He was hired by his principal, President Jonathan, to defend him, to be his armour-bearer, what Chief Femi Fani-Kayode was to Chief Obasanjo when the Ota-born general was president. But Dr. Doyin Okupe is at present on the cross. The Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs recently appointed by the President to deflect attacks on him is now compelled to defend himself. The opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), claiming he has a shady past, is stridently calling for his sack. The party claims Okupe is on the list of those being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on account of a contract running into millions of naira he obtained from the Benue State government while serving in the administration of former President Obasanjo as Special Adviser, Media and Publicity which he failed to execute. Dr. Okupe seems disturbed, and this should be understandable. He has been busy defending himself at every turn. He did same again last weekend on Channels Television. As I watched him field questions on the issue on TV, it would seem Okupe is not holding back. He admits a company in which he had substantial interests did a contract with Benue State government and that there was contractual agreement. However, he says after some work had been done by his company there were disagreements over payment and his company had to stop work. He says the disagreement got to the Industrial Arbitration Court. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) also got into the matter. He was interrogated, detained and later released.
Meanwhile, the Benue State government, which had earlier said its hands were tied over the issue because the controversial contract was awarded under the regime of former Governor George Akume and only Akume could speak authoritatively on the matter, has suddenly found its voice. But don’t forget the rivalry between Governor Gabriel Suswam and his predecessor Akume and the inclination for one to undo the other. Opening up on the matter on Wednesday, the state’s commissioner for works and transport Benjamin Arshaver said the government would take steps to recover what he called its oustanding balance from Okupe. Arshaver said Okupe’s company, Value Trust Investment Limited, was awarded a contract for the construction of 230 kilometre rural roads on April 24, 2004 at the cost of N2.3 billion using loamy soil stabilisation. He said the government at that time made a 30 percent advance payment of N691 million to the contractor to commence work. According to him, by July 17, 2006, the total amount paid to the contractor stood at N886, 8 million. The project was meant to be completed within 18 months, but he said the dream was never realised as the amount of work done was later estimated at the sum of N195, 7 million because the contractor was said to have abandoned work. The state government allegedly pressured the company to complete the work until the project duration elapsed. The government claimed the company is indebted to it to the tune of N635.7 million after about N55.2 million was allegedly recovered from it. An online report, initially relied on by the opposition, had claimed Okupe bolted away with N200 million. The amount has since jumped to N700 million.
Okupe’s counsel Yemi Gbonegun, however, denied that his client’s company bolted away with any money, saying if it did, the state government would have legally had recourse to the bank guarantees issued and would have held the banks accountable and recovered its money. He said the company went far beyond the issue of mobilisation in respect of the contract and that “in fact the company received other payments over a period exceeding two years continuously for work done that went far beyond the level of mobilisation”. He said, “Disputes about certificates of payments arose in the matter of these contracts as it is not unusual between a contractor and its employers. These issues were at different times thoroughly investigated by the EFCC. At no point in time was a case of fraud or any criminality whatsoever found against the company, otherwise the EFCC would have since taken the matter to court.” Gbonegun added that both parties agreed to go in for arbitration in accordance with the provisions of the signed contract document.
While not claiming to know what exactly transpired in respect of the contract, I do know, however, that Okupe was detained for a day or two at the EFCC office in Ikoyi over the transaction. I think it was around 2005 or so. In fact, a close friend of mine had visited him then at the EFCC detention centre and Okupe had told him it was a contractual transaction between two parties and that there were disputes about certificates of payments. He had argued then that EFCC had no business in the matter. Dr. Okupe was later released by the anti-graft body. At the time Okupe was no longer in the President Obasanjo’s government as the latter had dropped him as his spokesman and replaced him with the late Chief Tunji Oseni. At that time, former President Obasanjo had become hostile to him. The EFCC then under Malam Nuhu Ribadu investigated Dr. Okupe and released him. My sense here is if the EFCC, which had investigated the case at a time Okupe had fallen out of favour with the Obasanjo government, had found nothing criminal against him and had released him without taking him to court, what is the hue and cry about the matter now if not that some people are just out to play politics. However, I think the threat by the Benue State government to take the matter back to the EFCC in a bid to “recover its balance” should be a welcome development by all parties in order to get to the root of the matter and rest the case once and for all.
