By Charles Otu
The lingering face-off between the former Governor of Ebonyi State, Chief Martin Elechi and his successor, Engr. David Umahi took a turn for the worse Thursday when the former Governor accused Governor Umahi of sponsoring frivolous petitions against his government, stating that he was already being probed by the EFCC.
Elechi, however, said that his successor and the incumbent may be the first casualty if at all he executes his recent public boast that he would probe his eight-year tenure in which Governor Umahi served as his Deputy.
Engr. Umahi had at a Press briefing over the weekend fired another salvo at his estranged boss accusing Elechi of allegedly running a corrupt government and threatening to invite the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC to open the record books of the immediate-past administration.
Gov. Umahi had alleged that apart from refusing to pay retirees, including past leaders such as the serving Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, their Pensions, Gratuities and Severance allowances, the Elechi government had allegedly domiciled public funds in private accounts which allegedly made him to commit financial fraud, contracts inflation and other forms of financial recklessness.
But in a media briefing at Abakaliki Thursday, Chief Elechi, who took Journalists down memory lane on his relationship with his successor and why he reneged on his initial promise to support his aspiration to succeed him, said as an Elder, he had advised Gov. Umahi, after handing over power to him on May 29th 2015 even when he had strong reservations about the result of the said election results, to work hard and do his best to carry everybody along which he said the former had heeded.
According to the former Governor, “we have a law in Ebonyi State which I initiated in 2009 called the Fiscal Responsibility Law that guides the handling of financial resources, which spells out how the State should borrow and unless for any reason, this law is common to the 36 States of Nigeria. Apart from the Federal laws, every one of the 36 States of the Federation has its own Fiscal Responsibility Law. The terms may not be the same.”
Continuing, Chief Elechi maintained that: “under our own law, when you borrow, what you borrow must not be more than 40% of the monthly average of your previous two years. We are now in September 2017. If you go back to August 2015, if you add up government’s receipts from August 2015 till August 2017. When you add it up and divide by 24, what you get is the monthly average. So, that Law says that what you pay by way of debt refund must not be more than 40% of the monthly average of the previous two years.”
Chief Elechi further disclosed that; “this was why in 2010, I borrowed N20Bn for various projects. And in order to comply with that law, the loan came in two tranches of N16.5 Billion and N3.5 Billion respectively. We paid it as stipulated by law beginning from August 2010 to July 2015 which is a period of 60 months. I had paid for 58 months by the time I exited at the end of May 2015. So, the succeeding government had only two months to refund. And as you know, it is deducted at source which means the deductions were for only two months of June and July 2015. So, we completed the refund of the bond by July 2015.
He said: “That is the procedure and I had expected somebody who had served as Deputy Governor, who should say that when he was there, this was part of the procedure, to know. I am not saying that he does not know. But this is what we are asking to be sure that in refunding the loan you are getting from both the African Development and Islamic Development Bank, you are in compliance with the law such that the essential services in the State would still be maintained. You can’t stop to pay staff salaries because you are owing or you borrowed to do a project. Or you fail to pay to supply water, you fail to pay electricity bill or you fail to supply drugs to the hospitals. These are basic essential needs and therefore, no project, no matter how important will be given more priority over them.”
Elechi clarified that when he borrowed, he did so in Naira. “The loan I borrowed was denominated in Naira and not in foreign currency. We are hearing of $150M and we say NO to that! It should be in Naira because the Dollar is a hard currency and the Naira is a depreciating currency. Therefore, if you borrow in Dollars, or Euros or Pounds Sterling, by the time you will finish paying, you will be paying almost double what you covenanted for. And the Nigerian government suffered that under the Paris club and London club borrowings until the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo cried to the world and the loans were cancelled. Because the Naira is depreciating in value every minute, it is safer to borrow in Naira than to borrow in foreign currency which you will continue repaying and the Naira equivalent which you are using to repay that hard currency is so many times what it should have been originally. That is practical Economics. I never said government should not do the ring-roads. I never said government should not borrow. But in borrowing, we must comply with the rules to ensure that you don’t truncate the basic necessities that the government must provide for the State. I don’t want to get involved in the rumours that the House of Assembly was never consulted because I am not there to know. But this has also entered into public domain. All the lies being told against me are unfounded and misdirected.”
The Elder statesman, who lamented that Gov. Umahi condemned everything his administration did except the State-owned Radio and Television station- the EBBC which he said has become an organ of his vilification even when he was part of the administration, said he frowned at his successor’s style of governance which he said made it difficult for the opposition to have a democratic space in the State.
“You won’t believe that he (Umahi) directed the Abakaliki Capital Territory Development Board to mark this building (Elechi’s property at Ocho udo city Secretariat) to stop me from developing the plot I had legitimately from the State government and paid all the fees and plan approvals. I had told my Lawyers to file a suit. But the Chief Judge intervened when he got to know about it and brought peace between us and the ‘Stop work’ order was no longer complied with”, he said.
He said that when overtures were made by CAN to reconcile him with his successor, he was irritated by Umahi’s
grandstanding which made him to make it clear to CAN that he wouldn’t respond to his (Umahi’s) chain of lies.
