President Buhari and Ex Millionaire Emeka Offor

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Bonny Okonkwo
Just before Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in as President on May 29, 2015, Financial Derivates chief executive Bismarck Rewane told a radio interviewer in Lagos that many Nigerian businessmen and women would become ex millionaires almost immediately because Buhari was going to inaugurate a new social order that would force government contractors to start doing things right. The statement was prescient and has increased people’s respect for Rewane as an economist with a profound knowledge of the Nigerian business environment.

Emeka Offor, one of the most controversial Nigerian government contractors since the 1990s, has not paid workers’ salaries since the very day Buhari took over. All his offices have long been shut down. His father, a retired policeman who died since February, has not been buried because his son has been looking for money to bury him in “a blaze of glory” so as to sustain the impression that he is still wealthy. Offor’s very close friend who is a former Senate President is reportedly now soliciting for donations to enable Offor to bury his father in November with showmanship.

Against this background, the people of Oraifite, Offor’s hometown in Anambra State, were surprised to read an article entitled “Emeka Offor: Celebrating an Unsung Hero” which appeared in Thisday, The Sunday Newspaper, of September 3, 2016. It was written by one Ms Chinwe Ugwu from Enugu State portraying Offor as an exemplary national businessman of international repute who has also been generous to all and sundry. It would seem that the article was meant to influence President Buhari so that the squandering of Nigeria’s riches which characterized the 16 years of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would resume. Frankly, so many Nigerian millionaires are not true businessmen and women but Aso Rock contractors. Otherwise, why would a supposedly superrich person like Offor become an ex millionaire from the very month there was a change in the national leadership?

Offor made national headlines for the first time in the 1990s when the Secretary to the General Sani Abacha’s Federal Military Government, Alhaji Gidado Idris, engineered the award of the Turn-Around Maintenance (TAM) contract of the 125,000 barrels per day Warri Refinery and Petrochemical Complex in Delta State. It was the first time an African was awarded a TAM contract.

Unfortunately, it was the beginning of the death of Nigeria’s four refineries. Offor’s Anchoff Strongholds company, which won the contract, was purportedly in technical partnership with a Bulgarian company to execute the contract. In fairness to the late Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Engineer Dalhatu Bayero, he was strongly opposed to the award because of the background of the intended beneficiary, but was overruled.

A panel set up to investigate the Warri Refinery scandal and headed by the legendary Aret Adams, himself a former NNPC GMD, recommended that neither Anchoff Strongholds nor any of its directors should ever be given an NNPC contract under any guise. It was accepted. Yet, Offor’s Chrome Oil Services Ltd was awarded NNPC contracts, including TAM for the 150,000 barrels per day New Port Harcourt Refinery and Petrochemical Complex. As the 2015 general elections were approaching, the Goodluck Jonathan government secretly awarded a TAM contract to Offor’s Chrome for both the new and old Port Harcourt refineries for an undisclosed amount. No job was done until Buhari won the presidential vote in March, last year.

A panicked Offor invited energy correspondents to his country home in Oraifite on August 9, 2015, where he caused them to report for the next two days with enthusiasm that the refineries would start working fully the same week! It is now 13 months, yet the refineries are practically dead. The journalists who filed the reports must have felt duped and used to give the nation a false hope. The nation still imports the large volume of petroleum products used daily by its 170m people.

The huge import of petroleum imports is the principal cause of the high demand for foreign exchange in the country, which results in unprecedented depreciation of the naira against international currencies. There are many other contracts given to Offor and his firms. It will be nice if Offor or Ms Ugwu could tell Nigerians and the Buhari government which of them was ever executed satisfactorily despite complete payment even where the contract sum was significantly revised upwards.

It is a great irony that the people of Oraifite are far from sympathizing with their son over his present business crisis. The reason is simple enough: Offor has been a thorn in the flesh of our people. Here are excerpts of a letter I have just written to President Buhari about how Offor used the police leadership during the time of Mohammed D. Abubakar as Inspector General of Police to terrorise our people:

“On July 13, 2013, while attending an early religious service in Lagos, I received a telephone call from my son who was being held captive in my house by the Anti – Robbery Squad from the then Inspector General of Police. He told me that the Federal SARS needed me immediately. My apartment was also thoroughly searched before I got home.

“On my return, I was promptly arrested, beaten up, my two BlackBerry phones taken from me by the police who handcuffed me before whisking me away in the boot of their Toyota Prado vehicle. I was taken to the Lagos State Police Command headquarters in Ikeja, where I was forced to write a statement over so-called defamation of a private citizen, Emeka Offor. After I wrote the statement, they took me to the Adeniji Adele Special Anti – Robbery squad cell meant for armed robbers, hired assassins and kidnappers and detained for 7 days. On the eight day they transferred me to the Agboju Police Station cell where I spent one night before they bundle me into the boot of the same Toyota Prado and drove me all the way to Abuja in chains on July 12, 2013. I was to be detained at the Gariki Police Station till July 30, 2013.

