Gov-Rochas Okorocha with his Deputy Jude Agbaso go through a job specification at the road site in Orlu recently
The ongoing bid to remove the Imo State Deputy Governor, Mr. Jude Agbaso, for alleged financial misappropriation may open a can of worms, writes Amby Uneze
The Imo State Governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha came into the governorship race courtesy of Chief Martin Agbaso, elder brother to the deputy governor, Jude, who at the time was the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), having positioned the party for the governorship election.
But his experience at the April 14, 2007 governorship election may have informed his decision to stay back in 2011. However, he struck a deal with Okorocha.
In the deal that was documented, signed by the two gladiators and witnessed by some leaders, Okorocha was said to have agreed to the fact that he would, among other conditions, serve just a term of four years and support Agbaso (Martin) who comes from Owerri zone as the next governor by 2015.
A time ticks towards the appointed date, Okorocha having identified with the merger of opposition parties, is now singing a different song which is now causing disaffection in the agreement.
Thus, the plot to impeach the deputy governor seems to have been on for some time but kept as top secret. Even when the governor was confronted about it, he denied knowledge of any such move. A source disclosed to THISDAY that the governor was only trying to defend his seat which was rumoured to be the target of the Imo State House of Assembly. The origin of this was that a prominent businessman from Anambra, who was one the major financiers of the governor’s election, was said to be keen about getting rid of the governor. But the name of the Agbasos was however mentioned in the plot.
The Impeachment Plot Begins
Based on a report of the Chairman, Joint State/Local Government projects, Hon. Stan Dara, representing Orsu State Constituency in the plenary sitting of the House on Wednesday, February 20, on the progress made so far on the execution of road contracts awarded to some contractors in the state, he reported the slow pace of work by Messrs JPROS International Nigeria Limited and Timik Construction Company in Owerri and Orlu Municipalities respectively. He said such roads included Ware-house, Orlu road junction, Odunze Aba road, Amaigbo Street to Old Nekede road and dualisation of Orlu main town.
Consequent upon this, the Speaker, Hon. Benjamin Uwajumogu, constituted a six-man special ad hoc committee, comprising Hon. Simeon Iwunze, Ikenna Emeh, Greg Okemili, Innocent Ekeh, Kingsley Dimaku and Samuel Anyanwu to investigate the matter and report back to the House.
Rising from a long sitting Thursday, the Imo State House of Assembly, during a committee of the whole House, deliberated the report of the Committee and alleged a receipt of gratification to the tune of N458 million by the Deputy Governor, Jude Agbaso, from one of the major contractors, Messrs JPROS International Nigeria Limited, led to the abandonment of some road projects in the state. The Assembly, subsequently, passed a vote of no confidence on him and immediately commenced an impeachment process.
It also passed a resolution, requesting for a disciplinary action in accordance with civil service rules against the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Works, Mr. Alex Nlebedum, Director of Planning, Research and Statistics and Resident Engineer attached to the contract for criminal negligence in the performance of their duties. The House also directed the State Attorney General/Commissioner for Justice to take measures to ensure immediate recovery of the sum of N200 million being over payment to Messrs JPROS International Nigeria Limited on the said contract.
The report disclosed that the sum of N458 million being the gratification allegedly demanded by the Deputy Governor was paid in two installments to two accounts nominated by him. The account details are: 0045630151 with GT Bank and 1015334698 with UBA.
The report further stated that during interrogation of the two principal persons before the committee, the Chairman of JBROS, Mr. Joseph Dina said “you (deputy governor) gave him (Dina) account numbers via your telephone number directing him to pay a total sum of N458 million to those accounts. And that he actually paid in February 2012 on the receipt of the N1.035 billion the sum of N325 million in favour of Three Brothers Concepts Ltd account no: 0045630151 with GT Bank and another N133 million paid in June to IHSAN BDC Ltd in account no: 1015334698n with UBA Plc”.
Now, the Questions
Following circumstances that aided the coming of JPROS International Nigeria Limited, it was understandable also, why the speed at awarding the contract allegedly without undergoing due process as well as the quick payment of N1.150 billion without Bill of Quantities, APG, etc.
The news making the round is that JPROS International Nigeria Limited was brought into the state by the family of the Governor’s wife. It is therefore presupposes that the Governor awarded the contract without following due process and approved the full payment of N1.150 billion to the company. The question, therefore, is that why did JPROS, after the transactions, give the bribe of N458 million to the Deputy Governor who could not influence the contract?
It is also worthy of note that the Committee had observed that there was no due process in the award of the said contract to JPROS International Nigeria Limited because the company has a link with the governor and his family. The said contract had no tender, advance payment guarantee (APG) and no appraisal of any sort before the sum of N1.150 billion was paid in full.
The contractor, during interrogation by the Committee, said he did not apply for the payment but nevertheless, not surprised because the Governor had always assured him to continue work that his money would be paid 100 percent”.
Agbaso on the Defensive
The embattled Deputy Governor has since denied the allegations by the Assembly that he received the sum of N458 million as kickback in a contract involving Messrs JPROS International Nigeria Limited. This came as the state government recently said it did not lock the office of the deputy governor or prevent him from carrying out his official duties as reported by some media houses. The deputy governor, in an interview with journalists in Owerri, at the weekend spilled the bean when he alleged that it was all about 2015 and a subsisting agreement to hand over power to Owerri zone in 2015.
“This whole thing stems from the various players’ agitation as to the situation in 2015. I have heard stories and speculations about who runs in 2015 and who does not. I know there is a subsisting agreement in the public domain between my elder brother, Chief Martin Agbaso, who happens to be a politician, and our dear governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, to hand over power to the people of Owerri zone in 2015.
“I have heard that this has everything to do with it. But I can tell you it has nothing to do with the person of the deputy governor as we speak. And I think that, sooner than later, this whole story would be unraveled. Let me state that I have maintained a robust and cordial relationship with Okorocha”, he said.
The deputy governor, while stating his side of the matter, said he did not at any time tender a letter of resignation as reported by certain sections of the media (THIDAY excluded), neither did he contemplate resigning from the office “massively given to me by the people of this state. I never resigned, I never intended to resign and I will continue to serve the people of the state until the mandate given to me lapses.
“On the allegation that I am being impeached by the state Assembly bothering on allegation that I received bribe money to the tune of N458 million, I want to also seize this opportunity to state that at no time did I demand N458 million or any sum of money from any contractor whatsoever in the state. And at no time did the contractor, Joseph Dina, pay me the cumulative sum of N458 million,” he stated.
Above all, there are feelings that Imo might soon become a home for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) following the way contracts are awarded and as evidenced by the latest drama. But as the Imo Assembly deliberates on the way forward, the people are desirous of the outcome of the investigation as the way forward on the present logjam.