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By Isaac MARKSON
ALTHOUGH Gov. Ifeanyi Okowa denied using state-owned Delta Line Transport Company concession to reciprocate the kind gestures of God is Good Development Transport Company management for supporting his 2015 election campaign with Mercedes-Benz buses, findings proved otherwise.
In August, 2017, Delta State Government led by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa buffeted Deltans with semantics such as outright sale, concession, divestment and takeover as part of its policy.
At the time, it was alleged that Governor Okowa had conceived the plan to sell off the only state owned transport company, ‘Delta Line’ to a crony that supported him during his 2015 election, the owner of ‘God is Good Transport Development Company Limited (GTDC), Mr. Chidi Ajaere.
Three years down the lane, Delta Line, one of the casualties of the policy has ceased to exist.
Delta Line was a wholly state-owned Transport Company before it was partially sold to God is Good transport company limited, GIGM, a private transport and logistics company in 2018.
The sale left Delta State with the minority stake of 40 percent and God is Good Motors Limited, 60 percent. Since its establishment almost 40 years ago, Delta Line has undergone multiple phases, including its rebranding in 1991, to improve mobility services to commuters across Nigeria but none compares to Okowa’s audacious sale.
Investigations revealed that despite having a massive goodwill and reputation built over the years, with about 38 terminals across the country and well over 1,200 units of modern buses, Delta Line was sold for N160 million to GIGM as against the N2 Billion offered by Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreation Services Employees (AUPCTRE), Delta State council, a body under Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).
Edevbie committee dribbled NLC
Fidel Emeni, a staff of NLC disclosed how the Edevbie – led Delta Line concession committee dribbled them. According to him, NLC offered N2 billion while GTDC made an initial offer of N80 million.
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Surprisingly, NLC’s offer was rejected while that of GTDC was accepted and later increased to N160 million to be paid in two installments for 60 percent equity of the company. Investigations revealed that the first disbursement of N100 million was paid into an account whose signatories comprised of one each of finance ministry and GTDC (Escrow Account).
“Although, the union leaders told committee that they have it (the money) they were never invited by the committee again. The committee proposed 60 per cent equity to be sold to the private sector while 40 per cent equity to be retained by the government. Labour offered N2 billion while God is Good Motors offered N80 million but God is Good Motors increased their bid to N160 million to secure the offer while Labour with its N2 billion offer was rejected.”
N500m debt owed by Delta Line untrue
In a feeble attempt to justify the sale of the transport company, the then commissioners of Finance, Information and Transport, Mr. David Edevbie, Patrick Ukah and Vincent Uduaghan, while addressing a joint press briefing, pointed out that it became necessary for government to concession Delta Line because it was mismanaged by a profligate management which was indebted to Zenith and Wetland banks to the tune of N500 million.
However, David Akpemegin, former Accountant-General of Delta Line says that position is disingenuous.
He disclosed that the debt owed by Delta Line was not up to N500 million as claimed by Delta State Government. He stressed that Zenith and Wetland banks bought a total of 40 Hiace buses for Delta Line on hire purchase agreement at the cost of six million naira per bus, amounting to N240 million. He observed that the concession to a private transport company was a bad decision and Delta Line had almost liquidated the debt owed Zenith bank when he left the company.
Findings revealed that Delta Line was sold as a carcass and GTDC was the lucky undertaker. No fewer than 700 workers of the hitherto state-owned transport company were thrown into the labour market, former management staff of Delta Line, Mr. Josiah Isheke disclosed.
Procurement process laden with irregularities
The sale of the Delta Transport Company to GTDC was fraught with irregularities from the beginning of the bidding process to the eventual sale.
Nwoye Nwakudi, a member of the All Progressive Congress, APC, in the state said the entire concession was midwifed in secrecy to the detriment of Deltans. He alleged that the State House of Assembly was not kept in the know, a development that a former member who pleaded not to be mentioned confirmed. The former member who represented a constituency in Delta Northsaid that the then speaker of the House, Monday Igbuya, who was curious to know the rationale for the planned sale of Delta Line was impeached in 2017 on spurious allegations of highhandedness instigated by the executive arm.
However our reporter could not confirmed this allegation from the former Speaker as his known phone number was said to be switched off as at when this reporter called him.
How Okowa appointees played their master’s script
Prior to the sale of Delta Line, the Delta State Secretary of AUPCTRE, Comrade Emeni Fidel, stressed during a protest at the Government House, Asaba, that there was no need to concession the transport company. Fidel disclosed that Delta Line monthly wage bill was N26 million with an average Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of N42 million with which it can service its debt.
But Edevbie, Chief Press Secretary Olisa Ifeajika, Commissioner of Transport, Oviemumo Oghoore and the then economic commissioner, Kingsley Emu, thought otherwise. They supported the sale of Delta Line and did everything possible to favour GIGM, sources conversant with the issue disclosed.
