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Otti-Ikpeazu: Putting the records straight on KPMG report 

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It is often said in local parlance that somebody set for execution, must first of all be allowed to defend himself. It is also said that only a tree would hear that it would be cut down and still stand. Better still, as was popularlised by the late Sam Mbakwe, Governor of old Imo State, a rat does not eat the food of a man while he is still awake. In both law, and journalism, the maxim, audi autaram partem, the Latin expression for hearing the other side remains a grundnorm for ethical practice.

All these elements have been playing out in Abia State between Alex Otti, the state Governor and his officials on one side and Okezie Ikpeazu, his predecessor and his camp, on the other. At the heart of heart of it all is the back and forth allegations and counter being traded between the two on the handling of the state resources by the former, particularly that a whopping N107 billion grew wings under his care.

Otti, had Friday, April 19, 2024, at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, in the United States of America, where he delivered a lecture entitled: State of Governance and Economic Transition: Meeting the challenges, told his audience comprising indigenes of the state, residing in the US: “Talking about corruption, I had set up a forensic audit as soon as I took over office in Abia, last year (2023). So that there won’t be any argument, I called in one of the top three audit firms in the world, and not too long ago, they turned in their report, and some of the things in their report are frightening.

“So, some N9.3 billion was paid to seven contractors for contracts that were not executed at all up till today. Another N15.9 billion (N16 billion) was paid to 63 contractors with no supporting documents anywhere in the state. Another N12 billion was paid to two contractors for contracts that do not exist, out of this figure N10 billion was on September 25, 2020, paid to a contractor for the construction of the Abia State Airport.

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“We have spent time trying to locate the airport and up till now have not been able to locate it… So, as we continue to look for our airport, we have also told the security agencies to help us search. When you juxtapose that with pensions that were lying unpaid for about 10 years and the salary arrears, just one of these headings, the N10 billion that was spent to build a non-existent airport, was exactly the amount of money our government used to take off the pension arrears.”

By that singular outing, the governor had drawn the axiomatic ant-infested faggots to himself as Ikpeazu and his camp have not rested in taking him to task to come clean of the entire revelations, particular on the Forensic Audit Report of the firm, which he claimed he relied on to make his assertions. Key among the allegations was that Ikpeazu, allocated N10 billion to a non-existent airport project in the state, which he attributed to the said audit report..

They accused him of not disclosing to the same audience in the US, after previously claiming that he met an empty treasury when he took office on May 29, 2023, that the Ikpeazu government actually left for him a net cash balance of N3,495,207,127.14 in various banks, where the state government operated about 78 accounts in 14 banks in the country.

Indeed, it turned out, they further stressed that Otti had on July 13, 2023, less than two months after assumption of office, engaged the services of KPMG, a globally reputable firm, to carry out a financial process review of the Ikpeazu administration from May 29, 2015 to May 28, 2023, when the former Governor left office.

However, he was said not also to have disclosed the terms of the review, which was contained in the report of KPMG, which was submitted to the government by electronic means, received by Dr. (Mrs.) Njum Onyemenam, Accountant General, Abia State Government and Michael Akpara, the Commissioner for Finance.

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In the 360 page report, which was titled: Provision of Process Review Services; Project Azumini, Final Report of Factual Findings, submitted in March 2024, KPMG was clear on Page 15 of the document that, “(A). This assignment was not performed by us in the capacity of a statutory auditor. Hence, this is not any form of financial statements audit of ABSG or any entity listed in the report. We are therefore not required to render an opinion on the financial statements of ABSG or any entity listed in the report. (B) Rather, we have performed the procedures we considered appropriate in the circumstances and in line with relevant KPMG methodology. (C). We were also not required to review the adequacy or otherwise of the output of the prior or current external auditors and/or consultants of ABSG, and did not perform any of the following: (I) Conduct a trial and / or inquiry in the course of the assignment.

(II) Act as a tribunal, commission of inquiry or in judicial or quasi-judicial role.

(III) Perform, any adjudicatory function whatsoever in the course of the assignment.

(IV). Conduct any exercise with a view to determining whether any person was guilty or innocent of any offence.”

KPMG further clarified on Page 16 of the same report that it was limited to only the documents provided to it by the government and as such, could not be said to have exhaustively dealt with the review, since it did not see certain documents from the government. It said under “Limitations and subsequent events”, that, (A). We have included and records information relevant to the scope of work and objectives in line with the executed engagement letter of 13 July 2023, and as provided by the relevant MDAs of ABSG and the banks. Notwithstanding the foregoing, it is possible that documents and/or information exist, which were not made available to us.

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(B) The provision of additional documents and / or information after submission of this final report will however attract a separate fee and timeline discussion between KPMG and ABSG.

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(C). For ease of understanding of this report, specific limitations (if any) are stated in the relevant sections of this report.”

Instructively, the report warned the Otti-led government that the report was not a public document and that the agency shall not be answerable to the document being made public or queries from agencies of government, should the Abia State government decide to make it public or submit same to security agencies.

