The Bayelsa State government lied in its claim that its officials never announced N33.8billion as cost of a new expansive office being built for the state governor, Seriake Dickson, PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report today.
The state Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, Lawrence Erujakpor, had told journalists that the new governor’s office, which he described as the best in Nigeria and West Africa, would cost tax-payers a whopping N33.8 billion.
Several media outlets, including Daily Independent and ThisDay newspapers, reported Mr. Erujakpor’s comment.
But apparently embarrassed by the commissioner’s disclosure, which portrayed the administration as a wasteful and insensitive government spending N33.8 billion on a luxurious office for its governor in a state where poverty and disease are widespread, the state government promptly issued a statement saying Mr. Erujakpo was misquoted.
In the statement, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, the spokesperson to Governor Dickson described the publications “as a misrepresentation of facts and an attempt to tarnish the good image and the support enjoyed by the present administration in the State”.
Apart from lambasting the media for misrepresenting the commissioner, the governor’s spokesperson also claimed that contrary to the N33.8billion contract sum attributed to the commissioner for works, the state was spending a mere N3.8 billion on the project.
But an audio clip of the interview obtained by PREMIUM TIMES has the commissioner on record as he made desperate attempts to justify the outrageous cost of the project.
He advanced several reasons for the exorbitant cost of the project in a state where citizens lack potable water to drink, and where a palatial Government House, with a presidential lounge, already exists.
A transcript of the audio clip reads:
“Well that contract sum is 33.8 billion, that is the contract sum and when you go there you will know that the cost is worthwhile.
“But in terms of how much has gone in there I don’t know how much but I know we have sunk about 50 to 60 percent of the contract sum and that is why you see that the contract is at the stage where it is now.
“When you get there you see that they are doing the finishing which is electrical and fittings and everything you see there, the ACs (airconditioners), when we go in to the exco chamber you will see that the ACs are already there.
“So I can promise you that as soon as we give them the additional money which we have promised to give to them in the next one or two weeks. We are targeting December thinking that the governor will celebrate the Christmas in his new office. Everything being equal, that is our target but you know man proposes and god disposes but all things being equal, we should be able to achieve that.
“… I can assure you that the money we have sunk there is worth it. You need to know what was done there before we got to this stage we are. We sand-filled almost two metres from the ground and you can see that even despite that filling, water is still threatening the area and what we have just discussed with the contractor is to do a concrete reinforcement of about three to five meters away from the building towards the river side and if you go there you will see the quality of work.
“The aesthetic and the movement and the flow within the office is (sic) unique. And like I keep saying, this our governor office is one in Nigeria, and to some extent, one in West Africa because I don’t know of any governor’s office that will be like this in the whole of West Africa.”
But a day after Mr. Erujakpor’s comment was reported, the state government denied that he ever made such a statement and lambasted the media for not crosschecking their facts before publishing.
It also accused the media of feeding “unsuspecting public with tissues of lies”.
Mr. Iworiso-Markson could not be reached Thursday to comment on the audio clip at our disposal, which put a lie to his claims. He did not answer or return calls to his mobile telephone. He also did not respond to a text message sent to him.
The Commissioner, Mr. Erujakpor, too could not be reached to explain whether he agreed with his government’s denial of a comment he indeed made. He did not return calls neither did he respond to a text message sent to him.
But reacting to the incident, a Yenagoa-based reporter, who asked not to be named for fears he might be attacked by loyalists of the state government, told PREMIUM TIMES the incident is a “clear case of how the administration is diverting public funds in the name of development”.
“On the surface, it appears to be just a slip of tongue by the talkative commissioner but when you listen carefully to his defence in the interview you find out that the lower figures being bandied was an afterthought.
“The CPS did a very shoddy job in the denial making no reference to the available records of the interview and neither providing proof to fault the figures earlier defended by the commissioner.
“Rather than bury his head in shame at his crass incompetence in managing the crisis, Iworiso-Markson should indeed apologize to the individuals and media organizations he attacked in the ill-advised statement that is not supported by fact.
“It suddenly dawned on them that N33.8 billion is too much following outcry on social media, but come to think of it, what is the justification in spending public funds on a new governor’s office when the people cannot have access to potable water.
“Something is definitely wrong with the way the ruling class sets its priorities and it has become evident that these so called projects are indeed avenues to siphon public funds,” he said.