Exclusive: The Untold Story Of Asaba Airport Concession Scam

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…Brownfield concession lies
…As Menzie Aviation, MA, disclaims partnership consortium with FIDC
…Okowa’spolitical cronies sealed the shady deal

By winning his reelection in 2019, Governor IfeanyiOkowa has escaped electoral scrutiny and accountability of the people of Delta state. But his chances of facing legal scrutiny and possible criminal investigations by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission related to shady deals by his administration are growing by the day. And the most recently, is the concession of Asaba International Airport.

The airport which was built by the Delta State Government at the cost of about N40 billion was recently concessioned to a Consortium for a 30-year period and would fetch the government only? 4 billion. The project was initiated, built and made functional by former governor Emmanuel Uduaghan.

The consortium is made up of the First Investment Development Company Ltd, a company with specialty on real estate development and a UK-based Menzie Aviation Company, a renowned world key player in world aviation. Other partners include Air Peace, Rainoil, Cybernatics, Quorum Aviation and Arbico Construction Company.

Explaining the role each company is expected to play in the hybrid arrangement, Gov. Okowa had said that the major anchor aviation-based company Menzies Aviation Company will be saddled with the management of the airport and provision of airline support services.

Said he: “Menzies Aviation is to manage the Airport and provide airline support services; First Investment Development company to build Radisson Blu Hotel and Convention Centre at the Airport and Air Peace to operate as Anchor Airline and to build and operate a commercial Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul Facility.

“Rainoil is to operate the Tank Farm and provide Jet A1 Fuel for Aircraft; Cybernatics to develop the Cargo Terminal and Logistics Centre; Quorum Aviation to build private jets terminal and operate helicopter services for the oil and gas industry, while Arbico Construction Company is to develop and manage the business park”, Okowa further said.

With the concessionary agreement already signed and sealed, the Asaba airport’s management, maintenance and technical operation is now effectively in the hands of the First Investment Development Company purportedly in partnership consortium with Menzie Aviation Company which is expected to bring to bear its long years of experience and knowledge in the aviation industry.

Announcing with excitement the winner of the bid, the Secretary to the State Government, ChieduEbie declared: “The Delta State government is delighted that after an extensive bid process, which spanned a period of five years, with two major consortia emerging in the last round of bidding process, the FIDC-Menzies Consortium was selected as the preferred bidder to operate as the Master Concessionaire.”

Under the agreement, the investors, Asaba Airport Company, are to invest a N28 billion into the development of Asaba International Airport. The assets and all infrastructure constructed by the Concessionaire, together with all related investments in, and upgrades to the assets, shall be handed back to the State at the end of the concession period.”

Obviously excited about the involvement of Menzie Aviation Company in the concession process, Gov. Okowa, while presenting the 2020 budget before the State House of Assembly announced a “breakthrough with the approval by the State Executive Council for the concession of the airport to a consortium of investors led by Menzies Aviation, a world-renowned aviation company.”

UrhoboVanguard gathered that, a highly exhilarated Gov. Okowa boasted to the lawmakers that the concession process of the Asaba airport was first of its kind in Africa, adding that it was “the first full Brownfield airport concession in Africa and a hybrid arrangement covering further development and management of the airport.”

The lying Governor
While Deltans may have been deceived by MrOkowa, we went on fact-finding on what Brownfield concession as touted so much by the governor truly means. Our investigation revealed that Brownfield concession as opposed to Greenfield concession, involves the concessioning of an existing public or private asset which, in most cases, does not involve a long time concession period.

An aviation expert, Dr. Sylvanus Anyanwu told our correspondent that Brownfield concession, the type which the Okowa-led government got the Asaba Airport Limited into, does not require the concessionaire to build a brand new airport from the scratch, adding that all that is required is to maintain, develop, operate and manage the existing assets of the airport for maximum profitability for the grantor.

“The Asaba Airport concession is a Brownfield agreement. The concessionaire is required to maintain, improve, operate and manage the facility for the period of the concession for optimum profitability.

