By Godwin Otang
Last June the Cross River State Government issued a press statement that announced the cancellation of agreement on the operation of the state’s owned commercial plane being managed by Aero Contractors.
The state instead reassigned the lease manager of its Boeing 737-300, known as Cally Air, to Melers Global Resources, a company that was incorporated for crop and animal production, hunting, and related services, according to a record from the Corporate Affairs Commission.
The purported engagement of the new company seemed to have violated provisions of the state procurement law as the new lease manager appeared to lack the technical capacity to manage the aircraft which commenced operation 2 years ago.
So far, the state government has budgeted more than N18 billion for Cally Air since 2019. This year, the state earmarked over N1 billion for the rehabilitation of the airline and an additional N5 billion for another aircraft.
But the inadvertent press statement by the state government drew attention to the failure in managing the single plane the state has been able to acquire since launching its own airline in 2021.
Melers Global Resources, Cally Air’s purported new lease manager, denied any knowledge of such deal with the state.
“There is nothing like that,” said Eric Akpanke Atuo, a director at Melers Global Resources Limited. “It was a proposal that we made to the governor and he minuted it to the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) and the SSG went ahead to publish it.”
Atuo told the CrossRiverWatch that he had resigned from the company. “To be honest with you, I am also no longer a director in that company. It was just a normal proposal,” he said.
“I will not be the one to tell the SSG how to do his job. Everybody who is in government knows that that thing was published in error. There is not at this point, any contract awarded to Melers Global Resources Limited by the Cross River State Government,” he added.
However, the Secretary to the Cross River State Government, Prof. Anthony Owan-Enoh denied entering into contractual agreement with Meler’s Global Resources Limited.
In a telephone interview with the CrossRiverWatch, Owan-Enoh denied issuing the press statement which bored his name and signature.
“If the company has told you that I didn’t give them any contract, what else do you want to hear?” he said. “Well, you have now heard that I didn’t give them any contract. I don’t know how that paper came out. I didn’t give them any contract. You can also reach out to Aero yourself.”
Despite his denial, the CrossRiverWatch found that the press statement was issued by his office.
Since last June that the statement was released, the state government has not issued a disclaimer.
Reacting to the findings the CrossRiverWatch, the Country Director of Citizens Solution Network, Richard Inoyo, emphasised the need for a thorough investigation.
“First when you look at the company, you look at the services the company is registered under. It is under agriculture while the contract is aviation, so there is no connection between the two factors.
“The second game would be, who are the directors? Do they have competence in those areas? One of the nonsenses that is going on in Cross River State is that people in government give contracts to those in government,” Inoyo said.
Inoyo suggested that “We have to get the SSG to ask the Nigerian Police Force to look into this issue and probably the Department of State Services, because beyond just the issue of where the press release emanated from, we have to be more concerned that somebody out there might be somewhere with government letter with signatures of top government officials dishing out all kinds of letters to him or herself or to the company he or she represents.”
A senior management staff with Aero who pleaded anonymity however confirmed that Aero is still in charge of Cally Air, and that it was a management decision to suspend flight from Calabar temporarily.
“The only thing I can tell you now is that Aero is still in charge of Cally Air. That we are not flying from Calabar is management’s decision. I cannot tell you when we will resume flight in Calabar until management decides,” he said.
Other aviation workers at the Margaret Ekpo International Airport, Calabar recalled that Aero/Cally Air has not been in operation. Although the CrossRiverWatch found that Aero office, staff and facilities are still open for day-to-day running of business, pending when Aero will officially resume flight from Calabar.
This investigation was published with support from Civic Media Lab.