Faced With The Challenege Of Senate Clearance To Become A Minister, Ex-Governor Rotimi Amaechi Explains How He Spent State Funds As Investigative Commission Submits Report
Immediate past governor of Rivers state, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, and Chairman of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry on the Sale of Valued Assets by the immediate past administration, Justice George Omereji, has disagreed over the whereabout of about N53 billion belonging to the state government.
While Omereji insisted that the money was not used for any government project, or programme, but might have ended up, allegedly, in private pockets, Amaechi insisted that the money was well expended by his administration.
He said the amount was spent on salaries. According to Omereji, “on the billions of naira said to have been stashed away in some places: There was the sum of N55 billion in the State Reserve Fund. Between 2014 and May 2015, they were able to remove N53 billion and we found out that the money (N53 billion) was not used for the projects in the state. The money went to individuals. From the papers submitted to us, we also found out that the money was given to people they like.
“We went to the site of the Justice Karibi Whyte Hospital and we did not see anything at all. When I told the project contractor to come with us (panel) to the place, he said snake would bite us. But I insisted that we should go there. Behold, by the time we went inside, we did not see anything. The whole billions of naira given to the man cannot be accounted for.“We have recommended that those found culpable should refund the money. We even recommended that some people should be prosecuted. I don’t want to tell you those that will be prosecuted. It is not good for me to reveal the content of the recommendation now because we have just submitted our report.”
Responding to the allegation through his media team, Amaechi countered that “a ‘missing’ N53 billion is unfortunate
and leaves much to be desired. The mischief is all the more evident as the funds referred to are funds from the Rivers State reserve fund which was duly approved by the Rivers State House of Assembly and whose expenditure were
duly captured and appropriated.”
The Media Team continued, “Ordinarily, we might not have responded to the mischief of Mr. (Nyesom) Wike
knowing that having failed with his various desperate tactics to stop the nomination of the Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi as a minister he has embarked on this last ditch effort which is his trump card in the hope that it will diminish the former governor’s towering stature as a statesman and honest Nigerian.
“However in keeping with Governor Amaechi’s ethos of transparent and accountable leadership we will again repeat the facts of the matter.
“Between 2013 and early 2015 revenue accruing to the government of Rivers State was cut in half due to dwindling federal allocation to states. From about an average of N20 billion, the state began receiving between N9 and N10 billion. By the middle of the first quarter of 2015 the state revenue dipped to as low as N6 billion. Salaries alone stood at over N9 billion besides other expenses.”
The team explained that “Government had set aside the reserve funds for the rainy day and had need to fall back to it to fund salaries and projects. The details of the expenditure were very clearly captured and this information which was already in the public domain was shared with the incoming government and the Omereji panel. “Government business should be transparent and honest and if indeed Mr. Nyesom Wike understands the basics of governance then he should know that rather than playing to the gallery with his red herring of a panel, he should simply go to court and prove his spurious allegations of corruption,” the statement demanded.
Presenting the report to Governor Wike in Port Harcourt, Omereji said: “We want to inform you (governor) that immediately after setting up the commission, a group of persons went to court. We waited until the two suits from former governor of the state, Mr. RotimiAmaechi and Augustine Wokocha were dismissed by the courts. Immediately after the dismissal of these suits, the commission swung into action.”
The chairman disclosed that the commission received 27 memos and 142 exhibits while 25 witnesses testified. He said the panel visited construction sites and then ended the public sitting before going in to write its report.
“Due to the time and the enormity of the work, we had to apply for two weeks
extension, which you (governor) graciously granted and today, we are here to present the report. We don’t want to
talk about the content of report, but we want to say that if you go through the report, Rivers people, as we promised
them will be better for it because we have seen; we have also written and we have arrived at the conclusion here”,
Justice Omereji explained.
The panel charged the government to “act fast and by the time the government looks into this report and act fast, it will be able to recover billions that are still stashed in where they kept them. That money belongs to Rivers people and I hope that the government should act fast and recover those monies so that we can use it for the people of Rivers State.”
Receiving the panel’s report, Wike thanked the members, and pointed out that he never expected that they would only seek for two weeks extension because of what he considered to be the enormity of the job; and stated that they had worked within the clock to submit this report on time.
“I know that in the course of this assignment, you and your members have received a lot of comments. But one thing you can understand is that when you are called to service, not everybody will be happy for one thing or the other. But you have taken the bull by the horns to make sure that you serve your fatherland. I know what your members have
faced; I know about the threats. What is important in life is that once you arrive at the fact that your conscience is clear, you don’t need to worry. Go ahead and do what you think is the right thing to be done.
“This will not be like any other report; we will make sure that we swing into action immediately to see that the recommendations made by the commission are implemented. We will not be intimidated by anybody or group of persons. Many things have been done to discredit the commission. But to me, it is when your hands are not clean, you begin to use the media to discredit people’s work,” Wike said.
He assured that “we will swing into action; we will look into what is in thereport and of course try to see that we implement them to the letter. We commend you for the job done and also seek that any time you are called upon to serve the state, do not relent to serve the people and your fatherland. We will make sure members of the public are aware of the content of the report and the next line of action that government will take.”
– Tony Ita Etim, Port Harcourt