Predictions by political pundits in Abia state that the rapport enjoyed between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) which has a narrow margin of 13 out of the 24-member House while All Progressive Grand Alliance ( APGA ) has 11 will be short-lived may have come to pass considering the turn of events penultimate week .
A major crisis is brewing between members of the 6th Abia House over a recently approved request for Governor Okezie Ikpeazu to raise a loan facility of N30 billion from commercial banks to enable his administration meet up with its financial obligations.
Speaker of the House, Hon Martins Azubuike, while announcing the approval of the said loan on 22nd July said the request had been duly considered by members earlier at an executive session pointing out that the approval had become necessary following the decline in the federal allocation accruing to the state as well as apathy of residents in tax payment. “ The house after due considerations of the prevailing circumstances, decided to approve the request for a loan to enable the Governor function effectively,” he added.
Apparently making further clarifications following several conflicting media reports on the loan, the Economic Adviser to the governor, Mr Obinna Oriaku in a press briefing with journalists in Umuahia explained that the state government was on the process of getting a bailout of N30 billion from the federal government.
“There must be an endorsement by the state House of Assembly guaranteeing the bailout with a repayment period of up to 20 years. “The N30 billion bail out the state is seeking for is not for fresh debt but rather the sum total of obligations including arrears of pensions and salaries as well as indebtedness to contractors etc which the federal government is buying over as federal government bond for outstanding obligations from the state,”he said.
However, the dust was yet to settle on the issue, which was receiving various reactions from members of the public when lawmakers of the opposition APGA in a sudden volta -face disassociated themselves from the said loan . The lawmakers, who threatened a showdown with the leadership of the House over the now controversial N30bn loan approved for the state government addressed a press conference at the state secretariat of APGA, Umuahia, where they accused the Speaker, Martins Azubuike, of deceiving them into approving the loan without giving them detailed information about it.
Minority Leader, Chief Abraham Oba, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues, said the Speaker had, at the executive session, told the members that the loan was meant to finance some developmental projects in the state, including dredging of Aba River, road projects and health facilities.
He stated that the Speaker had promised to clear the air about some fundamental issues raised by APGA members at the executive session but failed to do so at the plenary when the motion was raised and subsequently passed. According to Oba, when we realized that the House leadership’s agenda was to hoodwink the opposition and get our approval for the loan, we decided to back down.
“The House received the Governor’s letter on July 21, 2015, requesting approval for the loan but we requested the Governor to come to the House to explain why he needed the loan, especially since he had not met with us since inauguration. “ The Speaker who read the letter on the floor of the House, said the loan was to be obtained from commercial banks for infrastructural development, including dredging of Aba River, even as we questioned the economic importance of the project, but the real intent of the loan is shrouded in secrecy as we can see from the contradicting reports.
“But on 24th July, there was a newspaper report where the Economic Adviser to the Governor, Obinna Oriaku, expressed that the money was not a fresh loan but debts in salaries, contracts incurred by the state already, we then discovered that we were being deceived, so APGA members decided that we were not going to be part of the process. Speaking further, Oba who represents Aba Central State Constituency in the house, stated that the latest explanations of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu differed from the earlier one conveyed to members through his letter, and demanded immediate clarifications on the matter. “We have been deceived by the Speaker.
He lied to us. And we are no longer part of the approval. “Our position is that the money should not be taken, we are not approving the loan any more, any bank approving the loan does that at their own risk, our position remains unshaken until the Governor explains the state’s financial position, how much the state owes and what the money will be used for,” he said. The Minority Leader also explained that the speaker deceived them, adding that they have promised to give quality representation to their constituents and would not renege on that commitment did not take their comments on the issue on the floor of the House into consideration.
In collaboration with the minority leaders’s stand, the member, representing Ikwuano State Constituency, Mr. Theophilus Ugbaja, said, “they sold a dummy to us that the state was only owing N6bn, and that the loan would be used to wipe off the debt and finance major projects in the state.” Arguing that the legislators were dancing to the tunes of an unseen piper, a prominent PDP party chieftain who pleaded anonymity while speaking to The UNION insisted that the opposition lawmakers were only playing to the gallery with their recent move.
