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By NBF News
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Contractors to the abandoned Science Park Project in Akwa Ibom State, SBT Juul Africa, have said that the controversy surrounding the failed project may soon be resolved. The company through its lawyers, Aluko & Oyebode Chambers, however, added that amicable resolution would be reached quickly, if the state government would accept the ruling of the Federal High Court, Uyo, on the matter.

Akwa Ibom state in 2006 toed the line of strong world economies to build a science park which could serve as centre for integrated technology incubation and development.

Gov Godswill Akpabio, inspecting the Ibom Science park on assumption as Governor of Akwa Ibom state.

The project was pioneered by ex Governor Obong Victor Attah and targeted to be completed in 2007 after former President Olusegun Obasanjo commissioned it on August 11, 2006. However, it was later to become one of the abandoned projects in the state which attracted an ad-hoc committee set by the state assembly to probe into some allegations of financial misappropriation in the handling of the project.

The committee in its report, indicted Juul and some other persons for allegedly abuse of office and misapplication of the N2.1bn funds for the project.

The House, after evaluating the report, also directed an American based company run by a Nigerian and another based in Lagos Nigeria, to refund N196m and N30m respectively, being payments they allegedly received as consultancy fees.

Meanwhile, in its recommendation, the committee had directed that the state executive council terminates the contract awarded to SBT Juul for the development of the project, in line with clause 18(1a) of the contract agreement, alleging that the development manager abandoned the project without lawful justification.

However, Aluko & Oyebode Chambers, attorneys to the project contractor, denied the allegations, saying there was need to state the real facts. According to the law firm, SBT Juul had previously written on two occasions to the State to appoint an Arbitrator to settle the pending disputes between it and the State but the State did not honour such requests. This according to the attorney, was even after the Federal High Court, by an order dated 16 November 2006 directed the state to do so.

It added that further to its desires to see an amicable resolution of the mater, 'SBT Juul had at its own instance made a fresh application to the Federal High Court for appointment of an Arbitrator which application was granted on February 16, 2011.

Giving further details, spokes person of the firm, Okechukwu Ekwochi Esq. Described SBT Juul Africa as a Development and Consultancy firm undertaking project developments in several countries in Africa. He stated that on 30th January 2006, the State, represented by the then Honourable Commissioner of Science and Technology, entered into a Turnkey Contract with SBT Juul for the construction of the Science Park. He added that work on the Project commenced in 2006, and was based on sums advanced by the State, covered by an Advance Payment Guarantee, APG, issued by SBT Juul. Upon completion of work for each stage, the APG would be released and the State would effect payment for a fresh tranche of work.

For him, 'SBT Juul carried out the Project diligently but experienced difficulty due to repeated failures on the part of the State to make payments as and when due. Specifically, in May 2007, after the change in the political administration of the State. The attitude of the State was such that it ceased to show commitment towards the Project and stopped making payments entirely'

Ïn December 2007, at the point of the exhaustion of the Project funds made available by the State, SBT Juul estimated that about 70% of the Project had been completed and SBT Juul had handed over three operational Uyo Metropolitan Area Network, MAN, sites to the State through the Ministry of Science and Technology represented by the Commissioner, Honourable Samuel Efanga. The Commissioner expressed his satisfaction on the extent of work executed so far.

'Upon the assumption of office in 2007, the new administration of Gov. Godswill Akpabio, at various times between 2007 and 2009, appointed in-house Consultants and different audit firms, to review the Project and SBT Juul co-operated with these Consultants and audit firms despite the reservations it had about the independence of some of these entities. Juul however provided them with all documentation in its possession relating to the Project and never received any report in respect of the exercise'.

According to Ekwochi, the dispute and abandonment of the project due to lack of commitment by the State, had caused extensive damage, leaving both the building and IT components of the project in danger of collapsing. He however believed that it can also be salvaged if an urgent step was taken to redress the situation. This is even as he confirmed that the contractor was also willing to amicably resolve the differences relating to the execution of the Project with the state despite what it considers the State's reluctance towards any attempt at settlement.