The Governor of Imo State of Nigeria, Rochas Okorocha has come under strong criticism for the construction of two statues to honor Presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Jacob Zuma of South Africa.
A Nigerian online newspaper, Premium Times, has reported that the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has asked Muhammad Isah, acting chairman of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), and Bolaji Owasanoye, acting chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offenses Commission (ICPC) to “jointly investigate allegations of incompatibility and/or apparent conflict of interest situation.”
This act, the newspaper said, “is an abuse of office involving Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State in connection with the exercise of his public functions and leadership of the Rochas Okorocha Foundation, and to collaborate with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in any such investigation.”
The organization said, “Such an investigation would help to improve public confidence in public authorities, and minimize the risks of bad government by public officials.”
In the petition dated November 10, and signed by its executive director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, SERAP expressed “serious concern that Governor Okorocha may have spent over N1 billion public funds to build statues of Liberia’s and South Africa’s presidents, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Jacob Zuma.”
N1 billion is equivalent to L$342,552,988.58 or US$2,782,088.47.
According to the organization, “the spending on statues and apparent misuse of public resources may have violated constitutional provisions and international standards on code of conduct for public officers. The initiatives cannot be justified under any circumstances whatsoever, especially at a time when Imo State is unable or unwilling to pay teachers’ salaries and pensioners’ entitlements.”
The petition copied to Ibrahim Magu, acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), read in part: “Inviting Sirleaf and Zuma to attend the opening of his foundation and then ‘honoring’ them with statues suggest abuse of office and apparent conflict of interest situation, as such acts were undertaken by Governor Okorocha in the exercise of his public functions to presumably promote and advance the commercial and other interests of the foundation.
“SERAP believes that rather than serving the common interest of the public, spending over N1 billion possibly of public funds on Ellen and Zuma in the context of their participation in the opening of the Rochas Okorocha Foundation would seem to put Governor Okorocha in a conflict of interest situation.
“SERAP notes that the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended) and UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party, prohibits conflict of interests and set ethical standards for public officers. Indeed, both the Constitution and the Convention require public officers to abstain from all acts that may compromise the exercise of their public office and functions, or are inconsistent with their entrusted positions.
“Public officers also must discharge their public duties truthfully and faithfully, abide by the constitutional code of conduct, observe the primacy of public interest, and not allow their personal interest to influence their official conduct.
“The CCB and ICPC should carry out joint investigation in collaboration with the EFCC of the allegations of conflict of interest, abuse of office and apparent misuse of public funds by Governor Okorocha. SERAP also urges the CCB and ICPC to prosecute Governor Okorocha after leaving office if there is relevant and sufficient admissible evidence of abuse of public office against him.
“Conflict of interest represents a situation where the person exercising a public function has a personal interest of patrimonial or commercial nature, which could influence the objective fulfillment of the duties incumbent on public officers under the Constitution and international standards.”
According Premium Times, Governor Okorocha recently hosted the two African presidents and built statues in Owerri to ‘honor’ them. The statues reportedly cost over N1 billion to build. Further, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Zuma Foundation and the Rochas Foundation was signed, while Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf only visited the newly established Rochas Foundation College of Africa (ROFOCA).”
Meanwhile, the Imo state government has responded to the call by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) demanding the probe of Governor Rochas Okorocha over the statues erected in honor of two African leaders, Jacob Zuma and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
In a statement by the chief press secretary to the governor, Sam Onwuemeodo, on Tuesday, the government said the state agreed with SERAP’s call for a probe.
“First, we want to solemnly subscribe to SERAP’s call for probe. We welcome the call. Our only concern is that SERAP contradicted itself by also passing judgments. It would have stopped at the call for probe to show they meant well. But they went ahead to pass judgments and thereby jeopardizing what should have been their innocent call for probe,” the statement read.
He cited two issues raised by the group; first the cost of building the statues which SERAP said “might cost N1 billion,” second, the governor’s inability to pay teachers’ salaries and entitlement of pensioners.
“SERAP also said the statues might have cost N1 billion. Then, how would SERAP address the issue of cost again if at the end of the probes, the amount is either far higher or far below what they quoted?” he said.
With the widespread criticisms over the cost of the statues, Mr. Onwuemeodo said the group should have waited for the probe to end before suggesting that the funds used were for the public.
“Again, what if at the end of the probe, it is discovered that the statues were not funded from government’s purse, when SERAP had already talked about ‘apparent misuse of public resources’?” he added.
Mr. Onwuemeodo said Imo state was up to date in the payment of salaries.
“Our concern too is that people deliberately tell unfounded lies. A week ago, all the newspapers had reports on states owing salaries and the chairman of the Imo State branch of NLC, Comrade Austin Chilakpa said the ‘State government is up to date in the payment of workers’ salary’ (see Nation newspaper, Sunday November 5, 2017, pg13). In other words, the state does not owe workers including teachers. On the issue of pension, the government cleared all the arrears in December 2016 and has begun to pay monthly. These pieces of information have been there in public domain,” the statement said.
The unveiling of the statues built in honor of the two African leaders has continued to generate widespread criticisms from Nigerians, especially on social media, according to Premium Times.
Just recently, self-appointed representatives of various tribes in Nigeria took to twitter to disown Gov. Rochas.
And since the story was reported, some Liberians have also expressed mixed reactions. While some said that the honor has no impact, “because over the 12 years, President Sirleaf has left the county vulnerable with little development,” others have welcomed the honor for President Sirleaf’s remarkable leadership that has united the Western African sub-region and elevated the role of African women.
It may be recalled that President Sirleaf visited Owerri, the Imo state capital for a two-day working visit during which she was honored by the state government. Upon her arrival, she was taken to the Eze Imo Palace, where she was conferred with a chieftaincy title by the Chairman of the State Council of Traditional Rulers, Samuel Ohiri.
Just like Jacob Zuma of South Africa and Nana Ado Akufo of Ghana, President Sirleaf was inducted in the Imo Hall of Fame, received Imo Merit Award and statue unveiled in her honor.
Speaking after the honor, Mrs. Sirleaf said she was excited to be in Imo, adding that with education, hardwork and unity of purpose, Africa would soon get to the Promised Land.
A statement by the chief press secretary to the Governor, Sam Onwuemeodo, on Tuesday said Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf’s visit is ‘principally’ to meet students of the Rochas Foundation especially Liberian students whose parents died of Ebola.
Mrs. Sirleaf met with students of the foundation where she stressed that education is the most effective way to fight poverty in Africa. She said that if most children in the region have access to quality education, the problem of the continent would be solved.
She also applauded the foundation for its efforts in building a community for African children to thrive and giving them a platform to grow.
“I have traveled to every part of the world and I have traveled all over Africa, I have never experienced something like this. I have seen leaders of Africa build schools, roads, give scholarships, and so on, in all of these things. I have not seen any of them go beyond the ordinary by gathering indigent children of Africa from all of our countries, bring them together in our family, sharing together, I thank you. There is no other better way to fight poverty and preach unity than this,” she said.
In his speech, Governor Rochas Okorocha said the foundation was not set up to show affluence, rather a platform to foster the kind of unity Africa yearns for.
“What I do today is not a dramatization of affluence as I am not among the richest in Africa; Rochas foundation is a dramatization of sacrifice. This may as well be the Africa we are looking for; I do know that this institution will grow beyond me and my generation. This may be the beginning of the unity we all crave for in Africa. These children now see themselves as one family,” he said.
Mrs. Sirleaf also delivered a lecture to Imo women on the “Women in Politics” at the Imo International Convention Center (IICC).
(Source: Premium Times)