When Business Between Umahi, Abuja Businesswoman Went Sour

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Her company, Andrew Bishopton Limited and partners bidded for a job as a consultant to help the Ebonyi State government recover the excess deductions/charges on foreign/local loan facilities and other hanging funds via a letter dated 6th October 2015. Halfway into the assignment and having recovered some funds for the state, the assignment was suspended. Payment of the agreed fees to the consultants has been a sour issue in the deal. ROLAND OGBONNAYA writes

It was an assignment all the partners were looking forward to, one that will be mutually beneficial, and at the end of the day, the partners will go home smiling. However, the subsequent disturbing bickering over the payment and non-payment of agreed fees, have cast a dark shadow on the entire deal.

In a letter dated 6th October 2015 and signed by the then Commissioner for Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Dennis UdeEkumankama, Andrew Bishopton Limited and partners were appointed by the Ebonyi State government as a consultant to recover excess deductions/charges on foreign/local loan facilities and other hanging funds on behalf of Ebonyi State.

In the agreement, “the consultants shall detect, pursue and facilitate through Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Debt Management Office (DMO), Federal Ministry of Finance and other agencies and corporations’ payments to Ebonyi State Government arising from all cases of excess/unwarranted deductions made on any foreign/ local and other financial transactions as it concerns the principal. The scope of the assignment shall cover all excess deductions on London Club.”

However, last week, Dr. Jackie Ikeotuonye, an Abuja-based businesswoman, financial consultant and the Chief Operating Officer (CEO) of Andrew Bishopton Limited, Abuja, accused Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, of threatening her life and therefore called on the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Usman Baba for protection even as she debunked all the “false allegations against her by the State Government”. She went further to say that the petition to the IGP has become necessary because she has temporarily abandoned her residence as she believed some unknown faces are stalking her. She said categorically that her life is in danger.

Jackie is the daughter of the late prominent legal luminary, Chief ABC Ikeotuonye, one of the first three Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN). She told Saturday INDEPENDENT during the week that is not safe since her company and partner took the Ebonyi Government to court for the failure of the government to pay her the agreed fees in accordance with the terms of the contract signed before the commencement of the assignment.

Dr. Ikeotuonye said the Ebonyi State Government engaged her company, Andrew Bishopton Limited, and partner, Mauritz Walton Nigeria Limited to recover money wrongly deducted by the federal government on foreign loans from the state government between 1995 and 2002. This appointment, according to her was followed by a consultancy services agreement signed between the state and Andrew Bishopton on the 17th of November 2015 where it was stated that the State would pay the company 25% of the sum reconciled, recovered, and paid into the account of the State by the Federal Government.

The State government, she added, went further to introduce Andrew Bishopton to the relevant government agencies Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Debt Management Office (DMO), and the Federal Ministry of Finance (FMoF) as contained in the agreement to enable us to have access to the relevant departments and information during the assignment. “The assignment commenced in earnest, without any form of financial mobilisation or upfront payment from the State. The governor during the first meeting made it clear through his commissioner for finance that he was not going to mobilise us for the job.

“The company had to seek other avenues to finance the assignment. And this led to the joint partnership with Dr. Mauruis Ibe of Mauritz Walton Nigeria Limited who bore the bulk of the expenses incurred during the assignment. As the assignment progressed, reports were submitted to the state. After the assignment, the company sent another letter dated February 9th, 2016 to the Debt Management Office to update them on the progress of work done and the outcome of the work done on behalf of Ebonyi State.

“The DMO in a letter dated August 01, 2016, requested the state to attach all relevant documents to back up their demand for a refund. All these documents were duly provided to the state by my company. Meanwhile, on completion of the assignment, the Governor sent in two demand letters to the Minister of Finance for the repatriation of the reconciled amount of $119, 419,427.59 being over deductions on the account of Ebonyi State Government Foreign loans service. Another letter was also sent to the Director General, Debt Management Office.”

Dr. Ikeotuonye, in the petition to the IGP however emphasised that the total sum of $119,419,427.59 was recovered by her company and partners for the state government, noting that the Ebonyi State government defaulted in the payment of the consultancy fees agreed between the state government and the consultants, which prompted the companies to drag the state government to court.

Andrew Bishopton Limited’s boss said immediately after the first tranche of the money was paid to the Ebonyi State government, the State government sent in “their so-called letter of disengagement by saying we never did any work since the appointment was given. They also quoted a letter from DMO telling them they do not work with individual consultants.

“The Governor specifically mentioned in his demand letters that what he was asking for was premised on the report submitted by Andrew Bishopton Limited. Yet, they claimed we did nothing. It might interest you to know that Ebonyi State sadly has an antecedent for disengaging consultants at the point of payment for services.

“The first tranche of payment made to the State was N8, 385, 035,086.72 based on the Governor’s forum payment schedule. We then sent in a demand for our fees of N2, 096, 258, and 771. 68 in a letter dated December 11th, 2016 because we noticed that the state reneged on the agreement to provide an irrevocable standing order conveying 25% of all money recovered by the consultant and have the fund domiciled in the then Skye Bank.

When some Highly placed people intervened the Ebonyi State government agreed to pay us N50,000,000.00, but transferred N42, 000, 000:00, then compelled her to sign that she would make no further demands hence we had no option but to approach the Federal High court, which gave judgment in our favour and further freezed the state government’s bank accounts,” Dr. Ikeotuonye narrated.

Miffed by this, on the 31st of August 2022, armed men numbering about 10 in number from both Ebonyi Police Command and Garki Police Station “stormed my house at Brains and Hammers Estate in Apo Abuja, with a warrant of arrest purportedly from a magistrate court in Ebonyi that I was under arrest for defrauding the Ebonyi State Government to the tune of N50m.” The same N50m (though N42m was transferred) that the Governor compelled her to receive as “Final payment” is what has been referred to as a trumped-up charge of “defrauding the Ebonyi State Government”.

She however said that this was done to give a legitimate covering to her arrest and transfer to Ebonyi. “The articles published by the State labelling me a “fraud” has become an issue of libel against the Ebonyi State Government, which has just been filed in a Federal High Court. I was embarrassed, humiliated and treated like a common criminal in the process of taking me to Ebonyi State.”

On arrival, she was shoved straight into the Governor’s Office where was under duress compelled to sign some documents to vacate the Federal High Court judgment in Port Harcourt. For fear of her life, she said signed the document and was released after four days.

“Since then Governor Umahi, instead of making effort to pay us the fees owed us despite intervention by governors and other prominent Nigerians, has been after me insisting that I must go to Port Harcourt, and file an application to set aside the judgment. I have been strongly advised against this by legal experts. The Governor, rather than appeal the judgment or pay us, is hounding me.”

When contacted, the Special Assistant to Ebonyi State Governor on Media and Strategy, Chooks Oko, said that the police are handling the issue and the garnishee order vacated, “that’s why I was surprised by your request.”

Efforts to reach the Ebonyi State Command for a response were not successful before press time as nobody could take responsibility in responding to the issues the traumatised businesswoman wrote in her petition to the IGP.

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