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Court Order Grounds Kuje Council Over N27m Debt, Workers Go On Strike

Administrative and other business activities at the Kuje Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory [FCT] have been grounded since last month following the order of an FCT High Court which froze the accounts of the council operated at the United Bank for Africa (UBA).

The order was issued by Justice Bello Kawu of the FCT High Court, Abuja in a suit brought by Emma Dike Nigeria Limited which claimed that the council refused to pay for the construction and fencing of Kwakwu Market Complex containing 28 lock-up shops even after the job had been certified as completed and handed over to the council.

Details relating to the contract showed that the company dragged the council and its chairman, Mr. Sha’aban Tete to court when the chairman allegedly refused to abide by the terms of the agreement claiming that the council had no money to pay for the job and that the contract was awarded by a previous administration.

Emma Dike Nigeria Limited approached the court with original documents relating to the contract including evidence of the meetings where the job was awarded and judgement was passed in favour of the company.

Since the accounts of the area council were frozen, Kuje secretariat has been deserted and now looks like a ghost town as workers are owed a backlog of unpaid salaries and the council has been unable to meet its statutory obligations due to alleged lack of funds.

Although the status of the council’s internally generated revenue remains at zero level despite calls by the Federal Government for area councils to improve their revenue generation efforts, Kuje, like the other five area councils of the Federal Capital Territory collects more than N200million monthly from the federation account through the FCT Area Councils Joint Accounts Allocation Committee [JAAC] as statutory revenue with nothing to show in terms of physical development of the area.

Our correspondent who investigated the dispute learnt that the incumbent chairman initially tried to blackmail the construction company by alleging that the contract documents were forged but the court, after examining the papers, threw out the allegation as the council failed to prove the veracity of its claims.

The facts of the case showed that the contractor sued the council for breach of contract and failure to pay a total of N27, 915,037.92 being the total cost of the contract awarded to Emma Dike Nigeria Limited even after the council deployed a team of Joint Inspection Engineers, who issued the firm with a certificate of completion on September 24th, 2013.

Meanwhile, Kuje Local Government workers, who embarked on indefinite strike over four months unpaid outstanding salaries arrears, have vowed not to call off the industrial action until every kobo owed them are paid in full.

Commenting on the matter, Chief Emmanuel Ogbonna, who is the Managing Director of Emma Dike Nigeria Limited said the present administration of the council awarded the contract to the company to mark its 100-days in office regretting that after the company borrowed money to complete the job, the council reneged on the promise to pay for the contract even after satisfying itself that the job met accepted standards.

Chairman, Kuje Area Council Mr. Sha’aban Tete insisted that the contract was commenced by the previous administration saying the job was awarded on September 17, 2012 although the contractor accepted to commence work on the market on 19th November, 2013 after the review and approval of the contract.

He appealed to the contracting firm to accept initial payment of N5million after which the balance will be off-set installmentally for a period of two years so that the court can reopen the council accounts.

It is expected that the contractor and the council will return to the court next month with the council’s offer. Meanwhile, other contractors owed millions of naira by the council have also indicated their intention to seek redress in the courts any time soon.