Early in August 2015, CrossRiverWatch investigators were granted rare access, to ascertain the level of work in the 70 seater Dash 8-Q200 series aircraft with registration number 5N GRS which was purchased by the Liyel Imoke administration, from the Rivers State Government since 2013, and given to Aero to run the Calabar-Bebi route, but has remained under repairs at the Aero Contractors hanger at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos.
The management of Aero Contractors, in efforts to douse uncomplimentary media reports about the aircraft, which remained grounded since its purchase, wrote a statement on the 1st of June, 2015 apologizing to former Governor Imoke and the people of Cross River State for the delay in the repair work and promised that the refurbishment will be completed and the aircraft will be delivered to the State not later than June 30th, 2015.
Till date, that aircraft has not been delivered by Aero despite the fact that maintenance charges were fully paid for by the Imoke administration since July 2013, according to the statement by Aero, a development that prompted the CrossRiverWatch investigation in the first place. Technicians working on the aircraft told our investigators that “Aero engineers are working tirelessly to put it in good shape, all the spare parts needed to fix the air craft are from Istanbul, Turkey which is the best in production of bombardier plane.”
Frustrated by the repeated inability of Aero Contractors to deliver as promised, on 13 June 2018, the Cross River State Government, through the office of the Attorney General, appointed Ndoma Egba, Ebri & Co. as Solicitors for the Cross River State Government, for the purpose of recovering a debt of Six Hundred Million Naira (N600,000,000) owed the State Government by Aero Contractors. In an appointment letter signed by a former AG, Joe Oshie Abang, and obtained by CrossRiverWatch, demand for the sum was to include interest and the return of the aircraft in the state in which it was given to the company. When CrossRiverWatch contacted Senator Ndoma Egba for comments on what his team found out, he declined comment and simply said: “It is a client/solicitor issue. It is privileged and confidential. Only the Cross River State Government can speak on it.”
But further findings by the CrossRiverWatch team from both Aero Contractors and the Assets Management Company of Nigeria, AMCON, which now manages the assets of Aero since the Airline became bankrupt, reveal that the Ndoma Egba legal team met a brick wall.
A source in AMCON who said he has no authority to speak on the matter confirmed that they received correspondence from Ndoma Egba Ebri and Co. demanding recovery of a debt of N600million owed Cross River State Government. The source added that AMCON in their response informed Ndoma Egba Ebri and Co. that the Cross River State Government was owing AMCON over N31billion Naira in debts related to Tinapa and were willing to negotiate. It is still not clear whether this message from AMCON was communicated to the Government and what the Government may have done afterwards since the solicitors declined comment. The last that was seen of this aircraft is a scrap of it, on 25 October 2018, at the Aero Contractors ramp, at the Ikeja Airport in Lagos.
Following all these information laid out, some questions arise therefrom:
1. What is the present fate of our aircraft that is now gracing the scrap yard of the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos or has it been returned in the state it was given to the company?
2. What is the fate of our N600million Naira that Aero Contractors is owing Cross River State?
3. If our expensive asset like the Bombardier Aircraft and N600million, can waste away in the care of Aero, why did Governor Ayade still hand them the two aircrafts he just purchased for our State?
4. What exactly are the terms of the new agreement Governor Ayade signed with Aero, a bankrupt company, a company that repeatedly failed to deliver after full payment?
5. Has the State Government accepted the offer of negotiation from AMCON?
6. If they have, what are the terms?
7. If they haven’t, what is the guarantee that the same AMCOM will not wake up one morning and calculate the balance of the debts the State is still owing them and tell us that the two aircrafts also belong to AMCON?
These and several other questions, verily verily require contemplation and profound answers.
Citizen Agba Jalingo, a journalist and rights activist is a Cross Riverian and writes in from Lagos.
NB: Opinions expressed in this article are strictly attributable to the author, Agba Jalingo and do not represent the opinion of CrossRiverWatch or any other organization the author works for/with.
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