Enugu Assembly: Haunted by an unfinished probe
THE newly inaugurated Enugu State House of Assembly is in the court of public opinion and the fact of the matter is the question of whether the lawmakers would be able to continue the probe of the immediate past administration of Sullivan Chime.
It is being said that how the legislature comes out of the current debate would determine the manner of legislation that the people of the state should expect from their lawmakers in the next four years or the disposition of the new governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to maintaining a cordial relationship with his predecessor who was instrumental to his emergence.
As he was being inaugurated on May 29, Ugwuanyi declared publicly that Chime remained his leader “in and out of office” and events have indicated that the new governor was not ready to betray his benefactor to whom he had led several delegations to pay “thank you visits”.
At the twilight of Chime’s regime, he was faced with massive public outcry against alleged mismanagement of state funds and illegal sales of government property that was brought to the fore by attempts by a section of the House to impeach him.
On May 4, the impeachment move divided the 24-member Assembly into two factions. While the 15 members led by ex-Speaker, Eugene Odo insisted that Chime must go; another faction of nine members led by Chinedu Nwamba resisted the move.
In calling for the removal of Chime, the Odo-led set of lawmakers alleged inflation of the contract for the construction of workers’ secretariat to the tune of over N20 billion without recourse to the House. The contract had earlier been awarded for N13 billion.
They also accused the ex-governor of forgery of the 2012 budget and that he had undermined the functions of the House by preventing his aides from responding to summons by the lawmakers over activities of government.
Chime however denied the allegations, saying there was no forgery and that his administration only moved some money to other areas of need in the appropriation while the figures remained the same.
Before the call for the impeachment and the division of the House, all the 24 members had been unanimous in the probe, which they anchored on some agencies of government as well as some undertakings of the ex-governor. These include the alleged 25 years water concession agreement said to have been reached with a private company which entails the company managing and collecting revenues accruable from water.
The House had stopped the concession plan after it summoned the Commissioner and Managing Director of the State Water Corporation where it ascertained that none knew the details of the contracts, even though they were made to sign to papers.
It had gone further to observe that the N5 billion said to have been secured from the World Bank for the reticulation of water had not been accounted for, adding that most parts of the state could not enjoy pipe-borne water even with the loan. Of note also was the N11billion loan request said to have earlier been approved for which the Bank had demanded an Irrevocable Standing Payment Order (ISPO) from government before the draw down.
The lawmakers had stopped the loan on the ground that the administration had barely one month then to stay in office and preferred that whatever purpose it was meant for should be passed to the new government.
Also condemned by the lawmakers was the alleged indiscriminate sale of public land to friends and cronies of the ex-governor at the International Conference Center, the Eastern Nigeria Industrial Estate as well as the property adjacent the State House of Assembly.
The House also summoned the Chairman of the Enugu State Universal Basic Education Board (ENSUBEB) and the Commissioner for Education over the award of N3.6 billion contract for renovation of primary schools in the state.
The summon followed the report of the House committee on education, which indicted the board of poor and slow pace of execution, one year after the contracts were awarded.
The House had among others invited the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to probe the finances of the commission and also froze the accounts held by the board in different banks pending the conclusion of the investigation of the activities of the board.
With the division of the House over his impeachment, Chime quickly embraced the nine-member faction and used the police to seal off the premises of the Assembly to ensure no further sitting of the members until the end of their tenure.
The big question now is, with Odo and those seeking to probe the past administration out of the way, would the matter be swept under the carpet? Will Ugwuanyi continue act and uphold some of those resolutions already passed especially bothering on public property that the Chime administration began to sell few weeks to the end of the regime? A Public analyst, Mr John Nnaji said, “Some activities of the immediate past administration especially in the last days of the government did not go down well with the people.
Some people took to the streets in protest; there were petitions and even suits in court and nothing should be done to give those ugly things some sense of backing by government” On June 5, Edward Uchenna Ubosi, a two-term member representing Enugu East Constituency was elected Speaker while Donatus Uzogbado from Oji River Constituency was elected Deputy. Ikechukwu Ezeugwu, who represents Udenu Constituency (Ugwuanyi’s local government), was elected the House leader while Mathias Ekweremadu from Aninri became the Chief Whip.
When the members disagreed, Ubosi and Uzogbado were among the nine members who resisted the impeachment of Chime and were allegedly handsomely rewarded. Ezeugwu and Ekweremadu on the other hand were among the group of fifteen who wanted the former governor impeached.
The composition seem to have been against Chime’s calculation who few days to the end of his tenure, summoned a meeting of the nine members and the newly elected ones, leaving out the returning members of the Group of 15, where he reportedly persuaded them to produce principal officers among them.
He was said to have asked the nine lawmakers at the meeting held at Government Lodge to protect their cherished integrity and resist the others, whom he accused of fomenting trouble.
With Chime and Odo maintaining control of the new Assembly, what is not clear is how they intend to function so as not to injure the relationship Ugwuanyi has vowed to protect as well as meet the expectation of the people, especially in the handling of the controversies of dying days of Chime’s regime.
Former National Auditor of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Ray Nnaji, said the task of resolving the issues is a burden that the new administration brought with it.
According to him, “There were many atrocities which the Chime government committed which Enugu people condemned.
We will be surprised if after passing a resolution that a private developer who bought land at the International Conference Centre or adjacent the Assembly should stop work and it is not harkened to or the government will pay deaf ears and look the other way”.
Also condemned by the lawmakers was the alleged indiscriminate sale of public land to friends and cronies of the ex-governor at the International Conference Center, the Eastern Nigeria Industrial Estate as well as the property adjacent the State House of Assembly.’’
Nnaji, who had gone to court with some of the agencies of government exposed by the probe of the past Assembly and petitioned the EFCC over the activities of Chime said he did so in the interest of the state.
He had said that the suit followed the refusal of the chairman of the board of ENSUBEB, Nneka Onuora to furnish him with details of the contract award in line with the Freedom of Information Act, adding, “the information will help us determine the authenticity in the claim that the state has been defrauded”. All eyes are now on the Ubosi-led House of Assembly and how they navigate the ship will be of interest to the people of the state.
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