Postscript: The NEXT EDITION newspaper has launched an investigative series called, “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul,” as part of its accountability and transparency project, aimed at shedding light on the underbelly of Akwa Ibom State Government operations, among other things.
The newspaper has discovered disturbing revelations regarding Governor Emmanuel’s acclaimed industrialisation programme after months of combing through public records and interacting with a range of sources, including public officials, civil servants, and human rights activists. This is the first part of the series.
The monkey banana loan
Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State has used public funds to settle his personal debts, despite his publicised sense of honesty and piousness, the Next Edition can authoritatively report today.
At the time Mr. Emmanuel was bragging about using his properties as collateral for state loans, our investigation has shown that he was busy issuing a personal guarantee for loan to a company he has vested interest.
On September 21, 2016, during a media briefing at Government House, the governor had told journalists, “I have used my property twice as collateral to collect loan to pay salaries of workers in the state.”
We could not independently verify that claim, but we can report with crispy evidence that on September 15, 2016, Mr. Emmanuel was preparing a personal letter of guarantee and a sworn statement of net worth to collect loan for Akwa Prime Hatchery and Poultry Ltd.
We can also confirm that Akwa Ibom State has no equity holding in Akwa Prime Hatchery and Poultry Ltd, based on records with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
Shopping for achievements
To commemorate his first anniversary as governor in 2016, Mr. Emmanuel went out shopping for projects to show voters and to fulfill his campaign promise of reviving the state’s economy and building industries.
With little time and little to show, close aides reportedly convinced him to renovate an abandoned Hatchery in Mbiaya, Uruan Local Government Area, and use it as part of his achievements.
Many sources, including civil servants, public officers, and witnesses, claimed that this was the precursor of a coordinated deployment of state funds to support private companies which the governor has vested interest.
The government was said to have provided funds for the abandoned hatchery to be restored and chicks to be hatched just in time for its first anniversary on May 29, 2016, in a deal that was everything but transparent.
The company’s fortunes started to go south after the celebration, which saw the distribution of day-old chicks in a novel model that would see Akwa Prime off-take the birds from local farmers after they matured.
We learnt that many farmers who had gotten birds either ate or sold them, pocketing the money on the basis that it was their slice of “the national cake.”
Francis Ekeng, the former chairman of the company, is said to have come up with the idea of getting a bank loan to keep the business afloat.
Mr. Ekeng then approached Governor Emmanuel with the loan proposal, along with some trusted aides, including the Special Assistant on Foreign Direct Investment, Gabriel Ukpe.
The governor was said to have agreed to help the company secure a N250 million Zenith Bank facility to save the failing hatchery after many warnings and outbursts of rage.
“But the governor promised never to use a government guarantee for the loan. So, he gave the bank a personal guarantee instead,” a source familiar with the deal said.
Akwa Prime Hatchery applied for a loan of N250 million from Zenith Bank, Aka Road Branch in Uyo Capital City, and received a letter dated September 15, 2016, approving the request.
Ita Asuquo, assistant general manager, and Godwin Eze, deputy manager, wrote a letter to the company on October 6, 2016, informing them of a review of the credit facility.
The bank defined the facility as a “term loan” of N250 million for the purchase of 300,000 breeder stock and the expansion of poultry to be drawn down upon satisfactory compliance with the precedent conditions, according to a document obtained exclusively by the Next Edition.
Among other things, the bank had offered a 30 months tenor (inclusive of moratorium), six months moratorium on principal and interest and an interest rate of 15,5 percent.
Part of the document reads, “This rate is subject to upward or downward review in line with money market realities. However, any future advice of upward review of interest rate shall be for information only and will be deemed accepted accordingly unless the facility is paid down on effective date of such upward review.”
The management and commitment fees for the facility were fixed at 0.5 percent each, and Akwa Prime’s account with Zenith Bank was debited 24 equal and consecutive monthly repayments of N13.156, 188.32 covering principal and interest to begin repayment of the facility after the moratorium period.
An acceptance letter, a board resolution approving and authorising the use of the facility, and a letter from Akwa Prime stating its current indebtedness to other lenders were some of the conditions given by Zenith Bank.
It also requested that MD/CEO of Akwa Prime, Mr. Ekeng and Mr. Emmanuel, sign sworn statements of net worth to back up their personal guarantee forms.
It was not known why the bank demanded a personal letter of guarantee and a statement of the net worth from Mr. Emmanuel, whose only link with the company is the brother, Mr. Nkanang, who is a board member.
