ENUGU: Chime, Lawmakers In Twilight Impeachment Plots
WHEN Enugu State Governor Sullivan Chime summoned journalists to the Government House to “clarify” the various allegations raised by members of the House of Assembly, who were threatening to impeach him, he opened with a cocksure statement. “Ask me any question you like… I am ready to even answer questions from when I was Attorney General,” he said. He noted that, “I have not seen the (impeachment) notice, they have not served me.”
He then plunged into Section 188 of the Constitution; pointed out the shortsightedness of the lawmakers, noted the futility of the entire
impeachment exercise and the talks of investigating him. His verdict was simply that there would be no time for the lawmakers to activate the process of impeaching him before May 29.
Drawing on events in the House, where the House was factionalized, with the Speaker Eugene Odoh leading a faction of 15 lawmakers that triggered the call for impeachment, the governor explained that 14 members in the House cannot successfully initiate impeachment proceedings, because, “in no state in Nigeria can you cause a governor to be investigated with less than 16 members of the House…so if they are aware of this, they should have clearly said it, (is) a failed attempt to investigate the governor of the state.”
Dwelling on the time frame, he poked fun at the lawmakers: “So I am not sure whether they are investigating me or Gburu Gburu, (Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the state governor-elect)…by the time they even go through the process, before they set up the panel, I am already out of this place. So maybe they will come to my village in Udi to investigate me and now remove me from office after I have left. So that is the stupidity and folly in what they have set out to do.”
The lawmakers had in the main alleged that Chime forged the N12 billion 2012 Supplementary Budget. And reportedly have been holding up approval for an N11 billion loan. Other speculated sins of the governor include: undermining the activities of the House by preventing his aides and commissioners from responding to summons as well as using the police to stop their day’s proceeding.
Displaying a heavy bound copy of the said budget, Chime said: “I am not quite sure they know the meaning of forgery,” as he went on to explain that, “it was just a question of reallocating funds. The only thing that changed (was) the current (expenditure) moved from N44million to N31million and the Capital (expenditure) moved up from N31million to N44 million…the impression they want to create is that I have been busy stealing or milking the state…”
Piqued by their antics, he noted with a certain pained humour that the episode of the “forged” budget took place in late 2012 when he was ill and abroad. Noting that he was hearing about the allegation for the first time, he wondered why the issue had never been mentioned hitherto.
What about the N11 billion loan? Chime said: Explaining what went wrong, he said that this was not a fresh loan contrary to popular opinion. The trouble started when the UBA demanded for an ISPO and they needed the House to approve it. “We quickly went to the House of Assembly for that. At the same time, I personally engaged the bank asking them that you have a resolution asking us to borrow money from you, why do you want to involve the House in the ISPO.”
According to the governor, unaware that he had reached the bank on the matter, “they thought it was time to now make money out of it. Unfortunately for them the issue was resolved and we never went back to them.” The governor revealed how the House “advised that I should meet with the leadership. I was happy. And they came and asked me to give them money.”
A House Divided By Money
FOR a House that has been with the governor for eight years, why is money an issue in the twilight of the administration? A source in the House said: “Money has never been an issue. The issue is the governor’s attitude. When he saw that the lawmakers were beginning to ask questions on his performance and accountability by inviting his aides and commissioners, he moved to divide the House and use his loyalists to impeach the Speaker, suspend some others. He hoped that with that, the ongoing investigation of his tenure will be stopped. He succeeded because the House is now divided.”
The Speaker, Eugene Odoh and 13 others had met in the Chambers, suspended the Deputy Speaker, Chime Oji, Deputy Leader, John Kelvin Okuta and the Chairman, Health Committee, Emeka Ugwuebo “for conduct that has brought the House to disrepute.”
Later the same day, a group of eight lawmakers, led by the Deputy Speaker, Oji, met in the same chambers and impeached and suspended Odo, John Anichukwu, Theresa Egbo, Okechukwu Nwoke, Paul Ogbe, Nze Michael Onyeze, Mrs Chika Eneh and House Leader, Sunday Udeokoye. The group elected a Speaker, Chinedu Nwamba, while appointing Donatus Uzoagbado as the new Leader, and Emeka Ogbuabor as the new Chief Whip.
While Clerk of the House, Christopher Chukwura, made himself scarce when the first group met, he surfaced when the Oji group met, as he promptly relayed the outcome, which is the impeachment of Odoh.
