As Former Gov Ikpeazu And His Gang Fret Over Abia Forensic Audit, Missing Airport

As Former Gov Ikpeazu And His Gang Fret Over Abia Forensic Audit, Missing Airport

25th April 2024, NewsOrient
Opinion, Column, News, Governance And Development
By Kazie Uko

Abia State Governor, Dr. Alex Otti, OFR, shone, glowed and dazzled like a Diamond last Friday, April 19, 2024, as he basked in the spotlight of international lecture stage, at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, in the United States of America.

Taking the podium inside the hallowed JHU Bloomberg Center, on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC, Governor Otti engaged his audience in an intriguing lecture, where he spoke on, ‘State Governance and Economic Transition: Meeting the Challenges’.

The Johns Hopkins lecture was one of the series of activities lined up in the Governor’s schedule, while on a trip put together by some prominent Nigerians and citizens of Abia State in the US diaspora. Among those in the audience were Professor Pat Utomi, Professor Kingsley Moghalu, Professor Jim Steinberg, Professor Peter Lewis, Dr. Eme Okoro, Councilor of Bowie, Maryland, Roxy Ndebumadu; the Mayor of Isialangwa South in Abia State, Dr. Nwambuisi Elelenta Elele; among others.

Even though Governor Otti had forewarned his audience, especially those from outside of Nigeria, not to expect something new from his paper as, according to him, the world was already familiar with the story of Nigeria, the Governor, however, left his audience in utter bewilderment shortly into his speech, when he revealed the findings of an audit firm he had engaged to look into the finances of the state, shortly after he assumed office.

Hear him: “It is a difficult thing to admit, but a lot of leaders, who get involved in politics and contest elections, go there for reasons other than serving the people.

“Talking about corruption, I had set up a forensic audit as soon as I took over office in Abia, last year (2023). So that there won’t be any argument, I called in one of the top three audit firms in the world, and not too long ago, they turned in their report, and some of the things in their report are frightening.

“So, some N9.3 billion was paid to seven contractors for contracts that were not executed at all up till today. Another N15.9 billion (N16 billion) was paid to 63 contractors with no supporting documents anywhere in the state. Another N12 billion was paid to two contractors for contracts that do not exist, out of this figure N10 billion was on September 25, 2020, paid to a contractor for the construction of the Abia State Airport.

We have spent time trying to locate the airport and up till now have not been able to locate it… So, as we continue to look for our airport, we have also told the security agencies to help us search.

“When you juxtapose that with pensions that were lying unpaid for about 10 years and the salary arrears, just one of these headings, the N10 billion that was spent to build a non-existent airport, was exactly the amount of money our government used to take off the pension arrears.

“So lack of accountability as we know enables the mindless stealing of resources from the people, impoverishes the populace, promotes incompetence and damages trusts in public institutions. If any evidence is needed to buttress this claim, the fact that several states in the country struggle to pay salaries and pensions, is all the proof one needs that the absence of accountability in the management of public resources does great harm to the people.”

Expectedly, Governor Otti’s shocking disclosure immediately dominated the media space. An unofficial video clip, extracted from the Governor’s presentation, soon hit social media platforms and went viral. Even though the Governor was careful not to personalise the issues as he merely gave a glimpse into the audit report, the immediate past Governor of the State, Okezie Ikpeazu, and his group on their own assumed culpability. Perhaps, like they say, “the guilty is afraid”. Ikpeazu and his gang characteristically unleashed their venom at Governor Otti.

The former Governor, who had engaged in shadow fight against his successor since leaving office and after failing to install his puppet, deployed his loquacious aides to hurl insults and abuses at Governor Otti for daring to do his job credibly. He failed to address the issues other than shouting himself hoarse.

This has been the ex-Governor’s surreptitious way of trying to rewrite his story of abysmal performance in governance; a story that is thrown up in sharp and unmistakable contrast to the widely-acclaimed extraordinary gains of his successor in barely 10 months on the same seat. We saw this same belligerent behaviour of Ikpeazu during the launch of the Geometric Power Plant in Aba, about two months ago, where again while still hiding in the shadows of his minions, he slyly sought to take credit for the Geometric project.

To put the issue in proper context, the Geometric Power project laid comatose for 20 years, even though the plant had been completed since 2014, barely a year before Ikpeazu assumed office in controversial circumstances. Needing only the exercise of true statesmanship to resolve its governance issues and the acuity in financial matters to navigate the commercial negotiations, including the supply of gas through its already laid 27-kilometre pipeline, Ikpeazu failed to realise the Geometric dream. Rather, he stood hapless as it were between the plant and the fulfilment of its objective of providing reliable electricity supply to the people of Aba, the commercial capital of Abia.

Fast forward to February 26, 2024, nine months after Governor Otti assumed office as the Chief Executive of Abia State, Nigerians woke up to the real possibility of uninterrupted power supply with the launch of the Geometric Power. The Abia Governor had a history with the power project, a baby of Professor Barth Nnaji, Nigeria’s former Minister of Power.

He came into the financing of the project while he was Executive Director at First Bank of Nigeria in 2010, and in 2011, he moved to then Diamond Bank Plc as Chief Executive Officer, and things took a totally different dimension for the better. By the time Dr. Otti left Diamond in 2014, the power project had its three gas-powered turbines installed and the 27-kilometre gas pipeline laid and ready to receive gas. Yet, Ikpeazu was governor for eight years between 2015 and 2023, and the power plant remained comatose.

Several other instances abound where the former Governor and his gang had tried to undermine the incumbent, Governor Otti, who has worked so hard to restore the dignity of the Abia citizen by clearing the huge mess his predecessor left behind, the latest being payment of outstanding pension liabilities, where the present government spent close to N10 billion. Of course there were the sorry cases of non-payment of civil servants and other public workers’ salaries, poor environmental sanitation, dilapidated road, health and educational infrastructure, and the elephant in the room, insecurity.

Ikpeazu and his gang may have seen the handwriting on the wall as their day of reckoning appears fast approaching. So, it is understandable when they fret and go into intermittent panic, which they mask as playing the opposition. But with the weight of the allegation of financial malfeasance against the previous PDP government in Abia, unearthed by the forensic audit ordered by Governor Otti, it can only be a matter of time before the long arm of the law corrals the guilty, who rather than serve the people that entrusted governance to them, chose instead to enrich themselves at the expense of the lives of pensioners, workers, the poor, aged, vulnerable, and the children of Abia State.

To all objective observers, it is clear that Governor Otti has remained focused on restoring the broken trust with the people of Abia through visible, transparently accountable works. He has not spent time on phantom projects like the airport that apparently Ikpeazu ‘lost’ amongst other government assets carted away by his administration; nor has he indulged in the distraction of personal diatribes in response to the unending stream of vitriolic calumny, lies, disinformation and shameless fronting by those who fear the light of truth.

Despite their bluster, against their wishes, the darkness is lifting across the land, and Ndi Abia under the progressive leadership of Dr. Alex Chioma Otti, once again believe it is possible. Those who hide in the shadows, who prefer the darkness should brace up as justice shines its light in the hidden places. They should brace up.

*Kazie Uko is the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Abia State. He writes from Umuahia.

Photo Caption 1: Governor Otti on the international stage.

Photo Caption 2: Governor Otti arriving the venue of a reception in his honour, accompanied by the Councilor of Bowie, Maryland, Roxy Ndebumadu.

Photo Caption 3: Governor Otti, warmly received by the Mayor of Isialangwa South, Dr. Elele and his wife, Melody.

~ NewsOrient