Next Edition can confirm authoritatively that Akwa Ibom State Government, as well as its ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs), have no equity in poultry firm.
And the chicks don’t come home to roost
While the loan from Zenith Bank was intended to finance the purchase of 300,000 breeder stock and the expansion of Akwa Prime’s poultry, findings by this newspaper revealed that the funds did not significantly improve the company’s situation.
Indeed, we learned that the company’s fortunes continued to decline despite the best efforts of one Bala Yakubu, who oversaw the company’s day-to-day operations.
It was also learned that not long after the loan was secured, a power struggle erupted when people close to the governor insisted on changing the company’s board structure, which Mr. Ekeng vehemently opposed.
Despite his protests, the board of directors of the company was finally changed on August 7, 2018, and some of Mr. Udom Emmanuel’s associates were appointed directors and listed as shareholders.
According to a Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) search report dated March 25, 2022, the company was founded in August 2018 under the registration number 1516519, with headquarters at #25 Esuene Street, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.
The company’s directors include Elijah Willie Akpan, Gabriel Ukpe, Edet Udoh, and Gabriel Nkanang (Governor Emmanuel’s brother), and it has 450, 000 ordinary shares and a N1 million share capital.
Each shareholder owns the following number of shares: Elijah Akpan (300,00), Gabriel Ukpe (50,000), Edet Udo (50,000), and Gabriel Nkanang (50,000). (50, 000).
Despite the new board and the company’s loan, sources told this newspaper that Akwa Prime’s operations were far from being profitable.
“It appears the loan was misappropriated, as the money was shared among the directors, leaving little for the running of the company.
“That’s why the planned facility expansion was difficult. We learned that one Mr. Alphonsus was to run the company before it was taken away.
“We also learned that Mr. Alphonsus had brought in all the necessary equipment for a large-scale hatchery, but he was sidelined by the governor’s aides,” a source in the company said.
The Akwa Ibom State Government allegedly paid Mr. Alphonsus an undisclosed sum of money as compensation for wasting his time, according to an investigation by this newspaper.
Alphonsus was not found by the Next Edition, and those who spoke to our correspondent were also unable to provide any leads.
We also heard from another insider that the company had been leased to Big Bird Meat Processing Industry for partly N200 million and that the proceeds were shared by its directors.
The Next Edition could not independently verify the information as none of the directors of the company responded to inquiries from our correspondent.
When the public was robbed by the government
While the power struggle at Akwa Prime Hatchery raged on and gladiators on the board and in government frustrated meaningful operations, the company struggled to break even.
In August 2017, Zenith Bank management became frustrated with the company’s non-payment of the loan and contacted the state governor.
On August 31, 2017, the then Agriculture and Food Security Commissioner, Uduak Udo-Inyang, requested Mr. Emmanuel to approve the release of funds to settle the loan.
The letter with Reference Number: MOA/AD/S/Vol.1/159 was captioned, “Request for Release of Funds for Repayment of Akwa Prime Hatchery & Poultry Ltd Loan With Zenith Bank Plc.”
It read in part, “His Excellency is please requested to note that on 6th October 2016, Akwa Prime Hatchery and Poultry Ltd obtained a loan of N250, 000, 000. 00 (Two Hundred and Fifty Million Naira) only from Zenith Bank to finance the purchase of 300, 000 breeder stock and the expansion of poultry at the rate of 15.5 percent interest amounting to N314, 748, 519.56 being principal and interest.
“On July 20, 2017, the Accountant General released the sum of N50, 000, 000 (Fifty million Naira) IOU in favour of Akwa Prime Hatchery and Poultry Ltd to Zenith Bank Plc.”
A breakdown of the facility was given as follows:
Less 1st repayment
Mr. Udo-Inyang, who insisted that the facility was due for repayment and will attract a further interest in overdraft and penalty for default payment, also appealed to Mr. Emmanuel to approve the repayment of the loan which he (governor) had personally guaranteed.
“In the light of the above, His Excellency, the Governor is respectfully requested to approve the release of N316, 222, 142. 56 (Three Hundred and Sixteen Million, Two Hundred and Twenty-Two Thousand, One Hundred and Forty-Two Naira, Fifty-Six Kobo) only for the repayment of the facility and to cover the IOU earlier released by the Accountant General.” Mr. Udo-Inyang had written.
The governor had conveyed his approval for the repayment plan the same day (August 31, 2017) and drew the attention of the Accountant General, Commissioner for Finance and the Commissioner for Agriculture.
