More revelations are emerging on what led to the protracted feud between Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and All Progressives Congress, APC, in Akwa Ibom State over the siting of a billboard at Akpan Andem Market in Uyo local government area, Straightnews has gathered.
The giant billboard with three phases conspicuously displayed is standing few metres from the main entrance of the market accessed through Udo Umanah Street in Uyo.
Following accusations and counter accusations from various quarters, Straightnews decided to investigate why the two governments are locked in a battle with the contractor in the siting of the billboard in the market with attendant brouhaha between the two major political parties in the state.
It was gathered that Blake and Harper Integrated Communication Company, Abuja which is in the eye of the storm is the major contracting firm and owner of the billboard.
Straightnews contacted one of the company’s management staff who did not want his name in the print and he told the online newspapers that the company actually applied for rental and erected sites for billboards in the state then paid to De-Mbarukas Limited, Uyo, the then consultants on outdoor businesses to Uyo local government council and Akwa Ibom State government more than five years ago and got approval for the sites.
“Blake and Harper Integrated Communication Company is a registered company with Akwa Ibom government for outdoor business. In February this year, we applied to De-Mbarukas Limited for the erected site at Akpan Andem Market. There are procedures and we followed all to the letter. We met all the requirements for the business. We got approval from the state government.
“Thereafter, we paid about N4.5 million to the company and the company in turn had to remit 10 per cent discount to Uyo local government council and Akwa Ibom government being part of the agreement with the company,” he confided in Straightnews.
The staff who spoke in anonymity with us said “We started the construction of the billboard in July this year. We laid the foundation of the billboard and allowed it to solidify for one month before we brought in a crane to mount the pipes and other large metals.
“When the state government realised how strategic the billboard would be to APC, it offered us- the contracting firm- N10 million per phase totalling N30 million. We turned down the offer. Angered by the treatment, the state government fired De-Mbaraukas Limited that has consulted for the government on outdoor businesses for 14 years.”
He debunked the notion that the communication company did not fulfil the contractual obligations before the billboard was erected thus “It is not true we did not get the approval of Uyo local government as alleged by the local government chairman in some mass media. The truth is that Akwa Ibom government through PDP took campaign materials of Governor Udom Emmanuel to hoist on the billboard. In fact, PDP hired crane, painted the top of the board red and other items to hoist the materials.
“We were proactive. When we realised their ploy, we rushed and reported to the police. Police came and seized materials including a generator from them. There are many materials collected from them which are used as exhibits to being accessory to the crisis.”
On reaching the office of De-Mbarukas at 3 Oku Village Road, Uyo, Straightnews was told by one of the principal staff members who spoke with us in confidence “I am not permitted to speak on the issue. At appropriate time, we will issue a press release on our own side of the story. However, there are few issues I want to mention concerning the billboard.
“Actually, Blake and Harper Integrated Communication Company applied and we gave the company approval some years ago. We have served as consultants handling outdoor businesses for Akwa Ibom government and Uyo local government council for 14 years. The state government has not renewed our business for us this year.
“However, the state government has awarded the outdoor businesses to Lagos-based SO&U based for 2018. We handled the business up to 2017.”
Uyo local government council has. The directive was made after an emerge
Briefing newsmen after an emergency executive meeting Mr. Imoh Okon, Uyo Local Government Chairman said the council has ordered the removal of what he termed ‘unlawful billboard’ from Akpan Andem market citing safety for traders as one of the reasons.
Okon said the siting of such a huge metal in a crowded place like a market is a serious threat to human lives, and a risk that the government is not ready to toil with.
Elder Okon further stated that BLAKE AND HARPER INTEGRATED COMMUNICATION COMPANY, Abuja, owners of the billboard did not get the full clearance from the Council before mounting it on that spot and that is not the sites given to him.
“We cannot sit and watch while the lives of our people are being gambled with, it is our duty as a sensitive government to protect the lives and properties of our citizens, therefore, as a council responsible for the safety of our people, we have resolved that the billboard should be removed with immediate effect,” he said.
Earlier, the Uyo Market Traders Association had held an emergency executive meeting and more than 1,000 traders from Akpan Andem Market took to the streets in a peaceful protest calling on the government and other relevant bodies to ensure the removal of the billboard from the market to avoid danger.
The protesters who marched with placards to the Government House and then to the Uyo Local Government Council had some inscriptions like “TAKE THE BILLBOARD TO ANOTHER PLACE OUTSIDE THE MARKET”, “AKPAN ANDEM MARKET TRADERS DO NOT WANT TO DIE”, “GOV. UDOM EMMANUEL PLEASE COME TO OUR AID”.
However, some traders in the market see the action as hypocritical on the part of government. A garri seller at the market who did not want her name in print expressed surprise at the attitude of Uyo local government council chairman in ordering the removal of the billboard now. Every day, agents of Uyo local government council have been selling tickets from us. No matter the nature of business, you must pay to the agents else they will seize your articles of trade.
She queried “Where was the chairman when the contractor started erecting the billboard? For many months, we have been seeing people working at the site of the billboard. Even on Sundays, the people were working. We were terrified at the sight of the giant billboard. Yet, neither the state government nor the local government stopped the contractor for breaching the so-called terms of agreement.
A rice seller blamed the government for being economical with truth. Where was Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources when the billboard was being erected? The ministry and the local government are blaming the contractor for not erecting at the site approved for him. Why did they not stop the contractor at the preliminary stage? I do not like the way we play politics with everything.
Meanwhile, Governor Udom Emmanuel, Thursday this week, led his team of Campaign Coordinators to the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, who summoned them and accused them of various misdemeanours based on a petition by Mr. Ini Okopido, the state All Progressives Congress Chairman.
Okopido had sent a petition to President Muhammadu Buhari with various allegations against the Udom Emmanuel’s Campaign Organisation.
President Buhari minuted the petition to his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, who, in line with orders, sent it to Idris, IGP for immediate investigation.
Those who appeared in Force Headquarters, Abuja were Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga, a retired, Director-General of Divine Mandate; Paul Ekpo, state PDP Chairman; Onofiok Luke, Speaker of the State House of Assembly; Dr. Iniobong Essien, the Commissioner of the Environment; Fubara Duke, Senior Special Assistant on Security; Mr. Imoh Okon, Chairman of Uyo local government council; and Chairman of the Uyo Market Association.
Ekpo said before the team left for Abuja: “A security agency established by law has invited us so we have to honour. We obey laws here. It started with the billboard issue and the IGP sent a team from Abuja that investigated and even detained the Commissioner for Environment for no just cause.”
After the drills in Abuja, the invited team had returned to the state.