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How abandoned Calabar dredging contract landed senator in trouble

HOPE Uzodinma, the sitting Senator representing Orlu Senatorial District of Imo State, was “arrested” on Sunday by the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property headed by Okoi Obono-Obla.

As at noon on Monday, Uzodinma was still in custody, with Obono-Obla confirming to the media that he (Uzodinma) has been evading arrest since last year.

While some Nigerians were quick to claim that Uzodinma’s arrest may be connected to his face-off with Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State.

Uzodinma is currently aspiring to contest for the Imo State Governorship position on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), but Okorocha has ‘endorsed’ his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, to succeed him as Governor, while he (Okorocha) is aiming to unseat Uzodinma in the Senate.

But the presidential committee on asset recovery explained that Uzodinma was picked up in connection to a contract his company was awarded for the dredging of Calabar channel during the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan.

Though the company, Niger Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited, has received the total sum of $12.5 million (about N26 billion) for the contract, investigations revealed that it did not carry out any work on the Calabar Channel.

This issue was brought to the public domain via a publication by Premium Times in June 2017, following a memo written by the current Director General of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Hadiza Usman, to the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, informing him of the development.

It was based on the publication that Uzodinma was arrested at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja, on Sunday.

“We have been looking for him since we saw the wonderful investigation that Premium Times carried out on the matter, and then we were also helped by a petition which a citizen took time to forward to our panel,” Obono-Obla said on Monday.

“The petition went to the presidency, and then it was forwarded to us for action.

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“We have made all efforts to get him, including writing to him and the Senate on several occasions, but he ignored our invitation and evaded our attempts to get him to come and explain what he did.

“He got a contract to dredge Calabar Ports, which we all know can help this country’s economy significantly, but refused to do it.”

Obono-Obla, who himself is facing a certificate forgery scandal, said that his committee does not have the powers to detain a suspect for a long time, adding that Uzodinma would be released after he had written a statement, and subsequently, he would be charged to court.

However, Obono-Obla’s comments appear to have gone against the ruling of the Abuja division of the Court of Appeal on November 5, 2018, saying that  Special Presidential Investigation Panel (SPIP) for the Recovery of Public Property does not have powers to arrest or prosecute a suspect nor confiscate anybody’s asset.

“The Recovery of Public Property (Special Provisions) Act does not confer any prosecutorial powers on the SPIP,” stated the Appeal Court judgment which was read out by Justice Hussein Muhktar.

“The powers conferred on the SPIP under the Act is limited to investigation and cannot prosecute under the Act or under the EFCC Act or any other Act.

“The SPIP, upon conclusion of investigation can only submit its report to the President. The SPIP cannot obtain forfeiture orders from any Court whatsoever. The SPIP cannot exercise the powers of the Attorney General of the Federation or the Chairman of the EFCC.”

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