Nigeria News

NIGERIA: The Okorocha/Agbaso war in Imo

Governor Okorocha and his Deputy, Agbaso when the going was good…A once cordial relationship between the governor and deputy governor of Imo State runs into a crisis of confidence.

Chief Sam Mbakwe is remembered by political historians as the weeping governor. Mbakwe would shed tears before anyone that would facilitate the way for him to attract development and funds for his many projects.

Now, a road immortalising the man who is reckoned as about the best achieving governor to have presided over Imo State is now the cause of tears for some prominent Imolites.

At the heart of the controversy now rocking Imo State is the controversy over alleged kickbacks for the reconstruction of the Dei Sam Mbakwe road  in Owerri which was awarded for N1.5 billion.

The deputy governor of the state, Mr. Jude Agbaso who was also the Commissioner for Works is being investigated by the State House of Assembly over allegations of having allegedly pocketed N458 million, almost half of the money earmarked for the road project as kickback.

It is an allegation he has denied. But associates of Governor Rochas Okorocha and some members of the Imo State House of Assembly following preliminary investigations believe Mr. Jude Agbaso has a case to answer. Mr. Agbaso and many of his associates are, however, alleging a desperate attempt by Okorocha to renege on a gentleman agreement made prior to the 2011 election for the latter to serve only one term.

Okorocha is from Orlu zone, the most dominant political section of the state which produced Governor Achike Udenwa who served for eight years. Following Udenwa’s tenure, Chief Ikedi Ohakim from Okigwe zone served for four years and his venture towards a second term was scuppered by the combination of forces that saw the Agbaso brothers from Owerri zone marshal forces with Senator Chris Anyanwu and other major stakeholders in the state to stop Ohakim who was considered unduly overbearing.

As the 2011 gubernatorial election approached, the seeming desperation of some major stakeholders to outwit Ohakim led them to overlook the zoning principle.

Okorocha, who had for long sought the gubernatorial office in between eyeing more juicy attractions in Abuja, was alleged to have reached an agreement with Martin Agbaso, who is believed to have had a veritable claim to the governorship in the 2007 election having contested on the platform of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA. Whether there was a deal between the elder Agbaso and Okorocha remains the subject of much speculation in Owerri. But Martin Agbaso’s younger brother, Jude was nominated as Okorocha’s deputy to fly the APGA gubernatorial ticket for the 2011 election.

With Senator Chris Anyanwu and the Agbaso brothers coordinating from Owerri zone, Okorocha marshalling from Orlu zone, and Ohakim entangled even in his native Okigwe by Senator Ifeanyi Ararume, Ohakim’s famed claim to invincibility was punctured.

At that point in time there were suggestions that Okorocha had promised the Agbasos that he would serve one term.

But Mr. Chinedu Offor, the Imo State Commissioner for Information debunked that assertion yesterday, saying there was no such agreement.

Offor, rather, said that the evolving development in the state was a reflection of the determination of Governor Okorocha to allow the rule of law where it concerns corruption in high places. He also pointed to a convergence of forces between the Agbaso brothers and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

Party leadership
Earlier this week as the crisis deepened, the 12 PDP legislators in the State House of Assembly were summoned to meet with the party leadership where they were ordered not to join the impeachment plot against Agbaso.

Sources privy to the evolving development told Vanguard that Martin Agbaso who is seen as the real politician in the family recently began to forge an alliance with the PDP when he began noticing a fall of his fortunes in the Okorocha administration in Owerri.

It was gathered that Agbaso may have reached an agreement with the PDP in Abuja to save his brother. One source privy to the development disclosed that the PDP legislators during their stay in Abuja were also briefed by a top PDP chieftain with a national reputation for fixing the party’s problems and a senior operative of the administration who is working on the Goodluck Jonathan 2015 project.

The aim of the administration in Abuja it was gathered, is to put Okorocha on his toes since he is largely regarded as a threat and a possible running mate for the opposition in 2015.