FG, Boko Haram Talks: What Exactly was maku saying?
Even in spite of the recent claims to the contrary, there seems to be some truth in the report that the Federal Government is engaged in talks with the militant Islamic sect Boko Haram. This dialogue should be welcomed by those desirous of peace in our land as it has shown clearly that force, whether limited or full, whether government is treading softly with it or not because the sect members are “our siblings too”, hasn’t helped to bring about the much-needed peace. The first indication of the peace talks between the government and Boko Haram emerged from a report by VOA from Mecca, Saudi Arabia, about two weeks ago. In the report, VOA said one Habu Mohammed, who claimed to be a deputy to the Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, had said the sect was in direct talks with the government and that it decided to initiate the peace moves in response to public appeals for peace in the country. The discussion was said to have begun about two weeks ago. The details were not much. VOA said the statement was given to it in Mecca.
No government official was ready to react to the claim, or to confirm or deny the talks. This should be understandable, though. Government is being cautious; it’s a case of once beaten, many times shy. This is why. Initial talks between the two fell through when it was alleged government deliberately leaked the discussion to the media. That attempted dialogue with the sect was brokered by the national president of the Supreme Council for Sharia’ah in Nigeria, Dr. Datti Ahmad. It broke down as Datti claimed that the discussions, which were meant to be secret, were leaked to the media by government. So we understand government needs to be careful in handling it so the talks allegedly being handled by National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki do not hit the rock. We understand, or sorry, I understand that perfectly well. So, of what significance then is that statement from Information Minister Labaran Maku? Sometimes when there is nothing to say or when an official truly elects to say nothing, it makes much sense to just do exactly that: to not say anything. Silence can be golden indeed. Or what do you make of that statement last week by the loquacious Maku? Just check it: “The attention of the Federal Government has been drawn to the statement issued through VOA Hausa Service on Tuesday, 14th August 2012 by Ahlul Sunna LilL Daawa Wal Jihad.
“The Federal Government welcomes any initiative that will usher in peace, security and tranquillity in the country, especially in the light of the security challenges that we have faced in the last two years. In this context, we welcome the statement by Ahlul Sunna LilL Daawa Wal Jihad acknowledging that they have been in contact with the Federal Government through its representatives and have started negotiations with the objective of reaching a final solution to this crisis.
“In this regard, the federal government wishes to reiterate its willingness to listen to the grievances of the sect. It is our hope that this process will lead to restoration of peace, security and tranquillity to Northern Nigeria.
“The federal government also takes special notice of the disclosure by the sect in its statement that there are individuals and groups in the society who have been using the name of the group to attack and kill innocent Nigerians for their own selfish interest.”
Poser for Minister of State for Foreign Affairs
The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Mohammed Nurudeen last week emphatically categorised Nigeria as the most Christian-populated Islamic nation in the world. Nurudeen’s assertion flies in the face of widespread categorisation of the country as one in which the population of Muslims to Christians is roughly 50-50, though there is yet no accurate statistics on the Muslim-Christian population distribution because this hardly matters as Nigeria is a secular state. The minister’s position also flies against the grain of conventional wisdom: how could a top government functionary make such a claim at a time Boko Haram is trying to set the Muslims in the country against Christians? Yes, Nigeria is a member of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC). General Babangida in 1986 converted the country’s observer status in OIC to full membership, but that does not necessarily make Nigeria an Islamic country. Truth is Nigeria is neither an Islamic country nor a Christian country. But the real puzzle for minister Nurudeen is this: if Nigeria is truly an Islamic country, how come our president is a Christian? Such an Islamic country must be over-tolerant to have a Christian as president!