From Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri
The Imo State Government is in a fierce war with the immediate past Governor of the State, Rochas Okorocha, over some property of the State allegedly appropriated by the former governor.
Already, the Government said it has confiscated the Eastern Palm Estate on Akachi Road, Owerri while they also battled over ownership of the Eastern Palm University, located in Ogboko, Okorocha’s community in Ideato South local government area.
The State House of Assembly recently passed a bill for a law repealing the Eastern Palm University Establishment Law No. 3 of 2019.
Sponsored by the Deputy Majority Leader, Emeka Nduka, the piece of legislation is also seeking to rename the university to Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe University, Ogboko: “This bill, if signed into law, would be one of the best things that would have happened to Imo State. The law is for the general interest of the people.
“The bill speaks for itself and I want to urge my colleagues to give this bill accelerated hearing to enable its speedy signing into law and to rename the Eastern Palm University to K. O. Mbadiwe University, Imo State.”
Majority of the lawmakers applauded the sponsor of the bill and endorsed its speedy passage. According to them, the bill was timely, commendable and people-oriented, stressing that the university should be fully recovered by the state, since it was allegedly built with the state’s funds.
They also queried some processes involved in the establishment of the university and its initial claim of ownership, saying it was fraudulent and not in the general interest of the people.
Speaker Paul Emeziem said the law would answer the clarion call by concerned citizens of the state, who had written several petitions for the full recovery of the university from the acclaimed owner.
Truth is that Okorocha is swimming in murky waters and the ripples threaten his political future.
When the Eastern Palm University was established during Okorocha’s tenure as governor, he had said that the institution was to complement other higher institutions in the State and give opportunity for the indigenes of the State to be admitted in their own soil.
Just before he exited office in May 2019, Okorocha had disclosed that 90 per cent of the ownership of the school belonged to him while 10 per cent was for the State government. But the administration of Gov. Hope Uzodimma has insisted that the arrangement was baseless.
Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba said it would not be proper for the State Government to fold its arms and allow Okorocha take possession of its property which he estimated to have cost N20 billion.
Emelumba said Government moved to recover the university when it became obvious that the former governor wanted to fraudulently appropriate the institution: “He must apologise to Imo people for attempting to steal their commonwealth. This is one of the most elaborate and devious scams to dupe an entire state of their patrimony using the instrumentality of state power.”
He explained that from the acquisition of the 101 hectares of land where the said university is located, it was made clear that it was for the permanent site of Imo State University.
He disclosed that the government subsequently paid N58 million as compensation to owners of the land: “The money was paid through Moneke and legal practitioners of No 5 Emeka Emebo close, Idado, Lekki Peninsula, Lagos.
“Even the former governor told Imo people in 2012 that he was building a permanent site for Imo State University in Ogboko and that the land was being acquired to host the permanent site, only for him to turn around to try to convert it to his private university.
“The approval by NUC expressly stated that Eastern Palm University is the 42nd State University in Nigeria. Nowhere was it designated as a private university.”
Daily Sun sighted the letter with reference number NUC/ES/529/Vol103 dated 13th April, 2016, which designated that Eastern Palm University as a state university: “This is to inform Your Excellency that with effect from 13th April 2016, Eastern Palm University in Ogboko Imo State is formally recognised as the 42nd state university and 143rd university in the Nigerian university system”.
The Commissioner also disclosed that Government funds totalling ₦20 billion had been expended in building the university between 2013 and 2019.
He said Okorocha as the owner and representative of Rochas Foundation negotiated with himself as Governor of Imo State: “So the negotiation was between Okorocha and Okorocha and Okorocha dubiously allocated 90 per cent of the ownership of the university to himself and a paltry 10 per cent to Imo people who built the Eastern Palm University with their money.
“No responsible government will allow such a brazen daylight robbery to subsist, hence the government moved to recover the university for the people.”
But Okorocha has maintained that the Eastern Palm University does not belong to the State Government; so he told the Governor that “You can’t recover what you don’t own”
A statement by his media adviser, Sam Onwuemeodo said: “The Eastern Palm University was a creation of the law. It has a law establishing it. It is a legal entity. So, it is not a kiosk or market store one could wake up one day, to claim or announce to have recovered.”
“So, it was absurd for the government to announce to have recovered an institution established by law, through a press conference held in one of the offices in Government House, and claiming too, to have based the illegal and disturbing action, on a Whitepaper, nobody has seen.”
The former governor also has to contend with other lingering allegations of looting the State blind. Just recently, the State Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Simon Ebegbulem led some security men to burst one of the warehouses belonging to Okorocha, stocked with accessories from leftover projects in the State.
Uncovered in the place were streetlights, traffic lights, solar energy panel and machines allegedly believing to belong to Nsu Tiles, a ceramic industry owned by the State Government but had been moribund due to the lackadaisical attitude of previous governments.
Regardless, Okorocha has claimed that he was not bothered by the actions of the State Government. He was seen in a recent viral video in the social media boasting to be richer than the State Government. He had told members of his faction of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state that he could finance the party from proceeds from just one of his numerous property in the state: “You know, I have money, those people we are contending with do not have money more than me, even as Rochas, I’m richer than a State Government, if I sell one of my buildings for N3billion; you can’t finish it and it would not even affect me”.