…Cash suspected to have been diverted after payment approval
By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor
As the Buhari administration intensifies the probe of $16billion spent by the Obasanjo administration on power projects, the EFCC is beaming its searchlight on what happened to the $8.5 billion released by the Obasanjo government for the payment of compensation to host communities on which the ambitious multi-million power projects were to be sited.
Most of the benefiting communities where the power lines were to be laid, have vehemently denied receiving any payment despite clear and documented evidence that the money was withdrawn from the Excess Crude Oil Account and paid to the Niger Delta Power Holding Company, NDPHC for onward payment of compensation to the land owners.
At the same time, records at the NDPHC have also confirmed that the payment had ‘since been made to the benefiting communities’.
But in a bid to unravel the true position regarding the alleged payment, operatives of the EFCC, on Wednesday detained two key officials of the NDPHC over their alleged involvement in the payment of N84 billion to the host communities.
A top source in EFCC confirmed that Marvel Emefiele , Head Finance, and Eze Odigbo, Head Compensation of the Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC), were detained in connection with how the huge public cash meant for the payment of compensation to many communities, was handled.
“The two key officials of NDPHC are being detained by the EFCC following their alleged involvement in bogus payment and diversion of about N850 million compensation to communities where the components of the power project were sited,” an EFCC source said last night.
“Investigation revealed that approval was granted for the payment of N84 billion to the communities where transmission lines of the power project are meant to be laid.
“Our team of investigators discovered that the money was not paid to the benefiting communities after the huge sum was officially signed off from the books.
“It was also discovered that though about N50 billion compensation was reportedly ‘paid’ to the communities, the contractors were driven away by the irate communities over non- payment of the same compensation which the NPDHC claimed to have paid.
“While Mr. Emefiele reportedly approved the payment of N850 million, Mr. Odigbo is said to have effected the payment of the compensation to the communities. The duo are being quizzed over the propriety of the matter.
Taken into detention by the EFCC with the two men, were the managing directors of two leading Nigerian engineering firms.
One of them is Richard Ayibiowu while the other is Christian Imoka.
Mr. Richard Ayibiowu is being detained in connection with the payment of N350 million to the communities.
Part of LOT 8 of the power project , Iheala Olu Transmission Line, was not executed by the firm due to the alleged claim of hostility by the communities while the sum of N350 million is recorded on government book as having been paid as compensation to the complaining community.
Similarly, another Chief Executive of an engineering firm, Christian Ejik Imoka, is being detained with the other three men over a controversial payment for N500 million contract.
He was detained in connection with LOT 14 of the controversial power project, which ought to include Lekki Ajah Transmission Line, which was not executed while money was paid to that effect.
According to the EFCC top official, the detained officials were said to have failed to honour previous invitations from the commission.
The operatives went into action over the $16 b power project following lingering allegation that Nigeria did not get value for the huge sum expended by the Obasanjo administration.
It was further gathered that about $8.5 billion cash was taken from Excess Crude Account and made available to the NPDHC for the power project in 2006 but not much has come out of the cash payment, prompting Nigerians to call for probe.