On Page 2 of the report, it said: “This final report is intended for the use of the Abia State Government (“ABSG”) and should not be used for any other purposes. This report may contain legally privileged and confidential information. No part of the content may be quoted, referred to or disclosed, in whole or in part, without KPMG’s prior written consent.

“Nothing in any part of this report shall preclude or subject to any limitation whatsoever the release of the report / communication by ABSG to any law enforcement or court of law to whose control ABSG is subject, or becomes subject, provided that KPMG shall accept no responsibility or liability to such agency of government in connection with their use of the report.

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“ABSG acknowledges that KPMG to the fullest extent possible shall not assume any liability whatsoever to any third-party recipient of this report or any other person or authority whomsoever under any circumstances whatsoever, irrespective of whether KPMG has consented to the disclosure of this report to such a third party.

“ABSG shall indemnify and hold KPMG harmless against any claim, litigation fee, cost, expenses, or liability relating to the submission of this report to third parties by ABSG. KPMG may provide ABSG with oral, inception reports, status updates, draft reports, or draft presentations. Nonetheless, our final report shall take precedence in all circumstances, and therefore, no reliance should be placed by ABSG on any oral, inception report, status updates, draft reports, or draft presentations.”

But when Otti broke the ice by announcing the result of review in the United States and subsequently released the report, it drew serious rebuttal from the Ikpeazu camp. Ikpeazu warned Otti, to focus on governance and stop deceiving the people with lies and fiction.

Ikpeazu, who said that Otti was diverting attention from the quarterly financial reports of Abia State, which showed that his government has been reckless with funds, added: “Accounting for the N10billion, no dime was diverted. Otti is diverting attention from his own Quaterly financial report which captured him spending N3billion on research and other nonexistent projects.

“Why is it that he is using the same Ferrotex contractor, who he accused of receiving N10billion from us for major contracts today? What stopped him or his auditors from asking Ferrotex for explanations? We have decided to respond to him with evidence of jobs done. The time of truth has come.”

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John Okiyi Kalu, Commissioner for Information under Ikpeazu, said that the alleged N10billion originally budgeted for the airport project was rechanneled into road projects, following the approval of the Executive Council, after traditional rulers in the state told Ikpeazu to forget an airport project but focus on fixing major roads in the state, adding that the royal fathers had told Ikpeazu that the airports in Owerri and Uyo made an Abia airport project unviable.

Okiyi-Kalu, who later served as a Commissioner for Trade and Investment, said that it was shocking that Otti and his media handlers rushed to a blogger to help them publish an indicting report against his former principal instead of the publishing the ‘forensic audit’ report through official state channels.

Okiyi-Kalu explained that the airport project issue first came to the Abia State Executive Council at a meeting on September 24, 2020.

He said that based on the presentation made to the Exco, they approved the project and also approved the borrowing of N10billion “from UBA Plc as an initial investment by the state with repayment charged to our FAAC account with the bank.

In an allusion to what KPMG later confirmed that they did not see all the documents in their review, Okiyi-Kalu challenged the current Secretary to State Government, Kenneth Kalu, to review and confirm his claim from Exco records in his custody, adding that on November 17, 2020, Ikpeazu took to his official X (formerly Twitter) handle to inform Abia Citizens that the airport project had been suspended.

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The former commission, while stressing that Ikpeazu informed the then Commissioner for Works, Elder Bob Ogu, of his intention to suspend the Airport project in anticipation of Exco approval, hence the State Ministry of Works selected road projects in Abia 2020 budget for funding with the N10 billion and allocated resources to the contractors, also gave a detailed account of the roads and contractors that received the N10billion initially marked out for construction of an airport and listed about 18 projects that were done, in place of the airport.

According to his list: “China Zonghghao for Osisioma flyover Aba & ABSUTH Road Aba got N800,000,000. Trackcare Construction Company for Aba-Owerri road Aba (Brass to Osisioma junction segment, Ururuka road Aba, Afor Ibeji/ Ubakala Umuahia, Stella Marris Catholic Church, etc got N1,035,000,000.

“Ferrotex Construction Company for Aba-Owerri road (Railway junction-Brass junction segment) Aba, Obohia Road Aba, Opobo Junction-Ukpakiri Ogbor-Hill Aba, Uratta Ugwuati, Itungwa, Rehabilitation of failed Ururuka got N1,500,000,000.

“⁠Shannah Jardon Construction Company for Okigwe Road Aba, Milverton Road Aba, Cemetery-Eziukwu Road Aba got N450,000,000. Ecklean: Osusu road Aba-N 200 000,000, Cosmos Construction Company for Immaculate Avenue Umungasi Aba got N150,000,000 while Setraco/Hartland for Port Harcourt road got N1,000,000,000.”

He added that, “⁠Rockwaters for Ohanku Road Aba, Okpu Umuobo Aba got N650,000,000, MOW for Ebenma Street Aba and Ovom street Aba got N1, 130,000,000. Zubbalco for MBUBO Umuakwu got N200,000,000.”

