By Kufre Etuk
Before the appointment of the current Commissioner for Transport and Mineral Resources Mr. Orman Esin, the transport subsector was bedeviled with a minor crisis between the Tricycle Owners Association of Nigeria (TOAN), some Local Government Chairmen and the ministry which the former Commissioner, Prince Godwin Ntuk Udeh, perhaps knowing the role transporters played in the election of Governor Udom Emmanuel, treaded with caution and successfully managed the issue till he left office. Despite his ingenuity in calming some turbulent stakeholders, there were still some pocket hardliners who sometimes organised protest, calling Ntuk Udeh different names for fighting them and requesting for his replacement. When Governor Udom Emmanuel finally overhauled the State Executive Council with Orman Esin appointed to oversee the affairs of the Transport Ministry, like the children of Israel welcoming King Saul as their requested leader, there was frenzy among transporters, with greater hope and assurances that thing will get better. Unfortunately today, reverse is the case.
The recent happenings in the state capital where some persons alleged to be loyalists of the Transport Commissioner invaded offices of the TOAN and KORA, destroying chairs and other office equipment, should invoke a worrying thought in the minds of the right thinking members of the public. This action was orchestrated by the Commissioner’s earlier release dated 5th June, 2017 and read in part, “The Akwa Ibom State Government has ordered the immediate suspension of operations of the following transport union and association in the state. The union are: The Tricycle Owners Association of Nigeria (TOAN), and the Keke Owners and Riders Association (KORA)”. The release, signed by the Commissioner did not state any express reason of suspending the unions.
This action negates Section 40 of the fundamental human right as enshrined in the 1999 as amended which states inter lia “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests. Provided that the provisions of this section shall not derogate from the powers conferred by this Constitution on the Independent National Electoral Commission with respect to political parties to which that Commission does not accord recognition.” With recourse to Section 45, the Transport Commissioner has failed to justifiably tell the people of Akwa Ibom State how the existence of these groups inhibits public order and safety. Orman Esin’s action can be viewed as a sheer display of haughtiness and flagrant abuse of the fundamental human right of members of TOAN and KORA.
Aside from this, consulting firms handling various contracts for the ministry had dragged Orman Esin before the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly Committee on Works and Transport for threatening to terminate their contracts. Reacting to the issue, the Commissioner for Transport and Petroleum Resources Mr. Orman Esin said, before time, the MoU signed between the ministry and consultants did not go through due process, noting that “the model of payment did not conform to the state government’s requirements”.
Mr. Esin had explained that under the proposed MoU review sent to all the consultants, printing of tickets would be done by the state government, monitoring of consultants will be carried out by government personnel, he noted that the reactions of consultants to the proposed MoU review were totally at variance with the proposal. He recalled having series of meetings with the consultants which he said they refused to agree with government policies.
Speaking on behalf of Fingerprint Consulting Firm, Mr. Godspower Udofia accused the Commissioner for Transport and Petroleum Resources Mr. Orman Esin for using his kinsmen to execute the proposed MoU without any agreement by consulting firms.
Swiftly reacting to the allegation, the Chairman House Committee on Works and Transport Mr. Idongesit Ituen warned the commissioner to stay action on the implementation of the proposed MoU until parties involved agree.
In his statement, the Public Relations Officer, Road levy Implementation Committee Mr. Unyime Esin also accused the commissioner for appointing new consultants to handle collection of road levy based on Senatorial Districts and alleged fraud by the VIO of the ministry.
The Commissioner however denied the allegation but when confronted with an appointment letter issued by him to somebody to monitor the collection of road levies within Eket Senatorial District, he said that it was the duty of government to monitor the consultant, but refused to reply to the question whether the person he appointed was a staff of the ministry.
In his presentation, the representative of Teon System Limited Engr. Lawrence Egogo decried the deduction of the company’s financial benefit from 35 percent to ten percent by the commissioner, adding that the company got the job through a competitive bidding process with huge investment carried out to provide good services.
Engr. Egogo who noted that the company was into the business for only six months said if what was earlier agreed on MoU was ten percent the company would not have carried out the contract.
Teon system limited whose contract areas involve issuance of road worthiness, commercial permits, bio-metrics (data) capturing for private and commercial vehicles, tricycles and their operators in the state, outrightly accused Head, Land Transport Engr. Joseph Akpanebong and the Administrative Officer Mr. Francis Anselem Etuk both of Ministry of Transport and Petroleum Resources of fraud and forging certificate of road worthiness to members of the public.
