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NIGERIA: This rescue mission can’t be aborted by anybody — Okafor

Honourable Commissioner for Finance of Imo State, Deacon Chike OkaforIn this exclusive interview with Vanguard, the Honourable Commissioner for Finance of Imo State, Deacon Chike Okafor speaks with Vanguard on his invitation to EFCC on what he described as a spurious allegation to tarnish the image of the present leadership of Imo State. While addressing a number of issues, he emphasized that the roadmap of development is sure and that all sons and daughters of the State should be rest assured

You and the Accountant General of Imo State were recently invited to the EFCC over an allegation of misappropriation of funds to the tune of N56billion involving a facility from Zenith Bank, could you clarify the true position of this allegation?

The EFCC is a responsible and responsive agency of government with a statutory role to combat corruption and financial crimes in the polity. There is a petition against our government that we squandered money.

Sometime in October, the EFCC invited the Accountant General of the State and I to come and react to the petition before them from the opposition party stating that our government is not responsible and that we had borrowed N50 billion from Zenith Bank and another N20 billion from Diamond Bank.

That was the thrust of the petition and that we are not applying the money to projects that the funds were meant for. We went to them, EFCC, and presented our case to them on our debt exposure to those bank which totally contradicts what was alleged in the petition. We took time to explain to them what those funds were utilized for and then left.

But you see EFCC has their modus operandi. When  I go to EFCC as the Commissioner of Finance and say we didn’t misappropriate these money, we used it to build roads, fund our free education, we had to pay for educational materials i.e. uniforms, books etc, they will note it and as soon I leave as the Commissioner for  Finance, the EFCC will go to the Ministries that handled the procurement process of those things/project for due process assessment.

So when we left last year October, I didn’t get to know that EFCC wrote to the Ministries where we deployed funds from the borrowing to finance projects to come and collaborate our presentation to them.  This present government has zero tolerance for corruption. We are not frivolous, we have a governor who sleeps and wakes up thinking on how to develop Imo State?

As a matter of fact, we need more money than we have considering the landmark projects the Governor wants to put on ground for Imo State. So we are not afraid to open our doors to EFCC or to any other body who wants to come to check what we are doing because we ensure that due process is always followed.

The EFCC wrote to two Ministries and also wrote two reminders and for some reasons I don’t know, they did honour the invitation, neither did they send in the documents they asked for.

Having been to the EFCC ab initio, they requested that the Accountant General and I should come over for further discussion on the issue they were already handling, so we went. EFCC did not arrest me neither the Accountant General either here in Owerri or in Abuja. They called us to come and we obliged them.

Of course, we had made friends with them as it were; we are working with them to put to lie the petition written against us. So we flew in to Abuja on our own, slept till the next day and we went over to the EFCC office to meet with them.

That is where they told us that they have written to the two Ministries and none responded hence there is an order from above for them to keep us until the documents comes, that was exactly what happened.

The way it is, we need the documents to show and convince the opposition and whoever that cares to know that, what is petitioned against us is not what it is.

So EFCC told us “please gentlemen stay with us until the document comes” So we started making calls, well naturally it took more that twenty-four hours to get to our people in Owerri and as soon as the documents were brought, we were asked to go.

That was exactly what happened, we got there on Wednesday and by Thursday, the document came in and by Friday we were out. Of course, we remained their guests until the documents were authenticated and by Friday we got what is called administration bail and so we walked out.

So what was the state of the books and the state treasury when you took over as the Commissioner for  Finance?

Bad, very bad.

 Could that have necessitated the probe of the immediate pass administration?

The probe is ongoing; we have set up a judicial panel of enquiry. One is headed by a retired Chief Justice of Imo State. We are now doing that because Imo people need to know as a responsible government, that we owe them explanations and indeed value their trust and confidence exhibited at the polling boots.

So like I said the panel of enquiry is already working and they are inviting the members of the public to come in and give information that will aid the recovery of stolen public funds because when we came in it was a very bad situation.

How would you score this administration so far?

I will not be the best person to answer this question because I’m part and parcel of this government. I don’t want to appear like I’m trying to blow our own trumpet. Imo people are happy with us. You were here some months back, if you compare the last time you were here and now, I’m sure you will agree with me that some changes have been recorded.

If this Governor stops working now, I mean if His Excellency wakes up now and says I want to go home, No government in the history of this State can come out and say he has done better than this government in less than two years.

Like the proverbial lizard, I will praise this administration and say that we have done well. This government has done very well and the results are there in the public domain. All we are asking is that the opposition should allow us to to deliver democracy dividends to Ndi Imo.

We have promised the Imo people a better deal and we have the capacity to deliver on that promise. This rescue mission cannot be aborted by anybody. The opposition can come back in 2015 at the polls and try their luck if they can wrestle governance from us, let the distraction stop.

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