Mysterious Assembly Fire: Selective Destruction Evokes Suspicion
THE political crisis rocking Ebonyi State took a new dimension on Tuesday when the Accounts Section of the House of Assembly and selected offices within the complex were razed by a midnight inferno.
In spite of vehement condemnation of the incident by many leaders of the state, a group, Ebonyi Patriots Coalition, has tasked the security agencies to urgently unravel some of the puzzles surrounding the fire.
Apart from the Accounts Section, which was the worst hit, the other sections affected were the office of the Deputy Speaker, Blaise Oji, and embattled Leader of the House, Sam Nwali.
Interestingly, these are offices belonging to members of the Assembly, who recently defected to the Labour Party (LP), following the crisis that trailed the primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) last year.
To many dispassionate observers, the burning of the Accounts Department is particularly worrisome, following the long running allegations of financial improprieties levelled against the Speaker, Chukwuma Nwazunku, and some floor functionaries of the House, for which the Speaker has survived two impeachment attempts by his colleagues in July and November last year.
In July, Governor Martin Elechi intervened to save the Speaker, who had already been replaced by his colleagues with another member, Helen Nwobashi, and in November, the Speaker was saved by an Abakaliki High Court presided over by Justice Anselm Nwigwe, which ruled his impeachment unprocedural.
In the heels of the Speaker’s declaration of the seats of four members vacant last week for defecting from the PDP to LP, the aggrieved members fired several petitions to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) to investigate the alleged embezzlement of the Assembly funds.
Coming at a time when the anti-graft agencies are expected to commence investigations into the finances of the Assembly, the burning of the House is seen by many as an attempt to frustrate any meaningful probe.
In his reaction, the Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, Mr. Ngaji Nwodo, frontally placed responsibility for the fire incident on the leadership of the Assembly.
“It is abnormal for the fire to select only the accounts section and the offices of opposition members for destruction, while the other sections are spared,” he said.
According to him: “The fire incident is a brazen attempt to cover up the numerous allegations of financial recklessness against the house leadership.”
The climate of suspicion surrounding the fire is not helped by the fact that apart from the Account Section, only the offices of the members who defected to LP were affected, while the Assembly Chamber, the Speaker’s office and others were not affected.
To worsen the disquieting situation, the House, on the same Tuesday the fire incident took place, declared vacant the seats of two more members- Oji and Oliver Nwachukwu- for defecting to the opposition.
The suspicion in many circles is that the fire disaster may have been carefully staged to coincide with the alleged impeachment moves against Elechi to give the impression that the governor’s sympathisers were behind the incident, thereby diverting attention from the real motives of the perpetrators.
When he visited the Assembly complex on Tuesday to assess the situation, Elechi described the incident as a tragedy and charged security agencies to get to the root of the matter.
Conducting the governor round the affected parts, Nwazunku said he and his colleagues were greatly disturbed by the turn of events.
The pioneer Speaker of the House and APC’s governorship candidate in the state, Senator Julius Ucha, visited the Assembly on Wednesday and described the incident as the handiwork of those desperate to govern the state at all costs.
• Eni is Elechi’s Chief Press Secretary
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