By Sunday Ani

The immediate past governor of Abia State, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, has challenged his successor, Dr. Alex Otti, to make the allegations of corrupt practices against him public.

He spoke against the claim that a forensic audit report from a reputable company had indicted him.

Sir Onyebuchi Ememanka, spokesman to Ikpeazu, explained that when forensic auditors are appointed and when they complete their task, the reasonable thing to do is to make the report public and allow the document to speak for itself.

Otti in a viral video said: “I set up a forensic audit as soon as I took over as governor. So that there will be no argument, I called in one of the top three audit firms in the world and not too long ago they turned in their reports and some of the things in their reports were frightening.

“N79.3 billion naira was paid to seven Contractors for contracts that were not executed at all. Another 15.9 billion almost 16 billion was paid to 63 contractors with no supporting documents anywhere. Another 13 billion naira was paid to two contractors for contracts that do not exist out of these figures, 10 billion naira was on September 25, 2020 paid to some contractor for the construction of Abia State Airport.

“We’ve spent time trying to locate the airport and up till now, we’ve failed. One of my aides told me the other day that maybe we’re using native intelligence to look for the airport and that we should seek artificial intelligence. We’ve also involved security agents to help us find the airport.

“That’s just an example of what happened. When you juxtapose that with pensions that were lying unpaid for about ten years and salary arrears, 10 billion that was used to build a non-existent airport was exactly the same amount of money our government used to take off the pension arrears.”

Responding, Ememanka said since leaving office as governor of Abia State for two consecutive terms, Ikpeazu has carried himself with the dignity his present situation in life demands and has, as a matter of personal policy, avoided any confrontation with Governor Otti and his administration.

He said at best, what Dr. Ikpeazu has authorised clarifications whenever the Otti’s administration seeks to misinform the public about what transpired during the last administration.

Ememanka said what Otti said at the forum abroad was a tissue of lies, intricately woven by a spin doctor to deceive his audience and internationalize his known deep aversion for his predecessor.

“For starters, we welcome the fact that the governor has chosen to bring in a reputable firm of auditors who conducted a forensic audit. According to him, the firm is one of the top three in the world. Therefore, it must be Deloitte, Ernst and Young or PriceWaterhouseCoopers. These are firms whose professionalism and global repute are not in doubt.

“Forensic audits are no voodoo schemes. They are acceptable means of investigating the finances of organisations and governments. They are carried out by top accounting professionals who are disinterested in politics and internal shenanigans in the organisation they are auditing.

“There is not even conclusive evidence of any guilt on the part of any person. They are at best, pointers to financial malfeasance. When they are to be used in a criminal trial, lawyers will subject them to cross-examination and the people involved will be afforded the opportunity to defend themselves.

“Governor Alex Otti should, as a matter of public policy, name the accounting firm that did the audit and release the audit report. Abia State has a functional website. The audit report should be posted there immediately. Going to a foreign land to make comments about a document that is not in the public domain portrays the Governor as an administrative comedian.” 

Ememanka said Ikpeazu never built any airport and never claimed to have built one, stressing that facts are sacred.

“At some point in our administration, the idea of building an airport came up. It was an ambitious idea that the governor (Ikpeazu) wanted to pursue and one of the schemes that were considered then for funding the project was a public private partnership.

“The state government announced their plan to invest the sum of N10 billion into the project. Some private investors showed interest and the government, through the Ministry of Lands, commenced the acquisition of a large expanse of land at a location between Ikwuano and Isiala-Ngwa North local government areas.

“There were interfaces between the Ministry and the representatives of the land-owning communities, and some investors actually came to Abia to hold preliminary discussions with representatives of the State Government on the project.

“While these talks went on, a section of the Abia public felt that the airport idea was ill-timed. Indeed, the State Traditional Rulers Council led by their then chairman, Eze Joseph Nwabeke visited the governor and advised him to shelve airport plans and channel such funds, if they were available, into the completion of some critical road projects then.

“This was exactly what the governor did. Indeed, at a hangout with some selected journalists in Lagos, then Governor Ikpeazu, after speaking on the advantages of having an airport, told the journalists that he had decided to backtrack on the project based on the yearnings of our people. The video wherein the Governor made that statement is available and will be made public after this release.”

Ikpeazu’s spokesperson further explained that the only money the Ikpeazu’s administration committed to the airport project was 10 Million Naira, released to the Ministry of Lands during the process of acquiring the land and managing the interface with the local communities.

“Not a kobo more was spent! The Honorable Commissioner for Lands then, is still alive. There was never any design for the airport. There was never a contractor selected and there was never any contract signed between the State Government and any person for this job.

“Neither Governor Ikpeazu nor the State Executive Council at the time approved the payment of any money to any contractor for any airport. It is only God in heaven and Governor Otti who knows where he found records of 10 Billion Naira paid to any person to build an airport.”

Ememanka said it was disturbing that people actually believed what he termed ‘trash’, querying the possibility of any state government paying N10 billion for any project at all and not making it a press event.

“At least, there will be a flag off for such a project that the Government paid 10 Billion! In Abia, ceremonies are held for the flag-off of road projects, let alone an airport.

“We hereby throw a public challenge to Dr Alex Otti, governor of Abia State, to make public any documentary evidence or any kind of evidence at all that shows that the sum of 10 Billion Naira, or any other amount at all, apart from the initial 10 million Naira mentioned above was paid to anyone for an airport.

