Fire Guts Ebonyi State House of Assembly

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Martin Elechi

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Fire has gutted the accounts department of the State House of Assembly amidst allegations of a cover up to stop the investigation into the misappropriation of fund by government officials

By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Mar. 9, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT  |

THE truth about the allegation of misappropriation of public funds by government officials in Ebonyi State may never be known. This is because the investigation into the alleged corruption which was to start on Tuesday, February 24, was scuttled as a result of fire incident that razed the account department of the State House of Assembly complex early in the day. Evidence into the alleged corruption which were kept in the office was among the items razed by the fire.

Other items gutted by the inferno include financial records, furniture, computer sets, refrigerators, air conditioner, ceiling, standing fans and other valuable property worth millions of naira.

According to Chris Anyanwu, State Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, the fire started at about 1:15am. “We got a distress call from the police officer in charge of the House of Assembly complex that there was fire outbreak in the area. We dispatched our men to this place and they were led by the commissioner of police, Dikko Maigari. With the combined effort of men of the fire service and police force, the fire was put out. As you can see, the account section of the Assembly has been razed and it is the only wing that was affected by this inferno. The Department of Investigation of the police command has commenced investigation and as soon as they unravel the cause of the inferno, we will update you,” he said.

The fire incidents prompted opponents of Martin Elechi, governor of the state, to point accusing finger at him as the mastermind of the incident. Chukwuma Nwazunku, speaker of the House of Assembly, said the executive arm of government in the state should be blamed for the fire incident. He told journalists immediately after plenary that he was shocked and disappointed over the development and also alleged that prominent members in Governor Martin Elechi’s cabinet were the mastermind of the incident.

Nwazunku also alleged that those responsible for the act were individuals in Governor Elechi’s government, invited over alleged mismanagement of public funds, since the commencement of the present administration. He recalled that the House had, during its last plenary, summoned Governor Elechi, his son, Elechi Elechi, Ben Igwenyi, attorney-general and commissioner of justice, Celestine Nwali, commissioner for local government and chieftaincy matters, and  accountant-general of the state to answer questions over their alleged role in misappropriating public funds.

The House recently mandated the chief judge to set up a panel to investigate Governor Elechi after the list of impeachable offences has been agreed on by 16 members of the State Assembly. According to the House, the panel has to be non-partisan in composition and if it returns a guilty verdict on Elechi, the report will be sent to the legislature where 16 members have to approve. If a governor is impeached, he forfeits all benefits attached to the office unless he is later pardoned by the state.

But Onyekachi Eni, chief press secretary to Governor Elechi, told Realnews that Governor Elechi-led government was not responsible for the fire outbreak. He said his principal had ordered that a thorough investigation should be carried out to ascertain the immediate and remote causes of the outbreak.  He exonerated Governor Elechi of any wrong doing, saying that the House is conniving with Abuja politicians from the state to cut short his tenure and deprive him of all perks after they have got rid of him from office.

He alleged that it was the brainchild of the Abuja politicians to seize control of the state’s machinery and use it to bring back Dave Umahi, deputy governor, who wants to become Governor under the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Eni also alleged that the faction seeking to impeach Governor Elechi is the faction that is loyal to Umahi. “They are pushing for his impeachment because they believe that if he remains in office, and since he is not supporting them but only President Goodluck Jonathan, that he will not advance to victory at the election. So, they want to get him out so that either the deputy governor or the speaker takes over as the governor and use the position to better their electoral fortunes,” he said.

According to Eni, Abuja politicians are using their position to harass and intimidate functionaries of the state government through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, ICPC. He disclosed that commissioners and other officials are invited almost on a daily basis to Abuja where they are routinely interrogated over various allegations just because they are seen as being sympathetic to the LP.

“We are saying that it is not a crime for people to belong to any party of their choice. They have also got the EFCC to freeze all the local government account of the 13 local government of the state. They froze their accounts so that salaries will not be paid and no development will be going on so that the people will be angry with the governor and side with them in the victimisation against him.

It was only Tuesday, February 17 that a Federal High Court in Abuja ordered the EFCC to defreeze the account of Ebonyi State local government system. It ordered them also to stop harassing functionaries of Ebonyi State.

Governor Elechi’s critics said he has made many enemies for himself than friends among Ebonyi’s powerful politicians. They alleged that he wanted to pocket the state by controlling all party structures through his stooges but party chieftains kicked against it, creating enmity between him and them. There is constant friction between Elechi and Umahi and his allies. It is alleged that he engineered Nwazunku’s sack on suspicion that he has a good rapport with Umahi. The latest offence of Elechi, according to sources, is his alleged anti-party activities which have reportedly prompted Aso Rock to place him under watch along with four other PDP governors.

Governor Elechi, a member of the PDP played into the hands of opponents during the primary elections in the state last year when he was accused of trying to impose his candidates.  His governorship candidate, Onyebuchi Chukwu, former health minister, did not get the ticket which was snatched by Umahi. Sources said Elechi was not happy with PDP chieftains both at state and national levels over the result and has been inactive in the party’s drive for victory at the forthcoming polls. He is allegedly working with the Labour Party, LP, to the annoyance of PDP top shots who are now want to oust him through impeachment.

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