Corruption Allegations: Ikpeazu Challenges Otti To Publish Audit Report


Barely two days after the Governor of Abia State, Dr Alex Otti in a public function abroad made a series of allegations that a forensic audit report had indicted his predecessor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu of corrupt practices, a response has arrived.

The response which came from Sir Onyebuchi Ememanka, the spokesman to Ikpeazu, explains that when forensic auditors are appointed and when they complete their task, the reasonable thing to do is to make the Forensic Audit Report public and allow the document speak for itself.

Speaking in a video that went viral while on a foreign trip, Otti said, “I’ve set up forensic audit as soon as I took over as Governor. So that there will be no argument, I called in one of the top three audit firms in the world and not too long ago they turned in their reports and some of the things in their reports in frightening.

“N79.3 billion naira was paid to seven Contractors for contracts that were not executed at all. Another 15.9 billion almost 16 billion was paid to 63 contractors with no supporting documents anywhere. Another 13 billion Naira was paid to two contractors for contracts that do not exist out of these figures, and 10 billion Naira was on September 25, 2020, paid to some contractors for the construction of Abia State Airport.

“We’ve spent time trying to locate the airport and up till now, we’ve failed. One of my aides told me the other day that maybe we’re using native intelligence to look for the airport and that we should seek artificial intelligence. We’ve also involved security agents to help us find the airport.

“That’s just an example of what happened. When you juxtapose that with pensions that were lying unpaid for about ten years and salary arrears, 10 billion that was used to build a non-existent airport was exactly the same amount of money our government used to take off the pension arrears.”

Reacting to Otti’s allegations, Ememanka said that ever since leaving office as Governor of Abia State for two consecutive terms, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu has carried himself with the dignity his present situation in life demands and has, as a matter of personal policy, avoided any confrontation with the present Governor and his administration.

He said that at best, what Dr. Ikpeazu has authorized are clarifications whenever the Otti’s administration seeks to misinform the public about what transpired during the last administration.

Ememanka said that what Otti said at the forum abroad is a tissue of lies, intricately woven by a spin doctor to deceive his audience and internationalize his known deep aversion for his predecessor.

“For starters, we welcome the fact that the Governor has chosen to bring in a reputable firm of auditors who conducted a forensic audit. According to him, the firm “is one of the top three in the world”, therefore it must be Deloitte, Ernst and Young or PriceWaterhouseCoopers. These are firms whose professionalism and global repute are not in doubt.

“Forensic Audits are no voodoo schemes. They are acceptable means of investigating the finances of organizations and governments. They are carried out by top accounting professionals who are disinterested in politics and internal shenanigans in the organization they are auditing.

“They are not even conclusive evidence of any guilt on the part of any person. They are at best, pointers to financial malfeasance. When they are to be used in a criminal trial, lawyers will subject them to cross-examination and the people involved will be afforded the opportunity to defend themselves.

“Governor Alex Otti should, as a matter of public policy, name the Accounting Firm that did the audit and release the audit report. Abia State has a functional website. The audit report should be posted there immediately. Going to a foreign land to make comments about a document that is not in the public domain portrays the Governor as an administrative comedian,” he said.

Addressing the issues raised by Otti further, Ememanka said that Ikpeazu never built any airport and never claimed to have built one, stressing that facts are sacred.

According to him, “At some point in our administration, the idea of building an airport came up. It was an ambitious idea that the Governor wanted to pursue and one of the schemes that were considered then for funding the project was a Public Private Partnership.

“The State Government announced their plan to invest the sum of 10 Billion Naira into the project. Some private investors showed interest and the Government through the Ministry of Lands, commenced the acquisition of a large expanse of land at a location between Ikwuano and Isiala-Ngwa North Local Government Areas.

“There were interfaces between the Ministry and the representatives of the land-owning communities, and some investors actually came to Abia to hold preliminary discussions with representatives of the State Government on the project.

