By Patrick Obia
In 2015, immediately after he was sworn in as the governor of Cross River State, Sen. Ben Ayade, unveiled a plan to build and operate an ultra-modern filling station called Petrocross.
The ultra-modern fuel station, according to the governor, was to boost the State’s revenue and transform the State that is hitherto known as a Civil Servants’ State into a private investment-driven one.
To that effect, he directed the Department of Petroleum Resources to deliver a plan to invest in all areas of the oil and gas value chain. Then he approved the construction of a 50,000 metric tons capacity tank farm for storage to be relied upon in a time of scarcity.
“We are not looking for money; just give us the license to find oil in our own Cross River Basin, and partner with international corporations to exploit it. After all, hydrocarbons are getting old fashioned and in eight years from now, no one will talk about it,” Ayade was quoted as saying in October 2017 when he received then Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Usani Usani and Minister of State, Prof. Claudius Daramola during a courtesy visit to the Government House in Calabar.
In October 2020, the sum of N13 million was released to Messers Design Line Enterprise for the statutory registration and licensing of Petrocross for the ultra-modern fuel station. The company was first registered on 15 June 2005 during Governor Donald Duke’s term with registration number 626239 as Petrocross Refineries & Petrochemicals Co Ltd.
An investigation by CrossRiverWatch reveals that despite the release of funds for the contract which had a lifespan of six months, the ultra-modern filling station is yet to be actualized.
It has neither physical presence nor commences operations, although its name continues to ring a bell in the ears of the public. Cross River State has only one ultra-modern petrol station (Leophina Oil) owned by the Ayade’s family along Murtala Mohammed Highway, Calabar which began operation in 2021, leaving Cross Riverians with mind-boggling questions.
Ayade Administration Takes Pleasure In Ghost Contractors
CrossRiverWatch has previously documented how Cross River State earned notoriety in consistently awarding contracts to mostly unqualified and ghost contractors.
For instance, this outlet in September 2021, showed how the State Government budgeted over N42 billion for spaghetti flyover and Calabar-Odukpani dual carriageway, only to award it to obscure companies with questionable credentials.
Similarly, in December 2021, CrossRiverWatch unearthed how two contractors, Johnny’s New Arrival Nig Ltd and Kantong Kataneh Nig Ltd were awarded millions of naira in contracts for the construction of a model school and hand-pump boreholes but ended up diverting the project.
The State has shamelessly maintained the ugly trend of awarding contracts to fictitious companies with neither commensurate CAC documents nor physical presence and expertise to execute such contracts. Messers Design Line Enterprise, which is awarded the contract for the licensing of Petrocross remains an obscured contractor that the State Government is relying on to actualize the fuel station project.
The company does not have any records with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) as shown on its database. It equally does not have an online visibility, an indication that the company may not have corporate and legal existence in Nigeria.
The company’s non-registration with the CAC and other regulatory bodies makes it unqualified to be awarded a contract of any kind by the State Government. For awarding the contract to Messers Design Line Enterprise, the State Government however contravenes the public procurement law of 2007.
Also, the physical address claimed by the company at Suite B25, Intercontinental Plaza, Wuse zone 3, Abuja, is not true. Findings by the CrossRiverWatch suggests that the address was surreptitiously provided to the Cross River State Government by Design Line Enterprise just to enable it to secure the contract.
Section 58, subsection 4 (g) of the public procurement law states that “uttering or using fake documents or encouraging their use” is an offense… and “is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not less than 5 calendar years but not exceeding 10 calendar years without an option of fine.”
Intrigues, Uncertainty As Ministries Deny Project, Pass Bucks To Each Other
Three Ministries: Ministry of Aviation, Ministry of Petroleum Resources and Ministry of Gas Development deny knowledge of the contract for the licensing of the ultra-modern fuel station.
First, the reporter learned that the Ministry of Aviation was supervising the contracts as against the Ministry of Petroleum Resources or Gas Development.
Repeated visits, calls and a freedom of information request to the Ministry of Aviation hit the rock as none of them were responded to more than three weeks after. The Aviation Ministry was allegedly and wrongly placed as a supervisory ministry for the project to facilitate the purported corruption.
When contacted on phone, the Commissioner for Gas Development, Mr. Savior Nyong, whose Ministry refused to receive an FOI request from this medium, referred the reporter to the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, arguing that it was in a better position to explain the contract.
Mr. Savior Nyong said his Ministry was not aware of the contract and was not in a position to explain.
When our correspondent sent a similar FOI request to the Ministry of Petroleum Resources where Hon. Itaya Asuquo Nyong is holding sway as Commissioner, the response was not impressive.
“We are assuring you that in no distant future, we shall invite you”, the Commissioner wrote to CrossRiverWatch. He declined further comment on the project.
A similar enquiry submitted to the Department of Petroleum Resources, Cross River State, has fallen on deaf ears as there was no response as of press time.
Cross River Ultra-Modern Fuel Station Is A Scam – CSO
Mrs. Eme Okang, the State Coordinator of We The People (WTP), Center for Social Studies, Calabar, described the Petrocross project as yet another scam by the Cross River State Government.
“I don’t know what to say concerning our governor and his activities. Like every other project, Petrocross is somewhere there, maybe in the blue sky. We are all aware of all his phantom projects – Deep Sea Port, Super Highway and the rest of them. So they are going to be nonexistent Petrocross on paper.”
WTP enjoined Cross Riverians to bear the pains as May 2023 is less than 600 days away to smile again. “The governor has a few years left and I can bet you we actually have nothing to look forward to and it will amount to nothing as usual.
“Ayade (and his phantom projects) has never given Cross Riverians anything to look forward to. The Petrocross project is another swipe at our lean resources. A midnight decimation of what’s left of our economy before he leaves office,” Okang said.
The name Petrocross has continued to sound strange to Cross Riverians who said it could be another “audio” project by the State Government.
This story was produced in partnership with Civic Media Lab through its Grassroots News Project