The Federal Government has given hint as to the probable remote cause of the death of Mr. Joshua Okpo, who was Rector of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron, between 2011 and 2015.
Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi who dropped the hint recently at Oron during the commissioning of some projects under the academy’s new management said the late rector died sooner after he was informed of government’s intention to probe him over alleged misappropriation of N19billion in one year.
According to the minister, gross mismanagement of the academy’s fund under the late rector was responsible for the regime of project abandonment, in addition to its low level of development.
The minister, who was visiting the academy first time since his appointment in 2015 however said nothing about the backlog of abandoned projects inherited by the late rector. He did not also say how much it cost the present administration to complete the said abandoned projects.
Amaechi said the Chief Adebayo Sarumi led Interim Management Committee (IMC) constituted by him to reposition the academy in 2017 reported poor application of resources, poor academic environment and numerous abandoned projects, which it said militated against the growth and progress of the institution.
His words: “If you give me that money, I will turn this place around and when I told him I will investigate him, two or three weeks later, he died. I don’t know what killed him but if he had been alive we would have looked at how he spent N19billion because there were uncompleted projects.”
The academy is funded by a 5% statutory allocation drawn from the total yearly earnings of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). Also, the academy has been augmenting its scarce resources through internally generated revenue (IGR).
Before his death Okpo had denied collecting N19billion from NIMASA, and had challenged the latter on the matter, during a ministerial press briefing at Abuja; to which the Federal Ministry of Transportation reportedly promised to investigate, but never did.
Those whose business it is to know believe that Okpo was lured to create contracts for a wide range of stakeholders, allegedly including former and serving lawmakers and transport ministers, and variety of host community minders, outside the tribe of official contractors.
Speculation was also rife that Okpo was victim of institutional blackmail, as he was drawn into other secondary contract negotiations, involving settlements of NIMASA officials, just so to be able to secure timely release of the Academy’s statutory fund from NIMASA.
Those familiar with the matter note that these criminal kickbacks form part of the N19billion Amaechi has accused Okpo of mismanaging.
During the said ministerial meeting, he reportedly told the minister and those present at the meeting that he got N13 billion only. His defence purports to hold that the difference of N6 billion makes up what constitute ransom deduction at NIMASA at the time.
Observers say the Transport Ministry has been made aware of such kickbacks that were ingenuously managed and deducted at source, through petitions and verbal protests. These were the hassling at the ministerial briefing that Amaechi failed to probe, despite his reported promise to do so.
It will be recall that after the ministerial meeting, the media was awash with reports that Amaechi did order a probe. He however, promptly denied saying so following Okpo’s sudden death at his Abuja hotel room, purportedly while on appointment to see the transportation minister later that day.
The minister’s recent posture that Okpo is responsible for the state of underdevelopment at the academy without as much as raising a finger in the direction of NIMASA in lieu of Okpo’s weighty defence has set tongues wagging that the minister may be covering up fraud perpetrated at the agency at the time.