“It is not a Greenfield concession where the concessionaire is required to, in most cases, build, operate and transfer (BOT), after it has recovered its investment within the concession period.
“A 30-years Brownfield concessionary period for Asaba airport is more or less a Greenfield agreement. It is more or less a complete sale of the assets to the concessionaire”, Anyanwu said.

Meanwhile, Menzies Aviation company denies involvement with the Delta State Government.
UrhoboVanguard’s investigation however indicates that the so much-advertised Menzies Aviation Company which the State government appears to rely on in achieving the terms of the concession, is not in any way involved as joint “FIDC/Menzies” concessionaire.

Our findings which prompted us to establish communication with the headquarters of Menzies Aviation Company in the UK did not confirm any relationship with the First Investment Development Company Ltd, FIDC, in Nigeria. In fact, inside source from the Menzies Aviation Company disclaimed any business relationship with any Nigerian company, let alone forming a partnership with FIDC as master concessionaire for the Asaba airport.

An e-mail from the Travel Coordinator of the Company, Mr. MarizaRiney to our correspondent in response to our request for the company to ascertain its involvement in the concession deal indicates that the company, Menzies Aviation is not in any business relationship with FIDC nor in a partnership consortium with it for the purposes of Asaba airport concession.

The e-mail reads in part: “We have no dealings with FIDC to my knowledge”. The disclaimer by the much talked-about MenziesAviation Company in the Asaba airport concession deal puts a lie on the authenticity of the agreement which Gov. Okowa has dragged the state into that will last for three decades.

Another revelation which fuels the suspicion of shady deals in the Asaba airport concession, is the fact that the acclaimed FIDC/Menzies Aviation, MA purported consortium was represented by a lady named AdanwimoEzeife. We can authoritatively report that Ezeife is neither a staff of Menzies Aviation nor was she contracted to represent the company in the signing and sealing of the Asaba airport agreement. Our source revealed that she is a financial advisor in the capital market and at best occasionally consults for FIDC and not Menzies Aviation.

The question now on the lips of Deltans is: where does Menzies Aviation Company, a major player in global aviation industry come into the AsabaAirport concession? Why did Okowa lie to the world by dropping such high profile name to ‘sell’ the airport?
FIDC and series of past failures: Won’t Asaba Airport suffer same fate?

Our investigation into the profile of the First Investment Development Company Ltd, which claims to be in partnership consortium with Menzies Aviation as the master concessionaire, on the other hand, revealed that the company was incorporated with the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, in 2008.

And whereas it claims to “operate throughout Nigeria and is consistently seeking significant opportunities for residential lead projects that provide the company the ability to create truly sustainable communities that genuinely improve the urban fabric of its neighbourhood, it was discovered that over the years, it has been involved in the development of a real estate project, Ilubirin, located in a new waterside district on Lagos Island.” Our search revealed that for over seven years, the company is yet to complete the project.

It was also discovered that FIDC has been linked to Kagara residential scheme project in Kaduna State and Westgate estate development project located at the heart of the vibrant economic hub of Sango Ota. But it could not be confirmed if these projects have gone beyond mere proposal level.

FIDC we gathered, is owned by KessingtonAdebutu’s(alias Baba Ijebu) family, who also owns the remaining three partners in the concession merger. Baba Ijebu and his children’s companies have been subject of probe by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) over illegal financial dealings which we gathered are not unconnected with money laundering. Some of the companies’ bank accounts have been frozen by the apex bank since last year December.

From the foregoing, it could be seen that the flaunting of FIDC/Menzies Company, MA, Consortium as the master concessionaire in the AsabaConcessioning agreement, cast some doubts about the credibility of the deal since Menzies MA, from the Company’s email at our disposal, disclaimed and dissociated itself from any partnership deal with FIDC as far as Asaba airport concession is concerned, or a relationship with any other company in Nigeria for that matter.

This is further complicated by the fact that the lady who represented the purported FIDC/Menzies Aviation in the Asaba airport concessioning deal, is not known to home office of Menzies Aviation, MA, but may be an impersonator. One planted by concessioning team of Gov. Okowa just to showcase a false credibility of the caliber of experts engaged in the deal.

