From PETER OKORE, Umuahia
Frankly speaking, the task facing the recently constituted 5-man judicial panel of Inquiry on recovery of Government properties and funds by the Abia state government is enormous, just as the expectations are indeed very high.
The setting up of that panel has, in no small measure, demonstrated that the new administration is alive to the evils that had besieged the state for 24 years and that the administration means good for Abia, Abians, residents and friends.
The overwhelming support from the public that heralded the announcement of the setting up of the panel gave an indication that people are beginning to see signs of reposing confidence in the Alex Otti-led government of Abia. This exercise is expected to highlight the ugly and sad experiences Abians have been living with under PDP-led administration since democracy set its feet on Abia soil; and, probably justify the yearnings of Abians for a change of government, vide the 2023 general elections.
Put succinctly, considering the spate of developments , it looked as if no money came into Abia, from anywhere, and that the Federal government hated Abia state. That period gave indication that the state was sidelined by the then federal government , from having its due share of the national cake. Whereas, all those insinuations were mere pretenses, gimmicks employed by past regimes to deceive the poor masses and get-away with their legitimate rites in order to enrich themselves and their cronies.
Indeed, economists say that one major factor that facilitates developments in any economy is infrastructure. Past governments went ahead looking for “stomach infrastructure” to the detriment of the state and citizens. Other necessities for economic growth include amenities and facilities. All these were lacking in Abia. Unfortunately, when Abians look at other nearby states, like Ebonyi, Akwa-Ibom, Enugu, Imo and see the levels of developments , under the democratic dispensation, they feel that democracy is a curse or not suitable for their liking. They often turn around and mourn their fate and and asking such pertinent question: “what offence has Abia committed to merit this type of punishment? ; to remain the way it has been for 24 years of democratic dispensation in Nigeria?”.
Take it or leave it, the case of Ebonyi, carved out from Abia state a few years ago, readily come to the mind of anyone who cares. Ebonyi state has over eleven fly-overs(to ease traffic flow), a Teaching Hospital, a State University, an International Airport, nice and solid road networks, etc,etc. These apart, Ebonyi has established a number of building blocks for her economic growth. For instance, the state is reaping abundantly from her solid mineral deposits(royalties); whereas Abia state has not been able to pay her due counterpart funds to kickstart mining of her solid minerals yet.
Since after the institution of that judicial panel, the out gone administration appeared to have gone to the markets to wage a three-pronged- attacks against the sitting government in a bid to pull it down and come back to power again in Abia. According to a release from the chief press secretary to the governor Mr, Kazie Uko, the immediate-past governor Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu and the PDP guber candidate in the just concluded 2023 election, Sir Ahiwe are leading the judiciary front. The release said that Ikpeazu has visited two High courts in Abuja, praying them to stop the probe instituted by the Alex Otti-led administration. The courts threw away the prayers for lack of merits.
Again Mr Amah Abraham, the PDP state acting Publicity secretary and former Information mangers still on the pay-roll of governor Ikpeazu, are neck- deep with their propaganda; while the lawmaker representing Obingwa-south, Mr. Solomon Akpulonu, is manning the legislative front, by campaigning for juicy legislative positions instead of making sound legislation that affect his constituency in the Abia House of Assembly. We also hear that the state chapter of NULGE was brought into the show. But the National body of the Union had to call them to order and sanctioning those who were being used for the campaign.
Moreover, what all concerned in the ignoble bid should understand is that setting up an inquiry is normal of any administration. Moreso, the chairman of the panel is a judge. This inquiry set up by Otti is not expected to witch-hunt anybody or the past governor(Ikpeazu). Rather, it is to exonerate Okezie Ikpeazu or find him (and his supporters) guilty of the atrocities in Abia over the years. That panel is also to make suitable recommendations on the way forward for good governance in Abia. It is a general view that those opposed to the action taken by the sitting government ought to sheath their swords so that Abia will enjoy peace, dividends of democracy and move forward, like other states of the federation.
At least, if any other fact is expected to emerge from the inquiry, Abians will like to know if the state had been receiving her due share from the federal government(FAAC) as well as from other Agencies and Institutions. They would like to know if actually Abia has been receiving her due shares. If so, where are the various sums of money being ploughed into? They want to know why Abia state has remained underdeveloped,32 years of her creation as a state.
Again, Abians would like to know the impact “Mammacracy, godfatherism, salary padding and payment of huge sums of money to political stakeholders in the state,to name just a few, have had on Abia and her citizens.