On the same day (August 31, 2017), the Permanent Secretary, Governor’s Office, Nathaniel Adiakpan, had raised a memo with Reference No. GHU/AKS/S/96/Vol. 2/356, to convey Mr. Emmanuel’s approval of the repayment of the loan.
The letter was copied to the Accountant General, the Commissioner for Finance and the Commissioner for Agriculture and Food Sufficiency had as its subject: “Request for Release of Funds for Repayment of Akwa Prime Hatchery & Poultry Ltd Loan With Zenith Bank Plc.”
“I am directed to forward to you the photocopy of letter No. MOA/AD/S/Vol.1/159, dated August 31m 2017 addressed to His Excellency, the Executive Governor on the above subject from the Honourable Commissioner, Ministry of Agriculture & Food Sufficiency and convey His Excellency’s approval in the sum of N316, 250, 000.00 (Three Hundred and Sixteen Million, Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira) only to be released to the Honourable Commissioner, Ministry of Agriculture & Food Sufficiency for the above-stated purpose, please.”
When Mr. Udo-Inyang was abruptly removed as commissioner, the pillage continued when Glory Edet was appointed.
Mrs. Edet had only been in office for two months when she wrote to Mr. Emmanuel on August 29, 2019, requesting funds to pay Zenith Bank.
The letter with Reference No MOA/COM/S/16/VOL.4/23 had as its subject: “Request for The Approval And Release Of The Sum Of N6, 000, 000.00 (six Million Naira) Only For Settlement Of Outstanding Repayment,” and was addressed to the governor.
“Sequel to the loan avail to Akwa Prime and Hatchery Ltd by Zenith Bank Plc in the sum of N250, 000,00.00 (Two Hundred and Fifty Million Naira) only which you graciously approved the sum of N316, 250, 000.00 (Three Hundred and Sixteen Million, Two Hundred and Forty Thousand Naira) only as in the loan term,” the letter reads.
“Due to late repayment of the said loan, it has attracted charges and interest to the sum if N6, 000, 000.00 (Six Million Naira) only.
“Prayer: In view of the forgoing, His Excellency is requested to kindly approve the release of the sum of N6, 000,000.00 (Six Million Naira) only to the bank to completely liquidate the said loan.”
Mr. Emmanuel approved the release of the funds on September 2, 2019, and this was followed by a memo from the Government House’s permanent secretary conveying the governor’s approval to the Commissioners of Finance, Agriculture, and the Accountant General.
The subject of the memo was: “Re:Request For The Approval And Release Of The Sum Of N6, 000, 000.00 (six Million Naira) Only For Settlement Of Outstanding Repayment,”
The letter with Reference No. GHU/AKS/S/29/6/VOL.1/273, read, “I am directed to forward to you a photocopy of letter No. MOA/COM/S/16/VOL.4/23, dated August 29, 2019, addressed to His Excellency, the Governor on the above subject from the Honourable Commissioner, Ministry of Agriculture and Women Affairs for the above-stated purpose, please.
Governor’s aides keep mum
As part of its commitment to high journalistic standards, the Next Edition sought comments from top officials of the Akwa Ibom State Government.
However, when contacted via his verified telephone number, short message service (SMS), and WhatsApp Messaging, Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Ekerete Udo, did not answer the calls or respond to questions sent to him.
On his part, the Commissioner for Finance, Linus Nkan, who was privy to the transaction told this newspaper that Mr. Emmanuel is a very honest person and has the best interest of the state at heart.
When pressed on the findings that the governor used public money to settle personal obligation, Mr. Nkan became enraged and threatened that the Next Edition would be forced to present the governor’s personal letter of guarantee to Zenith Bank.
The commissioner did not dispute that state funds were improperly used by the governor to settle a private firm’s debt, but he was enraged by the newspaper’s insistence on publishing the story.
Unlike in previous conversations where he was very friendly and even asked our reporter to come join the government, the following exchanges ensued:
“My brother, I don’t need to engage you on this transaction. Do you understand? I told you if you have seen a personal guarantee signed by the governor, go ahead with the story but if you have not, don’t do something that you might be asked to produce and you cannot,” Mr. Nkan said angrily.
“I will not be asked to produce anything, and it is not my responsibility to produce the governor’s letter of guarantee. Because I want to hear the governor’s side in a transaction that you were privy to, that is why I am calling you. I have discharged my duty of diligence, fairness, and objectivity,” Next Edition responded.
Breathing hard and fast, Mr. Nkan continued, “I hope you have the letter of guarantee? Just be ready because you will be asked to produce it.”
