14th July 2024
Columns Viewpoint

Otti And Ikpeazu’s Fraudulent Airport saga

Otti And Ikpeazu’s Fraudulent Airport saga

Ebere Uzoukwa, Ph.D

Those who know Gov. Alex Chioma Otti OFR to a reasonable extent will attest to the glaring fact that the First Class (Hon.) graduate of Economics and former bank chief speaks less and listens more. He is not loquacious and often withholds opinion on issues he considers serious and sensitive.

He is very meticulous and interrogatory on issues that deal with figures. To engage him on such issues, one must be factually upright and sufficiently prepared with the arithmetics and exactness of the figures.

It is also a known fact that he habitually comports himself and complies with protocol and administrative procedures. He observes laid down guidelines and even strives to avoid ‘jumping the gun’, especially on issues of great concern and public importance.

The above traits may have formed the exceptional personality of the governor against the background of his excellent years in the banking sector, particularly at the management level and Chief Executive Officer.

Gov. Otti is an individual that weighs cognitively the implications of careless utterances and assertions, knowing the grave consequences of not defending them, especially when made publicly.

As reported from John’s Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, United States of America, the governor while speaking on a topic, “State Governance and Economic Transition: Meeting Challenges”, apparently made reference to some challenges he encounters as the governor of Abia State as he reportedly revealed some findings vis-a-vis the uncovered financial malfeasance of the immediate past administration operated by ex-Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu. He was merely using Abia as a case study to buttress and straighten his points.

The governor said: “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, the 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.”

This statement credited to the governor jolted Ikpeazu and his goons. The likes of Barr. Onyebuchi Ememanka and John Okiyi Kalu, who once served as Chief Press Secretary and Commissioner for Information, respectively, began to spit venom against the governor, labelling him a liar. I don’t have anything against the duo for defending their master. I wish them well in their endeavours.

But the fact remains that Gov. Otti’s revelation on the corruption and financial recklessness that characterised the immediate past administration will never be swept under the carpet. Anybody found wanting, including Ikpeazu, must pay the price, according to the dictate of the law.

It will serve a greater purpose to restate a few things about Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, whom I know sufficiently as a brother before he became the Governor of Abia State in 2015. It will also help to mirror the activities of the former governor and things he was capable of doing within the eight years he ruined the state.

The Umuobiakwa Obingwa-born teacher and politician is never a serious-minded person. His nonchalance to serious issues is second to none. He prefers paying undeserving attention to trivial issues, such as joke-cracking and social activities.

When he was anointed and foisted on Abians by ex-Gov. Theodore Orji and his family, the Ngwa nation expressed great concern given his unserious attitude vis-a-vis having to make history as the first Abia Governor of Ngwa extraction. The expectations were high, including giving Aba, the great Enyimba City, the deserving attention on infrastructure and economy.

But the early sign that suggested that Ikpeazu would finally become a disaster was when he surrounded himself with notorious and wicked brothers and friends. They built a wall around him and ensured that those with capacity and experience to help him tackle the challenges of good governance were shut out and never given any space in his administration.

The government was hijacked by this cartel of guymen dominated by our Ngwa brothers and a few of his friends from Umuahia and Abia North.

They promoted and dramatized corruption, mindless looting and diversion of public funds. They suspended governance as salaries and pensions were never paid and dillapidated public infrastructure, such as roads across the state, were abandoned.

Ikpeazu and his hitherto financially struggling cartel automatically became multi-billionaires and owners of land and choice properties in many parts of the country and abroad. There is no gainsaying that Ikpeazu and his guymen used eight years to enrich themselves through mindlessly looting and diversion of public funds. Abia was mercilessly raped for eight years by this gang of treasury looters.

But Gov. Otti, who has in less than a year changed the narrative as Abia presently ranks prominent among the best governed states in Nigeria, had promised to ensure that Ikpeazu and bis guymen give account of their misdeeds to the people.

It is possible that Ikpeazu and his men may have corruptily awarded and paid off several unexecuted contracts running into billions of naira. It is equally possible that the outcome of the Forensic Audit the Otti’s administration conducted had exposed unimaginable dirty deals and large-scale corruption, including the Abia Airport Project the former Governor promoted to high heaven till the twilight of his administration when he suddenly began to speak from both sides of his mouth. It is also possible that before the former governor recruited some unpatriotic Abia traditional rulers to change the Abia Airport story, a lot must have happened under the sub-head.

While Abians expect Gov. Otti and his administration to officially unveil their findings on the non-existent Abia Airport, it is expected that Ikpeazu and his guymen should begin to prepare because the day of reckoning has finally come.

Calling Gov. Otti names and hauling abuses on him will never save them. They MUST tell Abians what they did with their money for the eight years that made impossible payment of salaries and pensions and provision of basic infrastructure and amenities.

It is on record that Ikpeazu abandoned many critical roads to collapse, health institutions and education system also were abandoned to rot away with no significant attention paid to rural development by his administration.

It will definitely translate to great disservice if Gov. Otti fails to respond to the yearnings and expectations of the people, including conducting a thorough investigation into the activities of Ikpeazu, which no doubt brought shame and disrepute to Abians.

Whatever scorecard the former governor claimed to have bequeathed must be questioned so that whoever succeeds Gov. Otti can equally toe that progressive path of ending corruption, primitive acquisition of wealth by political and public office holders and bad governance in God’s Own State.

It is noble that the governor had during the commencement of his administration declared to be probed, if whoever that succeeds him finds reasons to do so.

Let me conclude at this juncture by reiterating that Gov. Otti has earned the support and enormous goodwill of the people with his unique and people-oriented approach to governance.

His achievements in less than a year define his preparedness and capacity to reposition Abia on the pedestal of good governance and socio-economic prosperity.

The recent injection of over N10 billion into Abia economy through the payment of accumulated pensions and salaries of Abia workers and senior citizens is an eloquent testimony that the ex-bank chief thinks more of the people than himself and his political family. That accounts for the major reason he pays more attention to issues of development, socio-economic deliveries and overall good governance than politics.

Bringing Ikpeazu and his gang of guymen to book and ensuring that looted public funds are recovered and redeployed to foster speedy development of Abia will be a greater achievement that would help to institutionalise transparency and accountability in the governance of Abia State going forward.

*Dr. Ebere Uzoukwa, a policy analyst and media consultant, writes from Obingwa.

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