Days after a presidential panel announced the arrest of a senator for alleged fraud, the accused has denied being arrested.
Hope Uzodinma, who seeks to govern Imo State on the platform of Nigeria’s ruling party, APC, also said he was innocent of the fraud allegations levelled against him.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the Special Presidential Investigation Panel on Recovery of Public Property announced the arrest of the senator.
The panel chairman, Okoi Obono-Obla, said Mr Uzodinma was arrested on Sunday at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport Abuja.
Mr Obono-Obla said Mr Uzodinma was arrested for failure of his company to execute a contract of $12 million for dredging of Calabar channel.
However, Mr Uzodinma, Chairman, Senate Committee on Nigeria Customs Service, told journalists in Abuja that the reports may not be unconnected with his emergence as a governorship candidate.
He vowed to remain focused on the governorship race in spite of what he said were attempts to distract him.
He said he would not be distracted by people who were yet to come to terms with his emergence as the governorship candidate in state.
“I was never arrested. I also read it in papers like every other Nigerian,” he said.
Mr Obono-Obla, however, insisted to PREMIUM TIMES that Mr Uzodinma was arrested at the Abuja airport on Sunday. He was taken into custody in Asokoro, a posh Abuja neighbourhood populated by Nigeria’s political elite and foreign diplomats.
Mr Obono-Obla said he accorded Mr Uzodinma bail on compassionate grounds on Monday, after the senator fell ill in custody. He was asked to return the next day for interrogation, after his doctors have attended to him, but he failed to honour the agreement, the presidential aide said.
Mr Obono-Obla said Mr Uzodinma was arrested after several months of manhunt, triggered by a PREMIUM TIMES investigation that found the senator indeed took $12.5 million for a dredging contract but failed to deliver on it.
A fresh manhunt is underway for Mr Uzodinma, Mr Obono-Obla told PREMIUM TIMES.
On the contract, the lawmaker said Niger Global, the company that was accused of the complicity, had only two per cent share in the contract.
“Before I came to the Senate, I came from the private sector. I was in oil and gas and marine operations. I operated Niger Global.
“In 2004 we participated in an international deal and Nigeria Ports Authority was looking for partners to manage the channels and we were lucky.
“We were one of the companies that formed the consortium to manage Calabar Channels.
“Calabar Channels Management Company is a joint venture being operated by the NPA. They have the major shareholders.
“They have 60 per cent shareholding and then the consortium of like six other companies had different shares.
“Niger Global had five per cent share and there is a five member board, where NPA has three and the consortium of companies two.
“Before I came to Senate, I was in the board and the technical partners to the consortium dredged the Calabar Channel under the supervision of the Calabar Management Board,” he said.
The lawmaker expressed surprise that the allegations were coming several years after the contract, adding that it was a clear case of witch hunt.
“All I know is that some aggrieved persons are behind this, otherwise where was this panel since 2004.
“I was in the 7th Senate from 2011 to 2015, why did this issue not come out. I have been here in the 8th senate from 2015 to date why didn’t the issue come up.
“To the best of my knowledge, the company worked, even though I am not in the management anymore but I am still one of the minority shareholders of that company.
“If there is any question that must be answered by the company, the majority shareholder should first answer their own query.
“If anything, I am a serving senator and a ranking one at that and the Chairman of the Southern Senators Forum.”
On allegations of non-declaration of asset, Mr Uzodinma said coming from the private sector into politics, he was surprised at the request by the panel.
“Before I joined politics, of course I came from the private sector that is why I became even surprised when the panel said I should declare my asset for the past 20 years.
“I have never seen anywhere in any law where private people are made to declare their asset to government,” he said.
However, he said he obliged the panel by sending his declaration form and copying the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami.
“The presidential committee wrote me sometimes last month asking for my asset declaration form alleging that I did not declare my asset.
“I replied and attached my declaration form and copied the Attorney General of the Federation whom I suppose they are working under.”
The governorship candidate said he would not be deterred in ensuring that the people of Imo are liberated from the untold hardship they were subjected to.
He said: “with what has happened in Imo State, I thought by now, some of these underdogs should repent but they are still plotting.
“I thought what they would do in the spirit of democracy is to appreciate the fact that some people are now in the party and the party will be better for it.
“It is not easy to do what I have done in recent times. To make sacrifice, I followed my people and encourage them to be in the ruling party.
“So name calling, campaign of calumny and all of that is only a distraction. I have been around for sometimes and I understand the meaning of politics and I refused to be distracted.”
He further denied inducing the APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, in order to be made the party’s flag bearer in Imo.
He called on the aggrieved persons and other stakeholders to work together to grow the country’s democracy.
He added that “some of us believe that this country must grow and we must be given the opportunity to contribute our own quota to national development.”
The APC headquarters submitted Mr Uzodinma’s name as Imo govenrorship candidate against the interest of Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo, who chairs the APC governors forum. Mr Okorocha supports his inlaw, Henry Nwosu, who won a parallel primary of the party.
INEC is, however, yet to declare the APC Imo governorship candidate it would recognise following court injunctions that asked the electoral commission not to do so yet.