Kenneth Obasi/ The former Commissioner for Trade and Investment in Abia, Chief John Okiyi Kalu, otherwise called JOK, has in the last few days tried to engage the new administration in the state in an unnecessary media war over the way and manner former Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu handled his handover to his successor, Gov. Alex Chioma Otti.
To many well-meaning Abia citizenry, this is an attempt by JOK to distract the new government that has begun so well to navigate the ship of state with consumate dexterity, looking focused, purposeful and conscientious.
A popular Igbo adage says that the manner a man washed his hand preparatory to eating a meal exposes his gluttonous nature. By this, it means that the first few steps already taken by Otti’s one-month-old administration has shown sufficient signs of a greater and better future for Abia and its good people.
It is the administration’s initial commendable steps that have ignited envy amongst those that raped Abia for the past 24 years. And it has fully dawned on them that indeed a responsible and visionary leadership is now in place in Abia and that government affairs can actually be conducted in a decent, coherent and rightful manner against the razzmatazz and trickery of the past 24 years.
If JOK is not trying to deceive his gullible audience by posting unverifiable statistics to post good performance for an irresponsible administration he helped to mislead, why would a government that inherited a zero-salary arrears from its predecessor squander the fortune and ended up encumbering its successor with such a humongous debt burden?
For instance, the administration of former Gov. Theodore Orji handed over a zero-salary-cum-pension-arrears sheet to Ikpeazu. But what did Ikpeazu hand over to his successor?
Here is a synopsis of the debt profile of Abia as at May 28, 2023, according to the Special Adviser to the Gov. on Finance, Mr Mike Akpara,
Speaking at a news conference in Umuahia recently, Akpara said the new government “inherited a debt burden of over N191 billion from the outgone government of Okezie Ikpeazu”. Isn’t that figure suffocating enough for a new administration?
The information was disclosed against the backdrop of claims by Ikpeazu that “the state was not owing any commercial bank, including temporary overdrafts.”
Ironically, a breakdown of the debt profile left behind by Ikpeazu showed a total loan balance of nearly N78 billion.
Details of the loans further showed that they were obtained separately from three old generation banks and the Central Bank of Nigeria and “were not repaid by Ikpeazu before he left office on May 29”.
Akpara further said that the inherited domestic debt was over N71 billion, comprising about N19 billion salary and subvention arrears, with pension arrears of more than N21 billion.
There were also outstanding arrears of gratuities, totalling
more than N27 billion and nearly N5 billion debt to contractors, while external debts incurred by the Ikpeazu administration stood at over N42 billion.
How on earth could anyone in his sane mind stand to identify with, let alone defend a government so rascally and grossly inept in the management of state resources to the extent of plunging Abia into such a stupendous generational debt burden?
And, how would a reasonable, responsible and upright leader, who was handed such a whopping debt portfolio, acquiesce in a deceitful congratulatory message designed to cajole him not look into the financial records in order to ascertain how these monies were obtained and expended?
How would Abia people of good conscience that have yearned for a thorough probe of the alleged financial recklessness of the last administration, as epitomised by the huge borrowings without commensurate projects on ground, reckon with Otti-led government, if it failed to do the needful to recover at least part of the looted government properties?
Obviously, JOK and his co-travellers still live in denial to believe that to patronise Otti with an early morning congratulatory message would stop him from beaming a searchlight on the financial records he inherited. They got it wrong because they forgot in their blinded thoughts and imagination that Otti is a world class financial expert.
They have yet to come to terms that this is not a PDP government taking over from another outgoing PDP government. This is a different ballgame and it is only normal to expect a lot of disruptive policies and actions, part of which is the institution of a Judicial Panel of Inquiry on the Recovery of Stolen State Government Properties.
It was regrettable that JOK, who decried the alleged stealing of government properties by some, if not all his co-public office holders in Ikpeazu’s governmemt, could in another breath criticise the setting up of a panel for the purpose of recovering the stolen properties as an attempt to “witch-hunt”.
To me, this is doublespeak, which exposes him as being neither here nor there for reasons best known to him. Could he also be culpable of the alleged looting and, so, afraid of a probe?
I thought the specific and pertinent questions every genuine person that is worried by the depth of blatant decay and underdevelopment in Abia vis-a-vis its contemporaries ought to be asking are what projects were these loans tied to? Where they executed? How did one administration alone obtain these staggering sums of loans but left Abia in such a terribly poor and decrepit condition?
