Pretenders In Government: How Abia State Is Being Fleeced, By Michael Nwabueze(documents) | #NwokeukwuMascot

 Opinion 

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Since 2014 when Alex Otti first made his ambition to be Governor known, he had adorned himself with the garb of a saintly critic and an unblemished alternative to the government of Abia State. His attempt to run for governorship in 2015 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, failed abysmally despite his fearsome and humongous election war chest having just left Diamond Bank whose unfortunate demise was believed in many quarters to have started under his watch as Managing Director.

Seeing through his deceit having banked some of the state's funds in the defunct Diamond Bank, the PDP resisted all manner of pressures including alleged financial inducements from Otti just to have them anoint him as their governorship candidate for the 2015 general elections. Rather, the PDP settled for another far less known, less flamboyant and unassuming candidate whose only credentials were his glorious days as a lecturer at the university and his unblemished records as a public servant.

Mr Alex Otti could not stand the humiliation and decided to pursue his ambition on the platform of another political party. Rather than concentrate on issues, Otti unleashed a relentless barrage of attacks on the same PDP on whose platform he had sought to be Governor, and in a spree of vengeful mission, accused them of things that are both unprintable and untrue. 

In his campaigns from 2015 through 2023, Alex Otti won few apostles to himself by making lampooning the PDP at every turn his pastime while promising the people a 'New Abia' of utopian status where more jobs will be created, cost of running the Governor's office in particular and governance, in general, will be drastically reduced, due process followed in all government businesses including award of contracts, technological innovations and reforms to block leakages and increase internally generated revenue, schools, hospitals and such other facilities built etc.

He painted the picture of paradise for Abians and promised to be their 'messiah' in that utopian kingdom.

Sadly, some fell for it! But close to five months after, are now asking questions of how they allowed themselves to be so easily hoodwinked into falling for such lies having seen the Abia State Third Quarter (July - September) 2023 Budget Performance Report as posted on the state government's website.

Before delving into the details of the budget performance, it is worth emphasising that none of all the projects including the over N30bn 5.9km Port Harcourt Road, Aba, awarded to Julius Berger followed due process as the process was shrouded in secrecy contrary to the mantras of transparency, probity and accountability upon which Otti rode to power.

More worrisome is how the project originally awarded by the Ikpeazu administration in 2017 for N9.8bn with drainages on both sides measuring up to 13.5km already completed, rose to a whopping N30bn under Otti. 

The contract awarded to Craneburg for the expansion of Ossah Road to six lanes from its current four lanes from Abia Tower to Okpara Square in Umuahia followed the same secrecy: no announcement for bidding, no competitive bidding and no due process of whatever kind was observed.

That has been the lot of Abians since Alex Otti became Governor!

Much of the rot currently going on in the system was further exposed by the third quarter performance budget of the state.

Despite his avowals to significantly increase Abia revenue from what he inherited, leading to the sacking of inherited revenue collecting agents of government and dismantling of existing processes and technology for revenue generation, Otti’s internally generated revenue has dwindled drastically, or so it was made to seem for obvious sinister purposes.

While the Ikpeazu administration generated the sum of N5.72bn for the same quarter in 2022, Otti generated a meagre N3.3bn for the same period in 2023. Ebonyi state which has fewer components for revenue, generated N3.2bn for the same period. This is happening even when Otti has increased levies payable by traders in major markets of the state, a major source of income for the government. 

The question people are now asking is: if you have plugged the loopholes for revenue leakages as claimed, sacked former collectors and engaged 'more competent' ones, introduced technology after jettisoning the one deployed by the last administration, and increased levies payable by some sections of the citizenry, how come all these have not translated to an increase in revenue, rather there is a significant decline when compared to the same period, July - September 2022, when the immediate past administration was in office?

Something fishy must be going on! The people are asking Alex Otti and his government, "where is our money?"

The most disturbing fact of the report is that Alex Otti's office alone gulped a whopping N5.32bn in just three months while that of Ebonyi State Governor stood at a meagre sum of N850m for the same period. The absurdity gets even messier as Alex Otti runs government from his country home in Nvosi, Isiala Ngwa South LGA of the state. At that rate, maintaining Otti’s personal house would cost the state a whopping N21bn in just one year!

There is no doubt that Alex Otti must have diverted the people's funds to renovate and elevate his personal house to the status of a government house to make it fit for running the affairs of the state. This is indeed a sad commentary for Abia State, especially with regard to a man who promised to do things differently from how they were done in the past.

All this is apart from his security vote of N2.8bn which is not accounted for, compared to that of his counterpart in Ebonyi which is just N350m for the same three-month period. These sums do not include the close to N2bn Alex Otti used for the purchase of vehicles as captured in the report under review.

What could Alex Otti be doing with such humongous amounts to run his personal home as office and as security vote while allocating a paltry sum of N737m to education for the entire state including all the state-owned higher institutions that dot the length and breadth of the state?

To run the Deputy Governor's office, Alex Otti spent N252.4m while his Ebonyi State counterpart spent N47m.

Meanwhile his Ebonyi counterpart who earns less from both federal allocation and internally generated revenue deliberately spends less on such components as Governor's office, Deputy Governor's office, security vote, etc so as to have more funds deployed to critical facilities and infrastructure like education, health, roads etc, but such expenses seem pedestrian to Otti, the self-styled 'helper' of the people.

While Otti purportedly spent N1.12bn on health in the state, nothing on the ground justifies that except the repainting of existing buildings tainted by old roofing. Isn't it both alarming and scandalous that what Otti spends on running his office is four times higher than what he spends on the education and health sectors of the state? 

And after having sacked about 10,000 workers in one fell swoop as part of his first actions in government, there is no justification whatsoever for spending N10.8bn as recurrent expenditure in just three months.

For a man who came to power by campaigning on the virtues of competence, accountability, transparency and probity, Otti has proved to be the exact opposite of all he preached during his eight-year journey as a governorship candidate. He seems to be on a mission to punish the people for not voting for him in those eight years by recouping all he spent pursuing that ambition.

Follow link to see Abia Q3 account reports.

Those who voted for him are already expressing regrets. He disappointed them too early, and to paper the cracks, Otti spent a whopping N542.8m on the ministry of information to probably oil his propaganda machinery heavily paying skit makers, social media influencers and sections of the media. But like it is already doing, such desperate measures can only last a moment, the truth will always prevail, and Otti's odious governance will be laid bare.

Michael Nwabueze is a former Special Adviser to then-Governor Okezie Ikpeazu.

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