The over six years of cordial working relationship between the Enugu State government and the state House of Assembly may be heading for the rocks following the insistence of the lawmakers for two of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s appointees to appear before the House.
Residents of Enugu were greeted on September 18, 2021 with series of radio announcements from a committee set up by the Enugu State of Assembly Speaker, Hon. Edward Ubosi summoning two appointees of Governor Ugwuanyi: the Chairman of Enugu Capital Territory Development Authority (ECTDA), Josef Umunnakwe Onoh, and the Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development, Dr Victor Chukwuemeka Nnam.
The radio announcement ran intermittently from Saturday September 18 to Tuesday September 21. Many residents of Enugu saw the development as very unusual due to the peaceable way Governor Ugwuanyi has been carrying everybody along since the onset of his administration in 2015.
The general feeling among the people was that it could either be that the lawmakers are subtly gearing up to wrestle with the governor so as to secure their return tickets to the House of Assembly or are being propelled by some powerful individuals eyeing the 2023 governorship seat in the state.
Although investigation showed that there was no petition from anybody that warranted the sudden target of the Ministry of Lands and Urban Development and ECTDA, it was suspected that the lawmakers may be doing the bidding of a well-known land speculator in the state.
There were also pointers that the action of the House of Assembly was partly a continuation of the legal tussle between the Commissioner of Lands, Dr Nnam, and one Kingsley Eze, who accused the commissioner of conniving with his competitors to cause the revocation of some portions of land around the Centenary City Estate, Enugu.
The members of the Special House of Assembly Committee constituted by Hon. Ubosi, include Hons. Chinedu Nwamba (Chairman, Nsukka constituency), Ethel Ugwuanyi (Igbo-Eze North 1 constituency), Jeff Mbah (Oji-River constituency), Amaka Ugwueze, (Isi-Uzo constituency), and Paul Nnajiofor (Nkanu East constituency).
The committee explained that the two government officials were being summoned to the Assembly as part of the performance of its oversight functions, noting that both the Ministry and ECTDA should produce all their account details, cash receipts, and every form of financial documents for forensic examination.
The lawmakers also alleged that ECTDA and the Lands Ministry were engaging in financial extortion from the public, a practice they said was scaring away investors from Enugu State. Having laid those allegations as the basis for the probe of the two officers, the lawmakers waited for the two aides of the governor to appear before it.
However, feeling that there was no justifiable basis to summon them, both the chairman of ECTDA and Commissioner for Lands shunned the summons, complaining that the committee has already embarked on media trial and unwittingly adjudged them guilty, even in the face of a flagrant breach of fair hearing and appropriate channel of invitation.
Based on the committee’s allusion that the Ministry of Lands and ECTDA were scaring investors, those who were conversant with the celebrated case between Dr Nnam and Kingsley Eze did not waste time to write off the probe as a clever witch-hunt.
Some staff of the Ministry of Lands observed that the House of Assembly’s public announcement came up barely three days after the Federal Government withdrew all court charges filed by Mr Kingsley Eze of Private Estate International West Africa (PEIWA) against the Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development, Dr Nnam.
In his letter of complaint against Nnam, Eze alleged that despite handsome rewards and concessions that Nnam received from PEIWA, he went and presented forged documents purporting the same to have come from the host communities.
“When his action was challenged in court, Surveyor Nnam in his usual manner provided a forged document allegedly showing that PEIWA was given a notice of intention to revoke,” Eze stated, stressing that it was shortly after he (Nnam) was introduced to the Surveyor General of Enugu State that he was appointed as the state Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development.
Eze alleged that it was with information Nnam gathered in confidence from PEIWA when he was in the firm’s employ that he used to work against PEIWA’s interest, namely revocation of the lands meant for Enugu Lifestyle and Golf City.
But, the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, withdrew the matter on September 16, 2021.
Before the withdrawal, the Federal High Court, Enugu, ruling on an oral application, rebuked the prosecutor and Eze, for wasting the court’s time with a matter that was not a federal case.
The court had declared: “I have studied the gamut of this case file and have understood that this is not a Federal case, it is a state case, which should be in the state High Court. I hereby transfer the case file to the State High Court of Enugu, through the office of the Attorney General of the state. Anything or review you want to do should be by the state Attorney General.”
Finally, withdrawing the case with charge No: FHC/EN/CR/33/2020 from the Federal High Court, the AGF, Malami ordered that all charges against the Enugu Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development, which was before the court, be withdrawn immediately.
Relieved by the withdrawal of the matter, the Lands Commissioner, Nnam, said he knew from the outset that Kingsley Eze was merely misleading the court by embarking on the baseless legal excursion to the Federal High Court.
The Commissioner told reporters that his adversary, Eze, knew ab initio that the matter does not hold water, stressing that the withdrawn case “is a big blow to him.”
