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ABIA AIRPORT, CONTRACTS: FENRAD calls Gov. Otti to make public forensic reports

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FENRAD calls on Gov. Alex Otti to make public all the records available on alleged non-existent airport and other opaque contracts.

A few days ago, Foundation for Environmental Rights, Advocacy and Development, FENRAD, a human and environmental rights-focused civil society group in Abia State, saw in the news allegations bordering on contract and procurement scam, including on non-existent airport, preferred against former Governor Okezie Ikpeazu by his successor, the incumbent, Gov. Alex Otti, from far away America. FENRAD also obtained, listened and analysed the audio content wherein the allegations were made.

While it is right, even ideally so, that the governor exposes wrath in any governance sector, accountability demands that such wrath be made accessible to all Abians, the actual owner of the patrimony and looted commonwealth, as has been alleged. Therefore, the need for accountability is the major driver of FENRAD’s intervention in the said contract racket matter.

It is a common axiom, especially, within our evidence law system, that one who asserts must prove, ‘incumbit probatio qui dicit non qui negat.’ So in this regard, the onus probandi, being the burden of proof, lies with the governor to prove his assertion by publishing reports from the forensic auditing firm whose services were engaged by the state, as the governor stated.

What is at issue is a serious one which every right-thinking Abian would want to hear the last of, beyond gimmicks or an attempt to outflank political adversaries. The Foundation considers the allegations timely and welcomes it in this regard. Having stated this, it is to be understood that weighty allegations like this, coming from the Governor himself, not his aides or handlers, should not be treated as mere waggish expressions or frivolousness, but rather as the official position of the state government.

From all available news sources, the Governor said his predecessor wasted ₦107bn on contracts that never existed, including ₦10bn on Abia airport which never took off. FENRAD has equally read the response from the representatives of the last administration, but will not be dwelling much on that as a politically neutral civil society group. The response remains what it is, but proof of the allegations, if made public, will go a long way in inculcating financial discipline in the public accounting sector of the state and serve as reference for future purposes. The Foundation is aware that previously, Abia had been badly governed, with issues like bloated public debt portfolio heaped upon Gov. Otti’s shoulder upon inauguration, it is for this that it only makes sense that Gov. Otti exposes all financial misdeeds and misdemeanours wherever he sees them.

To the Foundation’s knowledge, contract records are captured in state appropriations – budgets – with the awardee(s) named, including possible date of completion, how payments are to be made, and which money deposit bank (MDB) is to process and facilitate payments. Again, in procurement, tenders are usually advertised in at least three or so national dailies to reach a wider audience of bidders. Even in cases where non-competitive tendering occurs, making only one firm to be prequalified, records are also kept for the public. Releasing the documents will, in addition to exposing the rot in Abia finance before Gov. Otti, enable Abians who feel marginalised to file a case of misappropriation against the last administration, since there is nowhere in its appropriation the airport was captured as a budget heading.

Abia has an official website where public-sector tenders could be listed, but there is no available record of such yet, not even on the state official website. What this means is that, if the allegations are true, the past administration exhibited sheer wickedness on Abians. It is also appropriate that the governor empanels an independent commission, involving both parties (auditor and auditee) to investigate all of these claims, and see to it that all persons named and fingered are made to face the law, if found guilty. In light of this, the Foundation calls on Gov. Otti to initiate the process of having anti-graft agencies take the matter up, armed with the audited report details. Until this is done, former Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu remains innocent before the law (except otherwise proven in a court of law).

Lastly, Nigeria operates a democracy where freedoms are allowed citizens, including that to enquire and access information on public issues. We call on Gov. Otti to make financial disclosure, concerning these contracts, by releasing all supporting documents in the interest of public accountability.

Abians need to know everything about this airport and other contract rackets, including names of awardees, amount and date of award. It is their right.

Signed:

Comrade Nelson Nnanna Nwafor
Executive Director

Barr. Femisi Akande
Head Corporate Accountablity, Human Rights & Litigation

Foundation for Environmental Rights, Advocacy & Development (FENRAD Nigeria

 

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