By OBINNA EZUGWU
The Ebonyi State government has gone after its staunch critic and spokesperson for Alaigbo Development Foundation, Chief Abia Onyike, vowing to prosecute him over tax evasion and economic sabotage.
Onyike was on Tuesday arrested by the state police command in Abakailiki and detained for several hours before being released on bail following a petition against him by Chief Stanley Okoro-Emegha, Commissioner for Internal Security, for tax evasion and economic sabotage.
Confirming the arrest, the Commissioner for Internal Security and Border Peace, Stanley Emegha, said the government would not only arrest him but also ensure that he was prosecuted.
Okoro-Emegha, who confirmed writing the petition and the arrest vowed that the government would ensure that Onyike is prosecuted.
“Yes, this Office, Ministry of Internal Security and Border Peace, wrote that petition, because it’s part of our duty to enforce the law,” Okoro-Emegha was reported to have said.
“Tenement rate is what we petitioned him again and tax evasion. This is because we can’t be pursuing the common people in the state and those big men won’t be made to equally pay it.”
However, Onyike who served as commissioner for information under the Sam Egwu administration told Business Hallmark that he was only being persecuted for his criticisms of the governor, Engr Dave Umahi.
“The police said somebody wrote a petition against me alleging economic sabotage and tax evasion. I asked them to show me the petition. They it out and I saw that it was written by the commissioner in charge of internal security, boundary issues and conflict resolution, Mr. Stanley Okoro-Emegha. That petition was dated, 21 January, 2020. In other words, the governor is the person behind it,” he said.
Onyike who narrated his experience with the police said they made every effort to put him in detention but that by the grace of God, he was later released on bail after being held for several hours.
He alleged that the governor, Umahi had boasted he would deal with him.
“The thing is that the governor had boasted that he was going to silence his critics in Ebonyi State, especially Onyike, that’s myself, for failing to stop criticising him in spite of his good work.”
Onyike had in an interview with our correspondent late last year, accused Umahi of impoverishing Ebonyi people in the name of white elephant projects.
The ex commissioner’s case against the governor had centred on the issues of his alleged refusal to pay retired civil servants gratuities after they they had served for 35 years, over taxing the people among others.
Onyike said since Umahi became governor, he “refused to pay those gratuities. Then, his developmental projects are mainly white elephant in nature. There is no pipe-bone water in Abakailiki. Most of the time, you have outbreak of diseases like yellow fever and others.”
The governor’s educational policies he also criticized as “retrogressive in nature because they don’t take into consideration the needs of the common people.
“He abolished scholarships and free primary education. Then his health policies are also problematic. Health centres are no more working. General hospitals have been suspended. Only one hospital established by the federal government, which is the teaching hospital attached to the Dr. Alex Ekwueme Federal University is working in Ebonyi state today,” Onyike said.
“The people of Ebonyi State have been subjected to aggressive and massive taxation and people are groaning in poverty. The man has personalised governance in Ebonyi State. Key positions in government and the PDP have been handed over to his family members. For example, the national vice chairman of PDP is his immediate younger brother, Austin Umahi. The deputy state chairman of PDP is also his younger brother, Maxwell Umahi,” Onyike alleged.
He also accused the governor of building several mansions in his village few months after he became governor in 2015.
“Nine months after he became governor, he built 15 mansions in his compound in his village, developed a stadium and hotel annex in the place. He asphalted the whole compound, which is not less than 50 hectares of land. What is happening in Ebonyi is a terrible scenario and he wants to silence all opposition and all critics.
“When you point out all these things, he wants to destroy you. Even as I speak, the man who wrote that petition has been threatening my life. He makes phone calls to my relations and supporters at home, that if I don’t stop criticising the governor, they will kill me. That’s the phone call I have been getting from the village.
“Now, he has converted the entire state assets to his personal assets. And all the contracts in the state are executed by his company known as Brass Construction Company.
“He wants to silence me by bringing up frivolous petitions against me. They are saying that I don’t pay tenement rate. Why should I pay tenement rate? Is my house a commercial house? The house I live in Abakailiki is a residential house. There are no tenants there. So, why should I pay tenement rate and personal income tax?” Onyike wondered.
“I retired from public service. Is it my pension that should be taxed or what? The man just does whatever he likes and he boasts that nothing can happen to him. That’s the kind of mentality he has.”