SPECIAL: How Governor Udom, family members, cronies looted multibillion-naira farm project in Akwa Ibom
Many people have no idea that the state-owned Akwa Prime Hatchery and Poultry Ltd was secretly passed to people within the Akwa Ibom State Government circles in a highly controversial deal.
In the first part of this investigation, we uncovered how state funds amounting to over N320 million were used by Governor Udom Emmanuel to settle a privately-guaranteed loan.
Neither Mr Emmanuel nor any of his aides have challenged the facts, numbers, and attributions in the story.
However, new information has surfaced showing how Mr Emmanuel transferred Akwa Prime Hatchery to his brother and a few aides less than a year after he took office in 2015.
Mr Emmanuel’s predecessor, Godswill Akpabio, constructed the hatchery in 2012 to meet the demands of farmers and consumers in the state as well as the South-South and South-East regions.
The facility was to be operated under a public-private partnership (PPP) model, according to an article published on a state-run website by Emmanuel Nicholas, one of Mr Akpabio’s aides at the time.
“The 540,000 egg capacity poultry hatchery at Mbiaya Uruan (Uruan Local government Area) has been completed and is ready for production of day-old (D.O) chicks for the teeming poultry farmers in Akwa Ibom state and south-south geographical zone in general. The project is to be managed under Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement,” Mr Nicholas had written.
Mr Nicholas had in the long essay published on December 4, 2012, under the title, “Industrialisation and Consolidation of AKS Economy,” highlighted some of the major achievements of the Godswill Akpabio’s administration.
Godwin Afangide, former agriculture and natural resources commissioner, confirmed that the project was commissioned by Mr Akpabio in May 2015, a few weeks before the end of his administration.
In a conversation with our reporter, Mr Afangide noted: “You are correct. The hatchery was built and commissioned by HE Godswill Akpabio in May 2015 during my tenure as the commissioner for agriculture and natural resources.”
When asked about the size of the hatchery, and the value of the project at the time it was commissioned, Mr Afangide declined to provide further details.
Mr Emmanuel, who served as Secretary to the State Government (SSG) and was Mr Akpabio’s anointed successor cannot, therefore, claim ignorance of the project or its terms of operation.
Unfortunately, the PPP deal was broken, and the hatchery was secretly and illegally transferred to Mr Emmanuel’s brother and associates.
Akwa Prime Hatchery and Poultry Ltd is now an asset of f Akpan, Elijah Willie (300,000 shares), Ukpeh, Gabriel Ita Asuquo (50, 000 shares), Udo, Edet Joshua (50,000 shares), and Gabriel, Nkanang (Governor Emmanuel’s brother, 50, 000 shares), according to company registration filings.
Our findings showed the hatchery was given away in a deal that was hazy and against the state’s interests.
People familiar with the questionable deal provided a first-hand account of what transpired, especially the events that led to the takeover of the hatchery.
A source, who spoke under anonymity for safety concerns, said the project was initiated by Mr Akpabio when Mr Afangide served as agriculture commissioner.
“Governor Godswill Akpabio had built and commissioned the hatchery when Godwin Afangide was the commissioner for Agriculture. The facility is about six hectares and fenced. At the time it was discovered, it was overgrown with weeds and was almost a forest,” the source said. “The contract was awarded to Mr Offiong Akpabio but at the time they came to the place, the ceilings were caving in, and the walls were peeling off too.”
We learned from sources at Mbiaya Uruan, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, and Government House that the first investor to arrive with a big shopping list for the hatchery was an Ethiopian businessman.
When it was discovered that the Ethiopian (names withheld) had insufficient capacity to run the hatchery, Mr Alphonsus Inyang, MD/CEO of Hebron Integrated Farms and Mill Limited, was brought in by some of the governor’s aides.
Mr Emmanuel was persuaded to award Mr Inyang an N800 million contract to refurbish and operate the hatchery for the government of Akwa Ibom State following a purported examination of his own hatchery, according to some sources.
When some of the governor’s aides and his brother discovered that he would not allow them to meddle in the company’s activities, the decision to terminate the consultancy contract was pushed through. Immediately after ordering and paying for the necessary hatchery equipment and machinery, the government abruptly cancelled the contract.
“Mr Alphonsus is a thorough businessman and they feared that he would not allow them to interfere in the management or have access to funds and other things. That was why they conspired and pushed another person to the governor, a source who was privy to the deal said.