“We don’t need to waste money to pamper government businesses. Government has no business doing any business. That is a statement of fact. Where all of these businesses work, we know. We have continually subsidized that company (Delta Line). That company owes in excess of running into millions in terms of debt. That company is not professionally run,” said Mr. Kingsley Emu while responding to questions from journalists at a press conference in Asaba in August 2017.
Why I am always a major actor in privatization of delta facilities—Edevbie
Findings revealed that Edevbie chaired not only the controversial concession of Delta Line, but also the sale of other state-owned properties including the concession of Asaba Airport, and proposed outright sale of the abandoned multibillion-naira Independent Power Project, IPP, situated in Oghara.
Edevbie said he is always the governor’s favourite for these type of assignments because he is an accomplished economist with experience in privatization. Speaking, on the present state of Delta Line, Edevbie argued that Delta Line is in safe hands amidst the mixed reactions that has greeted the poor management cum controversial sale of the company.
“GIGM took over 46 rickety vehicles. Presently, there are about 110 brand new vehicles, including Toyota Hiace, and Jet movers. Another 60 brand new buses would be bought before the end of the year,” he noted.
He also said that at handover, the staff strength was reduced from 700 to 120 and has now risen to 400.
Poor management of Delta Line terminals
A visit to several Delta Line terminals in Delta State paints a different story. Terminals in Abraka, Effurun, Agbor and Asaba are being poorly managed. There was shortage of vehicles to convey commuters to their various destinations.
At Koka terminal passengers were seen waiting for buses. In what was described by many passengers as a sharp departure from the past, passengers said they often wait for long hours before buses arrive the terminal.
Efforts to speak with management of Koka terminal were unsuccessful. The manager declined to comment on the activities of the transport company under his purview. He asked that queries be forwarded to the head office. At the head office, our correspondent was told to get clearance from the transport ministry before interview request or queries can be attended to.
A visit to Delta Line workshop, along Benin/ Onitsha express revealed a significant decline in the company’s fleet as no fewer than 20 luxurious buses were completely abandoned, and begging for attention.
The workshop provides a conducive atmosphere for reptiles to breed, overgrown by weed. A source who works at the security unit of the workshop disclosed that some of the vehicles had been there for over a year.
I know nothing about sales of Delta Line—Transport Commissioner
Amidst the controversies surrounding the sale of the state-owned transport company, the current transport commissioner, Mr. Oviemumo Oghoore said he knows nothing about the controversial sale of Delta Line and does not have detailed answers to questions put forward to him by our correspondent when contacted. He asked that all questions regarding the sale be forwarded to the finance and justice ministries that drafted the Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, on behalf of the state government.
All efforts to reach the Commissioner of Finance and his Justice counterpart were unsuccessful. However, the Commissioner of Finance, Mr. Tilije Fidelis, replied a text message sent to him that he was out of the country and can only be reached when he returns. Fidelis has since returned to the country but is yet to respond to queries posed to him as at the time of filing this report.
Delta Line sale was not for compensation -Okowa CPS
Reacting to the allegations of compensating the governor’s crony with the sale of Delta Line, Chief Press Secretary, Olisa Ofejika denied favouritism adding that GTDC offer was accepted based on merit.
“GIGM has vast experience in transportation sector and that was the reason the Delta State Government felt it would manage the state owned Transport Company efficiently and effectively.”
Spiral of silence from government, Delta Line management
Efforts to get official explanations on the sale of the state owned Transport Company proved abortive. Freedom of Information (FOI) requests made to offices of the governor, finance, transport and justice ministries, were greeted with silence as at the time of filing this report.
Calls and text messages placed across to the two commissioners were neither answered nor responded to. The transport commissioner confirmed to our correspondent that he received the FOI application but didn’t respond within the first 7 days as required by Federal FOIA and Delta State Freedom of Information Act signed into law by Okowa in 2019.
Section 3 sub-section 1 of the Delta State Freedom of Information Act signed into law by Gov. Ifeanyi Okowa in 2019 guaranteed individuals, and cooperate body’s right to have access to public documents.
Mr. Victor Ojei, an anti-corruption activist and the coordinator, Young Nigerians Right Civil Society (YNRCS) queried the rationale behind the sale of the company for meagre amount. He added that he had concluded plans to sue the state government over the “fraudulent sale of Delta Line”.
He alleged that the last installment of the N160 million being the sum payable by GTDC for 60 per cent equity in the transport company has not been completed.
Ngozi Anabiroyen, a transportation expert, wondered why the government decided to sell Delta Line to one its biggest competitors. She said that there is no way GIGM management would run Delta Line more than its present business. She argued that no sane individual would prefer to manage another man’s business than his.
“If I may ask, why did Delta State government decided to sell off to a company Delta Line was in competition with?’ she queried.
She admonished Gov. Okowa to review the concession agreement and set up a close monitoring team to monitor the activities of company.
This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.