While describing the AGF’s decision as a victory of light over darkness, Nnam said that he will not be deterred in his efforts at ensuring that Enugu State gets rid of land grabbers.
The Commissioner asserted that what Mr Eze and PEIWA did to Enugu State through the deal contracted during the administration of Mr. Sullivan Chime was outrageous in the history of the state, even as he commended Governor Ugwuanyi for standing by him while the ordeal lasted.
It would be recalled that shortly after he was appointed Lands Commissioner, Nnam had based on the mandate of the governor discovered a monumental land deal through which the state government lost over N4 billion as ground rent and premium.
Many believe it was on the grounds of the enormity of the fraud and persecution of the Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development that a civil rights group, Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA) petitioned the office of the Attorney General, asking him to use his good offices to discontinue the case.
HURIWA, in a letter dated December 10, 2020, informed the Minister of Justice that the case was not only politically motivated, but also a frame-up orchaestrated to distract and damage Dr Nnam’s reputation.
The disclosure by HURIWA that an investigation into the case exonerated the commissioner of any wrongdoing spurred the office of the AGF to intervene, leading to the withdrawal of the case.
HURIWA promptly commended the AGF for “not allowing miscarriage of justice and punishment to the innocent commissioner.”
But, while Dr Nnam was relishing his freedom from the court case, the Enugu House of Assembly through the Special Committee decided to open another window of contention.
And in a bid to confer legitimacy in the so-called probe, the lawmakers roped in the ECTDA, which as urban infrastructure maintenance and development control agency, has no mandate over land matters.
Many who are familiar with the Eze and PEIWA saga do not believe the Assembly committee that it was carrying out an oversight function and resolve to employ “all constitutional means to ensure that the Commissioner and chairman of ECTDA honour its invitation.”
Briefing journalists in Enugu last week, Chairman of the House Committee on Information, Mr Jeff Mba, said that the special committee investigating the allegations of illegal extortion of money from residents of Enugu metropolis will go to any length to complete its assignment.
Mba said that Nnam and Onoh must appear before the committee headed by Chinedu Nwamba “to brief the lawmakers on the allegations leveled against the two government establishments.”
He added that the two officials are expected to educate the legislators on the methods their offices employed to generate revenue for the government.
As a former member of the state House of Assembly, chairman of ECTDA, Josef Onoh, dismissed the committee’s summons as a ploy to extort from the governor’s aides.
Recalling a previous experience when the lawmakers refused his officials’ audience simply because they came ‘empty-handed’, the ECTDA boss wondered why the lawmakers had to go on air with grievous allegations instead of the normal channel of communication.
In a statement, by its Public Relations Officer (PRO), Mr Gideon Eze, ECTDA accused the lawmakers of “alleged blackmail, harassment of the agency through media and attempted extortion in the guise of oversight function.”
ECTDA blamed the chairman of the committee, Nwamba, for beating the war drums, stressing that he was trying to cause misunderstanding between the Executive and Legislative arms of the state government by overzealously meddling into matters that ordinarily remain within the purview of the governor.
While noting that Enugu Capital Territory Development Authority is under the office of the Governor, the PRO said that the agency would no longer be condoned.
The agency threatened that further provocation would compel ECTDA to release damaging documents that could compromise the integrity of the state House of Assembly.
Part of the statement read: “ECTDA is not into Land Allocations and Acquisition, but an enforcement agency that was enacted to enforce compliance among related agencies. Hence, the subject matter, which the House Committee is seeking for does not fall within the purview of the ECTDA.
“We are worried that the House of Assembly never presented this agency with any form of petition or document for us to understand and know what exactly they are investigating.
“The ECTDA will not sit by and watch the House of Assembly under the misdirection of Hon. Chinedu Nwamba damage the long-standing reputation of our chairman and that of the ECTDA. One of the greatest challenges faced in ECTDA is the different attempts by various committees of the state House of Assembly to extort this agency, which proofs are in our record.
“The agency has no appropriation for the types of outrageous financial demands that Nwamba and his colleagues make and let it be clear that by the law establishing the ECTDA, the agency is under the office of the Governor and it’s only answerable to His Excellency.”
However, the Enugu State House of Assembly Special Committee on extortion and other related matters, last Tuesday decided to compile its report on revenue and harmonization investigation despite the refusal of the two appointees to honour its invitation to defend alleged illegal extortion involving them.
Barely one year to the next general election, politicians in Enugu State are worried by the influence of power rotation because most communities devised political arrangements that set term limits to their representatives.
This huddle has necessitated defections and in some cases attempts by elected representatives to grab as much as they can to protect their political future or remain relevant in the emerging scheme of things.
As the House of Assembly and its special committee continue their ongoing battle against the Ministry of Lands and Urban Development and the ECTDA, the Speaker, Ubosi and Governor Ugwuanyi hold the key to its peaceful resolution.