“They lied to the governor that the person had enough money in hard currency and would inject his private funds to renovate and operate the plant at a high profit.
“As soon as their man was handed the project, they went back to the governor and told him another lie and convinced him to release funds to the investor to renovate the buildings before bringing in the equipment said to have been ordered and paid for.”
Another source insisted that the revocation of Mr Inyang’s operational contract was justifiable. According to her, the plan was to appoint a wealthy investor to oversee the hatchery’s operations as part of a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) project.
“It was argued that the state cannot spend N800 million on a consultant when an investor was ready to use his personal funds to run the business profitably,” the source had told this newspaper.
“But at the time the contract was cancelled, the consultant had already ordered and paid for a lot of equipment and machines using hard currency. Some of the orders were made with a company in the Netherlands that specialises in the manufacturing of hatchery equipment and machines.”
Contractor cries for justice
Following weeks of searching, we were able to locate Mr Inyang (Alphonsus) as part of our avowed devotion to the ideals of fairness, objectivity, and balance.
Mr Inyang, a deeply upset man, said that discussing the cancelled deal simply served to remind him of a period in his life that he would rather forget.
The story was both sad and annoying, and it demonstrated the cabal’s ruthlessness in shadow operations.
“Ibanga this is one of the things I don’t like to do. Next October will make it seven years. I saw your story on Facebook and read it where you claimed that I have collected money from the Government,” he began to speak reluctantly.
“But that is a fat lie. You mentioned that you were told but I want to tell you that never happened. I invested a lot in equipment and machines worth hundreds of thousands of Euros because I was meant to run that place based on a letter of engagement that the government gave to me and approval money to be released to me to run the facility.
“I deployed the highest level of expertise that is available in this country, spent so much money on logistics and administration including travelling, insurance and bonds and was getting ready to launch the project to be the best in this part of the country, especially in the South-south and South-east of the country.
“It was going to be a competitive business and that was why we went as far as spending all the money. When the government that engaged us later came up to say they have a better plan and that they have somebody who was coming with about $5 million to run the place as an investor, I was asked to disengage and that they will pay me whatever we had spent but which they never did up till now.
“I have not gotten even one kobo paid to Hebron Integrated Farms and Mills Limited. No money has been paid to us. Several letters have been written and several meetings have taken place, but we have not still been paid,” he recounted.
When asked if he was willing to share the details of the contract with this newspaper, Mr Inyang said he would not and insisted that it was not only a bad business but also his first and the last attempt to do business in the state.
He explained that some of the equipment and machines he acquired for the project were lying idle and hoped God would help him someday to use them to start the best hatchery in the country.
Continuing, Mr Inyang said, “We lost money in that transaction. But let me use this opportunity to reaffirm, my name is Alphonsus Godwin Inyang. I run the Hebron Group and I have not collected one naira of claims from the expenses that the government made me to incur.”
He said even when the government set up a committee headed by the Governor’s Senior Special Assistant on Foreign Direct Investment, Mr Gabriel Ukpe, to consider the matter, nothing good came out of it.
Mr. Inyang listed other members of the committee to include Ufot Ebong, Gabriel Nkanang, Prof. Edet Udo and Francis Ekeng.
“I had seen an Ethiopian with them, but I don’t know his name. I don’t want to go back to those things. They belong to the past as I told you. A child that was born seven years ago would have gone far in school by now. Money was expended. Money was lost but I am still alive. That money cannot buy life.
“We spent money on equipment, machines, consultancy, travels, and other logistics. Unless I start looking for the documents and I am not ready to do that now.
“I am a private man and not a politician, maybe if I were a politician, it would have been different. I want you to correct the impression that I was paid. I was not paid any money by the government,” he concluded.
Cabal’s hatchery war
If the cabal felt they had triumphed when they ousted Mr Inyang and brought in Francis Ekeng, thinking they could easily manipulate him, then they had badly miscalculated.
Operating under Akwa Prime Hatchery and Poultry Ltd, the new investor was said to have brought in not only equipment and machines but also the required manpower to run the business.
According to insiders, Mr Ekeng began questioning some of the cabal’s actions soon after he took over the facility, resulting in a personality conflict.
But the cabal accused Mr Ekeng of installing equipment suspected of having previously been used elsewhere after refurbishing the hatchery and installing close circuit television cameras (CCTV) around the premises.
