A foremost economist and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Abia State, Dr Alex Otti, has demanded from the state governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, an explanation on how the state utilised over N30 billion Paris Club refund by the Federal Government.
Otti, riding on the revelation by Governor Ikpeazu’s former Commissioner of Finance, Mr. Obinna Oriaku, who alleged that N8.2 billion was paid to Abia State under former governor Theodore Orji and another N22 billion of the Paris Club refund under Ikpeazu, wants the governor to explain to the citizens of the state how the money was spent.
In a statement, dated July 6, 2021, he personally signed, the outspoken former gubernatorial candidate who has remained consistent in holding the government accountable, regretted that despite the huge sum refunded to the state arrears of salaries of workers and other debts remained unpaid.
Otti’s statement reads in full:
“In the last few weeks, Abia state has been in the news for the wrong reasons following an invitation said to have been extended to some present and past officials of the State Government over the management of the N22 billion Paris Club Refund to Abia state by the Federal Government a few years ago.
“You would recall that the federal government had undertaken and actually refunded billions of Naira to states in different tranches being excess deductions on the Paris Club Debts. These were meant to help states defray arrears of salaries and other debts. Fortunately, Abia state happened to be one of the big beneficiaries, as she got a whopping N22 billion from the refunds between 2016 and 2017.
“Shortly after the receipt of the funds, I did issue a release urging the state government to ensure responsibility in the management of the funds, so that at minimum, the state would be able to overcome the perennial problem of non-payment of salaries and pensions. Sadly, the funds which came in three tranches were received and utilised without the government clearing the humongous unpaid salary and pension arrears till this moment. Shockingly, one of those invited by the EFCC and Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s former Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Obinna Oriaku, made damning revelations on how the former governor, Theodore Orji’s government indulged in alleged dubious consultancy arrangements aimed at defrauding the state. The key revelations from Oriaku’s submission were:
“1. That former Governor Theodore Orji’s government received the sum of N8.2 billion Paris Club Refund during his tenure (This is not part of the N22 billion under discuss), and that there’s no record to show how the money was utilised.
“2. That at the twilight of that administration, and knowing that other Paris Club Refunds were going to be paid, Theodore Orji’s government, allegedly imposed two consultants on the incoming government of Ikpeazu with 30 and 20 percent consultancy fees respectively. This implied that the so-called consultants were to be paid N11 billion (50%) of the N22 billion paid to the Ikpeazu led government by the federal government.
“3. That the duplication was aimed at short changing the state, hence the engagement of two consultants, including one Ziplon Nigeria Limited with no official engagement letter, and suspected to be fronting for the former governor.
“4. That one of the consultants has now approached the EFCC with the intention of ensuring that they were paid several billions being in consultancy fees with respect to the N22 billion. Note that, the revelation showed that the same consultants were allegedly hired by the Theodore Orji government with respect to the N8.2 billion Paris Club Refund to his government, at the same rate.
“Further developments a few days ago saw Theodore Orji’s former Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Philip Nto, unambiguously admit that they implemented 30% consultancy fee with respect to the Paris Club Refund.
“Fellow citizens, I’m sure you’ll agree with me that with such frightening revelations coming from key actors of the two governments, Abia is dangerously sitting on the edge of a precipice.
“While one has always known, like millions of Abians that acts of financial malfeasance are rocking the state going by the government’s inability to execute the most elementary demands of governance like payment of salaries and pensions, one never imagined it could be done with such brazen audacity and cruelty that has the propensity to ruin the state in perpetuity and make millions of Abians slaves to the perpetrators of those heinous financial crimes.
“In the light of these sad developments, I wish to submit and also demand the following;
“1. That these revelations have further given credence to the generally held opinion that Abia is being recklessly plundered in the most despicable manner.
“2. That from the revelations made by Mr. Obinna Oriaku, it was clear that Governor Ikpeazu was aware of the existence of the so-called consultants and the questionable agreements they had with his predecessor on behalf of the government with a view to crippling his government and short changing the people, therefore one would like to know why Governor Ikpeazu did not terminate the agreement on assumption of office knowing that it was unreasonable? Would the consultants have had any locus or grounds to approach the EFCC against the state if the governor had on assumption of office ensured the termination of the contract entered into by his predecessor?
“3. That the ongoing legal action initiated against Abia State by the consultants at a federal high court in Abuja and the alleged presence of key government officials for the proceedings would have been avoided if the Ikpeazu government had been courageous enough to call the bluff of the consultants and their promoters from the outset knowing that no sane mind would enter into such contract?
“4. That the government should tell Abians the role of the said consultants in the return of funds which the federal government was making to states.
“5. That even in a difficult task of recovery of bad debts through a consultant, the maximum compensation applicable all over the world is between 2 and 5%, so what brought about the rate of 50%?
“6. That without prejudice to the matters before the court and EFCC, the state government should initiate the process of recovering stolen Abia money from this bogus scheme and ensure that same is returned to the state.
“7. That the state government should take interest in the matter before EFCC which borders on recovery of funds for one of the consultants and expand the matter to recovery of looted funds in the name of consultancy fees for the benefit of the state.
“Finally, let me state that this intervention, as usual, is selfless and aimed at reminding those in leadership positions in Abia that silence in this kind of matter is not golden. The government at every point must be accountable to the people. The government should therefore come clean and explain what it knows about this matter to Abia people.”