We’re dealing with corruption in high places — Offor
MR Chinedu Offor is the Imo State Commissioner for Information. In this interview he responds to issues surrounding allegations of corruption raised against the deputy governor of the state, Mr. Jude Agbaso and the governor’s involvement in the affair.

WHAT exactly is the issue with the deputy governor?
What is happening is a constitutional process and people should be happy about it.

There are suggestions that it is political and aimed towards 2015 …?
Absolutely not and that is diversionary. It has nothing to do with that. What is going on is alleged corruption in high places. I thought the Federal Government has set up all sorts of bodies to tackle corruption. Instead of just talking, we are practicalising it.

Before, and in other states, if an allegation is made against a high government official it is covered up and brushed aside, but here, we have zero tolerance for corruption. If you accuse anybody, we bring the man who accused you and you together and two of you would talk to each other.  The contractor told the house that the reason why he was unable to finish a paid contract was that he had given half of it (money) to the deputy governor of Imo State.

A few months ago, contractors were crying that they were not being paid and all sorts of things, so this man who was handling a major road project and the project was not going anywhere despite the fact that we had paid for it, so a committee was set up to find out why? His name is JPROS, a Lebanese. So when he was brought and asked why have you not done the job, he said ‘don’t be upset, half of the money you paid me, I have given it to the deputy governor of Imo State. He also promised to give me more contract.’

So, the deputy governor was brought and the allegation was put before him, but he denied and in that case, what do you do, but to get an independent body which is the house which has the constitutional duty of oversight to investigate. He was asked, has this man come to your house before, he said, no, the man has never come before and he said this when he was interviewed separately on oath. But the man when he was also interviewed separately said he has been to his house and that this is how his house looks like. When they were brought together to confront each other, then the deputy governor said ‘o yes, he came to my house, he gave me whiskey.’

And the man also brought a phone number through which the instructions on payment or whatever. The man challenged the deputy governor to go get his MTN log and he is still there. But they are now diverting 2015, that Governor Okorocha does not like me. It has absolutely nothing to do with 2015, the house is doing its functions and its work, people should not lose sight of the fact that it is corruption in high places that we want to verify. Did any money exchange hands, that is all there is to it. Anything else is diversionary.

What is at stake is that someone accused a very high government official of corruption. What do you do? If Governor Okorocha covers it up, what will people say? Now that he says go ahead, people should be hailing him for fighting corruption. You have an opportunity of clearing yourself, go there and give them the information they are asking for, go there and confront your accuser and prove to the contrary that everything is false.

Did Governor Okorocha reach any agreement with Agbaso about running for one term?
Absolutely no. how can you reach an agreement for what you don’t have. Does power not belong to the people? Is it not the mandate of the people and besides, are you saying Imo State is in the hands of one man that you just hand it over to one person?

There are over five million Imolites who are qualified to be governor, so no one can sign a deal and say I am going to give you the governor, you only give what you have. So, let him produce the document where the deal was written. Americans call this, the fig leaf job and it means cover up tactics, just leave the issue, keep hitting about politics and ethnic sentiments and all that so that people can conveniently forget what the real issue is.

The real issue is, did the deputy governor collect whiskey close to about N200,000 from a contractor? Secondly, did the man visit him at home? Thirdly, did he use his phone number? President Goodluck Jonathan is preaching against corruption, but we are practicalising it.Imo State should be hailed for dealing with corruption from the top, so all these sentiments will not work.

My story  — Jude Agabso
The embattled deputy governor of Imo State, Mr. Jude Agbaso, earlier this week spoke to correspondents on the issues raised against him by the State House of Assembly. Excerpts:

ON the alleged N458 million bribe demand
Imo people massively and freely gave me their mandate. I owe them. It is a known fact that the media is awash with the current stories of the goings on in Imo State. At no point in time did I demand N458 million or any sum of money and from any contractor whatsoever and at no time did Joseph Dina of JPROs pay me N458 million as claimed.

