Angela Nkwo-Akpolu, captures the unfolding intrigues arising from the probe of Senator Rochas Okorocha’s administration as governor of Imo State by his successor, Senator Hope Uzodinma
These are not the best of times for former Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State as a judicial commission of Inquiry recently indicted him in the mismanagement of state funds amounting to N106 billion.
Immediate past Governor, Rt Hon Emeka Ihedioha had, while he held sway, inaugurated the panel on June 8, 2019, to investigate financial dealings of Okorocha during his eight years reign as Governor of Imo State.
The Judicial Commission of Inquiry on the award of contracts had Justice Benjamin Iheaka as the Chairman. While Engr. Chris Ibeh, Ifeyinwa Maureen Okafor, Dr Samuel Ifeanyi Onwuasoanya, Barr. Stanley Imo, Mr Paschal Uzokwu, and Barr. Aloy Ejimako as members, and Dame Comfort Obi as the secretary.
However, on January 14, 2020, the Supreme Court ousted Ihedioha and announced Senator Hope Uzodimma as the rightful governor.
But while many other committees were disbanded, Senator Uzodimma announced that the Justice Iheaka-led panel should continue with their findings.
During sittings, several persons who served under Okorocha were summoned by the commission to give explanations into certain projects.
Some of those summoned told them how they only acted on the governor’s directives and not according to laid down government procedures.
Okorocha chose to stay away from the panel despite summons.
But he approached a Federal High Court which ordered that the status quo be maintained.
According to Okorocha, several panels were investigating him on the same issues, thus he headed for the Federal High Court for protection, saying “We are also demanding for the Publication of the report because we do not believe that the Chairman of the Panel, a Judge, could go-ahead to submit a report on a matter that is pending at a Federal High Court in which the Presiding Judge had ordered for the maintenance of the Status quo. Okorocha had gone to Court to complain that several Panels cannot be probing him on the same issues, the EFCC is probing him too, following petitions from the same government”.
Okorocha had sought to stop the inquiry which according to him was intended to paint him black, as he had maintained that the members comprised of card-carrying members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Upon the inauguration of the commission of Inquiry, Okorocha argued that he will not get a fair hearing because the members comprised of PDP members.
However, the commission of Inquiry commenced sittings and simply continued with their hearings.
Sometimes, the hearings made news headlines and at some other times, the media ignored their sittings or so it seemed.
But just last week, the commission of Inquiry submitted her report with a damning verdict on Okorocha, that he was to refund the sum of N106 billion which he mismanaged when he held sway as governor of Imo State.
Specifically, the panel held that the sum was for unexecuted contracts, outrageous inflation of prices, unprofessional supervision of awarded contracts, several unexecuted contracts amongst others.
And as expected, Okorocha fought back. He broke his silence and told Uzodimma to “Publish the list of contractors who handled contracts under Okorocha, state the contracts they did, how much they were paid respectively, how they were paid and what they should have been paid, in the estimation of the Panel members”.
In a statement signed by his spokesman, Sam Onwuemodo, Okorocha lampooned the panel, saying no serious panel would have made such recommendation. It could only take a “Ben Johnson” Panel to do that.
Specifically, he said, ” We challenge the government in Imo, led by Senator Hope Uzodimma to publish the Iheaka report verbatim, so that Imo people in particular and Nigerians in general, could read the report and see how the Panel arrived at N106 billion, which they said that Senator Okorocha should refund”.
Further, Okorocha said he spent the money on a myriad of verifiable projects, including opening up of various roads in the State, adding that the roads he built which were described as “China roads”, are still the roads still in use in the State.
He said “Roads built by Okorocha which they branded China roads, are still what Imo people are using. No new road. They could not even maintain the existing roads. They are living in Odenigbo Presidential lodge and Governor’s lodge built by Okorocha. The two flyovers built by Okorocha are still the only flyovers. Ditto, the two tunnels built by Okorocha. The Judges and Lawyers have moved to the Ultra Modern Justice Oputa High Court Complex built by Okorocha, from the shanties they had called High Court.
“They have continued to foot drag in asking the Police to move to the new Police Headquarters built by Okorocha and the Prisons to the new Prison Headquarters built by Okorocha. They have refused to open the International Cargo Airport built by Okorocha. The projects are there. Let them mention one project they have done since January 14, 2020, when they came on board.
Trust Okorocha to stir up the waters. He charged Governor Uzodinma to explain what he has done with the N119 billion he has collected from the federation account and N6.4 billion ISOPADEC fund, vis-a-viz the internally Generated Revenue (IGR), adding that the Governor disclosed that he assumed office through the “Ben Johnson way and since January 14, 2020, when he came on board, all his actions and utterances have been Ben Johnson way”.
According to Okorocha, Uzodimma’s burden has been acceptance. He said, “For almost nine months on the seat, the government in Imo has been struggling for acceptance”.
Okorocha maintained that no other State Governor, including Imo State, has over one thousand projects to his credit like himself saying “We have always claimed that Okorocha as Governor, had more than one thousand projects to his Credit and nobody, including the government in Imo has said it is not true or has openly Challenged us to publish the projects because they know that the projects exist. And if they exist, how would have someone made away with N106 Billion and still do such befitting projects”.
He even threw a jibe that Imo people were missing him just a little over a year he left office because there are no new projects saying ” The problem at the moment is that Imo people have begun to miss Owelle Okorocha just one year and five months after he had left as Governor”.
Already, the Imo Elders Forum has called on the former Governor to answer to the allegations levelled against him.
The Forum through its spokesman, Prince Bob Njemanze urged Governor Hope Uzodimma to implement Justice Benjamin Iheaka’s panel, which called for the probe of contracts awarded by his predecessor, Okorocha worth N106 billion.
“It will be wrong for the former Governor to claim that his successor is seeking acceptance by exposing the ills of his administration. Uzodimma never set up that panel, the panel was set up by Emeka Ihedioha. We want Uzodimma to implement the panel’s report and recover the monies Okorocha misappropriated”.
Further, he said ” The challenge for Uzodimma will be if, for any reason for consideration, he either blackmailed or compromised into not redressing the situation. Imo people are looking up to see what the attitude and approach of the administration would be to such devastation that was brought on Imo State.”
But truth be told, many people believe Okorocha squandered Imo funds on bogus projects and abandoned those that would have benefited the people better.
For instance, the 27 supposed general hospitals, offices for the Nigerian Army, Navy, Police, Air force amongst others.
But when reached for reactions on the diatribe thrown by the former Governor, Spokesman to Governor Uzodimma, Oguwike Nwachuku said the State government was not in any fight with the former.
According to Nwachuku, Okorocha was simply fighting with his conscience. “It’s not about the State Government. No, rather they are fighting with their conscience. The matter is between them and Imo people, not the Governor. You will recall that the Judicial Commission of Inquiry on Award of Contracts was set up by Chief Emeka Ihedioha, not even us. If you ask me, I will say they should wait for the white paper on the issue. We don’t have any issue with them, but they have with Ndi Imo”, he said.