By Ushang Ewa
The Cross River State Commissioner for Tourism Development, Eric Anderson is currently embroiled in another controversy for allegedly rough handling the General Manager of Zedici Capital, an investor said to have taken over the Obudu ranch resort and seizing his phone recently.
Mr. Anderson is said to have visited the ranch with his family and ten other people for inspection of tour sites but later attempted to forcibly remove the current management and even bragged about his exploits claims Mr. Chris Charles who is managing the ranch on behalf of Zedici capital.
“They said they came for two reasons, that ZEDICI Capital did not go through due documentation and that they came to ask us to stop work and business and that we should go through the right documentation through their office,” said Charles who added that the CRBC staff who was among Anderson’s team asked him to “pay something,” of which he replied that: “I have done all the documentation and that my boss came here and introduced me to the SA and the staff here that we have started work.
“I have also the documents that His Excellency signed. We have been working for two weeks; I don’t see any reason why we are asked to stop operations, and if there is any reason for me to stop operations, I told them they are not the ones to communicate to me because they are a constituted authority, and I am also subject to my own authority.
“I told them if they want me to stop operations, they should talk to my boss. He (Commissioner) spoke categorically, and then stopped, Tony Bassey (Permanent Secretary of the Ministry) took over and was saying the same thing. I told them I was speaking to them in a tripartite capacity, and that I am also a citizen of the state, irrespective of the fact that I am an employee of ZEDICI Capital, I am an indigene of the village the cattle ranch is situated in.”
But, Mr. Anderson insisted that the investor had not gone through the documentation process as the arrangement put in place was to see the ministry oversee the ranch for a period of 6 months.
“No, they have not, you don’t take over what has not been handed over to you and I know how oga HE (His Excellency) called on me. So now, we need to take inventory and hand over officially to them.
“What oga said was that let’s see how within the next six month we can cope. So we at the ministry, we are the ones documenting for the ranch. When I went around for my first assessment, I had to interface with them. Now the guy is spending money being generated by the management of ranch,” Anderson said and explained the proper process.
“If you are an investor, what you do is come and put in your money, let’s have a charge for that, if you are bringing your own money, you are an investor, but a situation where money is at the front desk there and you start to spend the money as such, a you an investor? That is why I have issues with him and he’s occupying the GM’s office in the ranch, I said no, there’s no GM, we have an AGM, the ranch is being run by a Special Assistant to the governor, Ability.
“So my position is Ability runs the ranch until proper inventories are taken and we hand over to them. Don’t forget that people have already done bookings ahead of December. We have more than a hundred bookings already. So who would allow an investor to come and take up all those bookings and run? I prefer to go this way, let the information get back to HE, it is better to comfortably sit down and talk, rather than not to attempt it and anything goes wrong.”
Mr. Charles said Mr. Anderson’s team requested to see his office and “they requested that I take them to the office. They requested I give them the key to the office, which I refused. They razzled and dragged me, but I remained adamant and told them that I will not give them the key to the office until my boss ask me to give you the key.”
He said he was about leaving for the ranch village but lost his phone to those who were there with Mr. Anderson and upon his return discovered that staff and residents were protesting and was later told the Special Assistant on Ranch Affairs, Mr. Ability Akwaji had allegedly embezzled NGN4.5 million from the ranch account.
“I immediately entered my car to leave for my village, at that instance when I wanted to leave to my village, some of the boys that were with the commissioner overpowered me and seized my phone. Nevertheless, I left for my village, but couldn’t communicate again because of my phone that was seized. On talking to one of my boss through another phone, my boss said I should take the phone I was talking to him with to the Commissioner, so he could talk to him.
“When I returned from the village house to the resort, I discovered that workers have already invaded the place and the environment was littered with leaves. I also learnt that the money they worked, Ability Akwaji took NGN4.5 million out of the money and left; because they have not been paid. He now said that there is a new investor that came, and that he doesn’t want them to be on ground because they will not accept what they will see, that Ability should leave.
“However, I did not confirm that Ability took the money, because I have no access and I am not a signatory to the company’s bank account,” he said.
But, Mr. Anderson said that Mr. Charles was never manhandled and accused him of mobilizing the villagers as he was feeding them information that Ability was trying to prevent his company from taking over the ranch.
He said that: “Nobody got his phone, he wasn’t manhandled. I am more sensible, I know what to do, I know what not to do. After the meeting with him and other staff, we were supposed to go down, let us go see the reception area and all of that, I now learnt that he’s occupying the office, I said no, it’s not proper, let me have the office key, he refused.
“He said until his boss says so, I said who is your boss? The guy tactically worked out on me, he entered his car, went to the village and mobilized his people to come and shut down the facility.
“He never turned up. I am going to copy the text he sent to me apologizing the next day to you. The boys came and made hell of noise. It’s now a function of the indigenes trying to protect their person. He’s giving them the impression that government wants him and his company to take up the job but the ministry don’t want him because of Ability, who is a Special Assistant to the governor.
“So, it was just a function of Ability must go, Ability must go. The came out in their numbers, I addressed them when the large crowd had reduced to about 50, until it had reduced to about 5, I just kept talking, talking. It is not the best thing to shut the place down. It is from there a lot of discussions came out, I now realized that all of them are roped in it. From Ability, all of them, there is no sincerity in the entire running of the ranch.”
CrossRiverWatch gathered that an ambassador who owns the investment firm had used some appointees to take ownership of the ranch and Mr. Anderson who did not comment on this directly however, said that if things were done rightly, then the ranch will be handed over to the ‘Ambassador’.
“Let’s do it properly, the documents are there, if we do it properly, I hand it over to the ambassador. So we are justified if they want to take over. If anything goes wrong we know whom to catch,” he said and maintained that Mr. Charles was not manhandled.
“I confronted him and I was upset with him. I heard what happened and I said can I have the key, you have to respect the office. Nobody touched him, he walked out, entered the car and fled off. So till we were there for another 3 hours, he didn’t come up… If he was manhandled and all of that happened, why did he stay calm and cool without reporting that his phone was taken and if he could mobilize those guys to come and make that trouble why didn’t he as well mobilize them to stop my car from moving. I’d just forward the text he sent to me. I’m sure I still have it.”
He also said by the following Friday, he discovered that the root cause of the misunderstanding was the Chairman of the Tourism Bureau Mr. Clement Umina, who wrote to Mr. Akwaji to hand over the ranch to ZEDICI.
He said Umina later claimed that his letter was not meant to call for a hand over but for inventory. He wondered why it was the Tourism Bureau that had to do that when it was not their job.
“Tourism Development is responsible for the ranch not Tourism Bureau. Tourism Bureau job is for standards and marketing. Tourism Development handles that core. So it was also another way of calling everybody back in line. This is what he’s supposed to do. He said he didn’t mean to write for handing over, he meant to write for inventory. Inventory and handing over are two different words,” Eric said.
And, Mr. Charles told CrossRiverWatch that he did send a text message to Mr. Anderson apologizing which he replied as well as Mr. Noel Ugbong who is the Special Assistant Administration in the department of Governor’s office and events management.
“When I discovered that the commissioner has gone, I sent him a text message telling him that I am sorry Ability made us to get this kind of embarrassment, and he replied my message and said ‘Magic’,” Charles said, adding that; “Noel sent me a message after they left, because he was also with them, though he did not say anything. In his text, he asked me to please go back to the office and continue my work, he said when they get back there, they will solve the problem.”
CrossRiverWatch had reported that the state signed a memorandum of understanding with ZEDICI capital to run the resort.