And yet, more iniquitous and invidious, was that workers were denied their wages, while salary and pension bills were left to pile up month after month to between 12 months and 35 months.
I think this is the critical issue that should bother every right-thinking and well-meaning Abia citizen. And corollary to that is, how does the new administration cope with this humongous debt burden and still make impact, particularly against the backdrop of its promise to rebuild Abia?
Unfortunately, rather than worry along this patriotic path, JOK chose to pursue shadows with his meaningless and purposeless epistles on “Otti orchestrated own ‘hostile handover'”. The hatchet job had no value and truly changed nobody’s summation about Ikpeazu’s woeful and abysmal performance in office for eight years.
Rather, the dissipation of energy in the futile attempt to launder the battered image of the former governor, who became notorious while in office over his utter profligacy and shamelessness in the chase for ignoble, mundane and material satisfaction, a behavioural pattern that later turned him into a global laughing stock, if not for personal financial gain, further excoriated what was still left of his (JOK) image and self-worth.
For the then Commissioner for Information to stick out his neck last year to defend a governor, who threw shame and ego to the wind, when he boastfully said in a national television that his government was giving out N500 (five hundred naira only) handout to women that were delivered of babies in government health facilities in rural communities, tells much about the stuff he (JOK) is made of and so should not be taken seriously even as he attempts to defend Ikpeazu’s hostility in the build up to the handover date.
Of course, the message of congratulations to Otti came at a time Ikpeazu realised he was roundly defeated against all his reckless and rascally attempts to once again upturn the people’s mandate given to his arch-political rival using the same Obingwa magic, this time in the most dastardly, reprehensible and unconscionable manner.
But, be that as it may, how come that after congratulating Otti for his perseverance and doggedness and defeating his anointed Chief Okey Ahiwe, the Governorship Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, he surreptitiously funded a petition in a Kano Federal High Court to quash the error-proof electoral victory in Abia?
Indeed, it was only in Abia that election results drew spontaneous and widespread celebrations, beginning with the State and National Assembly polls and culminating in the governorship, which was the mother of all jubilations, so unprecedented and never ever experienced anywhere else in the country now or before.
Being an active player in the 2015 governorship poll, I feel terribly irritated when beneficiaries of Ikpeazu’s stolen mandate brag about defeating Otti in that election, even after their Obingwa secret had been uncovered and scandalised in such a demeaning manner before the international election observers. Thanks to the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System machine!
It pains even the more that after savouring the unmerited two tenures, JOK could not bend over backward to admit, even in the inner recesses of his soul and conscience, that they robbed Otti of his well-deserved victory in 2015 and 2019, deploying their Obingwa rigging antics and the support of their collaborators in the Independent National Electoral Commission.
How could a JOK expect the governor to hit the ground running when he was not availed rhe privilege of knowing what was on ground early enough and well ahead of May 29 handover date?
Could it not have been ideal and face-saving for Ikpeazu to oblige Otti with adequate documented information on state matters, which could have been thoroughly studied to guide the new administration in taking measured steps in its early days?
It is, therefore, not out of good conscience to delay the handover document to the incoming government until the last day.
The motive, as sinister and deliberate as it was, was plotted to cause the new administration to wobble and blunder in its initial steps in order to provide the bitter opposition an early meal to feast on.
For JOK to so dwell on Ikpeazu’s hostile posture preparatory to his handover and later drifted to denigrating and hauling invectives on persons of impeccable credentials and integrity, who hold a view contrary to his, smack of nastiness and ungentlemanliness.
His continued wishy-washy attempts at defending an administration that earned public opprobrium during and after its tenure, leaves much to be desired regarding the integrity of certain key figures around Ikpeazu.
When a government that is arguably performing well below average clusters itself with certain self-serving characters, playing strategic roles in policy formulation and implementation, like JOK, the ultimate result is usually catastrophic, typical of Ikpeazu’s repugnant end.
This is why Abians of good conscience consider JOK to be of bad influence and, indeed, Ikpeazu’s greatest nemesis and agent behind his disastrous misadventure for eight long years in Abia.
And despite his puerile efforts to refurbish the already battered image of his “dynamic governor”, his own people in their electoral judgment rejected and refused to reward him with a seat in the hallowed chamber of the Senate, at least as a retirement gift.
To Abia South Senatorial constituents, nay Abia people in general, Ikpeazu did not do well in office to deserve such a privilege and honour that are exclusive to distinguished Nigerians.
Kenneth Obasi, a public affairs commentator, wrote from Ohafia.