Nevertheless, the looting spree of government properties and funds that were openly witnessed within the last few days of the immediate-past government in Abia, was another show of how that administration handled affairs and treated Abians for the number of years they were in power. The worry in Abia is not only in areas of underdevelopments of the state. The cases of salary padding and ghost workers syndrome are home- in- Abia. Again, it is often heard that whooping sums of money are paid to politicians under the cover of “ party stakeholders” on monthly bases.
The fore-going , and more, probably, formed reasons why governor Otti, during the inauguration the judicial panel charged the members to live- up to the high expectations of the people of State and as a way of contributing to the huge task of rebuilding the State for the benefit of all well-meaning Abia citizens and residents.
The panel, comprises experienced technocrats, with Justice Florence Ikwuoma Duruoha-Igwe (rtd.) as chairman. The rest of the members are Professors Ogwo Ekeoma Ogwo and Ursula Ngozi Akanwa(academics), a media and corporate affairs expert, Mazi Ugochukwu Okoroafor and Rev. Father Barrister Alex Okonkwo. Governor Alex Otti gave them a five-point terms of reference to include:
1. To receive and examine complaints and memoranda from individuals and corporate entities on the looting and or conversion of Government Properties, Funds and Related Matters and where necessary make recommendations to the government for remedial measures or any other measures as appropriate.
2. Examine and ascertain whether government moveable and immovable assets and funds or part of it have been illegally acquired /occupied/converted to private use and identify the persons responsible and further make recommendations for recovery and appropriate sanctions.
3. Ascertain the extent of allocation and revocation of land in Abia State from May 2015 May 2023 and determine the propriety of such allocation and revocation.
4. Review the award and execution of contracts from May 2015 to May 2023 and ascertain if they were in conformity with extant laws and
5. To investigate any other matter incidental or related to the foregoing terms of reference and make recommendations to the government based on their findings.
While giving members of the panel their terms of reference, Otti took time to reiterate that setting-up of the panel was necessitated by myriads of complaints from the public about looting of government property and funds by some individuals who were in .
His words: “Unfortunately, since our assumption of office, about a month ago, we have been inundated with complaints of unimaginable and large-scale malfeasance by very highly placed members of the past government and their patrons. We have also experienced unbridled looting and misuse of government properties and resources. Besides we have been experiencing difficulties in accessing government properties, which would usually be available to continue with the business of governance. As at now, so many MDAs find it very difficult to perform their day to day duties. Even public schools were not spared as part of their lands have been converted to private use.
” It would amount to being insensitive and reckless and encouraging bad behaviour, if our administration did not listen to the yearnings of those who elected us, by looking into their complaints.”
Although no specific period was given for the coverage of the inquiry, opinions differ on this. Chief Enyinna Usulor, an economist, wants the probe to cover the period from Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, Chief Thoedore Orji to Dr, Okezie Ikpeazu. There are also suggestions that the inquiry should not be holistic ; but should pick areas of greater affection or concern.
Indeed, the task before the panel is a herculean one; but surmountable if the needed support is given. The panel is empowered to look into the memoranda and petitions that would emanate from individuals and corporate entities, probe into assets and funds illegally acquired or taken, including allocation and revocation of land as well as review critically, the award and execution of contracts by the former administration among others. The panel has, however, called for Memoranda from individuals, bodies, groups and institutions.
Whereas the carefully selected retired Justice Ikwuoma Duruoha-Igwe’s- led panel is expected to perform and give an expeditious response as expected, members of the panel are expected to bring their experiences to bear on their assignment to achieve the desired result so that on the long run, government’s aim of recovering the looted properties and funds belonging to the State would be realized.
Here, the consolation is that members of the panel, in accepting the challenges of their assignment , pledged, in their honour, not to carry- on as if they have already targeted and branded anybody as guilty; but shall lay open their findings and make credible recommendations to the Governor. They are expected to discharge their duties, not only as credibly as possible, but with circumspect, commitment and fear of God, to enable the government and people achieve greater success in the new Abia.
It is therefore pertinent to urge all persons with useful information, memoranda and petitions to make such available to the panel, so that justice shall prevail in the State. And for Abians and residents, all hands should be on deck to give the necessity support and co-operation to this all-important panel and give the present administration the needed encouragement to recover various properties and funds for sustained developments in the state.