Walter Duru, Ph.D
The Federal Government of Nigeria recently constituted a Committee to facilitate the recovery of Six Hundred and Fourteen billion Naira (N614b) given to thirty five states of the federation on budget support.
Imo, expectedly, is one of the states that benefitted from the gesture, while Chief Rochas Okorocha held sway as Executive Governor of Imo State. The state received Twenty Six billion, Eight Hundred and Six million Naira (N26.806b).
According to a 2016 report by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) which monitored how states spent the bailout funds given to them by the Federal Government, funds released to Imo State were diverted. The report, which was signed by Mustapha Hussain on behalf of the Commissioner in charge of Public Enlightenment of ICPC also indicted Benue State.
President Buhari had approved the funds to assist states that were unable to pay months of salary arrears and pensions. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who heads the National Economic Council, had explained that the loan is repayable at an interest rate of nine percent over a 20-year period and it was meant for the singular purpose of paying the backlog of salaries.
As at the time former Governor Okorocha left office on May 29, 2019, pensioners were owed nearly three years of arrears, workers in Imo State received seventy percent of their salaries for about three years, while many were owed several months arrears of salary. This is a clear indication that the funds may have been mismanaged, validating ICPC’s report.
The ICPC report was released less than a month after the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission –EFCC arrested the then Principal Secretary to the Governor, Dr. Paschal Obi and two others – Uzoho Casmir and Iheoma Kenneth, identified by the Commission as the Director of Finance and Treasurer, respectively.
According to the ICPC report, “Imo State applied for and received bailout funds of N26,806,430,000.00 from the Central Bank of Nigeria, which were domiciled with two commercial Banks namely Fidelity and Zenith banks. In the course of analysis, it was discovered that some transfers were made into certain Imo State Government accounts, which are not related to salaries and emoluments as follows: N2bn paid into a Government Account; N2bn paid into an Imo State Project account; N2bn transferred into microfinance bank; and a management fee of N21,017,810.00 was paid into an unspecified account.”
Former Governor Okorocha had in a public function in the state, announced the then Secretary to the State Government, Sir Jude Ejiogu, his son in-law that also doubled as his Chief of Staff, Uche Nwosu and others as constituting the committee to manage the bailout funds. That was the last that one heard. I join well-meaning Imo people to ask former Governor Rochas Okorocha and his allies what they did with the bailout fund.
When Governor Emeka Ihedioha recently raised the alarm over the existence of about Two Hundred and Fifty different Bank accounts in the name of the state government under Okorocha, many probably did not understand his worries. With the ICPC report on how the bailout funds were diverted and the different accounts the monies were transferred to, the coast is getting clearer. By the way, who were the signatories to the various accounts opened in the name of the State Government? Available reports show that many of the said accounts were managed by the former Governor’s relatives, allies and friends that ordinarily should have no business managing government accounts.
Now that the Treasury Singular Account (TSA) has been introduced in Imo, it is easier to monitor and control movement of state funds.
One of the many other cases of mismanagement of funds is that of the Paris club refunds. Just before the 2019 general elections, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission- EFCC said it froze N5bn funds belonging to the Imo State Government because “…Rochas Okorocha was spending too much on election.”
The EFCC stated that N8bn Paris Club loan refunded to the state for the payment of salaries was mismanaged by Okorocha. The EFCC’s Zonal Head for South East, Usman Imam said their timely intervention saved the state over N5bn that would have been deployed in vote buying by the Okorocha administration during the last elections.
Imam said that about N8bn from Paris Club refund bailout meant for payment of workers’ salaries was kept by the government, only to begin spending it frivolously on the eve of the elections.
Considering the way the bailout funds and even the Paris refunds were mismanaged, one is forced to ask- who repays the bailout funds for Imo? Should Governor Emeka Ihedioha use the meager resources that will hardly meet the needs of governance in the state to repay funds stolen by the gang that mismanaged Imo up till May 29, 2019?
Is there any reason why the country’s anti-corruption agencies are being slow in bringing all those that almost stole the state to death to justice?
It is common knowledge that those involved stole so much; enough to derail the course of justice and compromise the law enforcement and judicial system. But, can the law enforcement agencies and the country’s judiciary stand tall?
Again, allowing criminals to enjoy their loot makes them negative role models and enables them interfere in the process of their own investigation.
Governor Emeka Ihedioha must intensify efforts to recover all that were stolen from Imo State by the last administration.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission – ICPC must rise to the challenge of ensuring that there is no safe haven for all those that have stolen the future of generations yet unborn in Imo State and beyond.
Imo State needs every kobo stolen from the state and all hands must be on deck to recover all and bring the perpetrators to justice. Imo citizens must rise to name and shame all those involved in the looting of our collective purse.
Ultimately, former Governor Rochas Okorocha and his team must be made to explain to ndi Imo and Nigerians at large, what they did with the Bailout and Paris funds. All Imo sons and daughters must join the campaign to compel Okorocha to account for his stewardship.
The time to act is now!
Onye tara amu ebele ji Ibi ugwo. Ho haaa!!!!!!!!!
Dr. Walter Duru is a Communication Teacher and Public Affairs analyst. He can be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org