Between Otti and Ikpeazu, the Truth Lies Somewhere

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‎‎Davidson Iriekpen ruminates over last week’s brickbats between the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance in Abia State, Alex Otti, and Governor Okezie Ikpeazu

There is no doubt that in some states of the federation, there is leadership deficit. In the last six months, the federal government has released N760.18 billion Paris Club debt refund to 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

The quarterly review of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) stated that the money, paid in two tranches, represented refunds of over-deductions from allocations to states and local governments used for payment of debt relief granted to Nigeria by the Paris Club between 1995 and 2002.

Despite the directive by the federal government that the Paris Club refunds be used by states to clear arrears of salaries and pensions, many states today are owing their workers salaries.

They keep giving excuses why they have not been able to pay the backlog of salary arrears they are owing, civil servants.

It is against this background that the All Progressives Grand Alliance’s (APGA) governorship candidate in Abia State in the 2015 general election, Mr. Alex Otti, called on the federal government to pay attention to how the state used the two bail out funds and other loans obtained by the state government. Otti who said he was pained that civil servants in the state were owed an upward of eight months salary arrears, equally urged the anti-graft agencies to probe past and present governments in the state to unravel the “disappearance of billions of naira accrued to the state.”

Speaking at a press conference in Lagos, he criticised Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s administration for making the state workers miserable by owing them eight months salary arrears despite several billions that have accrued to the state. Specifically mentioning the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Otti said the anti-graft bodies should beam thier searchlight on Abia and commence urgent investigation so as to unravel the mystery of how the state has remained in ruins despite all the allocations, Internally Generated Revenues (IGR), bailouts and loans it collected.

He expressed concern about the $200milion African Development Bank loan approved by the National Assembly for the state, saying that the loan would plunge the state into a long-term financial and economic chaos. This, according to him, was because Ikpeazu has no clear repayment plan for the foreign loan which, he noted, has a 20-year tenure with seven years moratorium.

He alleged that that the governor had mismanaged the resources of the state and running the state aground, adding that with N14.150bn bail out, and two tranches of Paris Club loan refund in the sums of N5.3bn and N5.7bn that had come into the coffers of the state, there was no justification for civil servants in the state to be owed eight months salaries. He challenged the Ikpeazu administration to explain to the people of Abia “where the billions of naira given to it so far for the development of the state had gone to.”

The APGA candidate said the government should tell Abians where the billions given to it so far for the development of the state had gone to even as he added that the House of Assembly should without delay, set up a panel to investigate the financial activities of the Ikpeazu-led government and ensure that anyone found to have committed any financial crimes in the state is made to pay the price.

He said: “There is absolutely no doubt that the Ikpeazu/PDP-led government does not mean well for Abia State and its people as the consistency of negativity of the government, especially in the management of the people’s commonwealth has assumed a provocative and insulting dimension, hence the need for all men of good conscience to collectively raise their voices in saving the state by calling Ikpeazu and his collaborators to order so that they don’t plunge Abia and Abians into long term financial and economic chaos.

“I demand that the National Assembly should review its decision taken few weeks ago and quickly withdraw or reverse its approval of the $200 million loan, as any money given to the Abia State government by the issuing body is bound to disappear going by its crazy record of financial recklessness. Besides, the capacity to repay this humongous loan has not been demonstrated in any way or form, irrespective of the outdated document titled “Abia State Integrated Infrastructure Development Project” dated October 2015, which was the only document placed in front of the assembly for the loan.

“That the federal government should henceforth prevent Abia State government from accessing any form of loan from within or outside the country until it accounts for the funds already received. The state government should immediately pay up all salary arrears for which it had received bail out funds and two tranches of Paris Club refund. May we also advise the federal government to pay attention to how funds are used by the states, especially when they are bail out funds and other loans that future generation would be made to repay.”

Chronicling the funds received by Abia State since inception of Ikpeazu’s administration, Otti said the government had on various occasions, announced it was going to pay salary arrears from the money but did not.

He said: “On assumption of office, the present Abia State Government led by Ikpeazu began dishing out figures of funds required to clear salary arrears owed workers. After initially claiming that it required N6 billion to clear the salary arrears, the governor later approached the state’s House of Assembly seeking approval for a loan of N30 billion from a local bank.

