By Frank Ngwu
Ever since I was appointed into public office, I have continued to witness challenges that professionals, or technocrats, are confronted with in their various assignments as public officers. Many times, I hear people say that politicians are the source of most of our national challenges, particularly as they concern corruption.
To an extent, those assertions could be considered as statements of fact, but they are not entirely a reflection of the whole truth. Like everything that pertains to human beings, behaviours should be qualified. In that instance, therefore, it would be appropriate to say that bad politicians are the triggers of corrupt system that make politics the problem rather than the means to proper social engineering and harmony.
I intend to use personal experience to drive home my points. I was made the Special Assistant to the Governor of Ebonyi State on Road Maintenance on the 14th of July, 2020. Upon assuming office, I noticed that my predecessor, Mr. Ali Odefa, did not hand over government property in his possession before abdicating duties and absconding from the state.
My first actions in office were to relate with staff and take inventory of what was inherited. That also involved looking into various records and directories, as well as correspondences concerning the office of Special Assistant to the Governor on Road Maintenance. At the end of the day, it was obvious from preliminary findings that mind-boggling breaches of due process had taken place, in addition to inexplicable disappearance of plant and various construction equipment belonging to the Department of Ebonyi State Road Maintenance Agency.
Most intriguing was that, in spite of the fact that the office was well furnished, nothing was left behind, from chairs, cushions, wall brackets, fridges, personal computers, UPS, televisions, air conditioners and remote controls, among other critical office furniture.
So, in conjunction with other relevant authorities, a committee was set to up to carry out a total audit of the agency’s activities within the period covering the appointment of my predecessor and the time of his sudden flight.
After three months of intensive investigation and scrutiny of official transactions and banking records, the committee turned in its report. Armed with the report, I decided to write officially to my predecessor, detailing the findings of the committee with a view to getting his own side of the story.
The letter, dated January 12, 2021, was titled, “Re: Unaccounted N1,159,183,103.37 (One Billion, One Hundred And Fifty-Nine Million, One Hundred And Eighty-Three Thousand, One Hundred And Three Naira, Thirty-Seven Kobo).
Part of the letter read: “I write to you as the Special Assistant to Ebonyi State Governor, His Excellency, Engr. David Nweze Umahi, FNSE, FNATE, on Road Maintenance, who heads EBROMA. Records show that you were the last occupant of this office.
“Recall that given the manner of your abscondment from office, you did not hand over or give records of Ebonyi State Government’s property under your care.
“Consequent upon the foregoing, you are hereby directed to give account of the sum of One Billion, One Hundred And Fifty-Nine Million, One Hundred And Eighty-Three Thousand, One Hundred And Three Naira, Thirty-Seven Kobo only, which you collected from the Ebonyi State Government for the construction of concrete pavement and other maintenance works. Also, give evidence of the liquidation of the debt of N14,556,000.00 (Fourteen Million, Five Hundred and Fifty-Six Thousand Naira) only, you incurred on behalf of the EBROMA.”
In addition to the funds, the former SA was directed to also return some movable properties, including concrete asphalt cutters, five personal computers, office furniture, two air-conditioning systems, brand new Toyota Hilux, two Caravan containers and batching plant facilities.
The letter stated further: “Although the government has put machinery in motion to detail accounts of your reckless attitude towards its finances, properties and affairs, the office of the Special Assistant to the Governor on Road Maintenance would be pleased to receive from you the various items listed above.
“You may wish to note that, if after the expiry of seven days of this letter, we do not hear from you, we may be compelled to explore other legitimate paths to ensure that you give proper account.”
Under normal circumstances, the person involved should have made efforts to explain his actions or give appropriate responses that would show a readiness to render account. But, alas, instead of applying good sense, he adopted evasive manouvres in the name of politics.
Following the studied defection of our governor from Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the former SSA decided to plead political witch-hunt. And in the haste to garnish criminality with politics, he made prodigious efforts to be made the national vice-chairman of his party for the South East zone.
While he was engaging in the old wife’s tales of pleading political differences, traders, artisans and suppliers of critical construction equipment and materials like cement, rod and sand continued to stream into the office of EBROMA. And, as the SA, I was forced to entertain stories of malicious duplicity and larceny, of how goods were obtained on credit under false pretenses with promise to pay, even when the funds were released.
Faced with that dilemma, we were forced to petition the Nigeria Police and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). In a bid to delay the hands of justice and avoid the demand of accountability, the former SSA, proceeded to engage a lawyer, claiming that his emergence as zonal chairman of his party motivated APC administration in Ebonyi State to go after him.
While we, the youth are agitating to be included in decision-making process and governance, such attitude of lawless individuals to take cover under politics to shortchange the people should be condemned as a grave dark spot.
As Nigerians relish the first celebration of June 12 as the nation’s Democracy Day, I believe the time is now to re-examine the manner of people that come into politics and public service. Diversion of public amenities as well as misappropriation of public trust is equivalent to political banditry. It has no place in democracy.
•Ngwu, is Special Assistant to Governor of Ebonyi State on Road Maintenance