By Ini Ekott
President Goodluck Jonathan’s new aide, Doyin Okupe, indeed, won a contract with the Benue state government and absconded without completing the job, the former governor who awarded the project, George Akume, confirmed Tuesday.
Mr. Akume would not however say why the contract failed and what action his government took to compel Mr. Okupe to deliver on the project after making payment to him.
He however told PREMIUM TIMES he would wish not to be dragged into the deal that has now prompted calls for Mr. Okupe’s sack, saying his successor administration, as well as Mr. Okupe, should provide answers to any concerns on the contract and deal with the matter as necessary.
“Government is continuous; there is a new government there (Benue) now, and again, the man involved is alive and should speak on that,” the former governor, now the Senate Minority Leader, said on Tuesday through his spokesperson, Becky Orpin.
The state’s Commissioner of Information under the present governor, Gabriel Suswam, Conrad Wergba, said he had limited information about the contract and will respond to this newspaper after reaching out to appropriate officials.
Cletus Akwanya, the Special Adviser on Media to Mr. Suswam, could not also be reached.
PREMIUM TIMES made prolonged attempts to reach Mr. Akume personally but he was said to be out of Abuja, and could not be reached by phone.
His aide, Mrs. Orpin, however confirmed the contract existed after she received briefings from officials knowledgeable about the deal.
“I can confirm that there was such a contract,” she said, in response to a question on whether the presidential aide truly got a contract but failed to deliver.
Mr. Okupe still wouldn’t comment on the matter. For two days, our reporters repeatedly called him on his telephone and sent text messages seeking his comments. He is yet to return the calls or respond to the messages.
The allegations appears another dent on an increasingly controversial government figure, whose alleged untidy past is rapidly turning out to be a rallying point for critics seeking his ouster.
Mr. Okupe has been branded by opposition parties an “attack dog” hired by the Jonathan administration to fend off the frustrating torrents of criticisms the government has been getting.
On a television show on Monday, Mr. Okupe, who is the Senior Special Assistant to the president on Public Affairs, said he would rather be addressed an “attack lion”.
Since taking office in a capacity he once held between 1999 and 2002 for former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, Mr. Okupe has taken on at least one outstanding critic of the Jonathan administration: former Federal Capital Territory minister, Nasir El-Rufai.
In a response to Mr. El-Rufai’s call on the president to resign last week, Mr. Okupe said the former minister was a man he respected, but who had now been “derailed and deranged by politics.”
The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) on Monday called for the removal of the presidential spokesperson on account of his alleged sordid past in the Benue contract, amid claims he secured similar incomplete deals elsewhere including Imo state.
The Benue job was awarded to Mr. Okupe’s company at the time, Value Trust, for the construction of a rural road in the North central state, PREMIUM TIMES learnt, but further details regarding the cost and completion schedule of the controversial project could not be ascertained yet.