“My party, APGA, challenged that request after the state government contradicted the then speaker, who had informed his house members that the loan was for infrastructural development, only for the government to turn around and claim it was meant to clear different debts owed by the state.

“Alarmed by the suspicious claims and moves of the government regarding state financial matters, I sought clarification through my media aides and my party on the specific amount required to clear arrears of salaries owed Abia workers.

“Unfortunately, the government remained dodgy until it received N14.150 billion bail out fund from the federal government. Shortly after receiving the fund, the governor, through his then SSA on public communications, Sam Hart, announced the inauguration of a committee charged with the responsibility of disbursing the money and promised to clear all outstanding arrears owed workers by October 30, 2015.

“What this specific promise by Ikpeazu meant was that the government had its record intact, accurate, and knew that the bail out fund would be enough to offset the salary. Unfortunately, that promise turned out a dangerous political gimmick that got Abians bamboozled, and workers seriously hurt. While the groaning of Abia workers and Abians continued unabated as a result of mounting debts owed workers and general absence of good governance in the state, the government again received the first tranche of the Paris Club refund arrived. Sadly, immediately the N5.7 billion arrived, the government came up with another atrocious story which was that it got less than what it expected.

“This primitive and callous administrative ineptitude has left many Abia workers being owed up to eight months’ salary arrears, making their lives and those of their families miserable. The funds and others secured by the Ikpeazu/PDP-led government have nothing to do with the tens of billions of naira gotten by the government as statutory monthly allocations and Internally Generated Revenues (IGR).

“While many Abians are still mourning and yet to recover from the numerous deceits of the present Abia State Government, we got the sad news of the approval of $200 million loan for the state by the National Assembly. This loan, which is supposed to come from the African Development Bank (ADB) has a tenure of about 20 years with a seven-year moratorium.

“As observed by the House of Representatives, while the president had by a memo dated May 25, recommended $100 million for approval, the Ministry of Finance by its memo dated July 18, sent in a request for $200 million, which was approved. This contradiction, coupled with the lack of clarity on the repayment source of the loan were enough reasons not to approve this huge request.”

It is not only Otti that is complaining. At different times, many Abians had expressed reservation with the leadership foisted on the state since 1999. They feel that out of the five states in the South-east, Abia State is the richest and the most badly managed.

Also at various times, many analysts had observed that if Aba, the commercial nerve centre of the state is properly developed, it has the potential of transforming not only the state but the entire region into a Dubai, but unfortunately, successively leaders in the state for lack of vision and focus, have ignored the city, now witnessing the worst infrastructural deficiency.

At the heat of the criticisms of against Ikpeazu’s lack of performance, his initial excuse was that the court cases challenging his legitimacy and emergence as governor, were a distraction, but since the cases were dismissed in his favour, the people of the state have not seen any difference between his administration and previous ones.

But responding to Otti’s attacks, Ikpeazu said Otti was being economical with the truth, adding that Abia State under his watch “is open for any probe by any constituted authority.” In a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Enyinnaya Appolos, the governor said Otti should feel free to visit any anti-graft institution with any graft information he had against him.

The statement reads in part, “…At no point did the Governor Ikpeazu administration publicly claim that it needs only N6bn to clear salary, pensions and gratified outstanding in the state. Rather it is a matter of public record which can be verified from the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Debt Management Office of the Presidency that the documents submitted by the Abia State Government in lieu of the request for bailout indicated a requirement of N38bn to clear all the outstanding salaries as of October 2015.

“Only N14.2bn was approved for the state. It is also public knowledge that when the facility was received, the state government transparently set up a committee dominated by Labour leaders in the state to allocate all the resources to the payment of some of the outstanding salaries and pensions. Unlike other states, ICPC and labour leaders reviewed the application of the facility and commended the government of Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu for prudently managing the bail out loan without diverting any portion to competing needs.

“Even with regards to the approval from the Abia State House of Assembly to borrow N30bn, the Ikpeazu administration never accessed those funds to date. We challenge Mr. Otti to publish the name(s) of the local bank that availed the facility to the state government or shut up.”

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Despite the directive by the federal government that the Paris Club refunds be used by states to clear arrears of salaries and pensions, many states are still owing their workers salaries.