By Levinus Nwabughiogu
The Speaker of the Imo House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Ben Uwajumogu in this special interview responds to issues concerning the impeachment of the immediate past deputy governor of the state, Sir Jude Agbaso and allegations that the House did the bidding of the governor. Excerpt:
Speculations were rife that the Executive Arm put the Legislature under pressure to act. How true was that?
Well, usually that will be the situation but the truth is that the impeachment didn’t start in one day. There was an investigation. No body forced or influenced the House of Assembly into removing or impeaching the deputy governor. Everything followed due process.
The Elder brother to the victim has cried out saying that everything was targeted toward 2015?
My response to that is that that is outside the scope of the investigation of the House of Assembly. The committee that was set up wasn’t set up to investigate what will happen in 2015. 2015 is still within the realm of speculation. If he has some political issues with the governor, we are not informed of that and that was not the issue.
If there were some political issues bordering on 2015 with the governor, we were not informed of that and that was not the issue. I can even reveal that in August 2012, the elder brother along with some highly placed persons from the PDP acting on alleged orders of the presidency tried to lobby and co-opt me into an impeachment plan to remove the Governor promising mind blowing sums of money to pave the way for the ex -deputy governor to ascend the office, I turned it down because there was no evidence of wrong doing.
We have read in the papers that Agbaso senior has brought the call log detailing that there was no communication between them at the period under review.
But he admitted. He admitted that the man came to his house. He also admitted that the man came to Agbaso senior’s house. You see, for me this is all subterfuge and story. They had all the opportunities to clear themselves at the Committee. I wasn’t a member of the committee but as the Speaker, I am the chairman of every committee. And the committee referred back to me.
Don’t you share the view that the impeachment will heighten the political tension in the state as it is now?
Like I said, the position of the deputy governor is very influential position. It is far more influential than the position of the Speaker. In the speaker’s position, you impeach him any minute and the House continues. But the deputy governor is a very difficult position than this one. So, there is no argument about the fact that in the state, there is a lot of tension. But the truth is that life goes on. The state is more important that anybody else.
The speed with which the deputy governor was replaced within hours made some believe that it was all arranged?
Well, I am not the Governor of the state. I can only account for what we do in the chambers. If the governor sent us his nominee, the moment the deputy governor is removed, from that minute there is vacuum.
And if the governor said he wants the vacuum filled and he nominates somebody who the House already knows and in our opinion, there is nothing. Somebody who has been a Chief of Staff to the Governor and he has worked with the house for almost two years, we didn’t think there was any other thing that was required because everything we wanted to know about him we already know.
What do you really think about the politics of zones in Imo State?
If you ask me, those are the wrong reasoning of the past. Today, if you ask me, I will tell you that poverty, underdevelopment, disease, lack of education does not recognize any zone. If you are hungry, it doesn’t matter where the food is coming from.
The emergence of Owelle Rochas Okorocha as governor of Imo State has proven to us, we Imo people, and we have to really be blind, even the blind have ears not to see that today Imo State, entire state is a witness to massive development going on in Imo State.
You seem to speak so well of the governor unlike Speakers of Assembly…
There is nothing I have said here that cannot be verified. I have not come to sing the songs of the governor but if a man has done well, let’s us give him credit for what he has done. I will not for the sake of criticizing and just start criticizing a man. Of course, there are areas where he hasn’t done well but that’s not the issue here.
…and new twist in N458 million bribe saga
It is an issue that is continuing to reverberate across the state. The hurried removal of the erstwhile deputy governor of Imo State, Sir Jude Agbaso over the allegation of collecting N458 million bribe from a contractor, Mr. Joseph Dina of J-PROS is an issue that will continue to bestir political circles in the state.
Agbaso was removed from office by the Imo State House of Assembly last March upon the allegation by Mr. Dina, a Lebanese, that he, Dina diverted N458 million of the N1.3 billion awarded for the re-construction of the Dei Sam Mbakwe Avenue in Owerri to Agbaso.
Dina had further alleged that Agbaso sent him text message on how to deliver the bribe and claimed to have offered a bottle of whiskey to Agbaso in the course of the consummation of the allegedly illicit transaction.
Agabso, however, denied the claims and his defence was backed by the printout of his telephone log from MTN.
As the controversy deepened at the beginning of April, Agbaso in collaboration with his elder brother, Chief Martins Agbaso hired financial forensic experts who remarkably traced the alleged bribe money to Dina’s home country in Lebanon.
Remarkably, just weeks after the impeachment of the erstwhile deputy governor, the Imo State government seemed to backtrack when it turned on Dina, when it arraigned him before a magistrate court in Owerri for allegedly obtaining N1.3 billion from the state government through false pretence.
The case is remarkably a new twist given that Dina was the principal prosecution witness used by the House in the impeachment process against Agbaso.
The claim by the Imo state authorities that Dina obtained N1.3 billion from the state authorities also raises questions among some stakeholders given the earlier assertions by the authorities in Imo that it does not pay mobilization fees to contractors.
How Mr. Dina blinded the eyes of the authorities who parted with N1.3 billion of the state funds against the due process procedure of the Rochas Okorocha administration is raising questions.
The state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Soronnadi Njoku, filed the charges against Dina at the Owerri Chief Magistrate court presided by Mrs. Victoria Isiguzo, on behalf of the government.