Okorocha administration and the Zenith bank scandal – By E. Iwuala

Not too long ago, the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) wrote a petition to the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) accusing Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State and his team of taking an unauthorized loan that runs into many billions of naira from Zenith Bank using the monthly allocations for the 27 local government councils in the state as collateral for the loan.

Consequently, the Imo State Commissioner for Finance, Deacon Chike Okafor and the Accountant General of the state, Mr. George Eche were arrested and detained by the EFCC in relation of the accusation. These government officials were later granted administrative bail.

As an offshoot to the alleged controversial loan, there was another petition to the Attorney-General of the Federation against the Imo House of Assembly accusing the state legislature of authorizing Governor Okorocha to borrow 45 billion naira from Zenith Bank.

On the 10th of January, 2013, the Imo State Government through an official press statement issued by the state Commissioner for Information Mr. Chinedu Offor, debunked the above allegation. For a better appreciation here is an excerpt of the press statement:

The attention of the government of Imo State has been drawn to the report of the detention of the Commissioner for Finance, Deacon Chike Okafor and the Accountant General of the state, Mr. George Eche by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The report also alleged that both government officials were arrested for obtaining a 40 Billion Naira loan from Zenith Bank on behalf of the state government. The allegation in its entirety is false, unfounded and another campaign of calumny designed to divert attention from the probe of the former PDP administration in the state.

We make bold to state categorically that the government of Imo state under His Excellency, Owelle Rochas Okorocha never obtained 40Billion Naira loan nor misappropriated the state funds as alleged. Instead, the present government has paid up all loans collected by the past administration including the 6.4 Billion Naira loan by the former Gov. Ohakim just two months to 2011 election for which EFCC is yet to investigate…’

In a related development, The Clerk of the Imo State House of Assembly, Chief Chris Duru was also quizzed by the operatives of EFCC over a purported resolution by the state legislature granting approval to the Imo State Executive to obtain N45 billion loan facility.
Consequently, the Imo State House of Assembly denied the allegation that it gave approval to the Imo State Government to obtain loan of N45 billion from the Zenith Bank Plc. The Chairman, House Committee on Information, Chief Acho Ihim, during a press briefing dismissed the allegation, stressing that the state legislature did not authorise the executive to obtain N45 billion.

The truth of the matter is that at no point did the House authorize the executive to obtain N45 billion loan and it had since confirmed that the executive did not obtain any such loan from Zenith Bank or indeed any other bank’.

Chief Ihim, who is representing Okigwe State constituency in the Assembly stated that the clerk of the House informed the EFCC operatives that there was no resolution by the state legislators authorising the state government to obtain a loan of N45 billion from Zenith Bank.

The legislature is the only arm of government empowered by the constitution to grant approval for the executive to secure loans and other facilities. And the Imo State House of Assembly stands willing to approve any it considers necessary for the good governance of Imo State’, Ihim summed up.

When I first heard the stories about the controversial loan, I did not believe the petitioners. I took everything as part of the usual plots by political opponents to discredit the government in power.

However, during the 29th May 2013 Democracy Day Celebration in Owerri, the Imo StateGovernment lined up a lot of activities to mark the 14-year of unbroken civilian rule in Nigeria. The highlight of the celebration in Owerri was very grand. Incidentally, the event gave the Governor Okorocha the opportunity to give an account of his stewardship to Imo people for the two years he had piloted the affairs of Imo State.

Governor Okorocha’s speech at the occasion had a lot of hope-rising policy statements. However, I was not comfortable when the governor in his speech, said the following:

“We never took any N100B loan; it’s not true rather what we did was we took N50bn from Zenith Bank…’.

When I heard this, I knew that the governor had landed himself and his government into a deep shit. This is because of the implication of the statement.

The controversial Zenith Bank allegation was an allegation the Okorocha-Led Administration had earlier denied in its entirety. However, with this Governor’s latest confession, it goes to establish the truth of the Zenith bank loan scam.

I have always wanted Governor Okorocha to succeed in office. That was why I stopped criticizing him strongly and adopted the advisory approach in talking about the challenges of his government. That was also why I accepted working in his government the 10 months I did.

On a more serious note, just like the Governor driving himself to official functions, I have also always detested Governor Okorocha not reading prepared speeches when making policy statements. Extempore speaking is not a show that one is intelligent. It is not the best global practice for statesmen. Even government officials of the owners of English language most a times read prepared speeches. Government is a serious business and not razzmatazz. Therefore, Governor’s speech is expected to be prepared by professional speech writers who are abreast with the policy/thrusts of the administration. The implication of certain statements should be weighed before they are churned out to the public. This is because words that comes from the mouth of a statesman like a Governor is policy statement and is bonds. Such are meant to be believed. It also form part of what the statesmen is accessed with. Therefore, consistency in the position of governments on issues of public interest is very sacrosanct. It shows that the government is organised, serious and should always be taken into great confidence.

Interestingly, former Governor Sam Mbakwe whom Governor Okorocha claims to be competing with achieved all he could in Imo State mainly from loans he obtained on behalf of Imo people and he made it clear to the understanding of everybody. Therefore, there is nothing wrong in government taking loan from banks to cater for the people. But in the case at hand here, I do not see the reason why Governor Okorocha and his team should be involved in a game of hide-and-seek over a loan he obtained on behalf of Imo people. What is the government trying to hide from the public because clear conscience fears no accusation? There is nothing wrong in accepting ab-initio that the state government obtained a loan. This is an insult to the sensibility of the people and their mandate. It is an act that is short of acceptable civilized practice especially for somebody like Okorocha who wants to rule the country.

On the other hand, there was no need for Governor Okorocha to talk about the Zenith bank in his speech at the 2013 Democracy Day event because he was no longer under pressure to do so. This is because it is an issue the state government had already taken an earlier firm stand. Moreover, the matter had long shifted to EFCC and the anti-graft body is still investigating it.

Therefore, the above positions and inconsistent statements from different highly placed government officials in Imo State on the Zenith bank loan scandal have presented Okorocha and his team as liars, fraudsters, immature, a people enmeshed in corruption, lacking in transparency and accountability. This has really opened the administration to great ridicule and is trying to prove the opposition right. The implication is that the people may now be tempted to see all the opposition say as right. This is not good for an administration people sacrificed a lot to vote in. It baffles me why both the present Governor and government should appear irresponsible to the people.

Incidentally, Imo people are so educated, sophisticated and enlightened that they should not be taken for granted. They record every statement the Government says and the things it does.

Therefore, like the JPROS scandal, Imo people need further explanations for the inconsistent positions over the Zenith Bank scandal. They also deserve unreserved apologies for this act of disappointment and the time to do it is now before it is too late.

Written by: E.Iwuala

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