On Thursday, July 23, 2020, the panel of inquiry established by former Governor Emeka Ihedioha to look into the activities of the 27 local governments in the state from 2011 to 2019, submitted its report to Governor Hope Uzodimma at the State Government House, Owerri. Governor Uzodimma had allowed the panels set up by his predecessor to continue in keeping with his policy of continuity. The LGA Panel which was headed by a man of impeccable antecedents, Barr. Eze Duruiheoma (SAN), in their report burst the bubbles when they returned a troubling verdict that the sum of N214billion was embezzled from 2011 to December, 2019 in all the 27 local governments in the state. The Duruiheoma report pointed out that some of the schemes through which the funds were frittered away included the ‘Operation Zero Potholes’ and ‘My People My People Projects’. Perhaps, the most worrisome part of the report is the revelation that assets of the local governments were treated as personal property by the past local council administration, and that the uncooperative attitude of some appointees of former Governor Okorocha towards the Panel suggested that they had a lot to hide. Apart from the embezzlement of funds, the Panel also discovered irregular employment, truancy, salary padding, etc, in the LGAs. These discoveries, no doubt, forced the Panel to conclude that there is urgent need to effectively behead the hydra-headed monster ravaging the local government administration in the state.
As shocking as this report is to Imo people, it is nonetheless a confirmation of what they had feared all along. But like every other issue in the polity, the report that N214BN local government fund was misappropriated from 2011 to 2019 has stirred a new discourse and has become an object of politicking by the opposition political parties and those indicted. In a press release by his Media Aide, Hon. Sam Onwoemeodo, on Sunday, July 26, Senator Okorocha – the man in the eye of the storm – lamented that the Panel’s report was targeted at him and his administration. He accused the Panel of concocting the report. Characteristically, Okorocha’s Media Aide resorted to his old, boring cliché, boasting that what his boss achieved in the local governments of Imo in 8 years, other governments before and after him, put together, cannot achieve. This claim, to us, is diversionary.
On the other hand, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in the state is upset that the report also touches on the immediate past Governor. Their response to the discoveries by the Panel has been nothing but comic. Speaking in a press conference in the state, the State Chairman of the PDP, Chief Martin Ejiogu, accused the state government of receiving the sum of N175.7BN from the Federation Account for the state and local governments, loans and savings made from ghost workers and pensioners since January, etc. They claimed the government has not achieved anything with the funds. To borrow the words of Senator Chris Ngige, former Governor of Anambra State and the Minister for Labour and Employment, the PDP’s response is a kind of “if you yab me, I yab you ten times”. This yabis response to very critical issues leaves much to be desired.
The common opinion of Imo people is that no matter how those indicted in the Panel’s report try to explain things away or curry sentiment, they will not be drawn to believe that the report of the Panel was targeted at anyone or mere witch-hunting. On the contrary, the Duruiheoma report is the outcome of diligent efforts by the distinguished members of the Panel aimed at unravelling what had been wrong with the third tier of government that should have been centers of development. The local governments in the state had for long become the cash-cow of the Chief Executive in the state, and there was urgent need, therefore, for a thorough investigation. It was the belief that something serious was wrong with the local government administration in the state that led to the establishment of the Panel by the last administration.
Those who embezzled the LGA resources do not have our sympathy, and we do not have the kind of answers they expect, but to call them to account. We understand that this could be an emotional issue with some people, especially the lackeys of those indicted. For us as Imo people, we have long advised ourselves not to be swayed with emotional outbursts about the shocking revelations from the panels, but to support the Governor to resolve the issues. With the revelation that the local government officials did not cooperate with the Panel but rather made several attempts to frustrate their efforts, because they had a lot to hide in their dirty and skeleton-filled cupboards, we are alarmed at the level of impunity with which those we entrusted with power frittered away our resources and the audacity with which they attempt to rub it into our face. What we least expected from those indicted is sobriety and contrite hearts, not the provoking grandstanding they are displaying. We have seen this kind of grandstanding in the way Senator Okorocha treated the panel investigating the award of contracts during his administration. Rather than appearing before the panels, Okorocha chose to run to several courts to stop them from continuing their sittings.
With the shocking revelations emanating from the panels, it is clearer to Imo people why the cabal has sworn to fight the Governor. Since Uzodimma’s emergence as Governor on Tuesday, January 14, 2020, there have been earth shattering revelations of different malfeasances in the running of the state. From the humongous fraud discovered in pensions and salaries, to the sleaze discovered in the Imo State University (IMSU) and other places, it is no longer surprising why the cabal is fighting back. The Governor noted this reality when he addressed the stakeholders on June 12, 2020. He said: “No one fights a cabal and expects it to raise its hand in surrender. That is unthinkable. They have been fighting back in many ways than one. The opposition has gone into unholy marriage with them to label my administration with a legion of fabrications to incite the public against us. But I have remained unshaken because I know that light will always triumph over darkness. Because I have truth buckled around my waist and integrity for a breastplate, I fear neither conspiracy nor blackmail. It is only those who go to equity with unclean hands that doubt their vindication by history. I am confident that sooner than later light will prevail over darkness and our people will appreciate the fact that [my] not succumbing to doing business as usual was in the best interest of the majority and democracy.”
In the light of the unprecedented sleaze discovered in the LGAs and other facets in the administration of the state, we stand with Governor Hope Uzodimma. It is absurd that the leaders in whom we reposed our confidence, who should live above board, preyed on us. We urge the Governor to ensure that those who had a hand in the embezzlement of the local government funds do not get away with it. It is therefore reassuring that the Governor has assured the people that he would implement the recommendations of the Panel. “I will do my best to implement your recommendations. I have not come to joke. I [have] come to restore hope and sanitize the rot. I will do my best to confront whatever is before me”, said the Governor.
The Governor should continue to be resolute and not allow himself to be distracted. The time to behead the hydra-headed monster in the administration of the LGAs in the state is now. If we fail to behead this hydra-headed monster and allow the cabal win the battle, the monster would behead all of us.