RIVERS: Claims, Counter Claims Over Looting Of Brick House
THE frosty relationship between the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, and his predecessor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, took a new twist, following allegation of wanton vandalisation of the state assets by the former administration.
Though, allegation of looting government assets during a transition from one regime to another is not new in Rivers State, the purported plundering of the official resident of the state governor, popularly called The Brick House, has been described as bizarre and outrageous by governor Wike.
Amaechi has, however, expressed disbelief over the allegation, accusing Wike of deliberately vandalising the official residence to enable him vote billions of Naira from the state treasury to renovate and refurbish the place. Government properties were alleged to have been plundered by officials of the Government House in Port Harcourt.
Reports of repeated looting of government property has turned the political class into a laughing-stock in Rivers State, as they are seen as predators.
Acts of gross indiscipline and corruption like this is a rampant phenomenon and the past administration may have left similar precedence.
It will be recalled that when Amaechi became governor in October 2007, officials of Mr. Celestine Omehia, who was ousted as governor by the Supreme Court, also carted away several vehicles.
Wike,, who was appointed as Chief of Staff by Amaechi was saddled with the responsibility of recovering stolen government vehicles.
Then there was pressure on Amaechi to probe Omehia’s administration, but he declined. Now as governor, Wike gave a snippet of missing government properties, when during his inauguration address at the Liberation Stadium Port Harcourt, revealed that the Amaechi’s regime prevented him from accessing even the most elementary ceremonial facilities in his custody.
According to him, it was so bad that his administration had to travel to Ondo State to acquire the open police parade vehicle, as well as, buy its motorcycles for the escort riders.
A day after inauguration, news started making the rounds that the Brick House was striped bare by the former administration.
Recent attempts by The Guardian to access the Brick House to ascertain the veracity of the allegation, however, was to no avail. An aide to the governor said the renovation work has already commenced.
Earlier on Monday, Wike and his deputy, Mrs. Ipalibo Banigo, conducted some chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), including the former Deputy Governor, Tele Ikuru, secretary of Wike’s transition committee, Frank Owhor, acting National Chairman of PDP, Uche Secondus, Former Minister of Sports, Dr. Tammy Danagogo, state PDP chairman, Felix Obuah, and others, round the Brick House, offices and the Banquet Hall, where it was alleged that furniture and fittings were vandalised. More than 500 chairs were allegedly stolen from the Banquet Hall.
The governor, who is yet to move into his official residence and office, said it will take about two to three months to replace the items and to make the Government House befitting for a state executive habitation.
The list of looted items are said to include, tables and chairs, air conditioners, window blinds, rugs, bullet proof doors, cars, electrical/electronic gadgets, safes, Jacuzzis, room facilities and other domestic utensils, including fridges, freezers, televisions, beds and beddings.
Following reports of huge withdrawal of state funds from banks barely 48 hours to the expiration of the former administration, Wike alleged that breathtaking corruption may have been perpetrated.
Last week, he ordered all permanent secretaries in the state to produce full account details of their ministries’ expenditures over the last eight months.
Addressing the permanent secretaries, during a meeting at Government House, the governor expressed dismay that some of them actually connived with officials of the former administration to illegally withdraw funds from the State Government coffers; even up to the May 28, 2015.
He vowed to forensically investigate the state account to determine the extent of illegal transactions that may have occurred. “I want full details and print out of every ministry’s account in the last 18 months.
I will not accept any handover note without an accompanying account details. The government was coming to a close and some of you were busy signing cheques on May 26, 27 and 28.
On May 28, the Transition Committee called most of you and you refused to cooperate because they told you I will not be sworn-in,” said Wike.
Amaechi has since described the directives as an act of witch-hunt intended to deride and discredit him and his administration.
The former governor accused his successors of attempting to intimidate, threaten and blackmail officials of the former administration, including civil servants, into making false, phony and bogus claims of alleged corruption and corrupt practices against his person and his wife, Judith, describing them as “concocted claims that cannot be substantiated.”
He described as untrue and baseless claims by the governor that the Brick House was vandalised and looted by him.
He dismissed Wike’s allegations as provocative utterances, cheap smear campaign and a ploy to siphon billions of naira from the state treasury under the guise of renovating a purportedly vandalised and looted Government House.
“I am aware that this (Monday) morning, Wike in company of his coterie of court jesters, took some video cameramen and photographers on a tour of the Governor’s residence inside Government House. He took them to the Governor’s bedroom where he made further claims that the place had been looted.
The question to ask is, did Wike know what was in my former bedroom before now, to conclude that the bedroom was looted? Did he speak with or review with the Permanent Secretary of Government House, who is the chief accounting officer before jumping into such hasty and misguided conclusion?” he asked.
Amaechi stated that his successor had apparently reached a conclusion before arriving Government House, and all he has been saying and doing is to work towards that conclusion of looting and vandalisation.
According to him, it was instructive to note that on Friday, May 29, Wike had barred some key officials of Government House, including civil servants, from accessing the place. “Forty-eight hours later, he started shouting vandalisation and looting. Meanwhile, Obuah has appealed to the former governor and his aides to return all the looted items.
The PDP state chairman described the purported looting as shocking and embarrassing to the people of Rivers State, the political class, as well as, the All Progressives Congress (APC). According to him, the discovery of missing state properties further exposes the greed, corrupt and unpatriotic disposition of the former administration.
A member of the former administration, who pleaded anonymity, told The Guardian that the governor’s allegation is political and aimed at discrediting Amaechi who he had had fierce political tussle with since 2012.