One of the hatchery’s pioneer employees, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorised to comment on the matter, confirmed that the equipment delivered by Mr Ekeng was not brand new.
“I was there when they started the hatchery and I saw when the equipment and machines were brought, and they were not brand new. I think that was the beginning of their disagreement.
“The government officials who supervised the hatchery were angry and some of them openly criticised the MD for not bringing new machines,” the source told our correspondent.
Mr Ekeng is believed to have fought tooth and nail against the cabal’s effort to seize control of cash provided by the governor for the plant’s operation.
But the situation came to a head shortly after the company received N250 million loan that he and Governor Emmanuel jointly guaranteed.
Following their perennial crisis of interest, Mr Ekeng was said to have handed the day-to-today operations of the hatchery to his Manager, Bala Yakubu, and his brother before returning to his base in the United States.
It was Mr Yakubu who ran the facility till 2018 when the cabal, most of who are members of the state technical committee on agriculture and food sufficiency incorporated a private company limited by shares with the name Prime House Hatchery and Poultry Limited and used it for their personal interest.
The committee which is made up of eight members is chaired by Edet Udoh while Nkoyo Amana served as Secretary.
Members included the then Commissioner for Agriculture and Food Sufficiency, Glory Edet, former Lands Commissioner, Umo Eno and Idongesit Solomon.
Others were Edna Akpan, Sunday Akpan and Gabriel Nkanang, who is Governor Udom’s elder brother.
Mrs Amana had, however, told this newspaper in a telephone conversation that she was no longer a member of the committee.
But in a flagrant violation of applicable laws, including the Public Procurement Act (Amendment) 2016, some members of the technical committee incorporated a private limited liability company through Mrs Amana’s law firm, and used it to transfer the hatchery to their own.
The name of the firm, which was incorporated on August 7, 2018, is Prime House Hatchery and Poultry Limited.
A recent investigation by this newspaper revealed that the incorporated firm, Prime House Hatchery and Poultry Limited, operates out of No 25 Esuene Street, Uyo, and that the building is the same one used by the Prof. Udo-led Technical Committee on Agriculture and Food Sufficiency as its operational headquarters.
In addition to becoming the new owners of the hatchery, we discovered that Big Bird Meat Processing Industry Ltd acquired a lease on the facility after paying N200 million.
Insiders allege that M. Akmal, an Asian businessman and food specialist, owns Big Bird Meat Processing Industry and that a member of the technical committee, Mr Umo Eno, brought him in to take over the hatchery.
The government, through the technical committee, which also owns Prime House Hatchery and Poultry Ltd, evicted Akwa Prime Hatchery and Poultry Ltd from the hatchery shortly after it was leased to Big Bird Meat Processing Industry, according to a staff member who asked not to be identified for safety reasons.
“After Prime House Hatchery leased the facility to Dr Akmal, an Asian businessman, who is also managing a poultry firm in Calabar for N200 million, the money was shared among the directors and shareholders.
“To enable the new company to take over the facility, the technical committee came and evicted the former operators without allowing them enough time to move out themselves without losing from their investment,” the source said.
According to another insider, at a meeting to resolve conflicting issues in the lease of the facility, the government team and representatives of Akwa Prime Hatchery exchanged insults.
Mr Umo Eno, a member of the government team and former lands commissioner, lambasted the former hatchery owners for insisting on being given adequate time to transport their birds out of the facility, according to sources.
A fierce confrontation between the two teams is said to have ensued, resulting in a deadlock after some members of the Akwa Prime team staged a walkout of the meeting.
The incident allegedly sparked social media rumours that Mr Eno owns the firm that leased the hatchery.
However, a fact-check by this newspaper showed that there are no records at the CAC or anywhere else linking the former commissioner to Big Bird Meat Processing Industry Ltd, the new hatchery operators.
A spokesman for the governor declined repeated requests seeking comments for his principal’s role in the hatchery scam.
When contacted on whether nor not Big Daddy Foods got the concession to run the controversial hatchery, apart from being a member of the technical committee, Mr Eno promptly responded using the WhatsApp messaging app.
“No Sir. That has nothing to do with us,” Mr Eno wrote.
The new directors and shareholders of Prime House Hatchery and Poultry Ltd did not return calls and messages to their phone numbers as listed on the CAC record.
Civil society groups contacted to speak on the matter declined, citing the experience of Policy Alert that came under attack and security surveillance after its Executive Director, Tijah Bolton, spoke on the previous report.
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