Chronicles: The Unending Wike/Amaechi feud over Rivers funds

DEPUTY EDITOR, DAPO FALADE of the Nigerian tribune chronicles some unfolding events in Rivers State, following the sitting of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up by Governor Nyesom Wike to probe the finances of the state, even as his predecessor, Rotimi Amaechi, kicks.
L-R: Wike, Amaechi, Peter Odili and Peterside
THEY started out as allies; not only belonging to the same political party, but also with one serving as the other’s Man Friday and later becoming a strong member of his kitchen cabinet, occupying the post of the Chief of Staff to the Government House. This was the story of Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and his estranged predecessor, Rotimi Amaechi.

What transpired between them, shortly after the 2011 elections, and which led to the division between them is an issue that has continued to generate controversy in the public domain. However, many analysts and pundits alike had thought that whatever was the issue would be eventually resolved. Some incurable optimists were even of the view that the acrimony playing out between Amaechi and Wike was only politics; that the two would reconcile and be back in the same camp, once again, before the March/April, 2015 elections.

Alas, the reverse is the case; the gulf is not only becoming wider and the relationship becoming more frosty and more worrisome, with the two prominent and, unarguably, most popular politicians in Rivers State today, trading words, threatening to expose hidden issues that may shake the state to its foundation.

Before he assumed office, Governor Wike had threatened to make his former boss account for his stewardship while in government house. Wike, on May 25, four days to his inauguration, promised to start the anti-corruption war in the state by probing the financial activities of Amaechi. Accordingly, he said his administration would carry  out a forensic audit of all government accounts. Receiving the interim report of the state Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Transition Committee, led by Amaechi’s former deputy, Tele Ikuru, who defected from the All Progressives Congress (APC) shortly before the March presidential election, Wike said the days of impunity and corruption were over in Rivers. He added that Rivers would be a test case in the fight against corruption, stating that a comprehensive and holistic approach would be adopted in fighting corrupt elements in order to entrench fiscal discipline in the state.

“I am not going to be intimidated. The only way we can work together is to check the ills of the past. The right thing must be done. Those who have stolen the resources of the state must be made to account. I have the political will to drive the process to its logical conclusion,” he said.

Wike equally boasted that President Muhammadu Buhari, reputed to be known as Mr Integrity, would support the exercise. He stated: “I am confident that President  Muhammadu Buhari will support my administration in that regard. We are aware that the immediate past administration and its officials will resort to blackmail and propaganda for the purpose of diverting attention. We shall remain focused on the task.”

Unperturbed by Wike’s intention, Amaechi, who had made Abuja his abode a few days to the end of his tenure, challenged the incumbent governor to go ahead with his threat to probe him. At  a lecture to mark his 50th birthday in Port Harcourt, on May 26, he said he too had a dossier on him (Wike). “I have been listening to Mr Nyesom Wike and I have been trying not to reply him. He has been accusing me of corruption and I have been trying to keep quiet over the issue of corruption. The first lesson he needs to learn is that he was the Chief of Staff to my government. If I have no records, I have records on him. One way we succeeded in moving this state forward was that we refused to probe Dr Peter Odili’s government, despite the pressure on me to probe Dr Odili’s government, because at the end of the day, they will not ask me the number of persons I probed, but what I did while in government,” Amaechi had alleged.

In the same vein, the state chairman of APC, Dr Davies Ikanya, while reacting to the threat by Wike to probe his predecessor, had described him as dreamer who lacked the mandate to act as the state governor, knowing that his tenure would be very short. Ikanya, who spoke before the May 29 inauguration, also boasted that Wike would not spend more than three months before being booted out of office.  “Wike is free to dream as he is not sure to be sworn as the Rivers State governor, knowing very well that the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) is just playing game with him. If this is the case, I will advise him to keep his thinking to himself and see how he can be sworn in before he starts talking about how to ascertain the accounts of the Rivers State Government, which is well prepared by good hands.

