By Vincent Ujumadu, Awka
APART from the 2008 budget of Anambra State which polarized the state House of Assembly and led to its sharp division before the budget was finally passed after the intervention of the State Eldersâ€™ Forum, another issue that recently threatened the peaceful coexistence of the 30_member legislature is the controversial N250 million allegedly found with one of the aides of Governor Peter Obi.
Since that incident in Lagos over a fortnight ago, Governor Obi has been on the receiving end, with members of the opposition, especially the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) calling for a full probe into the matter. Some of those who are eyeing governorship seat in the state called for his resignation or in the alternative, that the PDP_ dominated House of Assembly should impeach him.
Shortly after the incident, the South-East zonal chairman of PDP, Chief Olisa Metuh who is from Anambra State visited the House of Assembly and castigated the lawmakers for not cashing in on such an issue to initiate impeachment against Obi.
To him, this is an opportunity the party was looking for to put Governor Obi on the defensive, especially with the 2010 governorship election in the state drawing near. As if that was the tonic needed by the house to begin another battle with Obi, the house set up a three member adhoc committee made up of Messrs Gabriel Onyenyeife, Chinedu Muokwe and Nnamdi Ezike.
In setting up the committee,the House observed that whereas the media , both internet and print were awash with reports that aides of the governor were intercepted with N250 million in cash and whereas the media assistant to the governor has dispelled the reports stating that the money belonged to a government contractor who preferred to carry cash to buy vehicles ordered by government, there was need for the House to get into the root of the matter. The house noted that since the governor himself had called for full investigation by the police, it was proper for it to look into the matter also as part of its oversight functions.
When the issue came up on the floor of the state assembly, the 2008 division of the members was reenacted as there was a rowdy session never witnessed since the inauguration of the House two years ago. At a stage during the debate, some of the lawmakers threatened to form a parallel House if the matter was not properly handled.
As it turned out, it was the same pattern of 2008 in which there were vocal 11 members against others who, based on their political inclination, would always find it difficult to see the good side of the Obi administration. One member for instance, Mr. Simeon Ohajianya representing Ihiala 1 constituency wondered why his colleagues should be pursuing an issue that had since been resolved.
Another member, Sylvester Okeke observed that unless there was another thing the house wanted from Obi, the issue of N250 million should be laid to rest. In the end, the committee could not submit the report and the belief in some quarters was that the matter has died a natural death.
Recall that Obi, who appeared surprised at the dimension the matter was taking, had earlier petitioned the Inspector -General of Police, Sir Mike Okiro urging him to investigate the matter, especially the angle that arms and foreign currency were found in his official cars that were going for repairs in Lagos which carried the said N250 million.
To him, the brouhaha over the interception of the said money was a grand political conspiracy to smear his image in what was a straightforward contractual and business transaction. It was gathered that the money in question had since been returned to the contractor who is already procuring the vehicles the money was meant for.
Indeed, when the opposition observed that the arms and foreign currency angles could not click, they dropped them and concentrated on the N250 million, which to them was the money belonging to Anambra people and which the administration of Obi was laundering.
The same issue came up again during the recent visit of members of the Nigerian Guild of Editors to Anambra State . The Guild was in the state for its standing committee meeting and seized that opportunity to visit some of the projects executed by the Obi administration. During a dinner in their honour at the Governorâ€™s Lodge, one of the editors raised the issue and wanted the governor to clarify the situation.
Not wanting to preempt the on_going investigations by the Inspector-General of Police on the matter, Obi said though it would be better to allow the IG complete the investigation, there is the need for the editors to know that the matter was a genuine business transaction by the state government. According to him, the outcome of the police investigation would soon be made public so as to put the matter to rest.
Since Mr. Peter Obi mounted the saddle as the Anambra State governor in March 2006, one of the positive things often said about him is the transparent manner he has been piloting the affairs of the state. His admirers and even political foes would readily admit that if the previous administrations in the state had been prudent in the management of the finances of the state since its creation in 1991 the way he is doing, Anambra would have gone far in terms of development.
Those who commend Obiâ€™s prudent application of financial resources in running the state refer to such issues as considerable reduction in amounts spent in the construction and rehabilitation of roads and building projects. For instance, most of the people who had toured projects executed by the state government in the past three years were surprised that government spent about N600 million to build the magnificent state secretariat in Awka which could easily pass for N1 billion project.
Also, road projects that would ordinarily cost billions of naira were done with much less amount because the governor would always insist on achieving the best with the least amount.
The answer to the governorâ€™s style is not far_ fetched. Those who are familiar with what obtains in the state know that Obi uses only qualified contractors for all jobs in the state, rather than use such contracts for political patronage.