He further maintained that the Governor had faulted about 19 projects under his then government but that he objected to it because they were not the right body to discuss the projects insisting that there were procedures for awarding contracts in the laws of the land and as such, it was the only platform that the said projects could be faulted.
On his joining the APC, Chief Elechi made it clear that he never decamped from the PDP. He said he had denounced and left the PDP on May 29th 2015 after he handed over. “Although I didn’t make it public, I was waiting for the reaction of the party. And all through that period till the end of 2016, the party did not invite me to any of their meetings or activities, meaning that the hate, dislike and condemnation they had for me were all being implemented. They had accused me of joining the APC even before my handing over power. But I said its not true because I didn’t join APC then.
But following my rejection of the PDP, I needed a platform on which to stand and support my erstwhile supporters who moved from the PDP to the Labour Party and now to the APC. And that was how it happened. On the 9th of April this year, I declared for the APC. That did not go down well with the Governor of Ebonyi State. He instructed some of his henchmen like Franklin Ogbuewu, Innocent Ugo Chima and then, the Commissioner for Information to attack me, to denounce me and say all sorts of uncomplimentary things about my person. That was the first time the issue of probe came up. Ogbuewu suggested that I should be probed. I ignored him because that decision was already being implemented even before the world knew about it.”
Chief Elechi further alleged that following his visit on July 9th this year to the APC National Chairman, Chief John Oyegun, Gov. Umahi sent him insulting and abusive text messages calling him names and threatening to publish what he claimed were his hate speeches against President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. “And I am praying that he should attempt it because by my upbringing, I have never insulted or abused anybody in a campaign speech. I would normally say what I will do, what issues I would bring to bear on the populace. I am not the type that could abuse or insult people at rallies. So, I am waiting for him to show evidence of the video where I abused Buhari. I have the message in my handset and I have printed them out and I will publish them at the appropriate time”.
The former Governor continued that there is something psychological about Umahi and that such is the fact that he is very uneasy and disturbed about his person. “He thinks that I am out to destroy him. Of course, I don’t want him to come back for a second tenure. But that does not amount to destroying him. He is entitled to live like every other person and pursue legitimate business. But Ebonyi State has been auctioned out to people we don’t know. The way contracts are being awarded, the manner of their execution, all these, the public will insist on knowing about. So, abusing or threatening me either with probe or anything else will not stop me from being Martin Elechi. But the factual thing now is that the Governor for whatever reason is very uneasy about me and so he accuses me of printable and unprintable things.”
Elechi while denying a recent media publication that alleged he was trying to stop Umahi’s government from borrowing from ADB and Islamic Bank said it was totally untrue that he was not in support of the construction of the Abakaliki ring road which his administration had also initiated.
“If you recall, I had applied for N35 Bn for the construction of the Abakaliki ring road. How can anybody say that I don’t want that ring-road to be built? The then House of Assembly had passed a chain of resolutions to stop me from functioning on the 6th of January 2015 one of which was that I shouldn’t borrow any money that year. The Deputy Speaker had sued me before the Federal High Court, Lagos. The FHC, Lagos said it had no jurisdiction over the suit, back to sender. And it was returned to the Federal High Court, Abakaliki where it was thrown out. So that delayed our access to the loan which the ADB had approved.”
He continued that the ADB Country Representative in Nigeria, Suleiman Doreh from Mauritania toured the ring roads with him, saw the potentials and assured him that he will not only help him to get the loan, but will follow it up with development of Agriculture and Trade. “Is this what the House of Assembly should stop? And the loan was finally approved by the ADB. N35Bn to be refunded in 30 years with 10 years moratorium. That means we were to refund it in 50 years at less than 1% interest; 0.75% was the interest rate of that loan. So, we were happy and the House of Assembly said to hell with us. Like you would remember, they were trying many things to disgrace me out of office. They tried impeachment, it didn’t work. They made the entire hullabaloo against me but nothing worked. They then passed resolutions about the loan and the tenure of board members cancelling the people that I had put in place”, adding that he never opposed the procurement of that loan and neither did he mention anything against it.
He said for anybody to write to the President that he is afraid of Islamization of Ebonyi State is both ungodly and un-Christian. He continued that: “Since that abuse came up, I have reflected on the loan matter. 99% of Ebonyi people who are talking about that loan do not understand the issues. They are thinking that am against the construction of the ring-road, which is untrue. They are thinking that I’m against borrowing which is untrue because it is something that I had done in the past. So, what are the facts? I had read in the Social Media that I apologized over my stand on the ADB and Islamic Development Bank loans. That is trash. Absolute rubbish because I had no grounds to apologize to anybody. Naturally, if I go wrong, I would apologize. But this never crossed my mind because I never said anything against it.
As a son of Ebonyi State, as a Founding Father of Ebonyi State and as a one-time Governor of Ebonyi State, it is my interest and aspiration that things should be done right in Ebonyi State. Since this government came into being, it has borrowed from different sources. Apart from the Paris Club debt refund which Ebonyi State got its share, the President had given the bailout funds to States to ensure that salaries were paid and we don’t know the terms and conditions of the said loan. What is the debt profile of Ebonyi State today? Ebonyi people want to know.