A civil society group, Foundation for Environmental Rights Advocacy and Development has condemned the “looting spree” that allegedly took place in Abia State towards the end of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s administration.
Mr Ikpeazu served as the governor of the state between 29 May 2015 and 29 May 2023, before handing over to the incumbent governor of the state, Alex Otti.
In a statement on Wednesday by its Executive Director, Nelson Nwafor, the group said it was alarmed by Mr Otti’s recent directive asking Mr Ikpeazu’s appointees and officials to return the government’s properties in their possession.
Gov Otti’s allegations
Mr Otti had, on Saturday, accused some unnamed officials of the state government who served under Mr Ikpeazu’s administration of “holding on to” the government’s properties.
“It has come to the knowledge of the state government that some government officials, including appointees of the past administration, are still holding on to government properties, such as vehicles, generators, laptops and other assets,” the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Kenneth Kalu, said in a statement.
“Anyone who is in possession of government properties is hereby directed to return such to the office of the Secretary to the State Government on or before 4 p.m. on Tuesday, June 6th 2023, obtain a necessary acknowledgement from the SSG’s office,” the SSG, a professor, stated.
The statement did not specifically say that the officials looted the government properties.
Allegations by the civil society group
The Abia State-based civil society group, Foundation for Environmental Rights Advocacy and Development, said it had observed that, aside from the “looting” of government properties, public schools and hospitals in the state were allegedly being converted to private business. In contrast, some other schools have continued to lose parcels of land converted to other uses by past officials.
“This is a sad development,” the group said.
The group added that the “looting spree” in Abia State at this time was worrying, given that the state’s debt stock- both domestic and foreign – was limiting the state’s budgetary performance.
“Already, the infrastructure gap in Abia is deficit and huge, requiring therefore that no single attention be diverted to official looting of public property and equipment,” it said.
“Abia treasury already looks lean, so what use is the looting of public properties in health institutions, government offices and departments?”
Govt confirms conversion allegations
When contacted on Thursday, Ferdinand Ekeoma, the spokesperson to Governor Otti, confirmed the alleged conversion of public institutions and lands to personal use by past officials.
“The public institutions that hitherto existed and were known to belong to Abia State Government – many of them have been converted for personal use,” Mr Ekeoma told PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday.
He listed some affected institutions, including Azikiwe Road Primary School, Aba, Old Court Primary School and Wilcox Primary School, among others.
“For example, that of Azikiwe Road Primary School, Aba, they (the past officials) knocked down the (school) building, divided the land into two, built a two-storey building on one side and three storey building on the other side,” the spokesperson stated
Call on Otti
The civil society group called on Governor Otti to “go the extra mile” in taking punitive measures against the past officials who “looted” the government properties.
It also called for the review of the activities of some school headmasters and headmistresses in the state.
“This call (is) as a result of the lawless and reckless conversion of school and public building to repurposed religious centres and churches,” the group explained.
It backed the freezing of Abia State Government accounts and suspension of revenue collection agents in the state by Mr Otti, saying the decision would help the new administration to “normalise authority.”
The group stressed that the state revenue was “shrinking” and that there was a need to improve the revenue generation in the state to help budget performance and financing.
It pointed out that Mr Ikpeazu’s administration awarded revenue collection contracts to “unprofessional bodies”, which caused financial “leakages and loopholes”, resulting in the state’s revenue falling within N14 billion annually.
The group urged all ministries, departments and agencies, as well as various permanent secretaries, to work in the interest of Abia State to achieve stability in fiscal and financial policies of the state.
“This period, in the history of the state, calls for financial discipline and disclosure, not secrecy.
“It is our belief that the government will, in time, relax the restriction on the (state’s) account and restructure taxation to create a buffer around social security and other such investment capable of lifting Abians out of poverty as the state has fallen on hard times,” it stated.
Ikpeazu’s spokesperson reacts
When contacted on Thursday morning, the then spokesperson to Mr Ikpeazu, Onyebuchi Ememanka, described the allegation as “incorrect,” saying the group did not know how the government operated.
Mr Ememanka, a lawyer, told PREMIUM TIMES that what happened was that some officials of the past administration only left with personal properties they bought and used in their offices.
He said some of the officials acquired some properties by themselves either because such properties were not present in their offices or official apartments or that the properties were not in good condition.
The former spokesperson said, for instance, given that the chairs he met in his office were “not good enough” on the assumption of office at the Government House, Umuahia, he brought some chairs as well as some of his photo enlargements.
He said he informed some civil servants working at the government house of the developments.
“The day I was leaving my office, I packed those enlargements – up to 10 of them – some people saw me and were moping, wondering what I was carrying because I covered them,” he said.
“In the government house where I worked, I did not get any official vehicle, but I got an official number plate. People could see me driving my car and thought it was a government vehicle,” Mr Ememanka stated.
He added that only the civil servants are in a position to raise the alarm of looting.
The former spokesperson said it would be difficult to loot government properties from the Government House given that the civil servants would usually check an inventory file in every office to ascertain that the things inherited by a former official were present before allowing him to leave.
“You cannot even cross the government house. There are security men all over the place.”
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