How Did Things Fall Apart?
THE disquiet in Enugu since last Monday has cast a strong pall over the relationship between the Executive and Legislature. With Chime and Speaker, Odoh set to retire in less than three weeks, the question in some quarters is what went wrong?
In the last eight years, the Enugu Legislature and Executive have had a good relationship. In the last seven years, the House has not failed to approve any request from the Executive. In fact, every bill by the Executive had been given accelerated hearing.
The major test, perhaps, came in 2013, when Chime was on an extended leave due to ill health. Odo was praised for his handling of the crisis that trailed the governor’s absence from office without due process.
The perception of the House under Odoh is that of a House that lacks bite, a mere rubber stamp of the Executive. For Odoh, it was perhaps a loyalty that deserves a reward. He eyed Chime’s seat, which was zoned to his area, Enugu North senatorial zone. He had set up the machinery to launch a robust political campaign and no hurdle seemed to be on his way, until the party leadership showed preference for a three-time member of the House of Representatives, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. A disappointed Odo defied all entreaties to accept the decision; he went to the primary, and lost. It was curious that as he returned to the House to see out the last days of his era, the House began to investigate the activities of Chime. Is he trying to pay Chime back for not making him governor? Or why was the House up in arms against Chime?
Speculations were rife; rumours were traded freely. Perhaps, the first inkling that there was a change in the relationship came when Chime sought the approval of the House to enable him secure an Irrevocable Standing Order (ISO) tied to the N11billion loan approved by the House in November 2014. The ISO would enable the bank recover the money from Chime’s successor.
The House refused to approve the ISO, on the grounds that an administration on its way out should not be asking for all that money. It noted also the debt profile of the state, which sources put at over N13 billion, excluding internal loans. The House also pointed out that the loan of N5.2 billion taken from the World Bank to finance the reticulation of water in the state had not been repaid, yet, most residents had no access to potable water.
As the lawmakers stood their ground, it was speculated that the governor, “ordered” the Accountant General, Pascal Okolie to stop further remittance of the overhead to the House. For three months, the overhead due to the House was not released. The governor had explained that, “because of some issue of lack of money, we gave them part of their overhead. We didn’t even give other departments. I later paid them and the result of that is the impeachment notice.”
Then came the report that Chime met with the lawmakers, where he told them that their severance package could only be released should they act on the loan because there was no money in the state. The members ignored it, but inquired into other sectors of the state. Soon, a petition was received, alleging a move by the governor on the concession of the water corporation.
Two indigenes of the state, Igwenabo Eko and Sunday Uzoigwe in an open letter to President Goodluck Jonathan claimed that Commissioner for Public Utilities, Michael Nwachukwu has facilitated the surrendering of the functions and operations of the state water corporation to a private firm, A.G Trust Limited based in Abuja. They further alleged that the firm would take over the collection of water rate in the state for 25 years, even as it has no track record in the water business.
Chime, in his address to journalists, dismissed any untoward deals in the water sector and noted that there was nothing like that.
Another petition also came up from two permanent members of the Enugu State Universal Basic Education Board (ENSUBEB), alleging lack of due process in the award of the N3.6 billion primary school renovation in the state. They stated that since the award was concluded over a year ago, no meaningful work had taken place.
The issue of the sudden allocation of land at the International Conference Centre to individuals, allocation of land adjacent to Enugu House of Assembly to Park and Shop as well as the Eastern Industrial Centre. Scoffing at the suggestion that he needed any clearance regarding allocation of land, the governor said, “I am the custodian of land in the state. Go and read the Land Use Act.”
The House swung into action. The Water Resources Commissioner, Michael Nwachukwu and Managing Director of Water Corporation, Chinedu Akah, were summoned to explain what they knew about the water concession arrangement.
Akah told the House that he was pressured to sign the document to concession the state water corporation without reading the document. “I was invited on manifest on the signing day. When I came in, I realised that there were other people sitting there. So I felt it would be quite embarrassing after Governor Sullivan Chime must have approved the document, and I will stand up and say I will not sign,” he said. Akah was relieved of his duties a few days after appearing before the lawmakers.