JPROS is doing the job on Sam Mbakwe Road. I never knew the company, its major share holders or owners. They were introduced to the state by the Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha. Jobs worth N1.5 billion can only be issued through the approval of the Governor.  In February 2012, while I was away on state duties in India, the Permanent Secretary sought approval from the Governor. He gave approval of N1.5 billion through the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Works.

Incidentally this approval was sent to Ministry of Finance, which instead of routing this approval to Ministry of Works, it was routed through the Accountant General and paid directly to JPROS Ltd. So, at no point did I give approval for the payment of the money. At no point did I pay the money to the contractor. The question now is: why would this contractor pay me N458 million for doing what?

Approval of contractor
I heard from him that he paid me N458 million in anticipation of the job I will offer him in the local government areas. The Commissioner of Works never issues jobs in the local governments. The chairmen issue jobs in the local governments. I never issued till date, one single contract in any local government. So, how would this contractor offer me money in anticipation of such a thing I was not in a position to give? At no point did I convey to Joseph Dina via SMS to pay me, or into any account, in any bank, any sum of money. This story is intended to malign my person.

The onus is on the investigating agencies to look at these accounts. N458 million is not N458,000. N458 million cannot just vanish like that. They should look for the money there. The money must be there. If it is not there they can put a tracer on the money. It can be traced to the last account that it went. If they can forensically check they can follow the money into the pocket of who took the money. I never asked for this money. I never received this money and I do not have anything to do with this money.

Why this bribe saga?
It stems from the various political players, permutations as to the situation about 2015. I have heard stories about speculations of who runs in 2015 and who doesn’t run. I know that is a subsisting agreement, which is in the public domain btw my elder brother, who is a politician and the Governor to hand over government to the people of Owerri zone in 2015. This has everything to do with this. Sooner or later, this whole story would be unraveled. I have a robust working relationship with the Governor.

On the one term agreement
My brother has spoken about the agreement between them that the governor would hand over to the people of Owerri Zone in 2015. The Governor had spoken of the term agreement to hand over to the people of Owerri come 2015. Why it is overheating the system in 2013 is what I couldn’t answer. I am caught in the web between these powerful political players in the state.

Let the truth prevail —  PDP
Chief Bledyn Amajirionwu is the State Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, in Imo State. In this interview he responds to issues emanating from the probe of the deputy governor of the state, Mr. Jude Agbaso and the party’s alleged involvement in the affair. Excerpts:

WHAT is happening in Imo and your role in it?
What I am interested in is the extent of fraud being exposed by this issue now. There are so many issues that have arisen from this particular matter now. We have a governor in the state who has often times said that he would not mobilise contractors to site, ‘that you earn certificate and we pay you,’ and many people have gone to site in that manner, earned certificates and up till today have not been paid.

But in this case, a government verbally approved a contract for N1.3 billion and it was paid upfront. So that is an issue. No due process was followed, you verbally gave instruction that the man should be paid and he was paid N1.3 billion upfront. So, what level of fraud can we compare this with?

Are the legislators back now?
They have been back since and they have been sitting.

We hear you hosted them and gave them some money?
It is not true. The truth of the matter is that we are a political party, sponsored members to the House of Assembly and it is also the duty of the party that if there are fundamental issues, that you call your members and ask them the situation on ground.

But did you need to bring them to Abuja?
The leadership of the party is in Abuja. The leadership of the party wanted an interaction with them.

Including Chief Anenih?
I am not aware of Chief Anenih, but I am aware of the national leadership led by the national chairman.

We hear from the grapevine that the legislators were mobilised with $50,000 each?
To do what?

To remove Okorocha?
But 12 of them cannot remove Okorocha. It doesn’t make sense and if we really want to go that way to remove Okorocha, what reasons would we have to impeach Okorocha at this time. We are trying to raise some issues and questions like this issue why would you award a contract for N1.3 billion and you pay upfront. Which due diligence permits that? These are the issues. What we in PDP stand for is that they should get to the root of the matter and what is applicable, apply it.

So, you wouldn’t mind Agbaso being impeached?
If he went ahead to dupe the state of N458 million does he have the confidence of the people again? That is a vote of no confidence already.

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