The raging controversy on why and how two consultants were imposed on Abia State in order to facilitate the payment of the N22billion Paris Club refund is becoming demeaning and counterproductive in a state that should have been allowed to concentrate on its small and medium enterprises (SMEs) drive. The point is that the Nigerian economy is almost in shambles as the naira continues to fumble and tumble on daily basis.
The pursuit of the non oil sector of the Okezie Ikpeazu’s administration has been breaking barriers following the focus in bringing investments to the state through the provision of sound business environment. The worry is that if the attention is shifted from programme of building a stable economy and attracting investments from international investors to the ways and methods funds that accrued to the state were applied, there could be a withdrawal of investment confidence as a result of the fear of poor management capacity by the state administration.
Nobody will like to invest in a state whose funds are not properly managed. This is why the rage over hiring of two consultants by the immediate past government to facilitate the receipt of the Paris Club Refund should stop. First, the matter is in court and second, the Abia State House of Assembly has empanelled a four-man Ad-hoc Committee to look into the whole gamut of the refund and its disbursement as it concerns Abia State.
At the floor of the House last week, the Speaker of the Assembly, Rt Hon Chinedum Orji named Hon Emeka Okoroafor (APC, Isuikwuato) as the Chairman of the four-man Ad-hoc Committee, while Hon Chukwu Chijioke (APC Bende North), Hon Obinna Ichite (APC Aba South) and Hon Abraham Oba (APC Aba Central) are serving as members. The constitution of the committee followed a petition by a law firm, Ndukwe Iheanyi & Co that petitioned on behalf of its clients; Anthony Aniobi and Lekwuwa Ndubueze.
The media trial is unnecessary because two constitutional recognized institutions: the House of Assembly and the Court are handling the matter. It is either the media combatants take their arguments, findings, positions, prepositions etc to either of the two institutions or both or keep calm and await the outcome of the matter from them.
It will be recalled that the immediate past government was said to have hired two consultants, one of which has now approached the EFCC and the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja with the intention of recovering his alleged consultancy fees with respect to the N22 billion that accrued to the state.
The major issue on all arguments is that the funds were not mismanaged by the Okezie Ikpeazu-led government as acknowledged by the former Commissioner for Finance under Ikpeazu’s administration, Obinna Oriaku who is now a chieftain of a party that is opposed to Ikpeazu’s government in Abia State – the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Therefore, there is no cause for the present hullabaloo being raised by the several combatants because the hubbub will not serve anybody any good, let alone the state whose economy is in dire need of resuscitation. Good a thing that the Ad-hoc Committee has invited some personalities to appear before it and testify on what they know about the matter. Obinna Oriaku was among those invited. If indeed Alex Otti has any information to give concerning the matter, is the Ad-hoc Committee not a better platform to let it out? Why dishing out some skewed garb in the highway when the room is empty?
Shockingly, Obinna Oriaku, who first flew the kite, did not appear before the Ad-hoc Committee on Monday, July 6, 2021 when the invitees were scheduled to meet with it. No reason was given for his none appearance, which goes to show that he’s either ranting for nothing or he’s being propelled by political considerations.
A matter in court and in the House of Assembly should not be a subject of recriminations. The Assembly has provided the platform through which passions should be ventilated; therefore, hitting up the public space through the media to cast aspersions or throw some mud is unbecoming of them. They are actually disturbing the peace in the public space in the state and this is not allowed in Abia.
Based on this premise, we hereby reproduce the statement of the Abia State government as issued by the Commissioner for Information, Chief John Okiyi Kalu. Excerpts…
“Ignorance In Industrial Scale Can Mess Up Any Man
“Our attention has been drawn to a press release by the two time defeated APGA governorship candidate in Abia State, Mr Alex Otti, who has since abandoned the party that made him to join APC, on the management of Paris Club Refund to the state wherein he tried very hard but vainly to drag the Governor Okezie Ikpeazu-led administration into what he clearly knows nothing about.
“For the sake of public information, we wish to state as follows:
1. “In the first instance, Mr Otti who copiously cited the yet to be verified allegations of his former colleague at First Bank and fellow APC Chieftain, Mr Obinna Oriaku, who served as commissioner for finance in the state, against a previous administration in the state failed the test of altruism by deliberately refusing to mention throughout his long and rancorous epistle that same individual exonerated Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and his administration from any wrongdoing in the management of the Refunds.
2. “For the avoidance of doubt, it is important to note that in both the written and broadcast interviews of Mr Oriaku, he clearly affirmed that Governor Okezie Ikpeazu managed the N22bn Paris Club Refund judiciously and received well deserved accolades from the Nigerian Governors Forum and the ICPC which reviewed the application of the funds.