Even in the purchase of government vehicles, Obi would prefer to buy directly from the dealers so as to save money for the state and that was one of the reasons he was hated by professional politicians who depend mainly on government patronage for their upkeep. That was really why the recent report that Governor Obiâ€™s aide was nabbed with N250 million in Lagos has refused to sink among unbiased people in the state.
Since the incident, Obi had been doing a lot of explanation. Last week, he was confronted by reporters over the issue and he gave details of what happened. The explanation ran thus: â€œFollowing the increasing incidence of kidnapping and robbery in the state, the state government held a meeting with the heads of administration in the 21 local government areas on the best way to handle the situation.
During one of the meetings, they agreed to purchase two vehicles each for the police and another set of Kia Optima cars for local government liaison officers who would be monitoring government projects in their areas.
â€œEach of the local governments chairmen then issued a cheque covering the amount for the car to be allocated to his council and a car dealer was contacted to make the purchase on their behalf. However, the dealer who was known to government decided to cash the money in Awka and joined the governorâ€™s convoy going to Lagos .â€
It was obvious that most of the editors were satisfied after Obiâ€™s explanations. President of the Guild, Mr. Gbenga Adefaye was particularly impressed with Obiâ€™s performance as governor after what they saw on ground in parts of the state and could not hide his feelings. â€œWe moved around Anambra State and it was amazing what we saw. The last time I had opportunity of moving around the state was 25 years ago. What we saw today was remarkable. We are not disappointed.
â€œWe notice that there is a serious attempt to develop institutions that can run a thriving state on a sustainable basis. One would like to note the investment in infrastructure; in the health sector, in education. To sum it up, it is like developing a healthy mind and sensible workforce. Hopefully, when all these mature, they will turn around to pay back so that we can have a government that is accountable.
â€œMy advice to you is that you cannot afford to go back. If you go back, history will judge you harshly. We are sure that whatever happens after this, nobody will be able to reverse the good things in Anambra State.
â€œBut it will not be sufficient to keep what you have done in a closet. You donâ€™t light a candle and put it under the table. You need to let the world see and know more about the work you are doing in Anambra. By the time you finish doing that, it would be a kind of mass mobilization of the people at the grass root and on their own, they will be able to come out and decide what direction they want things to go. I do hope that the people of Anambra will not deny themselves the opportunity of sustainable development,â€ he said.
Somehow, Obiâ€™s problem emanated from the fact that before he became governor, he had never been a politician. For instance, on the day first day he met Chief Victor Umeh, the APGA national chairman in 2001 and told him he wanted to contest for governor, Umeh was somehow unsure of him since he was not a major political player in the state.
But then, the APGA national chairman encouraged him and the rest was history.
Indeed, the opposition against him began early in his administration because the political giants saw him as a neophyte. â€œAt a stage, I started asking myself why I had to get involved in it. But then, it became more and more a challenge,â€ Obi told the editors. But as he was busy trying to provide answers to the numerous problems facing the state, the impeachment came.
â€œIt was a situation where all the members of the House belonged to another party and I found myself in a situation where I was saying, please accept me. It wasnâ€™t up to six months and I was impeached illegally over allegations of stealing N4billion. I did nothing to merit the impeachment except that some people said; we donâ€™t want to see him,â€ he said. Obi jocularly told the editors that he was happy that the level of his stealing had come down from N4 billion in 2006 to N250 million in 2009.
Then few months after he came back from impeachment, there was 2007 election and, according to him, two months before that election, everybody already knew who the next governor was, adding that all he was doing was just marking time and waiting for May29, 2007. Even on May 27, 2007, when he wanted to leave the Government House to go to Abuja, security operatives said that he should not leave with anything, even his briefcase and they said it was a directive from the incoming governor.
â€œWe are facing a situation where our party does not have any member in the House of Assembly. I am the only governor of a state where most of the major political players are not with him. So what they do everyday when they wake up is to say, this man must go. If you go out there, they will tell you I am not doing anything, even when they see what I am doing. Their reasoning is that if they allow this man to succeed, they are finished politically.
â€œThey keep saying I collect N500 million every month as security vote and I have not seen 40% of that amount. In 2008, the House, which has no APGA member in it approved security vote for me and I did not spend 60% of it.
â€œAgain, in this state, I am the highest tax payer, having paid over N52.8 million in the last 10 years. No other person has paid close to that. I paid this tax even when nobody was taxing me. I came here to serve the people and not to waste their resources.
Apart from the house in my village, I have only one property in Nigeria and that is a house in Festac Lagos. No other place in Nigeria do I own a piece of land and they keep saying I have property in Abuja and all other places. So, the story of seeing guns and dollars in my cars was all part of the type of politics being played in Anambra State .â€