Wike, Amaechi bicker over Rivers probe panel
The controversial judicial commission of inquiry into activities of the administration of immediate past governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, has finally commenced sitting in Port Harcourt, the state capital, after nearly two months of legal tussle on its merits and demerits.
While the state government was bent on going ahead with the inquiry, which specifically is to investigate sales of value assets by the Amaechi administration, the former governor believed that the commission was set up to deliberately create a public frenzy to diminish his person politically.
Last week, Justice Simeon Amadi of Rivers State High Court, dismissed suit number PHC/187/15, instituted by Amaechi to challenge the constitution of the Justice George Omereji panel, which was set up last June by the governor, Nyesom Wike.
In justifying the dismissal of Amaechi’s suit, Justice Amadi asserted that the commission of inquiry was not established to investigate the personal activities of Amaechi, but to investigate previous actions of government as they affect the people of Rivers State.
He stressed that there is no law preventing a state government from finding out how her resources were expended.
He further dismissed claim by the former governor that the 30-day set aside for the sitting of the commission will deny him fair hearing as he has not been accused of any crime, neither is he on trial.
The commission was told to look into reasons for the non-execution of the construction of Justice Adolphus Karibi Whyte Specialist Hospital after Amaechi’s administration allegedly paid USD 39.2 million to the supposed contractor.
Wike also tasked the commission to ascertain the circumstances surrounding the sales of the State 150 Megawatts gas turbine in Omoku, 360 megawatts gas turbine in Afam, 36 megawatts gas turbine in Trans-Amadi, Port Harcourt and 75 megawatts gas turbine in Eleme by the Amaechi’s administration.
The commission is to identify the purchasers of the gas turbines, the total cost for which they were sold and the whereabouts of the proceeds of the sales.
But Amaechi described the probe panel as ill conceived and ill motivated. He said Wike’s probe is designed to twist and distort, or even completely alter selected legitimate government transactions in his desperation to cook up, and fabricate sham cases of corruption against him.
During a reception organised in his honour in Abuja on Sunday August 25, 2015, Amaechi declared that Wike’s desperate ploy to label him as a corrupt politician is primarily targeted at thwarting his possible appointment as a member of President Muhammadu Buhari cabinet, expected to be constituted next month.
According to Amaechi, “May God not give me the kind of ambition of Nyesom Wike; he can sell anybody…Let me tell you what is currently going on in Rivers State. The governor and PDP are afraid of me getting an appointment to the Federal Executive Council because that will determine what the politics of Rivers State will be.
“They know that the current President abhors corruption and the only way they can stop me from getting the appointment is to associate me with corruption. The people that know me in Rivers State know that I don’t like money. And I expect them to defend me that I don’t like money.”
An associate of the former governor told The Guardian that Wike’s administration, in setting up the probe panel, wants to simply depict Amaechi as corrupt politician. And if this is achieved, it will be easy to launch a virulent smear campaign against Amaechi’s All Progressives Congress (APC) in the event that the election petition tribunal nullifies the 2015 governorship election and orders a fresh election.
The source explained that Wike’s group is concerned by the closeness of Amaechi to the president and feel that if the former governor is given any strategic federal appointment, he will use the position as a launch pad for aggressive political onslaught against the governor should the election be cancelled.
He said, “As Nigerians awaits the constitution of President Buhari’s cabinet, Amaechi’s political antagonists have not relented in their campaign aimed at annihilating him politically. A group, the Integrity Group, has petitioned the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes
Commission (EFCC), accusing the former governor of breach of trust and unlawful enrichment. Who on earth released the documents attached to the petition to them?
“You can see that it is people in Rivers State government who are afraid of Amaechi. This is part of grand plot to change the mindset of the president towards Amaechi. We expect more smear campaign which is expected to intensify the whole of this month and next until the president announces his cabinet.”
Counsel to the commission, Dr. Zaccheus Adangor, at the inaugural sitting of the panel explained that based on memoranda submitted by officials of the Rivers State Ministries of Commerce and Industry as well as Agriculture, there are indications that Amaechi approved the conversion of the repayable N4 billion Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Agriculture Development loan to grants a few days to the commencement of the last general elections.
Based on the documents presented to the commission, Adangor said all the political associates of the former governor got the grants under the platform of 380 co-operative societies that were mainly drawn from the wards of the state and other principal interest groups of the former governor.
The political associates of the former governor who received the loan converted to grants were: Council Chairman of Ogba/Ndoni/Egbema (ONELGA) Local Government Area, Austin Ahiamadu, who was President,
ONELGA Cooperative Society. His Society received N32.1million grant.
Also Nnamdi Uche, who was a former Vice Chairman of Port Harcourt City LGA received N134.6million as President of Port Harcourt Integrated Cooperative Society while Ojukaye Amachree, former Chairman of Asari Toru LGA received N54.8million on behalf of Asari-Toru Cooperative Society.
Other former chairmen who headed Co-operative Societies to receive grants include Orji Ngofa of Eleme LGA, Felix Nweke and Mena Diende of Ogo/Bolo LGA.
The Director of Planning, Research and Statistics of the
Ministry of Agriculture, Chijioke Grant Amadi, who also served as the Chairman of the Agriculture Credit Committee, said the committee had no terms of reference and that all decisions on those who benefitted from the disbursement were taken by the former State Commissioner for Agriculture, Emma Chinda.
Amadi said Chinda merely sent him the list of beneficiaries with the specific directive to instruct the banks to pay expeditiously to the benefiting cooperative societies. He admitted that that was no due diligence carried out to ascertain those behind the cooperatives as he was hearing for the first time that the key beneficiaries of the grants were top politicians.
On her part, Cordelia Peterside, Permanent Secretary,
Ministry of Commerce and Industry explained that out of the 380 Cooperative Societies through which the politicians received the grants, 38 were not duly registered, hence they had no records at her Ministry
Amaechi has consistently maintained that Wike’s probe panel has been designed to indict him as the governor had repeatedly held that he must be investigated, having been perceived to have acted illegally in the disbursement of public funds.
According to him, this implies that Wike, with his prejudiced mindset, has taken a position of a guilty verdict even before the outcome the commission is known or established.
The former governor also said the chairman of the commission as someone who is well known to harbour resentment against him.
But Justice Omereji has given the assurance that the commission is merely a fact-finding body and not a law court. He insisted that the commission is not on a witch-hunting mission and its activities would be strictly based on the memoranda submitted by the parties.
According to him, the commission shall uphold the principle of fair hearing, give adequate and equal opportunities to all concerned persons to state their cases and tender relevant documents that shall assist the commission conduct its findings.
The chairman said the commission would recognize the rights of the parties to engage legal practitioners of their choice. He also stated that the recommendation of the commission are advisory and purely at the discretion of the government of the state.