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Between Okorocha and Uzodinma: Guymen Politics in Imo State

Nigeria’s political landscape can never lack the theatrics and excitement of a blockbuster Hollywood movie. Political gladiators will always explode at each other from time to time. At one point it was Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State with Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State, both from the PDP, battling over the issue of herdsmen. Now it is Governor Hope Uzodinma and Senator Rochas Okorocha, both from APC, in Imo state.

The immediate past governor of Imo State, Senator Rochas Okorocha, was arrested by the police after he led a team of his supporters to reopen the Royal Palm Estate sealed by the State Government.

Okorocha, accompanied by his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, broke the keys used to seal the hotel which belongs to his wife, Nkechi. The seizure, according to the team led by Commissioner for Lands, Enyinnaya Onuegbu, was in compliance with the directive of the Imo State gazette on the report of the Judicial Commission of Enquiry on the recovery of lands and other related matters.

In another development, the Imo State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba, announced that the state executive council had adopted the White Paper recommending that Eastern Palm University, Ogboko, Ideato South Local Government Area of Imo state which he claimed was built with the resources of the state, be retrieved from Okorocha who is now representing Imo West in the Senate.

But Okorocha, in a statement by his spokesperson, Sam Onwuemeodo, in Owerri, the state capital, said the state government had no legal right to announce the recovery of the institution from the trustees of Rochas Foundation. He advised the state government to wait for the outcome of a suit it filed challenging the ownership status of the institution.

However, Emelumba said there was no going back on the recovery process. The commissioner said the National Universities Commission’s records showed that the university was documented as a state-owned university. He said, “The university was registered as a state-owned university. The university was built with funds belonging to the taxpayers of Imo State. There is no going back on the recovery. All the relevant agencies have been informed.” But Okorocha’s aide, Onwuemeodo, in the statement urged the public to disregard the state government.

A lot has been said about the controversy between Governor Hope Uzodinma and Senator Rochas Okorocha in recent times. The sour relationship between the duo if not handled carefully can affect the level of development in Imo State.

Imo State government under the leadership of Hope Uzodinma had accused the immediate past governor of the state of embezzlement and petitioned the EFCC. After investigation, EFCC announced that it had already returned over N2.7 billion from the N7.9 billion recovered from different bank accounts and assets belonging to Okorocha, to the state for payment of workers’ salaries and pension.

The Zonal Head of EFCC in Port Harcourt, Mr. Imam Usman, disclosed in Port Harcourt last year that several properties worth billions recovered from Okorocha have been forfeited to the Federal Government.

“Within the period in review, the Commission succeeded in freezing about N7.9billion in different accounts. Out of this, N2.7billion was released to the Imo State government to enable it pay staff salaries and pensions. Also, properties worth billions of Naira recovered in the course of the investigation have been forfeited to the Government.” Usman explained.

Only last week Saturday, Gov Uzodinma gathered stakeholders across political lines in the state, and they unanimously agreed that all stolen properties belonging to government or private individuals must be recovered.

In a “unanimous” resolution, the stakeholders mandated the governor to recover all the properties of Imo people from those involved no matter how highly placed they are.

Part of the resolution reads thus, “We the stakeholders from Imo State from the 305, wards in the state, after a meeting in Owerri on Saturday, February 21st do hereby resolve to mandate the state government to recover every property, money, or wealth stolen from Imo people by any person, no matter how highly placed….”

While many applauded these actions, including the arrest of Okorocha by police in Imo state, others posited that, Governor Hope Uzodinma does not have the moral justification to do such a thing. The questions many asked are: how would a governor that was struggling with corruption cases sincerely claim to fight another person on the issue of corruption? What moral justification does a governor with dark antecedents have to fight corruption if there is no personal vendetta?

Recall that Governor Hope Uzodinma was engulfed in a corruption case that came to an end abruptly when he got the APC governorship ticket. Actually, it was a contract saga. Many feel such cases are the empirical manifestations of the perpetuation of corruption in leadership that has held Nigeria back for ages.

The Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) found itself in a terrible business relationship with Niger Global Ltd in which the latter collected billions of Naira from the former for contracts that were not executed.

Every patriotic Nigerian would sanction within a minute the dissolution of such an unwholesome relationship that channels public funds into the pockets of few elements in the society. But standing in the way of such a progressive change was Senator Hope Uzodinma, the majority shareholder in Niger Global Ltd, and at that time, Chairman of Senate Committee on Customs, Chairman of a Joint Committee set up to investigate the same NPA, and now, the governor of Imo State.

Niger Global Ltd made its entry into the purse of the NPA in 2001 when it was awarded a $600,000 per month one-year contract to carry out maintenance dredging of the Container Terminal Berths, Tin Can Island, Roro Ports, and Calabar access channel.

Not satisfied with the quality of the work done, the NPA refused to renew that contract but Niger Global Ltd wouldn’t let go. That was the beginning of the parasitic arrangement that has cost Nigerians millions of dollars and also detailed reforms at the nation’s seaports.

Niger Global Ltd was paid off for the 2001 contract despite not doing the job to NPA’s satisfaction. 11 years later, under the administration of Goodluck Jonathan, Niger Global Ltd knocked on NPA’s door again, this time armed with a presidential approval which practically forced the NPA to enter into a Joint Venture partnership with Niger Global Ltd still for the purpose of managing the Calabar port channel.

Investigations reveal that the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP), expressly objected to this union between NPA and Niger Global Ltd for many reasons. According to the Director-General of the BPP at that time, Niger Global Ltd did not bid for the contract in line with the due process and the President had no legal standing to direct that the NPA give such contract to any company without competitive bidding. It was also noted that Niger Global Ltd had failed to properly execute contracts given to it by the NPA in the past.

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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) raised an investigation into the $12.5 million payment made by the NPA to Niger Global Ltd and requested that special auditing be conducted to determine if dredging work paid for was indeed done by the company. A consultant was engaged by the NPA to carry out the barometric audit. This was ongoing when Niger Global Ltd submitted another invoice requesting that the NPA pay another $22 million or face legal actions.

What followed were attempts by Senator Hope Uzodinma to use his position then as a Senator of the Federal Republic and Chairman of Senate Committee on Customs, to intimidate the NPA into paying his company the $22 million it requested for a job it did not do or do to specifications. First came allegations of 282 missing vessels and a probe by a Senate Joint Committee on Tariffs, Customs, Excise and marine Transport chaired by Senator Uzodinma himself which clearly constituted a conflict of interest.

Now that he is the governor of Imo State through the instrumentality of the court, the people are skeptical about his moves in the state to fight corruption. There are even fears that recovered funds might be re-looted.

For many citizens of Imo State, there is no difference between Hope Uzodinma and Rochas Okorocha as the duo are nothing but political guymen.

Charles Danson

Categories: Features, Politics

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