Nwachukwu told the lawmakers that there was no bidding for any contract for the concession but was a “unilateral decision of government.” He said they arrived at the decision when he, alongside others, attended a workshop in Ivory Coast and asked some companies to come and help Enugu state out of its water problem. He cited the law establishing the state water corporation as basis for the concession.
But the lawmakers insisted that any agreement that does not stand with the law was futile and therefore, ordered a stop to the arrangement.
On ENSUBEB, the Commissioner for Education, Prof Chris Okoro and Chairman of the board, Nneka Onuora were invited along with the contractor. On how 400 contracts were awarded to one firm without due process, Okoro said that if the contracts were to be duly processed, “it has to first pass through the ministry of education.”
He agreed that there was unnecessary delay on the contracts after 100 per cent payment advancement was made to the contractor. Onoura agreed that though it was wrong to pay 100 per cent upfront for contracts not executed without due process, the payment was made following the need to enable the contractor meet with procurement of materials, majority of which had to be imported. Faced with this and other anomalies that the chairman could not explain satisfactorily, the House ordered the freezing of the account of the board, invited the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate the finances of the board as well as the board of Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) to stop further dealing with ENSUBEB.
It also stopped construction on the International Conference Centre premises and the land adjacent the House of Assembly, while ordering the arrest of the state Accountant General, for failing to heed to several summons from the House. Explaining the non-remittance of the overhead, Okolie blamed paucity of funds and told the House that though there was contingency fund provided in the state, where money was drawn from, only the governor can grant approval.
In a full page advertorial in the Saturday Sun, April 18 by the governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Chukwudi Achife, the Speaker was accused of engineering a campaign, arm-twisting tactics targeted at the government. Achife situated the development to the “Speaker’s angst following his failure to win the PDP governorship primaries and his unsuccessful attempts to sabotage and cause the party to lose the recently concluded elections in his council.”
Few days after, the House passed a vote of confidence on Odo, insisting that their action was based on the need for probity among all the arms of government.
The Impeachment Plot
THE impeachment notice became part of the developments last Monday after the meeting by a faction of the lawmakers led by Odoh. After gathering as early as 6.20 am, they directed the Clerk of the House, Christopher Chukwurah (who incidentally was not in the meeting) to serve impeachment notice on the governor. The Leader of the House, Sunday Udeokoye, who moved the motion, accused Chime of working to undermine the activities of the House by preventing his aides and Commissioners to respond to summons by the House.
Udeokoye, who would have been Odoh’s running mate, if he had won the governorship primary, claimed that 14 lawmakers had signed an impeachment notice. But no one, including the governor has seen any impeachment notice.
A former National Auditor of the PDP, Ray Nnaji said something must have triggered this “phony” impeachment, going by its sudden introduction into the plot. According to him: “This is a House that has virtually compromised in everything in the state to please the governor. But whatever has prompted their action is a good omen. This impeachment thing whether it will work or not will check Chime.”
Nnaji said the issues raised were impeachable offences, arguing that the governor indirectly accepted to the forgery, when he “admitted that there was virement made on the 2012 approval.”
“You don’t joggle figures or items after an approval had been made on a budget without going to the same House to get approval. He did not do this so that alteration is forgery,” Nnaji, said.
During a peace meeting with Ugwuanyi, a lawmaker was said to have admitted the non-existence of any impeachment notice against Chime. With obvious constraints in initiating and executing the impeachment process, questions have been raised about the motive of the lawmakers.
Is a faction of the House really out to impeach Chime? What are the impeachable offenses apart from the case of forgery? Can the lawmakers impeach Chime in three weeks? Not even the governor thinks it is possible. It was gathered that the impeachment move was contrived to upset Chime, who was said to have initially hatched a plot to divide the House. To effect the plot, sources said the governor had rallied the support of his nephew and Deputy Speaker, Chime Oji who got eight
members of the House to conduct an early morning sitting announcing the removal of the Speaker and other principal officers, while electing new ones. They were alleged to have got N2 million each. The group planned to sit by 8 am on Monday, a day and time outside their official sitting days. The House always sat on Tuesdays and Thursdays by 10 am.
Odo, learnt of the plot, summoned his loyalists, who stormed the House premises as early as 5 am into the arms of armed policemen at the gate. A source said: “If he had not acted swiftly, he would probably have been in his residence to receive visitors telling him to submit government property in his possession as former speaker. Odo acted to save his office.”