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UNFOLDING TRUTHS (PART 1) FROM FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL AND COMMISSIONER OF JUSTICE OF ABIA STATE – CHIEF UMEH KALU (SAN) TO ABIA STATE GOVERNOR – OKEZIE IKPEAZU

Dec 2, 2021

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A situation where persons who have reached mandatory retirement ages are retained on the contract is unacceptable and devoid of a true sense of justice and equity. A situation where there is an embargo on employment, while a select few are constantly been set out for an interview on a weekly basis under the guise of executive waiver is equally devoid of fairness and enthrones mediocrity. It will be in the larger interest of our State and its citizens for critical and in fact all appointments to be made on merit and shared evenly among all sections of our State. I urge you to exhibit true statesmanship, fairness, justice and equity in the appointments you make, and, in the citing and distribution of amenities.

ABA G.R.A GOVERNMENT GUEST HOUSE

The partial movement of government activities to the governor’s lodge, G.R.A., Aba, is in my mind not well thought out. When you took up temporary residence and office at the Aba G.R.A guest house, those of us in government were told that it was for purposes of availing you easy access to the then multiple ongoing rehabilitation of Aba roads. Weeks turned to months and months turned to years, as you gradually shifted a substantial part of your official duty time from the seat of government in Umuahia to Aba. You have presently taken up permanent residence in Aba as opposed to the seat

of government in Umuahia.

As Attorney – General, I recall having difficulties transmuting from Umuahia to Aba to see you for important government matters and suffered enormous strain and loss of valuable time each time I had to do so. The movement of government activities from Umuiahia to Aba is a great departure from the norm, as no past governor of the State, both civilian and military have ever moved government activities out of the government house in Umuahia.

I make my last statement advisedly and mindful of the fact that the governor has freedom of movement and has the entire Abia as his area of operation. The movement of government activities from Umuahia to Aba, apart from being an anomaly occasions a high toll on the activities of governance in the State. The cost and strain on allied government functionaries and officers, and, your having to commute between Aba and Umuahia to attend to official duties is a huge drain on the resources of the State and available time for government activities.

THE JUDICIARY:

The judiciary you will agree with me is an important arm of government and has specific roles assigned to it by the Constitution which you swore to uphold, on an assumption of office. You must do everything within your will to address some of the problems that have hindered and continue to hinder the optimal performance of that important arm of government.

Funding is key in this respect. I advise you to give assent to the Bill granting autonomy to the judiciary that has been on your desk unattended for the past months. It is worrisome that the judiciary in Abia State cannot even afford to attend the annual judges conference in Abuja on government sponsorship. Several judges in Abia State are yet to be assigned official cars years after their appointment.

There is a dearth of court halls in Abia State, as most judges and magistrates do not have court halls. There are instances where judges sit out of their jurisdiction due to non – availability of court halls within their areas of jurisdiction. It may interest you to know that the court in your local government area – Obingwa – has been sitting at Aba since the time of your predecessor and has remained so six years after you assumed office as the governor of the State.

My personal experience from the reconstruction of the burnt Ohafia High Court puts the conservative figure of twenty–five million Naira (N25, 000, 000) as the cost of constructing and furnishing a befitting High Court hall, with adjourning offices for the judge and support staff. With a modest sum of two hundred and fifty million Naira (N250, 000, 000), you would have built ten court halls across the State. Let me equally draw your attention to the deplorable condition of the main High Court complex at the Abia State Judiciary Headquarters, Umuahia, built by your predecessor a few years ago. This building is more of a monument presently, requiring entire re-roofing of the building and refurbishing of all the court halls, amongst other areas of immediate attention.

It is worrisome to find retired judges in Abia State, including past Chief Judges, being forced to file a Suit at the National Industrial Court, Owerri, for purposes of being paid their gratuity and accrued pension. It may interest you to know that judges are precluded from practicing their profession on retirement. This means that their only source of livelihood after retirement is the stipend they get as their gratuity and pension. It will amount to a death warrant for these accomplished senior citizens of our State, who devoted their lives to the service of the State and at such a high level, to be made destitute on retirement. This situation will even demoralize serving judges and may likely encourage the weak amongst them to resort to bribery while in active service, in order to amass wealth to take care of themselves in retirement. Recall that I made several letters to you on the need for the payment of the pension and emoluments of these retired judges while in office, and, held meetings with the then Commissioner for Fin

ance and the Accountant – General, which meetings yielded little or no dividend.

