Abia panel of enquiry must follow path of discipline –FENRAD

A civil society organisation, Foundation for Environmental Rights, Advocacy and Development, FENRAD, has called on the panel of inquiry on the recovery of government properties and funds, set up by the Abia State government to follow the path of financial discipline and disclosure.

The panel is to look into the administration of former Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, in terms of assets and liabilities left by the former administration.

Executive Director, FENRAD Nigeria, Nelson Nwafor in a statement on Wednesday, said: “It is not to be wished away that Abia State has fallen on hard times as evidences are to buttress this assertion, but government offices deal with records where facts and figures are used to populate audited financial reports/statements.

“The recent outbursts, a couple of weeks ago, between the last administration and the incumbent over what was left by the former – under former Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, in terms of assets and liabilities only left much to be desired.

“Now that both administrations had through their agents spoken, with claims and counterclaims made here and there, FENRAD, wishes to remind Abia State Government as led by Dr. Alex Otti that while it is good to have its eyes on the prize.

“And to remain committed to the pledge of delivering good governance to Ndị Abia and shun any diversionary drama, that making financial disclosure has become necessary, as state fund belongs to no one individual.

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“It is on this note that FENRAD wishes to comment on the said claims and counterclaims.

“Not long ago, a claim was made that former Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, PhD left ₦24 billion in Abia State reserve.

“To this were other sums in dollar added: $200 million and $50 million respectively, which Ikpeazu’s former aide, Okechukwu Iroha said Otti to could draw and begin building infrastructure.

Former Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State

“While this claim had been refuted by the Otti camp, which claimed that Ikpeazu rather left a debt of ₦191.2 billion for the state, having depleted state reserves, another claim surfaced that Ikpeazu left ₦6bn for Abia, invested over $5million in Geometric Power Limited, “a near cash asset.”

“FENRAD worries because if Abia had all the billions being quoted by the past administration there wouldn’t have been any basis for outstanding salaries owed workers, gratuities and pensions owed old citizens and retirees.

“Claims like these are capable of diverting attention and energy, but within lies a noticeable inconsistency.

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“FENRAD will want to be put clear on how from initial ₦24 billion the money Okezie Ikpeazu bequeathed Abia became ₦6 billion. The question now becomes: why the difference in figures as quoted?

“FENRAD believes that financial discipline involves disclosures regarding how funds received in the name of the State were administered and where they were sunk into and by whom?

“Abians and Nigerians should understand that no single individual is by law empowered nor by convention allowed to divert state funds.

“It is for this reason that FENRAD as a foundation welcomes the idea of the 5-man panel of enquiry inaugurated by the governor to interrogate alleged illegal conversation of public properties to other use.

“In a previous release, the Foundation called on Governor Alex Otti to leave no stone unturned in ensuring that assets, movable and immovable, belonging to the state were recovered from illegal owners or holders.

“We advise that such physical assets, in the case of lands and public buildings, be sequestrated where necessary and finally taken ownership of, if discovered to have been illegally obtained by current owners/holders. Ownership has to be authentic, not shady.

“While there is the Land Use Act that vested administration all lands in the governor, no one governor can sell or convert property where there is no law backing that up. Government comes and goes, states are permanent (entity).

“While the Foundation cautions that such exercise (enquiry) be not done in a manner capable of giving it a political meaning or interpretation, following the Foundation’s earlier release, we condemned the repurposing of public buildings, some of which have been turned to places of worship, storehouses and the like.

“We, therefore, call on the panel to hit the ground running. It is our candid and considered view that the terms of reference of the panel be, in retrospective restructuring, made to review assets diversion from 1999-2023 as this makes the exercise not targeted at one administration.

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“2015-2023, as to be reviewed could be perceived as petty and parochial. The question of whether Modern Ceramics and other assets belonging to Abia State were concessioned or disposed of should be made known to the public.

“We equally wish to advise that the panel does not last longer than necessary, as we await to hear its findings and recommendations.

“We equally urge Abians to file in their reports, memoranda and letters, if any, so that they furnish the panel with evidences to be able to go about its job. Lastly, we call on the panel to do the job before it with fear of God and in the overall interest of Ndị Abia.

“We would not like to have protocols overwhelm the work of the panel where, for example, there will be a white paper issued and then another committee to review report of the white paper and the findings of the panel, as this will amount to waste, guzzling of available lean resources.

“FENRAD, once again, commends Governor Otti for establishing this August panel, but demands that in the interest of financial discipline and fiscal disclosure, state finances or financial status are made public and accessible. This is what can create healthy financial regime.”

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