“Let us state for the records, this administration has nothing to hide as we ran the most transparent government in this country. Assuming that Wike is sworn in, he should know that he cannot last three months, knowing very well that he lacks the mandate to act as governor as he was never elected by our people,” Ikanya claimed.

Undeterred by the barrage of criticisms from the APC trailing his decision to probe Amaechi, Wike, on June, 2015, directed the permanent secretaries in all the ministries in the state to produce the account details of their spending in the last 18 months. He urged the permanent secretaries to shun partisan politics as career civil  servants, alleging that some of them exhibited partisanship at the dawn of the last administration. At a meeting with the permanent secretaries at Government House, the governor alleged that some of them helped the administration to illegally withdraw funds from government coffers, even up to the eve of his inauguration on May 29.

“I want full details and print out of every ministry’s account in the last 18 months. I will not accept any handover note without an accompanying account details. The government was coming to a close and some of you were busy signing cheques on 26, 27 and 28 of May. On 28 of May, the Transition Committee called most of you and you refused to cooperate because they told you I will  not be sworn in,” he said.

Seeking to give legal backing to his intention, Governor Wike, on June 19, set up a probe panel, the Judicial Commission of Inquiry, to look into the various alleged illegal sale of Rivers State assets and withdrawal of state funds. He said the panel was set in accordance with Section 2(1) of Commissions of Inquiry Law of Rivers State (Cap. 30, Laws of Rivers State of Nigeria, 1999). The four-member commission includes Justice George Omereji (chairman); and Dr Edith Chukwu, Chief Monday Ekekenta, Venerable Alex Usifo and Elder Ignatius Piegbara as members. It also has Mrs Florence Fiberesima and Dr Zaccheaus Addangor as secretary and counsel, respectively.

The commission was given 23 terms of reference and has one month, from the day of its first sitting, within which to work and submit its reports. The commission, which commenced sitting Monday, last week, is to ascertain the circumstances of the sale of Omoku 150 MW Gas Turbine l, Adam 360 MW Gas Turbine, Trans-Amadi 136 MW Gas Turbine and Eleme 75 MW Gas Turbine.

Among others, it was also charged to investigate the mono rail project and the sale of the Olympia Hotel by the Amaechi administration; the non-execution of the contract for the construction of the Justice Karibi White Hospital after the Amaechi administration had allegedly paid $250 million to the contractor and also mandated to investigate the alleged withdrawal and expenditure of the accrued N96 billion from the Rivers State Reserve Fund, without compliance with the extant law.

The governor urged the commission to make appropriate recommendations that would assist the state government to recover proceeds from the gas turbines sold by the Amaechi administration; funds wrongfully disbursed and illegally withdrawn and the alleged N2 billion illegally disbursed under the Agriculture Credit Loan granted the state by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

Responding, the chairman, Justice Omereji, assured the governor that the commission would diligently carry out its duties, in line with the terms of reference.

Quite expectedly, Amaechi reacted to the inauguration of the panel which he described it as a sham and fraudulent witch-hunt meant to deceive the public. The former governor, in a statement issued by his media office, alleged that Wike was only trying to grab media headlines with stories of “Amaechi’s alleged corrupt activities.”

According to him, “All the noise Wike is making is to grab media headlines with his lies of monumental corruption against Amaechi. It is all drama made for the media. What is playing out is a script written and directed by Nyesom Wike. Wike should move to Nollywood where his devious skills would probably be useful.

“While it is no longer in doubt what would be the report of Wike’s sham probe commission, what may shock Nigerians is the extent Wike has gone and is ready to go to manufacture stories of corrupt practices and the kind of bogus tales of corruption against Amaechi that he would soon be feeding the nation.”

Amaechi further alleged that his successor had, since May 29, been cooking spurious reports of corruption against him, as well as intimidating, threatening, coercing and blackmailing officials of the past administration, especially civil servants into making false and bogus statements that would make legitimate government transactions appear as corrupt practices. He therefore, vowed not to appear before the probe panel but use every constitutional and legal means available to protect his name and image from what he said was the smear campaign and state-sponsored onslaught.