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Other details showed that Tunnel End Construction Company got N780,000,000 for the construction of Umuene-Obikabia, Umuojima-umuokiri- Ekeakpara, umuakatawom-Eziama-Ohanze while Paceo Carretera company got -N312,000,000 for the construction of Agalaba Ring road in Obingwa.

Others, according to him were ⁠Delhope Construction Company got N557,000,000 for the construction of Umuobiakwa-Owo road Obingwa, Federal Medical Centre internal road, Aba Road Umuahia (GG-shoprite).

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He also argued that Ministry of Works’ Construction department got N325,000,000 for the construction of Umuobiakwa internal roads, Umuobiakwa (Gov) roads, Mbawsi internal roads and desilting of Aba big gutter while ⁠⁠BOK construction got -N100,000,000 for the construction of Agbama Ring road Umuahia.

“Crystalkleen Construction for York/Jubilee/Nicholas street Aba got N30,000,000, Pumeco Construction for Aba road (Uchenna/ShopRite) Umuahia, Zero portholes in Umuahia roads got N353, 000,000, while Yodel construction for Afrata road, Umuahia got N100,000,000.

“⁠E&P for Trinity College Road Umuahia got N60,000,000 and Obitex Development Company Ltd for construction of Ohuhu road from Isiokata, diversion from the gully erosion at isiokata to Umuawa Ohuhu to Nkwoegwu got N125,000,000.”

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More details provided show that Smutedge Company got N200,000,000 for the rehabilitation of failed portions of Umuikaa-umuenne, Pacon Company got N12,000,000.00 for completion of drains at

Ozuomba/Ohazu road. MOW company for Zero pot holes(Aba) got N100,000,000, Charbel Company for Government house got N400,000,00 and the State Ministry of Public Utilities got N100,000,000 for Streetlights.

However, explaining further that the list containing the tranche payments was not exhaustive as those were the only ones in his personal Exco note that he kept during meetings, he said that it is also true that other tranche payments were made from other sources, stressing that the Ministry of Works led by Elder Bob Ogu and the Ministry of Finance led by Dr Aham Uko back then, should be able to supply a more comprehensive list to what he was saying.

Okiyi-Kalu added that Ferotex Construction Company, as one of the reputable indigenous construction companies with anti-graft agencies’ clearance was selected by the Ikpeazu administration as lead company in the “contractor financier” arrangements with UBA.

He said that the above-mentioned arrangement, the “contractor financier” arrangement was not alien within the public sector, alleging that a similar arrangement was entered into by the Otti’s government with Craneburg Construction Company for N50bn facility earmarked for “various roads”.

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He explained that such lead companies are more or less consultants that would receive the bulk amount and pay other road contractors as banks would not likely agree to enter into multiple agreements with all the contractors.

He said that Otti’s claim that he got the top three audit firms in the world to do the forensic audit was untrue, as his top three audit firms have failed to follow the money as expected of any audit firm, even the least ones, adding that a serious forensic audit investigation would simply seek to establish if the allocated funds got to the companies and also if the contractors did the work.

According to Kalu, “Those who claim that there was need for “virement” may be speaking out of ignorance in this case. The road projects were already in our approved 2020 budget, hence no need for further house approval.

“All state revenues are expected to be used to fund state budget and from the time we had approval to spend on the roads instead of Airport there is, no further need for legislative approval.”

“For the further education of those who verbalize terms they do not understand, “virement” is the process of transferring items from one financial account to another. In this case, the airport project and the road projects must both be in the 2020 budget before you can execute virement….says Otti lied deliberately to mislead Abians.

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Okiyi-Kalu was to further explain that the net credit balance of N3.48 billion left for Otti by Ikpeazu was different from other near-cash assets, such as a 3.5% share in Aba Independent Power Project (IPP) Geometric now valued at over N40 billion, among others. RAAMP funds of $50 million and AfDB fund of $115m as well as net FAAC credit of N6 billion and stamp duties accrual of more than N40 billion naira.

Okiyi-Kalu said that given that one should at least expect a former Managing Director of a Bank to know the difference between a Process Review report and a Forensic Audit Report, he can only say that Otti lied deliberately to mislead the public. “Furthermore, Governor Otti sought to mislead the public when he alluded to the N10 billion being taken from the state’s consolidated revenue account whereas it was a contractor finance loan from UBA plc”, he said.

He expressed sadness that many of Otti’s cheering crowd do not know the difference between a forensic audit and a process review, a situation he advised all those confused to do proper research to know the difference.

“How much did Governor Alex Otti pay KPMG? Abians deserve to know because we are already paying a state-owned audit unit that would have done a far better job. So far, Otti’s government has spent N9 billion on a subhead called “research & development”. What is he researching and developing in Abia State? Check quarterly financial reports published by his administration, if in doubt.

“Based on antecedent, never trust anything said by Governor Otti. He lies and misrepresents facts too frequently to be taken seriously. Did you notice that after I responded to his allegation of missing N10b with details of road contractors paid from the money, he said, “The money was moved into 32 different accounts” instead of the money being paid into road contractors’ accounts?”