“Mr President, it is now almost two years and a half since Mr Justice Peter Afere of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court 25 sitting in Apo, Abuja, on Monday, April 7, 2014, gave judgment in a suit I brought against the then Inspector General of Police, M. D. Abubakar, for gross abuse of my human rights. The learned judge agreed that I was subjected to acute human indignity and I was accordingly awarded five million naira in damages. Though the compensation pales compared with the N50m awarded the immediate past Central Bank governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi who is now the Emir of Kano, by the Federal High Court in Lagos on April 3, 2014, for the harassment suffered at the hands of the secret police which lasted a few hours on February 20, 2014, I was nevertheless consoled that an important point has been established by the judicial pronouncement and decision.

“Most Nigerians still find it difficult to believe, but it is true that the only offence I was accused of by the police was that I had the effrontery to write an article in an online newspaper published by my townsfolk in which I suggested that the one million dollars pledged by Emeka Offor, the controversial Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain and government contractor from my hometown, to give to Rotary International to fight polio in India, Afghanistan and Pakistan should have been utilized to rehabilitate people dying of hunger in our place, or pay off depositors who put all their lifesavings at Offor’s owned Afex Bank which collapsed in 2006 principally due to unconscionable insider dealings totaling N15billion.

“I was accused of character defamation. This charge is intriguing, to put it very mildly. We live in a country where citizens daily and freely criticize top government officials, including our President and Commander in Chief, without police harassment. It was so even under military rule. Why a mere suggestion concerning a private individual should attract this kind of brutal response against me from the police personally assembled by the IGP remains a mystery. It shows how low Nigeria sank in the Goodluck Jonathan days. Jonathan may not personally have been involved in scandalous acts, but he allowed his officials, friends and contractors to run riot. There was no discipline, no order. Jonathan provided the kind of leaders known as laissez faire leadership. Everyone behaved as he or she liked. No control.

“As I have already indicated at the beginning of this open letter, Mr President, I was not the only victim of police brutality sanctioned right from the very top during the Jonathan years. My hometown of Oraifite became practically a wasteland –all because the PDP government and the police allowed themselves to be used to make their contractor and agent feel good. Let me cite a few other instances.

“On Thursday, March 27, 2014, the Anambra State Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) arrested Chief Arthur Eugene Nworah, a successful businessman from Oraifite with a base in Onitsha. The team was led by Chief Superintendent James Nwafor from the SARS office in Awkuzu, Oyi Local Government Area. Like in my own case, Chief Nworah was denied access to his wife and lawyer for two weeks and kept in a cell for hardened criminals. His sole offence was that he published an article in our local online newspaper narrating how Offor caused him to lose seven 20-feet containers worth N970m to the Customs Service. When he went to court, the police fabricated childish stories alleging that Chief Nworah engaged in kidnapping and gun running. Of course, he was set free by the court which had harsh words for the police authorities.

“SARS operatives arrested and detained three brothers on Offor’s instructions for four months over a domestic matter. The three siblings, Ifeanyi, Tochukwu and Chinedu from the Igboanuzue family in Oraifite, were not happy how their sister named Joy died on December 5, 2013, apparently out of neglect. They made their feeling known to their elder brother based at home, Sunday Igboanuzue, an ally of Offor’s in town union politics. They were quickly thrown into solitary confinement for a whole four months till the court ordered their release on Friday, March 21, 2014.

“SARS men also arrested two cousins, Ifeanyi Nwokolo and Muozube, on Offor’s promptings and threw them into a cell for violent criminals. They were quarrelling over land ownership, and the verbal altercation was considered a grave offence because it was near the palatial home of Emeka Offor. They were actually forgotten in detention until the court ordered their release. In a similar vein, members of the village Ayaka cultural troupe were on Offor’s instructions arrested by SARS from the state headquarters and kept in cell for months with tough, callous criminals. Their offence was being suspected of having a hand in a publication in an online town newspaper. Yet, these are old village peasant entertainers who can barely read or write. They were left in detention to die until the court came to their rescue.

“Our hometown unfortunately is not the only place where Offor used the police top hierarchy to settle personal scores. On Thursday, May 1, 2014, The Guardian published a report filed by its correspondent in Awka, Chuks Collins, where the president general of the Oko Town Union in Anambra State, Mr Cyprian Nwammuo, asked then IGP Abubakar and the then State Commissioner of Police, Usman Gwary, to stop being Offor’s stooges in the crisis between the governing council of the Federal Polytechnic and its host community. Nwammuo narrated how Offor, a former truck driver with Julius Berger, thoroughly abused the traditional ruler of the town, Professor Laz Ekwueme, a laureate of the Nigerian national Order of Merit (NNOM), the nation’s highest honour for intellectual attainment.

Prof Ekwueme, according to the town union president, was queried by Offor on April 13, 2014, for having the temerity to challenge the action of a governing council put in place by him! Interestingly, the polytechnic was built personally by Professor Ekwueme’s elder brother, Dr Alex Ekwueme, and handed over to the government before he became the country’s vice president in 1979.

“Our highly respected President, history will be kind to you if you use your good offices to find out how during the Jonathan presidency a controversial private individual pocketed the leadership of the Nigeria Police Force and used it to terrorise his own people.”
– Okonkwo who lives in Durban, South Africa, wrote in reply to Chinwe Ugwu’s “Emeka Offor: Celebrating an Unsung Hero” in THISDAY, The Sunday Newspaper of September 3, 2016