With each day comes new discovery of billions of naira misappropriated or stolen outright in Imo State under the stewardship of the immediate past governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha. It’s morning after Okorocha’s eight years in office and Imo wears a forlorn look. A trip around the state is an unpleasant experience. And within this period, some accounts suggest nearly N200 billion was misappropriated.
Erosion has eaten up a bulk of the major intrastate roads. And the major city centres literally become rivers when there is heavy downpour. The journey from Orlu, the second ‘largest city’ and Okorocha’s constituency, to Owerri, the state capital is a few kilometers – ideally less than an hour journey. But it is one now undertaken with hearts in the mouth. The road is nearly cut into two halves by erosion. Potholes of different sizes adorn its entire stretch. It is hard to believe it was constructed a few years ago by the Okorocha government. It is typical of all roads, indeed most projects done by the former governor, and for which he boasts of surpassing Sam Mbakwe’s record.
“We might be cut off any moment. In no distant time, we may no longer be able to go to Owerri. The erosion may divide the road into two in a matter of months, if not weeks” Nnaemeka, an Orlu resident who joined this reporter on the trip said. “I hope the current governor intervenes, soon.”
For eight years, Okorocha ran a government some have described as “the more you look, the less you see”. Contracts for roads and sundry projects were ‘awarded’ to unknown and evidently unqualified contractors at unknown fees.
Although the Ikedi Ohakim administration that preceded his signed a procurement act which provides that a company needs to present three years tax clearance, audited accounts, evidence of work experience of the main contractor executing or having executed a minimum of four (4) projects of similar complexity, evidence of possession of relevant machinery and equipment and scanned copies of certificates of technical/professional staff of the company to qualify to bid for contracts, Okorocha disregarded it and awarded contracts according his own rules.
Pensioners bore most of the brunt of his administration’s failures. None has been paid proper pension since 2014. Payment has ranged from 10 percent to 20 percent and hardly up to date. Others, by their accounts, have not been paid in 72 months.
“The case of pension like every other issue that has to do with Imo State under Rochas Okorocha, is a frightening situation,” says Mr. Steve Osuji, Special Adviser (media) to Emeka Ihedioha, the state’s new governor.
“I happen to be in the committee set up to reform the pension scheme. The scheme is in complete mess. Since 2014 they have not paid proper pension to anybody. It is either they are paying 10 percent or 20 percent. Nobody knows what exactly he is entitled to since 2014.”
The Okorocha administration however denies that this is the case. “The issue of pension has been a contentious issue in Imo. But Okorocha paid either up to March and we had to do verification because the bill was outrageous,” Sam Onwuamaedo who served as Okorocha’s Chief Press Secretary noted.
“If we were to pay everything the way it was, we won’t even be able to pay salaries to workers. But these one that came in, they promised to pay pensioners immediately, but up until now nothing has happened. It’s not easy. It is easy to talk when you are not in government.”
Claims and counter claims by the two administrations have become the order of the day. Okorocha has allegedly recruited several online soldiers to attack Ihedioha and his programmes. But on ground, the governor has massive goodwill.
Upon taking office on the back of popular support in 2011, Okorocha embarked on ‘massive’ road constructions. But the roads were poorly constructed, too narrow, and without drainage systems. In a few months, they began to crack. Presently most are in ruins. A trip from Okigwe Junction, off Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway through Anara town in Mbano to Orlu is tortuous, much more so than the one from Orlu to Owerri. This road was also built by the former governor in his first tenure, but presently in terrible shape.
“The ministry of works does not have any record of the so called roads and bridges he built,” says Mr. Osuji. “The permanent secretary told the exco that they never involved the ministry in all the works they did. Everything was done from the government house. He awarded the contract directly and he paid directly. There was no procurement system… nothing! That’s why all the roads are in a mess and the bridges are falling. There is no known contractor who did any work in Imo.”
Okorocha awarded 12 contracts for the construction of “Akachi” Tower, Imo State University of Agriculture, Aboh/Ngokpaka, Ministry of Sports, Ministry of Happiness, Imo State University Campus, Onuimo, among other, at the cost N20 billion to Zigreat International Company Limited between 2013 and 2017. Most of the projects were not completed. And the company is not registered anywhere, not with the Corporate Affairs Commission, and has no website.
Within this period, the governor grew the state’s domestic debt to N98.78billion from N25.42billion, and external debt to $59.52m from $50.28m, while it generated internal revenue of N61.32bn and more than N250 billion as FAAC allocation. Once in a while, pictures of collapsed bridges or roads washed off by rain flood the internet. On ground it’s probably worse.
Okorocha’s signature project in the state, besides the statues he moulded, was the hospitals he built in each of the 27 local governments. For a season, it was subject of media campaigns. But most were never completed. The structures lie fallow. He made attempts to lease them out to private investors because the government could not manage them, but his attempts ultimately fell through. A number of the hospitals are in villages, and could not attract investors.
On May 29, 2019 when Ihedioha was sworn in as governor, it was significant in many ways. It was a welcome relief.