Also seeking to bring his legal acumen to bear on the constitutionality or otherwise of the Justice Omereji-led commission, the immediate past state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice under the Amaechi administration, Mr Worgu Boms, in a long treatise circulated in the media, described the action of Governor Wike, as “a comedy of legal errors.”

In the treatise, tagged, “Justice G. O. Omereji’s Commission of Inquiry in Rivers State: Legal Matters Arising,” Boms sought to justify his position as he claimed that: “the Commission of Inquiry Law which was cited as authority, in all its 23 Sections, did not authorise the setting up of a Judicial Commission of Inquiry. No. It merely stated that the governor can set up an inquiry. The law clearly did not add or use the word, judicial, in providing for the establishment of an inquiry into any issue and it could not have because judicial powers are vested in courts of law” he made reference to Section 6(6) (b) of the Nigerian Constitution for support.

“Nyesom Wike CON, Governor of Rivers State, was thus exercising a power that His Excellency did not have and Justice Omereji, to the extent that his Lordship will be purporting to chair a judicial commission of inquiry, will be acting in vain, since His Lordship does not sit there as a High Court Judge, where he can exercise judicial powers, but as chair of a mere inquiring body,” he averred.

He also averred that the PDP and, by extension, Wike had shot themselves in the leg by constituting the panel, having earlier challenged in the court the decision of Amaechi to constitute the Chidi Odinkalu Commission of Inquiry to look into some alleged politically-motivated killings in the state, shortly before the last general election. He said the trial judge, Justice Nganjima Coram of the Federal High Court, had agreed with PDP, citing Section 4 of the Police Act, that only the Nigeria Police, and not a commission of inquiry, could investigate crime.

The former justice commissioner also alluded to alleged bias by Wike in constituting the panel as he said: “Having held that the person to be investigated, Rotimi Amaechi, former governor, acted illegally in the disbursement of public fund and that he ran a corrupt government, Nyesom Wike, the governor, has prejudged the matter and shown his bias.”

“The chair should be spared the unconscionable burden of trying or investigating a man he hates so much and which hatred he has several times expressed to me and, I am sure, to some others, freely and sincerely since it is within his right, as a human, imperfect humans we all are, to harbour resentments towards any. The chair himself, on the basis of honour, should have declined to try this serious enemy of his...That commission of inquiry is ill-conceived, ill-motivated and especially from legal standpoint...”

However, Wike was not unrelenting as one of his aides and the state Commissioner for Housing, Mr Emma Okah, described the allegation of witch-hunt as pure mischief, noting that the people of the state had the right to how their money was spent. He said there was nothing wrong or immoral for an administration that allegedly received and managed about N3 trillion on behalf of the people to explain some of its actions suspected to be fraudulent.

“The Nyesom Wike administration is merely protecting the people’s interest by inquiring into how public resources were wasted, stolen or misappropriated by the past administration. Every lover of democracy and rule of law should not complain, blackmail the state government or divert attention from that,” Okah said.

The claims and counter-claims by the parties notwithstanding, Amaechi failed in his bid to stop the constitution of the probe panel as a High Court, sitting in Port Harcourt, dismissed his suit. Instead, the presiding judge, Justice Simeon Amadi,  gave the Wike-led administration the go-ahead to probe his immediate predecessor. Delivering judgment on the suit, the judge declared that the commission of inquiry was not established to investigate the former governor as a person, but to investigate previous actions of government as they affect the people of Rivers.

He ruled that Governor Wike was empowered by law to establish the judicial commission of inquiry to investigate previous actions of government. Justice Amadi also added that there was no law preventing a state government from finding out how its resources were expended.  According to the trial judge, Amaechi cannot disburse and expend funds of the Rivers State government and turn around to claim that such powers belong to the National Assembly.

