Posted: May, 26 2010, 7:05PM
Princess Stella Odua, the third wife of Chris Ogiemwonyi who is Nigeria’s new Minister of State for Works, is the moving spirit in Nigeria behind a Lebanese oil servicing firm discredited in Ghana and Liberia, among other African countries, for massive corruption.
I can authoritatively reveal that Mrs Oduah-Ogiemwonyi, who owns Sea Petroleum and Gas (SP&G) operating in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry, is the person who does all the negotiations on behalf of Zakhem International with top government officials and the leadership of the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
Albert Zakhem, boss of Zakhem operations in Nigeria, merely signs the sweetheart deals. Stella Oduah, the ambitious 48 year-old lady from Anambra State who a few years ago married Chris Ogiemwonyi when he was already a big shot at the NNPC, is a director of the Lebanese oil servicing firm.
Zakhem, founded in Lebanon in 1964 but has London as its international headquarters, has at least five major contracts worth almost one billion dollars from the Nigeria Gas Company (NGC), which her husband was running as the managing director and chief executive when the controversial contracts were awarded.
The NGC is a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), now a byword for corruption.
The contracts, given out between 2006 and 2008, include the engineering and construction of phase one of gas supply plants at Geregu ; the construction of a gas pipeline to Abeokuta, Ogun State; the expansion of the first phase of the Escravos–Lagos pipeline for $211m running on both dry land and swamp; and the second phase of the Escravos—Lagos Pipeline Expansion.
The contract sums have since escalated. Despite the near full payment for the jobs, none have been completed-and they include those awarded since 2006 which were scheduled for completion within 12 months. The quality of work is suspect, with industry operators questioning Zakhem’s technical competence for, for instance, construction gas pipelines in swamps. What is more, Zakhem has no workshop, a major requirement for winning huge gas pipelines jobs nor does it have reasonable permanent staff for the jobs it has been given.
The sad part of all these contracts is that they are awarded to a company with an established awful reputation in West Africa. The immediate past deputy high commissioner to Ghana, Craig Murray who is a well known international campaigner for transparency, described Zakhem as “astonishingly corrupt” in a well circulated article in the Ghanaian media in February 2010. Three years after Zakhem was paid a whopping $80 million to install at Kpone for the Volta River Authority a set of American-made power turbines which cost VRA only $70m, Zakhem has not even scratched the surface. The British diplomat called the Ghanaian officials who signed the deal “stupid and unintelligent”.
In neighbouring Liberia, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf wasted no time sacking last September the managing director of the Liberian Petroleum Refinery Corporation (LPRC), Harry Greaves- once considered untouchable- when a Ministry of Justice probe report established that Zakhem was awarded a terribly inflated contract to build three new storage tanks for the LPRC and refurbish the existing 60 year-old terminal. The contract was awarded on May 1, 2009, for $24.8m whereas the same job could be done satisfactorily for no more than $12m, the highest amount internationally reputable contracting firms asked for.
So committed to Zakhem winning petroleum contracts in Nigeria is Oduah-Ogiemwonyi that she carefully planned a serious security breach in far-away land in May, last year, which embarrassed the Nigerian delegation on a tour of Nordic countries. The delegation, headed by the then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, was visiting Denmark, Finland and Sweden. Before it got to Sweden on Sunday, May 10, the advance Nigerian team comprising mostly security agents and protocol officers had secured a section of Grand Hotel, Stockholm, for Dr Jonathan who was accompanied by his wife, Patience. Dr Jonathan and his wife were, therefore, aghast to see that Stella Oduah-Ogiemwonyi was already occupying the suite almost next to theirs. It was a novel breach of security. The fair-skinned boss of SP&G, who appeared in a campaign commercial for the Yar’Adua/Jonathan presidential ticket in 2007, was desperate to have a heart-to-heart talk with Dr Jonathan over Zakhem contract bids.
Security checks were to suggest that the business lady may have obtained highly confidential information on Jonathan’s movement through the office of the principal secretary to the vice president, Mike Oghiadome, who has just been appointed the chief of staff to President Jonathan. A very good friend of the president, Oghiadome was the Edo State deputy governor when Jonathan was in Bayelsa State in a similar position. It was Oghiadome who suggested to Jonathan to make Ogiemwonyi a minister, perhaps in hopes of sending him to the powerful Ministry of Petroleum Resources. Both Ogiemwonyi and Oghiadome are from Edo State.
Oduah’s SP & G petroleum business is currently in troubled waters. Heavily exposed in debts to Union Bank, Afribank and other financial institutions, its debts are classified as non-performing following the Central Bank reform unleashed last August 14. She was so traumatized by the development that she could not come out of her house in highbrow VGC Estate, Lekki Peninsula, for the first two months. She now works mostly in Abuja, shuttling between the Presidential Villa and the NNPC as well as the Ministry of Petroleum Resources where she energetically markets Zakhem, the controversial Lebanese oil servicing firm.