“His victory was widely celebrated,” Nnaemeka says. “And now everyone is happy with what he is doing, the recovery effort. Okorocha didn’t do anything for Orlu people. The whole place is in ruins. When it rains, everywhere is flooded.”
The atmosphere is a far cry from 2011 when Okorocha came to power under the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), defeating then second term seeking incumbent governor, Ikedi Ohakim.
He had tactfully employed the media to establish a reputation for philanthropy, a wealthy business mogul whose main interest for stepping down from presidential bid to run for governor was informed by his desire to save Imo from underwhelming governance. He had launched his campaign on the mantra of “Rescue Mission.”
But no sooner had he occupied Douglas House – the state’s seat of power – than it became obvious to the discerning that contrary to the promise of “Rescue Mission,” Okorocha had actually come to “rescue” himself and his household.
By his own admission, his wife was in charge of four ministries in the state. He appointed her as chairman of the states amnesty programme. He created the famous Ministry of Happiness and Purpose Fulfillment and put his sister, Ogechi Ololo in charge as commissioner. Numerous other family members had portfolios in government. His daughters father in-law, Prof. Anthony Anwukah was Minister of State for Education after he had served as Chief of staff and secretary to the government.
His son-in-law, husband of his daughter, Uloma, Uche Nwosu was commissioner for lands, later chief of staff and he ultimately attempted to foist him as his successor. The administration, to its credit, gave Owerri a facelift. It expanded the city’s roads, built good roundabouts, a conference centre and banquet hall in the Government House.
But that’s about the positive side of the story. Before May 29, the hitherto well furnished conference centre and the banquet hall were looted and all valuable properties, including chairs, televisions, rugs and doors carted away by people believed to be members of the Okorocha family.
“But by the time we got here on May 29th, all these places were empty. They had looted all the chairs, the rugs and even some doors. The governor, his wife and children were stealing properties from the Government House they stayed for eight years. Isn’t that a shame?” Osuji wondered.
But the ‘looting’ of the conference centre pales into insignificant with other discoveries. In 2011, shortly after he was sworn in as governor, Okorocha went to a site where Mbakwe planned to build a ceramics and tiles industry in Nsu Community, Mbano before his government was toppled by the General Muhammadu Buhari coup of 1983.
Circled by members of the community, Okorocha told them that the equipments bought by Mbakwe had become obsolete and that he had plans to evacuate them and bring new ones. He promised to immediately commence building of a new ceramics industry that would create jobs for youths of the community and warned same youths against disturbing those who would be sent to evacuate the ‘obsolete’ equipments.
Subsequently, the equipments were loaded in containers and moved to unknown destination. It was the end of the story.
“It’s not only the ceramics industry. There is the Avutu Poultry, there is AdaPalm and a few other moribund state companies that he promised to rebuild,” Osuji says.
“He promised to build one industry in every local government to create jobs. But not one industry was built and not one was revived. He is making noise about AdaPalm because it is a cash cow. He acquired it through the back door, via a company called Roch, which of course belongs to him.
“He claimed they are foreign investors. He said he was going to concession it but he never did, there is no record anywhere. For eight years, he was taking all the proceeds, not a dime was paid to the state government.”
Officials of the current administration and its supporters have continued to lay claims to startling discoveries of stolen equipments and funds under the Okorocha regime.
Last week, Chairman, Imo State Committee on Recovery of Moveable Assets, Chief Jasper Ndubuaku said the committee had recovered about 60 vehicles and other items, since its inauguration, regretting that efforts to recover one aircraft out of four, which the state acquired under Okorocha for the Imo Air project, in partnership with Dana Air, was yet to yield result.
The committee had last weekend, discovered containers filled with doors, chairs and other items belonging to the State, but the security agents of Okorocha’s daughter, Uloma came inbetween. Controversy has since trailed the incident with allegations of members of the committee slapping the daughter. And protesters have been sponsored to dramatize it all.
On Wednesday, Chairman of the state’s Committee on the Review of the newly-established Tertiary Institutions in the state, Prof. Jude Njoku announced that the state government will take over Eastern Palm University established by Okorocha because it established a prima facie that the institution was established with state funds.
The 8th Imo Assembly had passed a law allotting 90 per cent equity shares to trustees of Rochas Foundation and 10 per cent to Imo state government.
“The marking of the properties, which is a fall-out of our painstaking investigation, is as a result of the failure of the suspects to honour the Commissions invitation for questioning on the propriety of their acquisition,” the commission had said.
Across the state, Okorocha’s alleged loot and Ruga dominate conversations. Many say they are in awe as to the extent of the former governor’s “stealing.”
“Okorocha is like the devil the Bible spoke about,” noted Bar Okey Okoroji, a chieftain of APGA. “He came to steal, to loot and to destroy.
At a stakeholders meeting days ago, Ihedioha said they had underestimated the extent of corruption under the former governor.