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He said that he remains grateful to whoever forced Otti to leak the KPMG report, stressing that at face value, the report exonerates Ikpeazu of any wrongdoing and highlights the leadership shortcomings of Otti.

“A Governor does not award contracts in Abia State and a Governor does not sign Cheques. It is the Finance & General Purpose Committee (F & GPC) that reviews tenders, recommend companies for the award of contracts and passes the same to State Exco for approval. Similarly, only the top officials of the Ministry of Finance sign State Government Cheques and at the level of ministries it is the Permanent Secretary and Director of Finance.

“As a Commissioner in Abia State for six years I never signed any government or ministry cheque because it is not within my remit. Where then is the evidence of Dr Ikpeazu stealing N10bn meant for Abia Airport.”

Okiyi-Kalu went further to call on all those who need a copy of the process review report, to contact him via his WhatsApp, assuring that he will send it to them if he believes they are capable of understanding such reports.

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In the report, KPMG said its investigation for the period under review covered Zenith Bank and Union Bank is from 1 January 2020 to 28 May 2023 as the two (2) banks were KPMG audit clients up to 31 December 2019.

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The firm said that although “our report may contain references to relevant laws and regulations, we do not provide legal opinion on compliance with such laws and regulations. (b). Our discussion of the relevant laws and regulations is intended solely to facilitate the determination of applicable facts, which may be relevant to the interpretation and/or application of such laws and regulations. Should such interpretation require legal advice, we recommend that ABSG obtain an independent legal advice.

It said that in its process review, it held discussions with the officials of ABSG to obtain an understanding of the contract, analysed Abia State Public Procurement Law 2012, the Abia State financial regulations (as amended in 2001); Analysed schedules of contracts awarded during the period under review to determine in-scope contracts from the Governor’s office and ministries and agencies of the state government and reviewed documents for business justification, approval process, and completion of project, in line with the

relevant policies, procedural manuals and practices. It also reviewed Tender Documents, Bid Submissions, Jobbing Order, Contract Agreements, Minutes of MTB, Award Letters, Interim Certificates, Final Completion Certificates and Payment Vouchers. It also reviewed and analysed the bank account statements received from 35 circularised banks to determine payments to contractors for the period under review. That is in addition to the reviewed of records from ABSG Cash Office, Admin Office, Office of the AG,

UBA and Access Bank to ascertain total payments to contractors through CFF: 1 Ministry of Lands and Ministry of Housing has been merged into Ministry of Lands and Housing in the new administration. 2 Retrieved on 5 August 2023 from Contract Award Publication | Abia State Government. It also interviewed bank officials, officials of the state government and consulted “CBN guidelines and circulars on bank charges and benchmark against the amount charged by the three (3) banks, and independently reviewed and analysed the fees, and payments on the credit facilities, in line with the executed offer letters and extant CBN guidelines.”

These among other process yielded some findings, which included the fund for the now controversial airport project and some issues of conflict of interests, where some Civil Servants and some government officials had interests in some companies that were awarded contracts by the government. Significantly, some of the contracts were awarded without the approval of the governor.

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The report added: “We did not perform any scientific test on any of the records and / or information provided to us by ABSG and/or the circularised banks during this assignment, to ascertain their authenticity, as this type of assignment does not require scientific test on the records. Therefore, our review, analysis and examination of the records and information provided were limited to the content of such records or information.”

Stating that under Ikpeazu, the government awarded 560 contracts to 23, 121 contractors with 520 contracts, having a cumulative contract value of ₦294,824,123,365.79, it added: “Notwithstanding that ABSG did not provide sufficient information to enable KPMG to: Determine the contract values of the remaining 40 of the 560 contracts. Independently verify the accuracy and completeness of the ₦294,824,123,365.79 contract value of the 520 contracts.

“We analysed available records, noting the following: ABSG paid ₦131,877,519,592.0622 to the 231 contractors, via three (3) means i.e., CFFs (₦71,315,434,474.50), directly from ABSG bank accounts (₦59,467,035,117.5623), and procuring MDAs (i.e. Ministry of Works – ₦927,200,000.00 and ASOPADEC – ₦167,850,000.00). We reviewed sample payments of ₦107,234,358,515.21 of the ₦131,877,519,592.06, noting the following exceptions amounting to ₦56,662,966,007.76: ₦15,936,522,309.43 – 6324 contractors with no supporting documents maintained by the Cash Office, Office of the AG.; ₦12,800,851,500.00 – Four (4) contractors for contracts that do not appear to exist, per available records and discussions with relevant officials.

These include: ₦10,000,000,000 to Ferotex on 25 September 2020 for the “construction of Abia State airport”; ₦2,000,000,000.00 on 6 June 2022 and 1 September 2022 to Logistics De Luke, for the “delivery of 22 different brand-new vehicles”, among others.