“While these talks went on, a section of the Abia public felt that the airport idea was ill-timed. Indeed, the State Traditional Rulers Council led by their then Chairman, Hrm Eze Joseph Nwabeke visited the Governor and advised him to shelve airport plans and channel such funds, if they were available, into the completion of some critical road projects then.

“This was exactly what the Governor did. Indeed at a hangout with some selected journalists in Lagos, then Governor Ikpeazu, after speaking on the advantages of having an airport, told the journalists that he had decided to backtrack on the project based on the yearnings of our people. The video wherein the Governor made that statement is available and will be made public after this release,” he explained.

Ememanka further explained that the only money the Ikpeazu’s administration committed to the airport project was 10 Million Naira, released to the Ministry of Lands during the process of acquiring the land and managing the interface with the local communities.

“Not a Kobo more was spent! The Honorable Commissioner for Lands then, is still alive. There was never any design for the airport. There was never a contractor selected and there was never any contract signed between the State Government and any person for this job.

“Neither Governor Ikpeazu nor the State Executive Council at the time approved the payment of any money to any contractor for any airport. It is only God in heaven and Governor Otti who knows where he found records of 10 Billion Naira paid to any person to build an airport.”

Ememanka said that it is disturbing that people actually believe what he termed ‘trash’, querying the possibility of any State Government in Nigeria paying 10 Billion Naira for any project at all and not making it a press event.

“At least, there will be a flag off for such a project that the Government paid 10 Billion! In Abia, ceremonies are held for the flag-off of road projects, let alone an airport.

“We hereby throw a Public Challenge to Dr Alex Otti, Governor of Abia State, to make public any documentary evidence or any kind of evidence at all that shows that the sum of 10 Billion Naira, or any other amount at all, apart from the initial 10 million Naira mentioned above was paid to anyone for an airport.

“What is the name of the Contractor who received the money? Who authorized the payment? Was it a one-off payment or was it paid in different tranches? Which bank handled the payment? Or was it paid in cash?

“Is it possible at all for any State Government to make such payment in the absence of a design and even a contract document? So Abia State, under our watch, that was struggling with poor finances, will pay 10 Billion Naira to someone, just like that.”

Speaking further, Ememanka said that the Commissioner for Finance and Accountant General of the State then who should be in the know of such transactions are still alive.

He stressed that if Governor Otti fails to provide answers to the questions above, the Ikpeazu team will leave the public to draw their conclusions about the character of the man who occupies the office of Governor of Abia State.

Ememanka said that is not enough for Otti to just claim that 79.3 Billion was paid to seven contractors for contracts that were not executed at all up till today and challenge Otti to immediately release the names of the seven contractors and evidence of monies paid to them together with the contract papers.

“We demand to know the dates the monies were paid and the banks that handled the payments. Otti is a banker. He still runs Signature Bank. This information shouldn’t be difficult to get. No one should take 79.3 Billion of Abia’s money and walk away just like that!

“At this point, it is important to note that the total budget for Abia State under the watch of Ikpeazu never got to 170 Billion Naira for any year throughout the 8 years he held sway as Governor. This included both recurrent and capital expenditures. Indeed, capital expenditures in any particular year hovered between 70 and 80 Million Naira.

“Having said that, the public should note the assertions made by the Governor on this point are false and malicious. Just like the airport issue, we challenge him to make public the audit report.”

Ememanka explained that Otti also made a laughable claim when he said 16 Billion Naira was paid to 63 contractors with no supporting documents anywhere.

“Since there are no supporting documents anywhere, how did Otti know that they are contractors? Contractors are defined in contract documents which also define in clear detail what job they will do.

“Governor Otti should immediately provide the names of the 63 contractors for the public to know. Under the Ikpeazu administration, no money was paid to any contractor without supporting documents. That is not even possible and no proper Accountant will effect such nebulous payment.

“No Accounting department will allow such malfeasance. Since there were no supporting documents, on what basis were the payments made? Yet the people who allegedly authorized the payments are still walking free?

“We went on…”Another 12 Billion Naira was paid to 2 contractors for contracts that do not exist”. These contractors, don’t they have names? It was here that he said that out of the 12 Billion, 10 Billion was paid to a contractor for the airport. Our response to the airport nonsense is already stated.