3. “Oriaku also stated that while the greater chunk of the funds were applied to settlement of some arrears of pensions and salaries, it was still not enough to settle all the arrears, some of which date back to the military era and other administrations before the emergence of Governor Ikpeazu.
4. “Responding to a journalist in Umuahia, APC Chieftain, Obinna Oriaku, who supervised the disbursement of the Paris Club Refund said: “those funds were judiciously used. Remember when these funds came, we (Abia) were about the only state that decided to use huge sum of that money for salaries. Most other states were using them for other things: contractor payment, overhead payments etc. The second tranche of N5.7 billion that came, even one naira was not taken out, and I remember the Governor using it to talk to the NUT people, he said how else do we demonstrate our commitment towards your welfare if we can commit an entire N5.7 billion for your welfare, and really which was true. No other state did that”.
5. “The not so subtle attempt by Otti to present his intervention in a manner that misleads the reading public into believing that the Ikpeazu administration was involved in mismanagement of the refunds is typical of him as once acknowledged even by the Presidency that was at a time also forced to respond to him on his misrepresentation of facts involving the Debt Management Office.
6. “Obviously, the statement credited to Oriaku to the effect that Governor Ikpeazu warned him and other government officials when the funds were received to ensure that nobody stole any part of it, describing the money as rat poison (indocid) that whoever touched would go in for it, couldn’t make the propaganda cut for Mr Otti, hence, his preference for indecorous manipulation of words to cast aspersions on his serial political vanquisher, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, who has confined him to the boys quarters of Abia politics for good.
7. “In case anyone is still in doubt as regards facts of the matter, we wish to restate that upon receipt of the refunds, Governor Ikpeazu inaugurated a committee made up of leaders of organized Labour: NLC, TUC, NULGE, NUP, NUT and Joint Negotiating Council, in the state to determine how to appropriately apply the Fund to settle arrears of salaries and pension as well as fund key infrastructure projects.
8. “The state House of Assembly duly appropriated the funds in line with the recommendations of the committee and disbursements were done under the watch of Otti’s former colleague in first bank and now APC Chieftain, Obinna Oriaku.
9. “As already available in the public domain, we received three tranches of Paris Club Refund of N10.6bn N5.7bn and N5.7bn. According to Mr Oriaku, “the Paris Refund came in three trenches of N10.6bn, N5.7bn and N5.7bn. All these funds except N1.7bn were used exclusively for payments of arrears owed Abia State workers partly before the Okezie administration.”
10. “It is laughable that Mr Otti believes the state government should now re-investigate matters before the EFCC or courts even after his primary source, Oriaku, stated publicly that our administration did not endorse any contract with the named aggrieved consultant and that, indeed, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu refused to pay any 30% or 20% of it to anyone.
11. “If anything, the government has showed confidence in anti-corruption agencies of the federal government and maintained transparency in management of public resources.
12. “The administration of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu has maintained its policy of insisting that every government official in Abia State invited by EFCC and any other anti-graft agencies must go and defend their record of service as we have zero tolerance for corruption.
13. “We believe that those agencies have the requisite resources to investigate graft while we focus on substantive governance that has been delivering dividends of democracy to our people.
14. “We will not allow politicians with the unenviable record of perennial failure and destruction of every institution they have headed and or managed to distract us with their Ill advised political voyages.
15. “If as stated by Oriaku and acknowledged by Otti, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu refused to pay the consultants in question as demanded by them leading to the civil suit in an Abuja High Court and the report to EFCC, what exactly does Otti understand by the process of termination of contracts?
16. “Furthermore, if according to Otti Abia Governement officials are appearing in Abuja High Court and the EFCC to defend the position of the government and provide relevant documents, what exactly does he mean by “state government should take interest in the matter”?
17. “How else should a Governor demonstrate his position on a matter of this nature highlighted by Otti and Oriaku than clearly and unambiguously refusing to pay what he believes is not right?
18. “Whatever role played by anybody in the recovery of Paris Club Refunds to the state must have been stated in whatever contract document Otti and Oriaku made reference to, which the current administration refused to pay. It is therefore not our duty to re-litigate a matter that is before the courts and the EFCC.
19. “As can be expected from any responsible Government, we are awaiting the outcome of EFCC investigation and the civil suit in Abuja to determine our next course of action.
20. “There is no gainsaying the fact that we will always act in the best interest of Abia people as the instant case has further demonstrated so far.
21. “Finally, we wish to State our understanding of the symptoms of ignorance in industrial scale in an individual which can lead them into political voyages of perdition as is the case with Mr Alex Otti..
Uche Nwosu is a two time Shell Petroleum PLC award winner in the year 2000;
He won the Shell Award on Investigative Journalism and Environmental Cleanliness.