Amby Uneze writes that discovery of more infractions during the eight year tenure of the immediate past governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha has led to strident calls for a probe of that administration
It is no longer news that Imo State under former governor, Senator Rochas Okorocha was entirely operated as a family affair instead of a public service that needed to be accountable to the people of the state. Previous elected administrations in the state had managed the affairs without any trace of embezzlement or stigma hanging over their neck after leaving office. They ran the state affairs with a human face having in mind that there would be a day of accountability to the people of the state.
In the case of Okorocha, the scenario was like administering the state as if it was a conquered territory where nobody could venture to ask questions on how the state was being run. He believed that for the next three decades his family would control the affairs of the state, not considering the intelligence of the average Imolite.
Going by his permutation which gave rise to why he handled the state economy in such a hopeless and reckless manner, Okorocha believed that since he had eight years, and his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu would go for another eight years, while one of his sons would eventually take over from Nwosu for another eight years, Imo State would have become a subjugated entity of the Okorochas. One can see the primitive mentality of someone who calls himself a leader in the 21st century. No wonder his administration was often referred to as “government of iberiberism.”
It was Uche Ogbuagu, a renowned comedian and now member of Imo State House of Assembly representing Ikeduru State Constituency in one of his recent jokes titled “Hollam Hollam, ‘Arrest him, Arrest him’” who pleaded with the law enforcement officers to help Imo people arrest (him) for siphoning all the resources accrued to the state in eight years.
Ogbuagu, however, moved the motion during plenary and urged his colleagues to summon Okorocha’s aides to appear before the House to explain why the government assets were converted to private use.
“Some government land, particularly the IBC quarters, Orji, were converted into private use with the name: Rochas Foundation College; many individuals were equally dispossessed of the interest of their lands by the immediate past governor of Imo state to his private use.
“It shall be for the interest of justice to recover all the government lands unlawfully converted into private use and also return all lands unlawfully grabbed from individual owners to their legitimate owners. That the government officials at ministry of lands, particularly, the director and others be summoned to appear before the executive session of the House to give account of their stewardship,” he said.
Imo people are posing pertinent questions that need urgent answers: How justifiable is it that Okorocha could award 12 contracts worth N20 billion to a company he formed that had no physical address and never paid tax to any government? Who are the directors of Zigreat International Company Limited that Okorocha allegedly used to siphon billions of Naira belonging to Imo people? If Okorocha could award frivolous contracts to his own company between November 15, 2013 and November 3, 2017 amounting to a whopping sum of N20 billion, who knows the name of the company his wife, Nkechi; daughter, Uloma and husband, Uche must have used that made them billionaires?
What about the sisters and brothers who became multi millionaires overnight? Wait a minute! Okorocha’s Principal Secretary, Paschal Obi who prior to 2011 was living in a 3-bedroom flat somewhere in Amakohia as a level 13 officer in the state’s Ministry of Health that could hardly have three square meals a day is now a multi-billionaire? Obi as smart as he is alongside his master, worked his way to the National Assembly representing Ideato South/Ideato North Federal Constituency.
It is compulsory for any contract award to pass through procurement process, otherwise called ‘due process’, but Okorocha’s contracts were in violation of the public procurement act.
According to the act, to bid for contracts, a company needs to present three years tax clearance, audited accounts, evidence of work experience as 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.
Report has it that Zigreat International Company Limited, which lacked all the requirements for the public procurement act got its first contract from Okorocha’s government three months after it registered at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). Okorocha’s government awarded a N700 million contract to it for the construction of a tower.
From the records made available to THISDAY, the first contract awarded to Zigreat International Company Limited was the construction of “Akachi” – “The Hand of God”, in Owerri, the state capital at cost of N700 million. In a letter dated November 15, 2013, and signed by Paschal Obi, then principal secretary to the governor , Zigreat got 25 percent of N700 million would be made available as mobilization fee.
“I am directed to refer to your quotation of the above contract and to convey His Excellency’s approval that your company Zigreat Intl. Coy. Ltd. undertakes the contract for the Construction of Akachi (Hand of God) at a total contract sum of N700,000,000.00 (Seven Hundred Million Naira) Only.
“In line with Government Policy on contracts, you are requested to indicate acceptance in writing without delay. You should report to the Principal Secretary to the Governor, Government House, Owerri for details and signing of Contract Agreement, please,” the letter stated.
Okorocha also gave approval to N683 million for the construction of Community Health Hospital in Ogboko, Ideato South local government area, his hometown and till date, the hospital is uncompleted and the place is in ruins.
Another white-washed contract was awarded for over N689 million for the office blocks of the Ministry of Happiness and Purposeful Fulfillment headed by Ogechi Ololo, Okorocha’s sister. Again, N5.9 billion was awarded for the construction of police headquarters, phase 1, Owerri and another N4.3 billion for the construction of police headquarters, phase 2, Owerri.
The former governor in his usual jamboree manner in awarding contracts that lacked due process and specifications between 2016 and 2017: approved the construction of Imo State University of Agriculture and Environment in Aboh/Okpala at N3.7 billion; reconstruction of sub-treasury building for conversion to government house clinic at N210 million; construction of Ministry of Niger Delta office blocks at N611 million.