“That is not a threat or is it Mr. Nkan. We don’t suffer threats please,” Next Edition responded just as the commissioner dropped the call.
Uko Udom, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, would not answer calls or messages left at his verified phone number.
Affiong Offor, the newly sworn-in Commissioner for Agriculture, told our correspondent that because she had only recently been assigned to the ministry, she was not in a better position to comment on the issue.
Mrs. Offor’s correspondence with this newspaper was polite and friendly, and she had given compelling reasons why she wasn’t the best person to address the issue.
All the directors of Akwa Prime Hatchery were also contacted by the Next Edition through the phone numbers listed next to their names in the CAC record, but none of them answered our calls or responded to our brief messages.
When we contacted Wentworth Partners Legal Consultants, listed as secretary to Akwa Prime on CAC record, the Principal Partner, Nkoyo Amana, said she was never the firm’s secretary.
She stated that she was a member of Professor Edet Udo’s Technical Committee and that she had left the committee more than three years ago.
“I was never the company secretary of Akwa Prime, but Wentworth Partners Legal Consultants is my law firm. Speak with Professor Edet Udoh and he will explain everything to you.
“I was a member of the Technical Committee on Agric but I am no longer there. I left them about three years ago. What are you looking for?”
When told that we are requesting information on a loan facility granted Akwa Prime Hatchery in 2016, she responded, “I cannot speak on the matter. My job was just corporeal. You should talk to the chairman of the committee. I will get my lawyers to investigate the issue of our company on the CAC document of Akwa Prime.
When contacted, Prof. Udo declined to speak on the controversial loan and rather advised our correspondent to contact the ministry of agriculture and food sufficiency.
The spokesperson of Zenith Bank Plc, Ayo Ganuyi, said he would not be able to speak on the issue citing the regulatory procedure.
“You know that this is a customer transaction. As a bank, it will be very wrong for us or any bank in Nigeria to divulge customer information to a third party.
“You are a third party. It is only the court or maybe the EFCC that can make us give out information about a customer’s transaction.
“My advice is that you find out from the company if they borrowed any money from Zenith. If we are ordered by the court or the EFCC, we can divulge such information. I hope you understand me,” he said.
Civil society not smiling at all
The revelation has sparked outrage among civil society actors in the state with two calling for the prosecution of those involved in the illegal deal.
An activist and fiery lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, said the revelation was disturbing but not surprising to him, adding that Governor Emmanuel does not mean well for the state.
“He came with a specific mission to cover up the financial improprieties of his predecessor. Upon becoming governor, Udom Emmanuel decided that accountability to the people was completely off his agenda. That explains why he has been reckless with the way he has been deploying the resources of the State.
“From a legal standpoint, the payment of N250 million from the treasury of the state to Zenith Bank to repay a loan of a private company which Mr. Udom Emmanuel guaranteed in his personal capacity appears to me to border on criminality.
“It is not a matter that should be swept under the carpet. We will need the EFCC to investigate this thoroughly and ensure that the money is recovered from the state. The Supreme Court has ruled in the case of Fawehinmi Vs. IGP that immunity for governors under Section 308 of the Constitution does not extend to investigation. Therefore, Udom can be investigated, and he has to be investigated.
“I find it outrageous that this kind of brigandage is taking place in Akwa Ibom State. What is needed urgently in the state is an independent forensic audit. It is obvious that those who are managing the affairs of the state are taking our people for fools.”
Also speaking, the Executive Director, Policy Alert, Tijah Bolton said it would be hugely disappointing if top government officials in the state peddled influence to obtain loan for private gain.
“It would be hugely disappointing if it is confirmed that people at the very top of government peddled influence to obtain the said facility for private gain,” Mr. Bolton said.
“I don’t know which is worse, lying to the citizens for years that Akwa Prime was owned by government when it is a private company, or guaranteeing a loan for the private company using your official clout as governor, or using state resources to pay back a loan that was essentially obtained for private interests.
“This is why we keep emphasizing the need for transparency and accountability in government. Akwa Ibom State is currently one of the most indebted states in Nigeria despite its huge oil revenue.
“With cases such as this, it is not difficult to see that a lot of that fiscal gap is coming from sheer profligacy at the apex of government from the very beginning of the current administration.
“My view is that this doesn’t smell good, and therefore must be investigated and if the governor and any other officials of the state government are found wanting, they should face the music. We must stop treating the rape of our commonwealth with kid gloves”, he said.