He also informed the committee that Engr. Akpanebong of unilaterally altering the standard price list for collection of revenue in the state without consulting with consultants and other stakeholders in revenue matters in the state, which he said had caused a protest among keke operators in the state.
It would be recalled that during the reign of the former commissioner Prince Godwin Ntuk Udeh, several contracts were entered on behalf of government by the ministry including contract with TEAON SYSTEM LIMITED, Road Levies Implementation Committee and Fingerprint Consulting Firm. The commissioner, in his erratic way went ahead to terminate the contract of Fingerprint Consulting Firm, not on the basis of the company’s violation of any of the clauses in the MoU, but on the ground that the contract was warbled on illegality as the Attorney General of the state did not sign as stipulated by the law. Well, the question Mr. Esin should answer now is why he terminated the contract of Fingerprint but allows the contract of other consulting firms run of whom he also disclosed to the House Committee of Works and Transport that their contract papers were not signed by the Attorney General of the state? There is something the commissioner is not telling Akwa Ibom people which he must let out.
Despite stern warning from the House Committee on Works and Transport whose decision represents that of the whole House according to the committee chairman Prince Indongesit Ituen, the commissioner dared the AKHA and went ahead to executive his plan and damned the ranting lawmakers. Till now, unlike the case of Itu Transition Committee chairman, Mrs. Esara who was dragged to the House with drum beats for not honouring the House invitation, no lawmaker has called for Orman Esin’s head. Is it the fear of one of the house leaders whom many believe is strongly behind Esin’s outright disobedience to the committee’s directive or does it mean that Esin possesses certain qualities that make him invincible for Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly to tame? Let Akwa Ibom people not be forced to believe that the State Assembly is selective in its judgment on issues of public concern.
Orman Esin should come out clean on his alleged sacking of most Uyo people from selling tickets and replacing them with his kinsmen. For instance, in the committee in charge of taxi scheme in Uyo, out of the seven members of that committee, five are his kinsmen while two are from Uyo.
The commissioner should tell us whether he is working for the interest of Akwa Ibom State Government or he is using his office to empower his kinsmen in preparation for his Federal House of Representatives ambition. Since he took over the mantle of leadership as commissioner in the Transport Ministry, Esin’s despotic lifestyle is creating a serious image problem for Governor Udom Emmanuel’s administration. Where was Orman Esin when transporters in the state, in 2015 marched across the state in hundreds to drum support for Governor Udom Emmanuel? The commissioner has created more foes than friends to the administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel.
Till now, the nagging forgery and fraud case involving two staff of the ministry: Engr Joseph Akpanebong (Head, Land Transport) and his cohort, Mr. Francis Anselem Etuk (Admin Officer) is still hanging on the commissioner’s neck yet he is busy creating confusion around the state. In a petition sent to the commissioner by Toyomfon Chambers on behalf of TEON SYSTEM LIMITED, the duo were accused of unilaterally altering “the standard price list for the collection of revenue in the state without Consulting with the state consultants and other stakeholders in revenue matters in the state.”
It is rather disappointing that instead of Orman Esin to look inward and deal with some staff of the ministry who are depleting government’s revenue base through their hideous deals, he is arrogantly creating perception problem for the administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel. Whoever believes that Esin is correcting perceived wrongs in the ministry has a cheap mindset because by all standard judgement, the commissioner is only using his office to water ground for his political ambition in 2019.
The commissioner should tell Akwa Ibom people how much he allegedly collected from all the consultants working for the ministry when they visited him at different occasions on his assumption of office. He that seeks justice must come clean.
Orman Esin should learn from the dexterous crisis management skills of his predecessor, Prince Ntuk Udeh who removed parks from the streets of Uyo and stopped Keke from using Ibom connection without destruction of properties as done to both KORA and TOAN offices on Monday. It is true that every leader has his style of administration. Esin should know that he is dealing with mostly uneducated class of Akwa Ibom population, he should therefore leave his haughty lifestyle and carry the people of that sector along.
Since the commissioner believes that he cannot listen to anybody apart from Governor Udom Emmanuel, the Governor should call him to order otherwise, if he continues this way, the Governor would wake up one day to realize his opponents in the state have taken advantage of the crisis in the Transport sector.