Inspite of the fact that the state has one of the best secretariats that houses most of the ministries, however, awarded the construction of Ministry of Agriculture office blocks at N611 million; construction of Ministry of Tourism office blocks at N630 million; construction of IMSU campus at Onuimo at N2.79 billion, and construction of Ministry of Sports office blocks at N690 million.
Some of the contracts were not completed before the end of his tenure in May 2019 and none of them passed through public scrutiny.
Again, the Association of Imo State Indigenous Town Unions and student groups had protested urging the state governor (Ihedioha) to bring Okorocha to account for his numerous misdeeds as governor.
President of the Imo State Indigenous Town Unions, Emeka Diwe, who presented the grievances of the group in a letter he read to the governor, said that under the Okorocha’s administration, public assets were allegedly converted into private use.
He said “The eight years that Okorocha held sway as Governor of Imo State were characterized by unprecedented and unbridled plunder of our common patrimony.
“We are the leadership of the Association of Imo State Indigenous Town Unions (AISITU) in collaboration with Orluzurumee, Olu Owerri, Olu Okigwe, Amalgamation of Imo Professional Associations (AIPA), the students unions and the various youth groups in the State. We are concerned and indeed compelled to protest and make this demand on Governor Emeka Ihedioha to act because we represent the vast majority of the poor and defenceless citizens of Imo State at grassroots who suffer the greatest impact of bad governance.
“During the ruinous misrule of Okorocha, Imo went through a sort of untold financial hemorrhage, as resources were frittered away and public assets looted and converted to private use.
“As if that was not enough, Okorocha so cruelly plunged the sate into irredeemable debt slavery to the tune of over N200 billion, a debt stock that will remain unpayable even by ten generations unborn.
“Yet under the watch of Okorocha, the bailout funds to Imo State inexplicably disappeared at the residence of his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, and he neither budged nor stirred.
“Worse still, allocations to the twenty-seven local government areas of the State were hijacked and looted, and the system stifled and made moribund. On this note, we wish to inform the Governor, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, that we deeply appreciate his innovative approach to the Imo Local Government system which now makes the Local Government Areas of the State have their complete monthly allocations.
“Staggering sums were voted for the construction of supposed general hospitals which never saw the light of the day. Revenue-spinning investments of the State, notably the Concorde Hotels and Adapalm etc., were sold off to unknown investors and at unknown rates,” the group stated.
According to them, internally generated revenues (IGR) of the state were literally handed out to family and friends and on a monthly basis of nearly one billion Naira disappeared through that channel, even the civil servants got their salaries slashed by thirty to forty percent. Imo pensioners, men and women who expended their youthfulness, their brains and their brawns in service of our State, were left unpaid for nearly sixty months and they died in their tens on a daily basis.
“These senior citizens were subjected to the most excruciating torture by Okorocha so much so that even their three chairmen died in quick succession holding dud cheques in their hands. These pensioners are still dying till date. Indeed, Imo had a Governor that was any other creature other than human. We therefore call on Governor Ihedioha to kindly intervene to save our pensioners from further deaths.
Prominent Imo sons and daughters are not left in condemning the ill-fated administration of Okorocha. A former governorship candidate of Independent Democrat (ID), Ike C. Ibe said, “while I was campaigning to be governor of Imo state across the 305 wards, one recurring statement I made was that ‘any governor who takes over from Rochas Okorocha will go through hell and must find a way to create a new economy and finds fresh resources to rebuild Imo state’.
“It is no longer news that 2011 to 2019 witnessed the saddest chapter in Imo economy. We have all dwelt enough on that. The current debate is focused on Governor Emeka Ihedioha coming out of the hell created in the last eight years and finding ways to create a new Imo Economy. To do this, the governor must not just think outside the box, but go as far away from the box as possible to be able to think well and recreate our economy.
“Imo was turned into a cesspool of corruption and needs practical and professional actions and activities to develop new pathways to prosperity. In the first 70 days or so of Ihedioha administration, objectively speaking, I think he has taken several steps to start charting the desired course. The average citizen may not be immediately applauding because they have not seen usual ‘new roads’ or spontaneous projects springing up in their communities, but which responsible governor will invest heavily on roads during the rains?
“The best thing is palliative patch work till the rains are over. These are currently going on while major roads crying for major construction or reconstruction are being identified. I have heard recent government announcements of several of these roads waiting to kick off post rains”, he stated.
Reacting to the allegation of awarding several contracts to himself, Sam Onwuemedo, spokesman of the former governor (Okorocha), said the most important thing was that the contracts were executed.
“Okorocha has more than 1000 projects in the state, and even if trillions of naira were spent on the projects, they are justifiable because the man has worked. The most important thing is whether the contracts were executed or not, if you are a contractor and I know you can give me what I want without running away with my money, I will give you the contract,” he said.
Despite Onwuemedo’s defence, what Imo people want at this point in time is to bring Okorocha to book for ruining the commonwealth of the people and turning development backwards. The overwhelming consensus is that this will serve as a deterrent to other callous leaders who may want to play on the collective intelligence of the people.
Going by his permutation which gave rise to why he handled the state economy in such a hopeless and reckless manner, Okorocha believed that since he had eight years, and his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu would go for another eight years, while one of his sons would eventually take over from Nwosu for another eight years, Imo State would have become a subjugated entity of the Okorochas
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