It said there were cases of non compliance to due process relating to the selection of contractors and award of contracts. These included: “Six (6) MDAs did not provide “Certificate of No Objection” from the Bureau of Public Procurement for 8232 contracts worth ₦156,759,362,425.87, contrary to Section 21 (h) and Section 18 (4) of State Public Procurement Law. Six (6) MDA did not provide record of bid evaluation for 7,234 of the 85 sampled contracts with a cumulative value of ₦98,570,680,828.07. The firm said it did not see any record that the governor approved 3535 contracts amounting to ₦83,382,082,143.10, in line with ABSG’s practice.”

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Some of the contractors listed by the report have gone public to confirm receiving payments for work done as stated by the Ikpeazu team. They listed the work they did for the state government and offered pictorial evidence. They also highlighted the fact that the process reviewers listed sums pertaining to contract awards as if they are funded projects emphasizing that contract award is different from funding for contract. One of the contractors, Track-Care Global Construction Limited in a recent media statement said: “After the publication of the KPMG reports, we have deemed it imperative to further enlighten the citizens of Abia State about the various processes of contract jobs.

“There is a difference between contracts awarded and the amount paid. Payments are released in multiple tranches therefore, some of the contracts mentioned are yet to be mobilized or funded eg. Ururuka phase 2 etc. All the contracts that were mobilized have been completed. KPMG in their reports, have stated that the figures are yet to be verified. It is important to set the record straight in order to avoid further defamatory information against a reputable organisation”

 

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Garlands for Uwa, ‘Chimerem Eze 1,’ of Coca-Cola in Nigeria

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There is a local saying in Nigeria that when a child washes his hands clean, he will dine with elders. But for Dr. Aja Uwa, a lecturer with the Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO), that popular saying has even been stretched further – he is not only dining with elders, but with kings.

That was the status to which he was elevated when he bagged the enviable title of Chimerem Eze 1, of Coca-Cola in Nigeria – a title that has put him in good stead to sit at the high table of the global giant to enjoy the fruit of his labour that came out of dint of hard work that has catapulted him to become one of the highly rated associates of the conglomerate in Nigeria.

The event to commemorate this new status, was not only officially acknowledged by the company, but had the imprimatur of royalty as it was sealed, like the coronation of a king by no less a king himself than Eze Geoffrey I. Ejimogu the Anunu 1, of Umuanunu.

Venue was the Coca Cola depot at Umuanunu autonomous community in Obinze, Imo State. With that crown, garland and other paraphernalia of royal authority, the event was sealed. Date was Friday, February 23, 2024.

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From all indications and given the testimony of those, who honoured him, the university don, did not pick to this enviable position from the streets, but rather, he attained it by dint of hard work, struggling night and day to close the gaps speedily and achieve milestones in the most remarkable way.

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Chidozie Okoro, Commercial Manager, Owerri Commercial Territory, spared no glowing words in acknowledging the contribution of Uwa, currently Senior Legislative Aide (SLA) to Senator Professor Anthony Ani, the newly elected senator representing Ebonyi South zone in the National Assembly.

At the event where the erudite scholar was garlanded with pomp and pageantry in flaming colours, he said his outstanding performance in the sales of the company’s products, was impacted immensely on the fortunes of the global brand, praising his meteoritic rise in the business.

Hear him: “Aja delivered a record distribution feat of 1.2m of the company physical cases of products which included bottles, cartons and other packs within the year 2023. His total performance of over 1.2million cases, attracted a revenue of about N2billion in turnover to the company. It’s such performance that earns him what he is enjoying today.”

Giving further insight, he recounted how Uwa started his business with the company in 2015 as a one way pack dealer, meaning he was not allowed to sell the bottled products of the company as a one line dealer, but within five years of doing business with the company, became a mega distribution partner of the company in 2020.

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“Today Dr.Aja Uwa is the number one distributor in the Eastern region comprising states like Imo, Rivers,  Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Bayelsa, part of Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi. This feat has been maintained steadily since the past three years till date,” Okoro said.

He added that even outside the shores of Nigeria, the don had also earned immense recognition, having maintained the number one role leads in the Atlanta promo which allows the leading distributor to travel to Atlanta, United State of America with all expenses sponsored by the company to visit the operational headquarters of Coca-cola for over a week.

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He added: “Dr Aja Uwa, is heading to win the ticket to Anfield, a promo that will enable him to watch Liverpool matches live, fully sponsored by the company, as he remains till date the highest distributor of the company’s Energy Drinks. For all these feats, the company Council of Elders resolved to induct him into the prestigious club of kings of the company.”

On his part, Uwa told reporters at the event witnessed by his colleagues from FUTO, friends from the Senate Wing of the NASS, staff and customers of Coca-cola brands, that the recognition was the first time such eminent body in the company would be taking a decision of this nature.

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Expressing surprises for the huge recognition, he said: “I least expected that my humble inputs would deserve this magnitude of attention. The reward for good work is more work. I’m going to double my efforts to achieve more. I cannot afford to let anyone down at this point given the confidence reposed on me.