In fact, a cross section of Deltans who spoke to our correspondent on the concessioning deal of the Asaba airport, expressed fear that it might just be another tactic which successive governors in the state have adopted to fleece the state funds through awards of spurious contracts of major projects to cronies and inexperienced companies where they have vested interests.

In a telephone chat with our correspondent, a Warri-based oil merchant, Chief Edema Aworishe, recalled that the construction of the Oghara Independent Power Project which was initiated by the Uduaghan’s administration was awarded to a local company which had no experience in power projects. The company, DavNotchNig Ltd, owned by a former Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Victor Ochei was awarded the construction of the IPP project at a whopping cost of N28 billion. According to Aworishe, not even a bolt was fastened to the earth to signal the commencement of work on the site of the power project till today.

He said: “Deltans have been very unlucky with the nature of governors that have pushed their way into the governance of this state since 1999. Uduaghan awarded Oghara IPP to a relatively unknown local company without any knowledge of power generation project.

“Uduaghan awarded the contract for the construction of a multi-billion naira Asaba Airport to ULO Company owned by another PDP man, late UcheOkpuno who had no single knowledge of what it takes to construct a standard airport. After wasting more than N25 billion on the airport, it was commissioned but soon shutdown by FAAN following observed deficiencies in the facilities.

“Now it is the turn of Okowa who, in the name of concessioning of the airport for the benefit of Deltans, has sold it to FIDC which has no experience in the management and technical operation of an airport. Menzies Aviation MA which is being flaunted as the technical partner in the consortium that purportedly won the concessioning contract of the airport did not only disclaimed any relationship with FIDC, but has gone further to deny any relationship with any Nigerian company for that matter.”

When confronted with the above revelation as it concerns the concessioning of Asaba airport, the Commissioner of Information in the State, Mr. Charles Aniagwu who is in a better position to know was shocked at our disclosure and declined comment.
The Journey to ‘sell’ the airport.

Barely one month after he mounted the saddle of leadership of the State in 2015, Gov. IfeanyiOkowa kick-started the process to concession the assets of the Asaba airport which was conceived and built by his predecessor, former Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan and commissioned two years earlier.

Having sold the idea to members of the State Executive Council, who supported it without objection, Gov. Okowa followed it up with an executive bill to the State House of Assembly where he also got the approval of the House to go ahead with the concession of the airport.
It would be recalled that the Asaba airport project which was a brainchild of Gov. Okowa’s predecessor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan was commissioned for operation in 2014, with over N47 billion reportedly spent. But shortly thereafter the 2015 election, the airport was downgraded to Category 3 following the observation by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, that the facility was substandard and could not accommodate bigger aircraft in its operation. Insider sources however disclosed that the downgrade was political and not professional, as it was late Uche Luke Okpuno, who built the Airport through his ULO construction company connived with his friends in the aviation sector to get it downgraded, in order to get loans for it when Okowa was sworn in, which was what exactly happened.

However, in an attempt to upgrade the airport to the required standard after the downgrade, Gov. Okowa sent a bill to the State House of Assembly requesting for an approval of N5.02 billion loan facility to carry out the necessary rehabilitation as requested by NCAA, which was immediately approved. Subsequent sums in billions were also approved after then for various purposes connected to the airport running.

The Minister for Aviation, HadiSirika was reported to have lifted the ban after the renovation of the runway, installation of Instrument Landing System (ILS) and other facilities. Till date, the ILS remains packed in a warehouse and yet to be installed, which has made the airport unable to receive aircraft at night.

Okowa’s political cronies sealed the shady deal
The stage was set, in Okowa’s estimation, for the airport to be concessioned. According to media reports, the governor constituted a committee, comprising of his appointees, namely Prof. Sylvester Monye, Dr. Kingsley Emu, George Orogun, Chiedu Ebie, Secretary to State Government and David Edebvie, with three of the members who are from the governor’s ethnic group playing the major role.

Interestingly, none of the committee members possess a basic knowledge of or experience in the aviation sector to guide the process of bidding.

Credit: Urhobo Vanguard.