“What is the name of the contractor who received the money? Who authorised the payment? Was it a one-off payment or was it paid in different tranches? Which bank handled the payment? Or was it paid in cash?

“Is it possible at all for any state government to make such payment in the absence of a design and even a contract document? So Abia State, under our watch, which was struggling with poor finances, will pay 10 Billion Naira to someone, just like that.”

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Ememanka added that the Commissioner for Finance and Accountant General of the state then who should be in the know of such transactions were still alive.

He stressed that if Governor Otti failed to provide answers to the questions above, the Ikpeazu team will leave the public to draw their conclusions about the character of the man who occupies the office of Governor of Abia State.

Ememanka said it was not enough for Otti to just claim that N79.3 billion was paid to seven contractors for contracts that were not executed at all up till today and challenge Otti to immediately release the names of the seven contractors and evidence of monies paid to them together with the contract papers.

“We demand to know the dates the monies were paid and the banks that handled the payments. Otti is a banker. He still runs Signature Bank. This information shouldn’t be difficult to get. No one should take 79.3 Billion of Abia’s money and walk away just like that!

“At this point, it is important to note that the total budget for Abia State under the watch of Ikpeazu never got to 170 Billion Naira for any year throughout the 8 years he held sway as Governor. This included both recurrent and capital expenditures. Indeed, capital expenditures in any particular year hovered between N70 and N80 million.

“Having said that the public should note the assertions made by the Governor on this point are false and malicious. Just like the airport issue, we challenge him to make the audit report.”

Ememanka explained that Otti also made a laughable claim when he said 16 Billion Naira was paid to 63 contractors with no supporting documents anywhere.

“Since there are no supporting documents anywhere, how did Otti know that they are contractors? Contractors are defined in contract documents which also define in clear detail what job they will do.

“Governor Otti should immediately provide the names of the 63 contractors for the public to know. Under the Ikpeazu administration, no money was paid to any contractor without supporting documents. That is not even possible and no proper Accountant will effect such nebulous payment.

“No Accounting department will allow such malfeasance. Since there were no supporting documents, on what basis were the payments made? Yet the people who allegedly authorized the payments are still walking free?

“We went on…”Another 12 Billion Naira was paid to 2 contractors for contracts that do not exist”. These contractors, don’t they have names? It was here that he said that out of the 12 Billion, 10 Billion was paid to a contractor for the airport. Our response to the airport nonsense is already stated.

“While we await the release of the audit report with the names of the contractors who were paid, we wish to remind the public that this is not the first time Governor Otti will lie in public about issues of the State finances.

“Upon taking over in May last year, he told the world that his predecessor incurred a debt of about 190 Billion. He “wondered” where the money went. What he didn’t tell the public is that the amount he mentioned represented the aggregate total of all the debts incurred by the State since its creation, including loans that were carried over from the old Imo State.

“He also didn’t tell the public that since these foreign loans are dollar-denominated, their current value is affected by forex differentials. For example, if there was a loan of 50 Million Dollars taken 20 years ago when the dollar exchanged at say, 100 Naira, the current value of that loan will be calculated at the current exchange value of the dollar.

“So if you calculate the current debt of the State, it would have gone far far beyond what Otti inherited, solely on accounting of foreign exchange differentials.

“Secondly, Otti came on National TV to deny with a straight face that the Ikpeazu administration didn’t pay any money for the acquisition of equity in the Geometric Power Project.

“Professor Barth Nnaji had also made the statement that Ikpeazu didn’t pay. But when we produced documents evidencing the acknowledgement of receipt of the sum of N1.4 million by Geometric, Professor Nnaji quickly beat a retreat and came clean.”

He said that Governor Otti to date has refused to acknowledge that any money was paid, adding that if not for the sustained media pressure from them, Abia people and the general public would have stuck with the false impression that no money was paid to Geometric Power by the Ikpeazu administration.

He said that because of their persistence, the government and people of Abia State proudly own 3.5 percent shares in a company, Geometric that is valued at N800 million.

He explained further that another area where Otti has been economical with the truth is in the area of payment of pensions, adding that a few weeks ago, Otti went to town with the news that he has cleared all pensions arrears in the State.

Ememanka said Otti’s aversion for his predecessor is well known and has been elevated to a tool of state policy implementation.

“Anything that has to do with Ikpeazu that is positive must either be suppressed or poisoned. The negatives must be blown out of proportion. Ikpeazu must be rubbished at all costs.

“Ikpeazu built a brand new Multi Specialist Hospital at the premises of the Aba General Hospital and got it fully equipped with modern hospital equipment.

“There is no state-owned hospital that can match it in terms of equipment. It was duly commissioned for use by the people. Otti came in and locked up the place for no reason at all.

“He simply doesn’t want any form of positive mention for Ikpeazu. He prefers to deny our people the use of such a solid health facility just to water his aversion for Ikpeazu.

“The only reason why the Osisioma Flyover, Ikpeazu’s signature project, is standing today is because it will be difficult to pull it down. Instead, what they have done is to allow the environment to decay and rot.

“The areas around the flyover have become a signpost for chaos and confusion. A motor park of sorts. Otti has simply not forgiven Ikpeazu for defeating him in the 2015 and  2019 elections.

“We understand that but these are facts of history and no attempt at historical revisionism can change that. Never in the history of Nigerian politics has a sitting Governor displayed such a naked show of aggression towards his successor.

“For Otti, Abia was created in 2015 and every Kobo Abia has earned since creation was stolen under Ikpeazu.”