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Ezeife’s metaphor: How Igbo elders died in futile chase for Kanu’s freedom  

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By Sunny Igboanugo

They beseeched, they pleaded, they remonstrated, they begged, they argued, they were snubbed, they were denied and then – they died! They died hoping and believing that it might happen before their own eyes and in their lifetimes.

These were great men of the South East. They were sons of Igboland. They grew, lived and achieved great things for their people and their country. Yet, the common denominator is that they all died with apparent broken hearts.

This is the story of Mbazuiluike Amaechi, Ben Nwabueze and now, Chukwuemeka Ezeife. They died in that order. Amaechi, a veteran in Nigerian independence struggle, who as a member of the Zikist Movement, a group that was in the forefront of that struggle, joined other individuals and groups to liberate Nigeria from the shackles of colonialism.

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Having risen the ashes of the struggle to the position of the first Nigerian Minister of Aviation, the late nationalist from Ukpo, in Nnewi South Local Government Area, had contributed his own quota to the galloping development, which the first republic, known as the golden era of Nigeria achieved. Yet, he died a broken man, his one wish at his last days and hours denied him.

Leading a group of Igbo leaders to Muhammadu Buhari, then President, on November 19, 2021, he had specifically pleaded that Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), who had remained in detention since he was forcefully brought back from Kenya in July of the same year be released to him personally.

He even went further to plead with the President, that if released to him, he would personally leash the IPOB leader to ensure that he would refrain from his utterances and personal attacks on the former President, not only because he was in support of his campaign, but because he wanted to see peace reign in Nigeria as his last wish.

Hear him:  “I don’t want to leave this planet without peace returning to my country. I believe in one big, united Nigeria, a force in Africa. President, I want you to be remembered as a person who saw Nigeria burning, and you quenched the fire.” Yet, in vain, he waited. Buhari, who during his eight years ran his infamous 95-5 per cent government against Ndigbo, never acceded to the request.

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Before he died on November 1, 2022, the following year, Amaechi, whose profile rose beyond Nigeria, as he was said to have hidden Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa in his house in Nigeria for six months to prevent the Apartheid authorities in his country from arresting him made another pitch for the same IPOB leader, saying: “There is only one key to the solution to killings in Igbo land now, and that is the release of Nnamdi Kanu.

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“If that young man is released, you will see all these criminals who spring up claiming to be agitating for the release of Nnamdi Kanu while their real intention is to rob innocent and unsuspecting people, will go into hiding because they will have nothing as a reason to come out.

“IPOB has disowned them and has even taken measures to apprehend them but as you know, criminals will have their ways of operating and claiming one fake thing or the other, but they are simple criminals operating one way or the other.” Again, he was rebuffed and his plea fell on deaf ears.

Foremost constitutional lawyer and by then the oldest Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), was no less enthusiastic. He told Buhari that whatever difficulty he could be having releasing Kanu, the gesture would be a good one and the outcome would also be positive. Buhari, was quoted as telling the delegation: “You’ve made an extremely difficult demand on me as leader of this country. The implication of your request is very serious. In the last six years, since I became President, nobody would say I have confronted or interfered in the work of the Judiciary. God has spared you, and given you a clear head at this age, with very sharp memory. A lot of people half your age are confused already. But the demand you made is heavy. I will consider it.”

Nwabueze, who applauded the President for even giving the request a thought, said:  “I applaud your decision to consider the release of Nnamdi Kanu, notwithstanding as you said in your statement, that granting the request will have great consequences.” On October 30, 2023, Nwabueze died, not witnessing Kanu’s release.

Enter Ezeife! He was one of the most virulent and consistent voices in the push for the release of the IPOB boss. In fact immediately the news broke that the Court of Appeal had ordered the release of the IPOB leader, he practically rolled out the drums to celebrate, as it signified the removal of the barrier the former President spoke about.

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Hear him: “The hearts of kings are in the hand of God. We pray to move Buhari to do justice, to respect the court – his own court. The ASUU people have gone back to school in obedience to court order even though they were not happy with it,” he said.

“Now let our government lead by example and comply with court order. What I heard was that Nnamdi Kanu was discharged and acquitted. But the government can put words in the Court’s mouth that he was only discharged.

“But even at that, if he was discharged of the heinous crimes accused of, that’s even enough reason to free him by the Court’s decision. When we went to the President, we got a very good response from him about releasing Nnamdi Kanu. [Later, I got personal] information that the President wants to release Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho.

“And [later] I heard only of Igboho being set free from charges against him while Nnamdi Kanu is still there. May God make it that the President will look at the state of the nation and release Nnamdi Kanu. God has created a situation in Nigeria where all eyes are not opened where nobody can say my religion, my tribe, etc.”

But he was wrong. Of course, Buhari dug in. After days ran into weeks without obeying the court order, he finally dashed the hope of the Igbo and other Nigerians, who had joined in the campaign by appealing the appellate court’s judgement. Today, more than one year after, Kanu has remained in detention. If anything, those who took that historic journey to the Presidential Villa, Abuja are going one after the other.

