By Joe Effiong, Uyo
It was one of the multi billion naira companies then in the present Akwa Ibom State making waves in the late 70s and through the 80s. But in the 90s they started dying one after the other. The include Qua Steel Mill Ltd Eket, Sunshine Batteries, International Biscuits, Ikot Ekpene, Quality Ceramics, Itu, Peacock Paint, Etinan, Nigerian Newsprint Manufacturing Company (NNMC), Oku Iboku and the latest of them all, the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON) Ikot Abasi.
While the federal and state governments are battling to revive some, like the Peacock Paints and the ALSCON, some are still lying prostrate and others have been sold off. ALSCON has actually been sold to a Russian Aluminium giant, UC Rusal, but the Federal Government is still interested in its gigantic machines humming back to life.
The NNMC had since been sold as scrap and just this year, Qua Steel Mill became the latest of the moribund companies to be sold off, this time, by the Akwa Ibom State government which owned it.
While the new owners of ALSCON are still battling to get back the company on its feet, those who bought Qua Steel are at each other’s throats in an attempt to outsmart the other and curry most of the scrap metals for themselves.
This struggle to strip and pack more of the scrap metals away from the company has, however, started to generate tension in Afaha Eket community, the host community of the company.
Daily Sun leaned that the scrapped company was originally sold to Oil Flow Service Ltd which won the bid, but which in order not to lose out due to their raise and pay the stipulated sum of N200 million, reached out to another company, KAM Steel Ltd to provide the required funding.
Oil Flow Service Limited had on January 13, 2021 approached Akwa Ibom State government, through the Akwa Ibom state Investment and Industrial Promotion Council (AKIIPOC) to express interest on purchase of Qua Steel obsolete metals.
Though the “expression of interest” letter was solely signed by one of the partners, Winifred Benedict Akpaka, other partners in Oil-Flow include; Mr Lucky Akhiwu, Donn Chuma Maduagwu, Osifo Godwin Osas, Uchenna Standhope Ukaku and Sunny Edah.
Based on available documents, on joining the deal, KAM STEEL Ltd, entered into an agreement with the effect that “Nothing leaves the site until KAM STEEL exhausts the agreed materials paid for.”
But “on the 9th day of April, while at the Qua Steel site, I discovered from one of my partners, and our Principal partner (KAM STEEL LTD) who made this transaction possible by giving us an upfront payment of N250m for the purchase of the Qua Steel LTD, that Mr Lucky Akhiwu and his cohorts criminally conspired with the above mentioned persons and collected some millions of naira without the knowledge of other partners”. said one of the petitions reported to have been written to the police by one of the partners.
Our source further hinted that while some of the partners, including Winifred Akpaka are of the opinion that the purchased obsolete steel must not be sold out to external persons until KAM STEEL, the principal partner exhausts the agreed materials paid for, Lucky Akhiwu on the other hand is allegedly reported to have gone against the agreement by collecting money from other non partners for materials already sold out.
The Project Director, KAM STEEL, Mr Idowu Adeshina, when contacted said the contract agreement was breached by Mr Lucky Akhiwu shortly after the site was opened for operations as he had allegedly turned around to sell the metals to others without exhausting what was already paid for.
“When Oil Flow won the bid, it had no money to pay the N200m requested by the state government, when we were contacted, we asked for an extension of time by 24 hours to do our due diligence, we also requested that we pay the money directly to the state government’s account, but with their authorisation because we did not fully know them.
“We paid a total sum of N250m, N200m to state government and N50m to Oil Flow as those who won the bid. The agreement was that we must lift all 1667 tons before any other person is permitted into the site, but shortly after opening the site for business, we started seeing strange faces who came in to claim certain sections of metals had already been sold out to them by Lucky.
“So far we have lifted 1100 tons, but under strict contest and restrictions as every attempt to cut out material is resisted by those who claim to have paid some millions to Lucky” he said
But when contacted on phone, Mr Lucky Akhiwu, who is Managing Director of Oil-Flow Service Nig. Ltd said: “We don’t have any issue and I don’t know how this one concerns journalist.”
When asked about his relationship with his partners, he added “I don’t have any partner”.
Youth President of Afaha Eket, Mr Jacob Jacob admitted to have been aware of the internal misunderstanding in the company, but stressed that such will have no negative impact on the community.
“Those are their internal crisis, it does not affect the community because it has to do with company’s problem. We actually do not know their terms of agreement. All we owe them as a community is an enabling environment. They have to settle their problems among themselves or go to court.
Winifred Akpaka, the lady reported to have spoken against the breach of contract, when also called on phone declined comment, but gave the assurance that relevant security agencies have been duly notified of the ongoing tension in the company and threats to her life.
Will sale of the company, which has made the state government richer by N200 million only, become another source of rancor in Eket as the two companies continue in the business gerrymandering which the community is set on edge? Or will it quietly pack their scrap fortunes and leave the community in peace and for posterity?