The Sunshine Hotel hall, Enugu, venue of an anti-corruption sensitisation programme, was on Monday afternoon, thrown into rowdiness when an official of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Suleiman Achile, threatened to arrest a constituent.
Onyewuchi Igboke – a constituent – and others had accused the agency of wrongdoing over the approved distribution of items worth over N117 million found in a property allegedly belonging to the senator representing Enugu North district, Chukwuka Utazi.
Mr Igboke Onyewuchi was one of the participants at the anti-corruption programme organised by ActionAid Nigeria, with the theme; “Enhancing Citizens’ Effective Participation in the Fight Against Corruption”
He said ICPC had ‘questionably’ given approval to Mr Utazi to hurriedly distribute the seized items on Tuesday as a way of protecting the senator.
Mr Igboke, who is the project manager, Advocacy Partnership for Good Governance, said Mr Utazi was being shielded because he was the chairman of the Senate Committee on Anti-corruption in the eighth assembly.
“On Thursday, July 31, ICPC discovered items worth N117 million meant to be distributed to constituents by the senator representing my constituency, and the place was sealed up,” he said.
“Surprisingly, the senator has just announced at the weekend that the seized items would be distributed tomorrow, Tuesday, and ICPC has also issued a statement that it would monitor the distribution. We now wonder when the ICPC made the U-turn to unseal what was publicly sealed and which video clips we have obtained.”
Mr Igboke queried the rationale behind the approval reportedly given by ICPC.
But in his response, Mr Achile, who is the head of public enlightenment unit of ICPC office in Enugu, accused Mr Igboke of giving false information. He said the discovery of the items was not by the constituents but by the efforts of the commission.
“I take exception to the unsubstantiated allegation peddled here by the young man and I will communicate some of our officers to help take the man in for interrogation,” the official said.
Mr Achile’s statement was met with wild protests by tens of other constituents and participants at the programme, who shouted him down and demanded an apology.
It took the intervention of the ActionAid Nigeria’s Country Director, Ene Obi, to douse the tension. She also threatened to get herself arrested if anyone is rounded up over what she described as ‘innocuous’ questions.
The ICPC Statement
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the ICPC at the weekend said items worth over N117 million, which were meant for constituency projects, were uncovered in the premises of a property located at Mkpologu town in Uzo-Nwani Local Government Area of Enugu State.
The statement by the commission’s spokesperson, Rasheedat Okoduwa, said the items comprising 168 motorcycles and 51 tricycles were hidden in the property allegedly belonging Mr Utazi.
The statement said; “In its continuing effort at ensuring the satisfactory execution and completion of all constituency projects across the country through the Constituency Projects Tracking Group initiative, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission has again recovered items worth N117,123,375.44 from the senator representing Enugu North Senatorial District of Enugu State.
“The items covered by this amount and recovered from the legislator are 168 and 51 numbers of motorcycles and tricycles respectively. They were discovered to be stashed away in a compound in Mkpologu town of the Uzo-Nwani Local Government Area, believed to be owned by the senator. ICPC findings indicated clearly that the contract for the procurement of the items was awarded on January 23, 2018, under the Sustainable Development Goals as part of the senator’s constituency projects.
“Investigations have also shown that the companies awarded the contracts for the project are Al-Amir Int. Ltd, Du-Lumac Ltd, Com Technologies System Ltd and Chumax Agency Ltd.”
The anti-graft agency noted that apart from the items highlighted, another set of items meant for another project were also recovered from the same property. The commission said the senator promised to distribute them on Tuesday under the supervision of the ICPC.
ICPC added; “Additionally, ICPC recovered 203 grinding machines, 60 motorcycles and five transformers in the compound which had been procured under another constituency project. Thereupon the commission impounded all the items and sealed the senator’s compound.
“The tricycles, motorcycles and grinding machines were meant to be distributed to the lawmaker’s constituents to empower them as part of the Federal Government’s efforts to alleviate poverty. The senator has pledged to ICPC that the items would be distributed to beneficiaries on Tuesday, August 6, 2019.”
ICPC headquarters promises intervention
When asked when and how the ICPC concluded its investigation to warrant the approval given to the senator to distribute the property, the ICPC spokesperson, who confirmed the development, said she would find out and get back to our reporter.
“I issued the statement and it is true the senator is planning to distribute the items to the constituents. But on those questions about the investigations into the matter, I would get back to you,” she said.
She was yet to get back at the time of this report.
ActionAid promises follow-up
The country director of ActionAid Nigeria, Ene Obi, has promised that her organisation would make more enquiries on the matter. She said the fight against corruption must be total and urged all stakeholders to join hands with the organisation to fight what she described as a cankerworm that has eaten too deep into the nation’s fabric.
Earlier in her remark, Ms Obi said ActionAid believes that effective management of resources by government can eradicate poverty or reduce it to the barest minimum. She added that her organisation has implemented projects in the 36 states of the federation and the FCT, and has seen the reality of poverty at the grassroots.
She said; “You may ask, why is it important to empower the Nigerian citizens to effectively fight against corruption. You may be wondering why the burden of eradicating corruption is not mounted on the government and our public officials. You may even –and rightly too- say the government should bear the burden because corruption began with the government institutions and the government are better positioned to end it.
“The simple answer is in the social cost of corruption and how it has fuelled unemployment and poverty. Studies have corroborated the fact that corruption is a high risk for economic growth and can undermine some of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) especially poverty and hunger. I must say that governments over the years have made efforts to curb corruption. However, their efforts seem insufficient to surmount the evil and its attendants’ effects on Nigerians.”