I am unable to find a reason or justification for the large number of persons being engaged by our State as magistrates and law officers in the Ministry of Justice. An enquiry from the other southeastern States will clearly reveal that we have in most cases doubled the numbers coming from some of these States. Emphasis should be on the quality of these officers, their conditions of service and their ability to deliver rather than their numbers. I dare say that the number of these magistrates and law officers are surplus to need, and, a big drain on the scarce resources of our dear State. Every lawyer in Abia State must not be either a law officer or a magistrate.

GOVERNMENT AS BUSINESS:

While the act of governance cannot be applied strictu sensu to the principles of everyday business, it must be emphasized that certain business principles must and should be employed in the act of governance, more so, as it relates to the management of scarce resources. From my experience in government, resources that accrue to government include but are not limited to the following: Monthly Federal Allocation (FAAC), Monthly Local Government Allocation (JAAC), Internally Generated Revenue (Formal and Informal), 13% oil derivation, Ecological Fund, Multiple Federal Government Intervention Funds, Loans from banks and other financial institutions; all these and many more from my estimation are the inflows into the resources of the government.

The difference between one state and the other is the level of prudence engaged in and the effectiveness to which available funds are applied. Priority must be given to areas that touch the daily lives of the citizens, which in my consideration should be payment of salaries and emoluments, pension, gratuity, infrastructure and investments in critical areas like education, health and agriculture. I am aware that the average inflow to the government of Abia State on FAAC is in the neighbourhood of 4 billion Naira per month. This is without recourse to other sources as enumerated hereinbefore, which are all within the premise of the government to spend. It is said that despite the huge potential which Aba portends in internal revenue generation, we have been unable to take advantage of the enormous economic activities in that city towards increasing our IGR. Past efforts have failed due to the self–interest of those managing our IGR.

Placing a whooping sum of between 500 – 700 million Naira as security vote for the governor alone, 25 – 30 million Naira to the deputy governor and another 20 – 30 million Naira for the speaker of the House of Assembly, all in the name of security vote per month, amounts to ascribing about 25% of our entire monthly FAAC collection to these three principal government officials to the detriment of other areas of dire need in the State. Official government records put the security votes for the governor at 7.4 billion Naira (2019) and 6.1 billion Naira (2020); deputy governor at 291 million Naira (2019) and 442 million Naira (2020), and the speaker of the House of Assembly at 325 million Naira (2019) and 260 million Naira (2020).

It remains a mystery to me and other well discerning individuals, the use to which over 500 million Naira will be employed in the security of the State within 30 days. All the security forces in Abia State apart from the State Vigilante Service are paid by the federal government. State intervention on federal security agencies and other miscellaneous security expenses cannot justify this monthly drain on the scarce resources of the State.

Lately, the sustained monthly collection of the sum of not less than 500 million Naira from the coffers of the State as security vote by your predecessor for the 96 months he was in the saddle as governor of the State has been made an issue in public discourse and commentary. I recall that on your assumption of office as governor, you directed a reduction in the exco allowance due to the members of the State executive council from 1

million Naira to 500, 000 Naira. This is my view remains commendable considering the prevailing depressed economy. It is however surprising that you have over these years sustained the collection of over 500 million Naira per month and 20 – 30 million Naira for the deputy governor and speaker of the House of Assembly respectively, as security vote.

Allocating 30 million Naira each per month to the deputy governor and the speaker, which transmits to 1 million naira per day, cannot in any circumstance be justified. A 50% cut on all these security votes which have been running for the past 14 years can vividly change the infrastructural landscape of our State and provide needed funds for the payment of salaries and emoluments of public officers, including payment of their pension and gratuity. I urge you to show good faith and sensitivity to the plight of so many deprived Abians, especially public servants by directing a 50% reduction on these security votes. These government officials to whom these whooping security votes are paid to live in secured government quarters at an added cost to the State and therefore do not need this colossal amount of money in the form of security votes.

