Indorama host communities on collision course over N4.3 billion share dividend

From Chris Ezeonoh, Port Harcourt

…Accuse lawmaker of diverting N400 million

Stakeholders in the host communities of Indorama Eleme Petrochemical Company Limited, (IEPCL) are calling for the head of the member representing Eleme Constituency in the Rivers State House of Assembly, Hon. Aforji Igwe for allegedly mismanaging the N4.3 billion share dividend accruing from the 7.5 percent equity shares allotted to the communities during the privatization of the defunct Eleme Petrochemical Company by the Bureau for Public Enterprises The Trumpet gathered.

Our correspondent gathered that an indigenous company, Elano Investment Ltd which facilitated the actual transfer of the 7.5 percent shareholding by paying the statutory fees had taken over the management of the dividend accruing from the 7.5 percent shareholding on behalf of the six benefitting communities whose land were acquired.

It was learnt that not long thereafter, some stakeholders in the communities rose against Elano, claiming that the company was ripping the people off. Investigation revealed that what followed discordant tunes as the communities was torn between pro and anti Elano camps leading to a major crisis which culminated in the attack on the properties of those perceived to be sympathetic to Elano.

The impasse it was further gathered, lingered to the extent that Governor Nyesom Wike had to intervene and urged the communities to embrace peace to enjoy the fruit of their land. Prior to the governor’s intervention, flurry of cases was said to be pending in various courts on the same issue which led to the freezing of the communities’ accounts pending final settlement. Eventually, the court outlawed management of the dividends by Elano and at the same time ordered the de-freezing of the account.

According to findings, the member representing Eleme Constituency in the Rivers State House of Assembly, Hon. Aforji Igwe was the one who championed the litigation that ousted Elano from managing the dividends.
Having ensured that Elano was out of the way, community sources alleged that the lawmaker thereafter positioned himself as representing the six benefitting communities and directed them to set up Trust Committees for the disbursement of the N4.3 billion unclaimed dividends that accrued to the common purse of the communities while litigation subsisted.

Some stakeholders in the Indorama communities are now calling for the head of the lawmaker for allegedly diverting a whooping sum of N400 million from the N4.3 billion which they said he claimed to have used to obtain a Fiat from the office of the Attorney General of Rivers State for the purpose of prosecuting Elano for alleged mismanagement of the dividend from the 7.5 percent shares. Some communities are also alleging that they were yet to get their share of the N4.3 billion that accrued into the common purse of the communities for which the lawmaker asked them to form Community Trusts.

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A stakeholder who hails from the same community with the lawmaker, Engr. Ejire Nwolu Ejire alleged that over N400 million has been looted and embezzled by the lawmaker, whom he described as an imposter.

He said, “The Aforji Igwe group is a bunch of imposters because when we started fighting Elano, we felt that Elano was mismanaging the host communities’ dividends. Actually, the dividend of the Federal Government’s plan was to develop the host communities and then liberate the people from abject poverty. But the Elano group came and had a different agenda from that of the Federal Government. So we felt it was necessary to approach the Federal Government through the office of the Attorney General to sack Elano Investment Ltd and that was achieved through the office of the Vice President, who is the Chairman, Bureau for Public Enterprises, BPE, and that was how Elano was sacked.

“After then, we agreed to proceed into divestment and other procedure to return the share to the host communities, and it was at that point that we did not know that Aforji Igwe, member representing the people of Eleme Constituency at the Rivers State Assembly and his cohorts had an ulterior motive. Several times, they tried to lure me into corruption. One of their attempts was the day Aforji Igwe took me to the house of the Attorney General of Rivers State and told me that we are going to lie to our people that we secured Fiat, at the tune of Four hundred million naira to prosecute Elano and I refused. This is fraud. I am not going to get involved. Four hundred million naira for Fiat of less than N30, 000, I won’t be part of it.

On the way forward, Engr. Ejire urged the lawmaker to follow the directive given by the BPE and disburse the dividend to all the benefitting communities. “But Aforji Igwe and Co, because of their ulterior motive refused and when they refused, we also refused to go by it because their agenda is anti-people. My name is Engr. Ejire Nwolu Ejire and I repeat it again, I cannot associate or identify with anybody that wants to shortchange our people against their commonwealth from the value given them by God”, he maintained.

Another stakeholder from the Indorama communities, Chief Ajie Olongwe also poured venoms on the lawmaker over the goings on in the management of the share dividend. He accused the lawmaker of reneging on the agreement on how the N4.3 billion was to be shared.
Olongwe who is the spokesman of Akpankpan, one of the benefitting communities and also doubles as the chairman of Akpankpan Trust Committee expressed disbelief that payment to communities could commence without him as chairman of a Trust committee being aware.

He said, “To our surprise, to my surprise, to the surprise of the people, we heard that the money has been paid to some persons or individuals and we keep asking that what is the essence of paying the money to individuals. This money is not goodwill money from Indorama, it is money paid for shares and money paid for shares has a legitimate channel through which this money gets to the communities. For example, Akpakpan Community has 59.389 units of shares which is about 16% of the shareholding, and when you put this together that is with the 4.3 billion that was released, what ought to get to Akpakpan Community is 688 million naira. That amount, we have not received.  As a matter of fact, I am the chairman of the Akpakpan Trust, we have not received such an amount, but we keep hearing that the money has been paid, and I am wondering where the money was paid to.

Olongwe regretted that the euphoria that trailed the disengagement of Elano from the shares has evaporated so soon following the alleged shoddy deals by Aforji Igwe who was the arrowhead of the opposition against Elano.
“If I say I am pleased, then I don’t know what I am doing, and something must be wrong with me. I cannot be pleased with the mismanagement of funds. We complained that Elano was mismanaging the funds and misappropriating the funds, but this time around, the situation is worse. The way Hon Aforji and his co-passengers are going about it is alarming and I think that the Federal Government should investigate the payment or disbursement of this money and if Aforji Igwe claims that he has paid this money, he should show it by Bank Statement.

” Aforji Igwe claimed to have spent N400million to obtain a fiat to prosecute some Directors of Elano. To the best of my knowledge, there is nowhere in the world, even in Hague, the International Court, nobody charges N400million to obtain fiat. If that is the case, nobody will ever obtain fiat, no individual, no public member can obtain fiat. Fiat is between N 25,000 and N30,000 which is the cost of fiat. To obtain a fiat from the Attorney General of any state, you will have to spend between N25,000 and N30,000. So, maybe Hon. Aforji will tell the world where he spent N400million to obtain a fiat to prosecute Directors of Elano.

In his reaction, the lawmaker dismissed the allegations as a cheap blackmail by his political enemies who are bent on destroying what he called the good work done for the communities.

He said, “The people going about talking about Igwe Aforji don’t have knowledge of what happened. They were not parties to the court proceedings. They have no idea. So when you hear them mention Fiat, it is ignorance. There was no time anybody mentioned any fiat issue.
“What we have is a document of agreement between the lawyer and the communities which all the communities signed with the lawyer at the time and the lawyer has been rendering services to the community for the past 6 years. So his legal fees together with all expenses were made during the time of recovery even when they went to arbitration and other matters. We had 11 matters in different courts of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.

Although he declined to disclose what the legal fees and the totality of the expenses incurred during the struggle amounted to, he said what was left from the N4.3 billion that accumulated in the community account after offsetting legal fees was N1.1 billion. He maintained that the money was returned to the communities to be shared according to their allotted shares.

He added a clincher, “What I want to tell the entire world is disregard them, we are focused and we are marching forward. This matter should just be buried because it is over and the communities are excited and happy”. He challenged anyone aggrieved over all that had transpired to go to court.

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