“While we await the release of the audit report with the names of the contractors who were paid, we wish to remind the public that this is not the first time Governor Otti will lie in public about issues of the State finances.

“Upon taking over in May last year, he told the world that his predecessor incurred a debt of about 190 Billion. He “wondered” where the money went to. What he didn’t tell the public is that the amount he mentioned represented the aggregate total of all the debts incurred by the State since its creation, including loans that were carried over from the old Imo State.

“He also didn’t tell the public that since these foreign loans are dollar-denominated, their current value is affected by forex differentials. For example, if there was a loan of 50 Million Dollars taken 20 years ago when the dollar exchanged at say, 100 Naira, the current value of that loan will be calculated at the current exchange value of the dollar.

“So if you calculate the current debt of the State, it would have gone far far beyond what Otti inherited, solely on accounting of foreign exchange differentials.

“Secondly, Otti came on National TV to deny with a straight face that the Ikpeazu administration didn’t pay any money for the acquisition of equity in the Geometric Power Project.

“Professor Barth Nnaji had also made that statement that Ikpeazu didn’t pay. But when we produced documents evidencing the acknowledgement of receipt of the sum of 1.4 Billion Naira by Geometric, Professor Nnaji quickly beat a retreat and came clean.”

He said that Governor Otti to date has refused to acknowledge that any money was paid, adding that if not for the sustained media pressure from them, Abia people and the general public would have stuck with the false impression that no money was paid to Geometric Power by the Ikpeazu administration.

He said that because of their persistence, the government and people of Abia State proudly own 3.5% shares in a company, Geometric that is valued at 800 Million Dollars.

He explained further that another area where Otti has been economical with the truth is in the area of payment of pensions, adding that a few weeks ago, Otti went to town with the news that he has cleared all pensions arrears in the State.

“But that was another lie. What he did was to pay the arrears of the 60% he owed the pensioners since his tenure started. Upon assumption of office, Otti started paying pensioners 40% of their pensions.

“This continued for 9 months when he now paid off the aggregate of the 60% plus a random selection of some arrears. He now informed the pensioners that what he paid them was full and final.

“His Commissioner for Finance, Mike Akpara confirmed this on a Radio show in Umuahia. They forced the leadership of the Union of Pensioners to forgo their other arrears. Yes, pensioners were owed during our time, but they were paid some of their dues too.

“Otti is less than one year in office and this is not the first time pensioners are getting bulk payments in Abia State. Ikpeazu also made such bulk payments in his first tenure, during the Paris Club refunds and bail-out funds era but never forced anyone to forgo their arrears. Otti’s administration is much more buoyant. More money is available to them.”

Ememanka said that Petroleum subsidies were removed by the federal government during his time as Governor making states get much more, but he is paying far less in salaries on account of the sack of thousands of workers, the 8-year limit for Directors and the endless verification of workers which has proven to be a technique to yank workers off the payroll.

According to Ememanka, “As of today, hundreds of workers in Ministries who had completed the so-called verification have not been paid for several months. These are workers whose salaries used to be sacrosanct.

“When Otti sent an Executive Bill to repeal the Law that prescribed pensions for former Governors of the State, the Majority Leader of the State Assembly whose duty it is to introduce such Bills to the Assembly stated on the floor of the Assembly that the State has been “spending Billions of Naira every year to pay these former Governors.

“Meanwhile, none of the former Governors in the State from Orji Uzor-Kalu under whose tenure the Bill was passed to Ikpeazu was paid a penny. Yet the impression created was that these former Governors have been receiving Billions. Otti is in love with mentioning Billions, real or imagined. A real Banker.”

Ememanka said that Otti’s aversion for his predecessor is well known and has been elevated to a tool of State policy implementation.

“Anything that has to do with Ikpeazu that is positive must either be suppressed or poisoned. The negatives must be blown out of proportion. Ikpeazu must be rubbished at all costs.”

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