In his inaugural address delivered on May 29th, 2023, Dr Alex Otti said:
“The time for the rebuilding process has begun. Transparency, accountability, and public trust shall be at the centre of everything we do,”
When my sister Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala addressed the transition committee of Dr Alex Otti via zoom, her message was simple and unambiguous: TRANSPARENCY IS KEY TO GOOD GOVERNANCE. I later learned that the same message was harped on by Dr Oby Ezekwesili at the Abia anniversary lecture in Umuahia, organized by Dr Alex Otti.
As a global champion of transparency who lived it while she was minister of finance in Nigeria, I perfectly understand why Daa Ngo , as we fondly call her, will want to harp on that message. To the best of my knowledge, she was the first minister of finance in Nigeria to insist that the amount shared during FAAC meetings is published including what each state got. No wonder the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, charged the then Abia State governor-elect, Dr Alex Otti, “to run a clean and transparent government”
Ironically, it took a question from a female journalist to further expose to the general public that incumbent Abia State Governor, Alex Otti, does not care about transparency in governance, which he personally wrote severally about when he was in the opposition and used to ride to power. He is too used to the dark room side of financial management to quickly embrace transparency in the public sector, where he now superintends over billions of public funds, courtesy of Obi wave.
I hope my sisters, Daa Ngo and Daa Oby watch this interesting exchange between Otti and a female journalist during the media interaction and then search for published details regarding Abia finance under Otti. I am sure they won’t see any state government issued information on Abia finance since May 29th 2023 or even published tenders for fake and real projects being celebrated.
Question: Anastasia Uchenna of Magic FM asked
1. Have you abandoned the ultra modern multi-specialist hospital in Aba built by your predecessor with tax payers money?
2. Why is the state government not telling Abians how much it receives as revenue and spends on projects?
In responding to this question, Governor Otti first disdainfully attacked opposition to his government and concurrently sought to belittle the journalist who asked the question.
“There is a man called Winston Churchill , am not sure you met him, did you?”-Governor Otti asked the young woman.
The funny part is that Governor Otti also did not meet Winston Churchill because the man was born in 1874 and died January 1965 whereas Otti was reportedly born in February 1965, according to his official records. The same way Otti read about Churchill is same way the young woman and generations would have also read about him without meeting him.
Response to questions by Governor Otti:
1. I have not abandoned the specialist hospital
2. I am not here for the opposition…as an Abian what should bother you is that people who put their mouths to feeding bottles we have forced their mouth out of the feeding bottle.
3. The federal government publishes how it shares FAAC money monthly…if you want any information you can go and get it.
Governor Otti is not in any form or manner committed to adhering to the highest standards of transparency and global best practices in all his administration’s activities, and this includes projects contracting process. He has never advertised any contract or published inflow reports and nobody in Abia knows the cost of any project awarded by him, mostly to his cronies. The contract awards are obviously not based on rigorous evaluation criteria and in line with relevant industry norms and public sector processes before awards. What I am told is that he personally awards the contract and then give others the job of regularizing the completed action.
It has been severally alleged that Governor Otti is using state funds, through opaque contract awards, to pay back those who funded his campaigns from 2014 to 2023. We all must investigate that allegation. Contrary to his campaign promises, there is no grade A or even B contractor working for his administration as such contractors will normally insist on due process before they start work.
Similarly, Otti appears to be managing state fund as if it is his personal money. He decides who gets what without following the minutest of laid down processes. Among his aides and cabinet officials, some get monthly N300k, N500k, N1m etc every month outside their monthly official remuneration from an opaque source that is not subject to due process review whereas he can approve and uniformly pay them through relevant MDAs and accounting units to ensure transparency and proper retirement. While the official salary regime used by previous administrations are still paid to his “imported” staff as salary he solely determines what to give each person monthly for whatever use without official vouchers and prescribed public service retirement processes.
Sadly, there is a stinky air of hypocrisy that has long been elevated to statecraft in Otti’s Abia. When people complain about what is not being done properly, the response of Otti and his supporters is always that former administrations did the same thing whereas these are things he promised to change if elected and the people listened. For good measure, Otti himself will personally tell whoever cares to listen that he has “removed feeding bottles from the mouth” of Abia political stakeholders.
Apparently, Otti removed the feeding bottles from others and put all in his own mouth and may be that of his cronies.
To avoid being misunderstood and labeled, I am not going to compare transparency under Ikpeazu with the current administration, but suffice it to state that the Ikpeazu administration received many transparency awards from the world bank and federal government of Nigeria for running an open government where information on government spending and receipts were freely available online, state account published annually via national newspapers and nobody needed to meet privately with Commissioner for Information (who I can bet does not know the cost of patching Emelogu road) to get relevant data. Even managers of state finance under Ikpeazu regularly briefed the press on inflows and expenditures.
Members and principal officers of the extremely weakened Abia state house of assembly do not know what comes into the state revenue accounts, contracts awarded or budgetary provisions made for running the state under Otti. They merely wait to rubber stamp whatever is sent to them for approval after allegedly receiving peanuts. Their pathetic story and situation will be discussed at a later date.
I wish to call on my sisters, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Dr Oby Ezekwesili to make haste and call our governor to transparency order. He should not hide under “that’s how others did it” to entrench a mafioso financial management order in our state after browbeating institutions and individuals that should call him to order. They must also know that Otti now holds State Executive Council meetings in his private bedroom against all known conventions and public service rule.
Before Governor Otti left the venue of the recent media briefing he said something, off record, that should worry all Abians and her friends: “security vote ogbasara unu”.
In subsequent fact checks, you will hear him confirm that he is actually taking security votes contrary to his promise not to do so. You will also get to read and hear directly from him why he is conducting government business in his private house whereas there are 3 major government owned structures that are available: Aba Governor’s lodge, old government house Umuahia where he conducted the interview and new government house Umuahia that he said is not up to his taste. Yet, he chose to spend money (some unverified reports say N700m) first to fix the commissioners quarter instead of fixing old or new govt house to his high taste.
Posterity will ultimately judge all of us including those who kept quiet, promoted and supported the making of a dictatorial ruler-general in Abia state. Let those who have ears hear what the spirit is saying because every dictator started as a good guy loved by all because of the promises he made to seduce the people along with those hired to silence critics.
Before you obey the order to respond and abuse me, ask yourself if you know how much your state got from FAAC, IGR in September and how much the patching of roads is costing the state. If you know, please go ahead and abuse me. If you don’t, demand transparency in the management of government finance as a right and best practice.
-Nwandugbom JOK is a citizen of Abia State