On the claim by the former governor that the 30-day set aside for the sitting of the commission of inquiry will deny him fair hearing, the court held the days set aside had not breached Amaechi’s right to fair hearing. The court held that the former governor had not filed a memorandum before the commission and had not appeared before it, hence he cannot complain that he was not given fair hearing.

And pronto, the judicial commission of inquiry began its sitting, Monday last week and, since then, it has been a gale of revelations of alleged humongous under-hand dealings in the handling of the Rivers State funds and its assets by the immediate past administration.

During its first day of sitting, the commission was told that Amaechi allegedly connived with his Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr Emmah Chinda and former local government chairmen in the state to divert about N3 billion from the N4 billion agriculture loan granted by CBN. According to the counsel to the commission, Dr Zaccheus Adangor, the money was shared as grants among 380 mother cooperatives through the affected former local council chairmen. It was also alleged that 38 of the cooperatives did not have any official documentation with the state Ministry of Commerce and Industry and that the loans, which were converted to grants, were disbursed without supervision.

Another revelation touched on the moribound monorail project of the former governor at the commission. It was alleged that the former governor dissolved the state cabinet during his first term to award N50 billion for the contract, while the company, TSI Property and Investment Holding Limited,  headed by a former military administrator in the state, Brigadier-General Anthony Ukpo, allegedly also got a princely sum of N11.1billion contract from the project.

The Permanent Secretary of the state Ministry of Transport, Mrs Stella Ebere-Wigwe, who made the allegation while testifying before the panel, also said TSI, represented by Brigadier Ukpo, bargained for 80 per cent of the monorail project, while the state government had the remaining 20 per cent equity.

She claimed that, apart from a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), there was no legal agreement between the state government and TSI in the event of a disagreement or breach of contractual terms. According to her, the MOU eventually collapsed because TSI refused to contribute to the joint Monorail Account solely operated by TSI and at that time TSI had allegedly withdrawn all the monies in the monorail account.

Testifying earlier, an engineer and Head of Safety and Aviation Department in the Ministry of Transport, Saya Antiok, averred the choice of a technical partner for the monorail project set the governor against the state cabinet, midway into his first term of office.

It was also that the botched unveiling of the project, scheduled for last April, was in an effort to deceive the people that the monorail had been completed and functional, even as the former governor was said to have been told that the project was no longer tenable or visible after he had paid out the sum of N22.9 billion as consultant fee to a technical partner of the state government on the project, ARCUS GIBBS.

While the commission was still going with its sittings, Amaechi and his aides and supporters had been crying blue murder, claiming that it was all in an attempt by Governor Wike to discredit him before the people and tarnish his image before President Buhari. This was as even the former governor and some of his aides insisted that they would not appear before the commission.

But in the midst of all these, Amaechi suddenly showed up in Port Harcourt, last Saturday, dispelling the rumour that he had travelled out of the country, following his alleged failure to get the plum job as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), as earlier speculated. Amaechi was in the state capital to attend a private event organised by his church. He however, used the opportunity to break his silence on the raging issues in the state as he maintained his innocence in all the allegations levelled against him.

“I have been listening while in Abuja (to) how Nyesom Wike is accusing me of corruption and I laugh. Even Nyesom Wike knows that I don’t like money. He has told me on several occasions that ‘oga, we will not run this election without money and that it is not by the number roads and schools we construct that will make us win election. How suddenly did I change from that man that I used to be to become a thief?

“What Nyesom Wike has done is that, knowing that the public will not have access to documents and our lies, he has brought out government documents and say see N70 billion. We have shown in our own documents that if we sold power for N60 billion; first, we have authority to sell the power. We went to exco and exco approved. We have tendered the exco document. We said we sold it at three hundred and something million dollars and we tendered the documents. Nigeria does not spend money in dollars. We showed it; we showed the Zenith Bank account where the money was paid; we have published it. Now, he is talking.