The party stalwart wondered how they could have debated and given approval for a loan without detailed information . Were they hypnotised or under the influence of drugs when they approved the loan initially, he asked. According to him, for the members of the house to have retraced their steps days after giving their consent to the loan shows that they are desperately trying to appease a third party.
According to another source who also spoke to The UNION, the opposition members had an afterthought after they were probably chided by the leadership of their party for hobnobbing with the ruling party. Adding another dimension, the source argued that the inexperience of the lawmakers contributed to their missteps as, “ almost all of them with the exception of about 4 or there about are green horns who are yet to grasp the basic rudiments of parliamentary business.
Adding his voice , The Deputy Speaker, Mr. Cosmos Ndukwe, condemned the statement of his colleagues in the opposition, arguing that the passage of the resolution followed parliamentary procedures. Ndukwe who said the protesting lawmakers were under pressure by an external influence to back out from the resolution just to blackmail the House and the PDP-led government, disclosed that that the resolution was signed and moved by six APGA members and adopted by the House.
Stoking further controversy,the Deputy Speaker in an attempt to exonerate the state government from the debacle stated that the governor’s economic adviser, Oriaku, lacked the powers to speak for the state regarding the loan, adding that Oriaku had already denied the said media report when he was summoned before the House.
Also contributing, the Chief Press Secretary to the Speaker, Clinton Uba, maintained that the position of the House that the loan was to help execute major projects had not changed. In a statement made available to The UNION, the chief press secretary to the governor, Godwin Adindu lamented the different slants which the government have been projected in the media because of the said loan, alluding that that the image of the administration was being slurred in some of the reports and insisting that his principal did not err in seeking for loan to embark on developmental projects.
“Recently, the media have been awash with different stories concerning the Abia State House of Assembly resolution authorizing the state government to access N30 billion facility loan from the local commercial banks. For clarity, the House of Assembly last week passed a resolution authorizing the state government to borrow N30 billion from banks for the execution of capital projects which includes the construction of major roads and bridges, construction of modern hospitals, infrastructural development to enhance industrial clusters in Abia State.
“According to the latest report from Debt Management Office (DMO) Abuja, Abia State is among the least indebted State in the federation on both local and foreign loans. What was passed is a resolution authorizing the state to borrow from local banks. As at today, Abia State has not borrowed or accessed any loan from any commercial bank based on the resolution.
There is nothing wrong for a government that has set target for itself from the day of swearing-in to borrow money for its developmental projects. “The House of Assembly resolution is a condition precedent before accessing any loan from a commercial bank. Abia State Government is free to access loan for the development of the state. The House resolution does not in any way affect the bail out for the state currently being worked out by the federal Government in conjunction with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Debt Management Office.
This clarification has become necessary in the face of the various reports that have emanated from the resolution. This explanation should put to rest all misunderstanding that have reflected in the different reports on this matter. Be it as it may, the immediate suspension of the minority leader, Sir Abraham Oba for leading his colleagues to speak against the controversial N30billion loan and his replacement with the member representing Umunneochi state constituency, Hon Ikedi Ezekwesiri has not gone down well with the leadership of his party.
In a swift reaction, the secretary of APGA, Sunday Onukwubiri, described the development as a disappointment to the people of the state wondering whether the people do not have the right to know what the House is doing on their behalf as their representatives. “The offense of the minority leader was informing Abians what happened in the House and APGA would soon meet to deliberate and take a stand on the issue,” he said.
How the current bickering between the house members is going to aid positive development in Abia popularly known as ,”God’s own state” is yet to be seen. Will the warring parties sheathe their swords soon and work for their constituents who voted them? The answers to the following posers lie in the belly of time. The following weeks will determine if long suffering Abians who have been at the receiving end since the inception of the democratic dispensation through inept administrations will heave a sign of relief.
-Emenike Ubani in Umuahia reports on the brewing crisis between APGA and PDP lawmakers over governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s request for a loan