor of Imo State – a brotherly relationship, serve the people of Imo State, serve the governor diligently. I have put in 14 to 16-hour daily to make sure that the dividends of democracy get to my people. I have spoken out to make sure that due process is followed, if they are not followed, it wouldn’t be my fault.
When the governor made the discovery that an over payment of N200 million had been made to the contractor, I was there in his office when he shouted it. I said my boss, if there has been an over payment, then you will understand how important it is that payments should be made through the proper channels. If these payments were made through the Ministry of Works or any ministry responsible for any contracts, overpayments would not be made. If due processes was followed, wholesale 100 per cent payment of contracts would not be made. I hear that the committee investigating me is investigating the immediate and remote causes of the abandonment of contracts in Imo State; chief among them was the contract by JPros Nigeria Ltd.
Now, it is public information that the contractor had been paid N1.35 billion. It is also public information supplied by Imo State Ministry of Works on certification that the quantum of job accomplished by this contractor is N195 million. Yet, the contractor, just received a thank you and he was left off the hook. The police are not holding him; he is not answering for the money unaccounted for in excess of N600 million and they are telling me that they are trying me and trying to impeach me for receiving bribe money of N458 million. It is utterly laughable. Unfortunately, it is not a situation you can laugh over. I will continue to talk to you that I am an innocent man. The appropriate investigation agencies must wade into this matter and my innocence must be proven.