“We are ready for them. Wike knows that I don’t fight shy. I want to see how many of you who are politicians; the pressure Wike is putting on us is the pressure of let somebody call us together for a meeting, reconcile and we withdraw our case in court. I, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, even if Peterside (Dakuku) withdraws, the party (APC) has the right to go to court because the law of Nigeria says there is no independent candidate. So, it is not Peterside that ran election; it is the party that ran election. So, even if Peterside withdraws, APC will carry the case to Supreme Court. If Wike likes, he should bring all documents.

“The funny thing about the young man is that he knows that I know him. I know Nyesom Wike up to his companies; Zico, Easy E. I was his governor and I have documents to show that he is a contractor. I have Wike’s account details. But you don’t reply him by saying you see, you are a thief, see what you stole. It will appear like I am a thief, but you are also a thief. So, what you do is to say no, I am not a thief and I don’t know what this man is talking about.

“Rivers people forget so easily, and it annoys me. During the campaign, I name the roads that Nyesom Wike did and abandoned. He is reconstructing some of them after we have paid him and no Rivers man is talking or asking except for you, young boys who are replying him on social media. When you see Nyesom Wike, let him publish one company I own or any bank account. I challenge anybody in the world, except my official salary account and the FCMB account, any other account you see, to come forward.

“But, I can publish Nyesom Wike’s five, six accounts tomorrow morning if he challenges me. It is he that is a thief. The difference between me and him is that I can say Wike, this is the contract you did, but he cannot say this is the contract I did. One thing I did as a governor is that there is no document that I signed that I did not have a copy,” he said.

He went further to explain why he would not appear before the probe panel, if eventually invited. “Why I don’t want to appear before panel? The panel is illegal. There is a law on how to set of an administrative panel. Nyesom Wike has not complied with the law. When he complies with the law, I will appear to defend myself. He has not complied with the law. That is one.

“Secondly, the rule of natural justice and fair hearing is not adhered to. You sit down and you tell a man, ‘go and find him guilty openly. He is guilty; go and investigate him’. Who is that man to investigate me when you had already told him what to do? In accordance with the rule of natural justice and fairness, you didn’t call a company or somebody who us independent and say go and investigate Amaechi’s government. What you say to him is to go and find him guilty and you say I should appear. No, I will go to court. Let us keep our fingers crossed and pray,” he said.

However, the immediate past deputy Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Honourable Leyii Kwanee, faulted the former governor as he said it was necessary for him to appear before the commission to account for his actions while in office. Speaking with newsmen in Port Harcourt, the former lawmaker who is also an APC chieftain in the state, added that there was nothing wrong in a former public office holder accounting for what he did while in office.

Kwanee, it will be recalled, spearheaded a probe into the finances of the state government at the twilight of the Amaechi administration. He said the on-going investigation by the probe panel was in tandem with the grand norms of modern society, expressing shock that the N4 billion Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) agriculture loan meant to improve food production in the state was allegedly diverted for political reasons.

“I am surprised to hear that that money was not used for the purpose it was meant for. We in the House of Assembly were not informed that that money was ploughed into politics. We were told that it was a loan and I was more surprised to hear that it turned out to be a non-repayable grant”, he said.

The former deputy Speaker also claimed that the state legislature had invited the former Commissioner for Agriculture, Emmah Chindah, to appear before it to explain how the money was utilised. “Unfortunately, everything happened so fast and we could not record any tangible thing from it because government was winding off. I think that people should account for their actions.

“It is important to note that as public officers, every money in our custody is held for trust and must be accounted for. That is why it will not be out of place for the former governor (Amaechi) to appear before the commission and testify for his eight years as governor of Rivers State. After all, in his first tenure, he set up the Truth And Reconciliation Committee and his former boss and governor, Dr Peter Odili, appeared before the same commission to testify. So, I don’t see anything bad in it,” he said.

Indeed, this is an era of muck-raking in the state known as “the Treasure Base of the Nation” and nobody can predict yet what may be the outcome. But as the game unfolds, it is becoming clear that a lot of facts will emerge with either of the two feuding camps coming out with a badly bruised nose. However, the state may end up being the likely victor.
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