I am alarmed at the appointment of 28 Commissioners, most of whom with portfolios hitherto unknown in the history of the State. What will a motley crowd of 28 persons, exclusive of other aides, be doing in a cramped executive chamber like the one we have? Abia State in my thinking does not require more than 16 Commissioners, while the rest could be made advisers in order to reduce the cost of governance and enhance effectiveness. Our continuous penchant for weekly employment of persons into the service of Abia State under the guise of governor’s waiver, even with an embargo in place, amounts to gross abuse of extant civil service procedure, guidelines and practice.

The notion of the governor’s waiver for employment does not give room for merit and spread, as only those who have access to the governor can get these waivers, even without subjecting these persons to the crucible of qualification and suitability for the job.

CONCLUSION:

In conclusion, this letter is not intended to pass a judgment on you or query how you have handled the affairs of the State and the destinies of the over five million Abians, graciously entrusted to you by God. I am not competent to do so. What I have done so far is to express my candid view as an Abia citizen, an interested party in the affairs of the State and one who offered service to the State for an uninterrupted period of ten (10) years.

All those who have been in governance, including myself, owe the people of Abia State an explanation as to how we got our State to this sordid state. Governance is all about responsibility and accountability. Our State has indeed been turned into a laughing stock in the comity of States. I make bold to say, however, that while we all take responsibility, those of you who hold the mandate of the people and in actual fact manage our commonwealth, have greater responsibility.

Factors that have actually contributed to the situation we find ourselves are corruption, greed, self–interest above public interest, mediocrity, lack of vision and capacity, nepotism, zero tolerance to dissent and alternate view, and, enthronement of falsehood and sycophancy in the activities of governance. Those in authority, I observe, find relief and succor in the company of hirelings whose duty it is to malign, abuse, intimidate and even threaten the lives of those who proffer alternate views as a means of keeping their jobs. While I remain mindful of the likely consequences of this my well-intended piece, devoid of any malice whatsoever, I am prepared to engage all those that may consider it their duty to silence every opposing view in our dear State. I will definitely give in conjunction with other patriots a run for their time and money.

Ordinarily, it may seem difficult to change the narrative within the time available to you, but I sincerely believe that so much can still be done between

now and the 29th of May, 2023. Some of the issues I have raised above, maybe tasking but not impossible to achieve within the available time. I am aware that the majority of Abians are unhappy with the unpleasant state of affairs in our State and are praying fervently for God’s intervention to enable you to address some of the issues I have raised above. Not addressing this letter to you and raising the issues that I have raised will make me oblivious of the saying of Martin Luther King Jr. who opines that “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”. All that I have said above do matter.

I know that I have stirred the hornet’s nest by the contents of this letter. I am conversant with the modus operandi of the mighty ones in Abia State, whose operating principle is hinged on the doctrine of “see no evil, hear no evil and say no evil”. The seeming resolve of most Abians to abide by this principle has contributed to the situation we find ourselves presently. Your power and the powers of the persons I may have unsettled in this letter, though awesome, remain subject to the supreme powers of God the creator of man and the Universe. It is to this supreme being that I subject myself to His will and judgement.

I have christened this letter part 1 because I know that there may be a need for succeeding letters, in response to the avalanche of abusive write-ups by paid agents, hirelings and attack dogs whose job it is to proceed against any form of dissent or opposing views. I promise these hirelings and attack dogs busy days ahead, as some of us are fortunate to have seen it all from the inception and were goalkeepers in the field of play, from which vantage position we witnessed the game. The choice of silence over these years has been hinged on the expectation for repentance on the part of our traducers, which presently appears obviously misplaced, even as those who have held us down this long are gearing up and preparing for yet another onslaught in the coming season.

I will end this letter by referring all those that have held Abia down for so long to the Scriptural readings as contained in James Chapter 5 Vs. 1 – 6.: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.

2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.

3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last few days.

4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.

5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.”

Let us devote a little time to read and comprehend every word in these verses for they speak to our situation.

May God give you the grace to heed good counsel.

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