“When we were campaigning, we honestly underestimated the quantum of rot in the state and the deep hole of corruption and mindless misappropriation perpetrated by the last administration. Contracts were most times awarded orally and without documentation, no paper trail and without the input of relevant government Ministries, Departments, and Agencies.
“Our interim findings show a consistent pattern of massive looting and stripping of public assets, dismantling and carting away of public property such as electric poles, vehicles, trucks, office equipment, and furniture, etc. There was a last-minute illegal sale of government property at giveaway prices and unlawful allocation of land, including the backdating of Certificates of Occupancy. Instances of mindlessly withdrawing cash from government accounts in commercial banks without due process, as well as illegally recruiting and promoting civil servants, were commonplace.”
Some of the claims have not been proved. Attempts to ascertain the specifics in terms of what amount the new government has discovered as stolen did not yield results.
“Because the Okorocha administration did not do a handover, you cannot say exactly how much was stolen,” explains Osuji. “The reason he didn’t handover is because if he did, he would have been in jail. All the contracts awarded, all the works done, there is no record. He gave contracts to himself.
“The finance committee we set up is looking at all these. They will come up with a report. That’s where we are now.”
Onwuamaedo however, insists that the claims are all lies and witch-hunt.
“PDP people tell a lot of lies. They never changed and they can never change. Remember they said Okorocha left with 67 vehicles and N60bn, we challenged them to publish the list of the vehicles and their particulars, and the details of the money that was stolen,” he says.
“But up until now, nothing has happened. Now, they say they are recovering stolen properties. They should publish what they say was stolen and names of those who stole them, so that if they have any reaction, they will make. And when you are going to somebody’s house, you should have a list of items you are looking for. And when you are taking those things away, you take inventory of what you are taking away.
“But they enter into somebody’s house or shops and loot everything. They are into witch-hunt. They say they want to intimidate opposition so they will run away, but nobody will run away from them.”
Alleged properties acquired by Okorocha’s family
Few days ago, the Association of Imo State Indigenous Town Unions (AISITU) led by Chief Emeka Diwe, listed a number of items and funds ‘stolen’ by the former governor, which they wanted the Ihedioha administration to recover. Those listed include:
The N21.6 billion taken from the local government system of the State
The Eastern Palm University built with our money but personalized by Okorocha;
The N96 billion being the stolen portion of Imo’s IGR for eight years;
Over N40 billion looted through the failed 27 general hospital projects; The Old IBC premises at Orji; the Nekede and Orji Mechanic Villages; The Adapalm in Ohaji; the Concorde Hotels and the Westbrook Hotels, which is linked to Okorocha’s son-in-law, Uche Nwosu; WODDI Wellness Center owned by Okorocha’s wife, Nkechi, built on the former Imo State Secretariat Annex, a land forcefully acquired from the state by Uche Nwosu as Commissioner for Lands;
The Reach FM owned by Uche Nwosu, without any know legitimate means of owning such huge property;
The multi-billion Naira Farmers’ Market built by Geraldine Obinali, Okorocha’s sister, on a land belonging to the state;
Over twenty-five plots of state land acquired by Uche Nwosu upon which El Freeda Foundation was built. This is the Foundation through which billions of Naira have been laundered out of the state;
Extervia Mega Supermarket opposite Civic Center Estate owned by Ogechi Ololo, Okorocha’s sister and the Municipal Plaza owned by Nkechi Okorocha, built on land forcefully acquired from a civil servant by Uche Nwosu.
Twitter Bites Fast Food acquired by Geraldine Okorocha forcefully from Mr. Fans;
Spibat Estate, most of which land was forcefully taken from Mbieri people by Okorocha;
House of Freeda Malls in Owerri, Abuja and Lagos built by Uloma, Uche Nwosu’s wife;
A mighty poultry farm beside Shoprite owned by Uche Nwosu on a land forcefully acquired;
Over N800m given to Okorocha’s sister, Geraldine per annum, for Christmas trees;
The N600m diverted through the supposed renovation of the Imo State Secretariat and the N18b looted through the alleged construction of primary school blocks across the state.”
All the markets in the state which Okorocha has claimed 30percent ownership of;
The ISOPADEC funds and the 13percent oil derivation funds, which amounted to over N20b;
The cardboard industry at Owerri-Ebeiri in Orlu;
The N2b diverted through the construction of the completely worthless Akachi Tower IRROMA equipment worth billions of Naira, ITC vehicles among others.”
Fortnight ago the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) sealed off a number of properties belonging to the former governor and his family. Some of which included, as contained in the anti graft agency’s statement: Dews of Hope Hospital traced to Dr. Paschal Obi, ex-principal Secretary to Okorocha; Market Square Supermarket and All in One Shop linked to his wife, Nkechi Okorocha; Premises belonging to Imo State Broadcasting Corporation now hosting Rochas Foundation College owned by Okorocha.
Others are East High Academy and East High College, owned by Uloma and Royal Spring Palm Hotel and Apartment, a 16 block cum 96 flats and eight bungalows traced to Okorocha’s wife, Nkechi.