… Says over N70b Abia debt burden worrisome
By Steve Oko
The Abia State governorship candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, in the 2023 poll, Professor Greg Ibe, has advised the incumbent Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu against going for a fresh bank loan.
Professor Ibe spoke on the heels of alleged plan by the State Government to borrow N450 million to bail out Abia State Polytechnic Aba following the withdrawal of its accreditation by the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE).
The NBTE action according to a statement by the Spokesperson, Ms Fatima Abubakar, was sequel to the failure of the institution to pay its staff for 30 months despite warnings by the Board.
NBTE had further explained that the Management of the institution had not shown any commitment to defray the backlog of arrears and ensure regular payment of salaries.
Following public outcry against the collapse in the education sector of the state, Gov. Ikpeazu pledged N450 million intervention to re-fix the institution.
A memo by the Bursar of the institution, Mr Friday Omenihu, had requested Departments to direct all their students to pay their fees into a dedicated Zenith Bank account “as directed by the State Government.”
The memo with reference number: ASP/BUR/401/11/XXX was dated August 9, 2022.
According to the memo entitled “RE-DIRECTING OF LODGEMENT TO ZENITH BANK PLC”, sighted by Vanguard, students of the institution are to henceforth, make payment of their fees into the bank account.
It read: “As directed by the Abia State Government. You are by this memo, requested to direct our students, that henceforth, all lodgments/deposits should, as a matter of urgency be made into an account stated below:
“BANK: Zenith Bank, ACCOUNT NO: 1224974199 ACCOUNT NAME: Abiapoly Special Intervention/Subvention Account. This is for your information and necessary action, please.”
Meanwhile, Professor Ibe, has described the move as “digging a hole to fill a hole”.
The APGA governorship hopeful said that it was wrong for the State Government to resort to fresh loan when in fact, it could bail out the institution from its share of the federation allocation.
He accused the State Government of using the move as a cover to borrow more money for “unclear purposes after Abia stakeholders blocked an earlier move to borrow N60 billion”.
His words: Why borrow N450 million when Government can actually bail out the institution if it is sincere?
“Why plunge the state into further debt? Abia already has almost N100 billion debt hanging on its neck. How will the school operate if their debt servicing will take all the revenue collected from School fees?
” The state keeps receiving allocations from the Federal Government every month and Abians want to know how the funds are spent.
” If two aides of the Governor can be paid up to N25 million monthly for media -one totally redundant and almost a radio station owner, why can’t the State bailout Abia Poly?
” ABSUTH has lost accreditation to admit medical students because the doctors have been on strike for non-payment of their salaries for over two years. ABSU lecturers are complaining of salary arrears of over nine months. Where is Abia money going? “
But when contacted, Commissioner of Information, Eze Chikamnayo, denied that any two Governor’s Aides were being paid N25 million monthly, dismissing the allegation as unfounded.
” There is no such thing. It’s only a figment of the imagination of the peddlers. I advise Abians to be weary of those propagating such lies”.
Chikamnayo also denied that the State Government was obtaining any bank loan but clarified that the directive for Abia Polytechnic to operate single treasury account was part of the measures to curb sharp practices and enthrone transparency.
” The directive was to open a single treasury account and ensure all inflow go into one account for transparency and accountability. It’s a control measure to enable all stakeholders know what comes in and goes out.
” There is no way we will allow them to have 20 or 30 accounts because those multiplicities of accounts lead to sharp practices.
He further explained that the “State Government does not interfere in the internal affairs of the institution”.
” Abia Poly is semi-autonomous entity. Abia Government doesn’t interference in its internal affairs. If the Management decides to go for a loan will it be in Government’s name?
Government had earlier liquidated N2 billion loan obtained by Abia Polytechnic.
In May 2022, some stakeholders including former Senate President, Senator Adolphus Wabara; ex-banker and Labour Party governorship candidate, Dr Alex Otti, among others, spat fire over alleged move by the Government to obtain N60 billion loan.
But the Commissioner for Information when contacted then could not confirm or deny the move but simply said most of those criticising the Government were biased and members of the opposition.
Meanwhile, statistics from the Debt Management Office, showed that as at December 31, 2015, the debt profile of Abia State was N37.55 billion but by March 31, 2021, it rose to N70.57 billion, an increase of 110.47%.
There are speculations that Abia’s debt has now risen to over N90 billion but as at the time of filing this report, Abia’s current debt profile is not on display on the list of heavily indebted states.