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The most ironic is that of Ezeife, who chose the eve of the pronouncement of the Supreme Court on the matter to depart. May be his spirit had forewarned him of a greater blow from the court and he decided to depart rather to wait to feel the impact alive. Alas, against all odds and expectations of many, the apex court, toed the line of the hardliners, who believe continued incarceration of the IPOB boss is the way to go.

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“The Court of Appeal was wrong to say that the Federal High Court can no longer try Mr Kanu. The appeal is allowed and the cross-appeal is dismissed,” the apex court, held in the judgement prepared by Justice Garba Mohammed, but read by Justice Emmanuel Agim, adding: “Our law is that evidence illegality obtained is valid before the court. A violation of Mr Kanu’s right should have been by way of civil proceedings. That is not our law for now.”

With this pronouncement, it is back to the starting point. The matter is probably returning to the Federal High Court, where it was seated before Justice Binta Murtala Nyako, before the intervention of the appeal court. Many had hoped that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, would do what his predecessor did not.

Since he had no dog in the fight as was the case between Kanu and Buhari, he might exert the influence which a Nigerian President wields to end the entire macabre dance, many had thought. But as it were, they were wrong. For one, there is no indication that the President, who had promised to continue the legacy of the former President, may not have inherited his obvious and time-tested hatred for Ndigbo. And for good reason(s) too!

If anything, is it not obvious that the people and their area are being excluded under Tinubu? In fact, did it not even gain more verve? And if the hindsight could be the guide, it might not be far from same reason of being rejected in the polls. Tinubu’s fate 2023 presidential election was even worse that Buhari’s over the years.

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Were this the case, then, the soul of Ezeife, just like Nwabueze and Amaechi, would have to find other reasons to rest in peace or in the alternative, remain restless. For surely, the prospect of Kanu coming out of that dungeon soon, appears quite faint. In fact, Ndigbo should hope the situation would not be grimmer!

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IDL ‘Master of Fun’: Two days of mixing business with pleasure

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How often has it been said – you do not mix business with pleasure. How true is it? Well, with a full impetus, the answer was delivered in clear terms to this age-long dictum, last weekend – not in all cases do business and pleasure not mix! In fact some businesses and pleasure are like Siamese twins – inseparable. That much was proved by Intercontinental Distillers Limited (IDL), Nigeria’s foremost producers of wine and spirits for the two days they locked down parts of Lagos.

Between Thursday, 24th and Friday, 25th of November, 2023, every visitor or passerby within the precincts of Isaac John in the Government Reserved Area (GRA), Ikeja, must have noticed something unusual as the route was lined with cars of all shapes, models and sizes. Inside the imposing Radisson Blu, located in the highbrow street, showed the company spared no cost in returning the favours of their customers by giving them first-class treatments – a carnival of some sorts, worthy of every expression.

The event, which was the 2023 edition of the IDL Distributors Award, to reward customers for their loyalty, also included the re-launch of Teezers cocktail brand, and the unveiling of the new packaged products. But it was clearly beyond that by the other activities daintily choreographed to fit into the entire show. Like the fine work of a weaverbird the guests, right from their arrival on Thursday to the time they finally retired to their rooms, some in the early hours of Saturday, witnessed a sequence of events sure to remain in their memories for many years.

Emerging from their rooms on Thursday evening, the distributors and other guests were first treated to a dinner after which they sat down to enjoy a superlative performance by Nice, one of Nigeria’s current celebrated music stars followed by a welcome party that stretched far into the night, enabling them to meet, greet, mingle and exchange banters, amid tables filled with exquisite food and drinks from the company’s stable.

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The next day was kicked off with a breakfast, health and business talks, followed with lunch, makeup, green carpets and picture sessions that preceded the major event of the awards and the unveiling of the new product and designs to the guests at the banquet hall of the hotel, which was filled to capacity with the guests.

The glittering presence of some of Nigeria’s A-list celebrities in the Nollywood and BBNaija brands, accentuated the kaleidoscope of colours from the gaily-dressed awardees, guests, management and staff of the company, as well as their friends and well-wishers, which blended with the interludes of musical performances to create the perfect concept of entertainment, enjoyment and pleasure.

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IDL management with some of the awardees

Aare Hope Gbagi, IDL’s Head of Sales, captured the raison d’etre of the event when he told the audience it was the company’s idea of rousing their major stakeholders – the distributors out of their daily routines of business to a different arena of relaxation, necessary for their physical and mental health, particularly considering the stiff and challenging economic situation in the country.

Congratulating the distributors, whom he said deserved special welcome for surviving the harsh business climate in the country, particularly the various challenges of the year 2022, he added: “This ceremony presents us with a unique opportunity to pull you our distributors out of your daily routines of buying and selling to a beautiful atmosphere to unwind and relax and by this idea, contribute our own quota in improving your mental health, which is part of our discussions earlier this morning.”

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Elaborating on the necessity to fete the distributors, Engineer Patrick Anegbe, Managing Director of the company, said the event was a testament to the amazing partnership IDL shared and the impressive achievements both accomplished together in-spite of the unfavourable business environment in the country.

