BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE
THE ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and opposition Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN continued their bickering yesterday over calls for the removal of Dr. Doyin Okupe as Senior Special Assistant (Public Affairs) to President Goodluck Jonathan over allegations that he failed to execute contracts he got from Imo and Benue states after collecting mobilisation fees.
This came as Okupe acknowledged the contract with Benue State but insisted that there was no criminal conduct in the handling of the contract.
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the ACN challenged the presidency and the PDP to respond to allegations that Okupe bolted away with mobilisation fees and failed to execute the contracts.
You ‘re dodging issues — ACN
Rather than respond to the damaging allegation of corruption against Okupe, ACN said PDP’s “only defence is that the Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji should also be asked to resign and that the ACN lacks the moral authority to raise the issue of corruption against Okupe because according to them, the party is full of cheats and liars. This is nothing but a deliberate attempt to obfuscate issues and a case of comparing apples with oranges.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the Lagos State Speaker Adeyemi Ikuforiji has been charged before a court of law. He has pleaded not guilty. The law presumes him innocent until proven guilty. The case is still on-going, therefore, any call for his resignation is an attempt to stampede justice.
However, the case of Okupe is completely different. He has been confronted with allegations that he has swindled both Imo and Benue states governments of hundreds of millions of naira. He cannot continue to be the President’s spokesman until he clears himself of these allegations,” the party insisted.
Okupe is innocent until proven guilty
Hailing Okupe’s appointment, the PDP advised President Jonathan to retain him and decried what it termed campaign of calumny against his person by the ACN.
In a statement by its Deputy National Secretary, Binta Masi Garba, the PDP said President Jonathan, by the appointment, “has taken the right decision to engage members of the public on salient issues of national importance.”
Describing ACN’s call as sheer blackmail that President Jonathan would not fall for, the PDP said issues of contracts were basically civil issues between contracting parties and most contract documents contain clauses for dispute resolutions.
It added that since the anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, had come out to say that Okupe was not currently under any criminal investigation by the Commission as claimed by the ACN nor had he been indicted by any court of competent jurisdiction or any panel of investigative committee, “it stands to reason under our laws that he should be deemed innocent until otherwise proven. The call for Okupe`s removal is therefore not only baseless and unwarranted, but equally malicious.”
My hands are clean— Okupe
In a related development, lawyers to Okupe have confirmed that the Benue State Government actually “awarded a rural road contract to Messrs Value Trust Investment Ltd., one of the companies in which Dr. Doyin Okupe served as chairman.”
In a statement signed by Yemi Gbonegun, the Lagos-based firm, Yemi Gbonegun and Co., described the contract award as “purely a commercial transaction.”
It explained that trouble however started when the administration of the state changed hands and incumbent Governor Gabriel Suswam took over from former Governor Akume. “Disputes arose as to the payment of outstanding payment certificate submitted by Value Trust Investment Ltd.” as a result of which the matter was referred to the EFCC, which conducted a thorough investigation into it.
“There was no evidence of any criminality”, the statement said, adding that “the parties then agreed to settlement by arbitration and the issue is in the process of being resolved amicably by both parties.