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He said: “Today, we embrace the theme “Beyond Limits” which perfectly reflects our collective journey of surpassing boundaries and pushing ourselves to new heights. Each and every one of you have steadfastly navigated through challenges and persevered in the face of adversity. Your dedication and unwavering commitment have uplifted our business to new levels of excellence.

“To be more specific, the Theme, “Beyond Limits” to you our distributors implies:

  • Experiencing products that go beyond your expectation.
  • Experiencing opportunities in sales of both successful and new brands for the growth and success of your business.

For us in IDL; the theme implies:

  •  Showcasing innovative products.
  • Strengthening customer loyalty and building long term partnerships.
  • Highlighting the company’s commitment to continuous improvement and pushing limits.”

Speaking specifically on the challenges, he added: “One of the most significant challenges we faced as a manufacturing company and partners was the high cost of doing business. Market conditions became increasingly unstable; prices of input materials continued to rise almost on a daily basis; energy cost went up due to high cost of diesel. The foreign exchange (FX) required for raw materials, equipment and spares was not readily available and our roads continued to remain in deplorable state, making movement of goods from one part of the country to another difficult and expensive.

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“Our dear business partners, despite the unfavourable business environment you had to contend with in 2022, your performance at the end of the year was impressive. This is indeed commendable and we are sincerely thankful to you all.

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Dorothy Anegbe, displaying her trophy

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“IDL as a company also strived relentlessly in 2022 to tackle the challenges encountered head-on through strategic planning, operational efficiency and investment in technology. We have pioneered processes that empowered us to thrive in the face of adversity. To ensure more availability of our brands to our esteemed distributors the future, we have invested heavily in capacity building. You will therefore start to notice improvement in supplies of our products from the beginning of next year.

“We will continue to exhibit our strength in research, new products developments and innovative activities to keep our brands above others in Wines and Spirits industry in Nigeria and make doing business with us more interesting. I want to make a passionate appeal to our valued distributors to always ensure that you buy across the range of our brands whenever they make purchases. This will ensure improve growth and profitability for your business.”

The introduction of the Teezers cocktail brand, which also now comes in three flavours of orange, ginger and lemon to the audience, clearly underscored the reason IDL maintains a leading role in the entertainment industry, where premium drinks remain the major partner. The audience watched as the performance of a group of young men and women told the story of its re-launch through a breathtaking choreographic show, decked in suspense and eventual revelation.

Mobolaji Alalade, the company’s Head of Marketing, who put the show together, explained that the fresh move came out of the need to close the gap of the limited cocktail variants in Nigeria with the needs of the consumers.

Hear him: “Today marks a new beginning – a beginning of changing the fun narratives within the Cocktail Sparkling Drink Category of the Wines and Spirit business in Nigeria and Africa at large.  This game changer is the relaunch of Teezers Lime/Lemon as well as the Teezers Apple Sparkling Cocktail Drink and the introduction of two brand new variants -the Orange Flavour and Lemon and Ginger Flavour which is non-alcoholic.

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“With the limited variant options available within the Cocktail drink category, the highly youthful Nigeria population have been yearning for more fun options. Intercontinental Distillers Limited (IDL) equipped with research findings and consumer feedback rose up to the challenge of closing the gap and has now redefined the category with the revamp and consequently the relaunch of its already existing variants as well as the two new exciting additions – Teezers Orange for those who love the refreshing citrus flavour and the sense of energy its vibrant colour gives, while the Lemon and Ginger non-alcoholic flavour will cater specifically to children and teetotallers so as to ensure no one is left out.

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Some of the celebrities at the even

“Today, Teezers Sparkling Cocktail Drink has been upgraded from 300ml to 400ml in a contemporary, trendy, easy to carry bottle definitely offering our Consumers more. The brand label has been redesigned in sync with the spirit of the new age while the logo now radiates the elegance and youthful fun filled nature of the brand.

“Apart from presenting to you the new look of Teezers and the new additions to its variant bouquet, we unveil our new marketing campaign ‘More fun’ which underscores the brand’s unique preposition as the Master of Fun. As such, the brand will be engaging directly with the core consumers across all leisure destinations at all touch points in Nigeria.”

Indeed, the event, packaged by ISO-BLACK Concept Limited, a vibrant multi-channel brand communication solution and support services concern, lived up to its billing as the Master of Fun in Nigeria. The huge success of the third edition of the agency’s involvement, which included the design, deployment and execution of all the programmes, not only underscored a full grasp of the environment, but provided a demonstrable evidence of taking the gown to town in the fun business.

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Anegbe

For the over 300 distributors that were feted at the occasion, and others who did not make list,  the words of Dorothy Anegbe, Managing Director, Ogbohu Nigeria Enterprises, Sango Ota, who picked the star prize during the event, would continue to ring a bell.

“I pray that God should continue to be with them. They will grow from strength to strength and we will be able to come here and collect award.

How else to prove a partnership that works and the saying that indeed, for IDL and its stakeholders, business and pleasure indeed do mix.

 

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