BY STANLEY AHUKANNA in Umuahia•
Beleaguered Chairman of the Umuahia North local government area of Abia State, Chief Chidiebere Nwachukwu, has faulted the State House of Assembly for recommending his suspension from office for one month.
Also, members of the Executive Committee of the council, rising from an emergency meeting Thursday, not only threw their weight behind Nwachukwu, but described his ordeal as act of persecution by his detractors scared of his rising political profile.
One Joseph Okoronkwo, in a two-page petition dated February 13, 2018 and addressed to the Speaker of Abia State House of Assembly, accused Nwachukwu of gross misconduct and misappropriation of government fund, adding that Nwachukwu blew N6 million on the burial of his uncle, late Ambassador Ngam Nwachukwu.
“The said Chairman with impunity just on 10th of February, 2018 misappropriated the whopping sum of over N6 million for the lavish burial of his uncle from the coffers of the Umuahia North Local Government Council,” the petitioner alleged.
The petitioner also accused Nwachukwu of “turning the council’s treasury into his personal account” and was “manipulating activities of the council” in a manner that makes it difficult to keep proper account of Internally Generated Revenue.
“He also alleged that the council boss equally recently declared his ambition to run for the Ikwuano/Umuahia Federal Constituency in 2019 and was deploying council funds to campaign for same.”
Acting on the petition during its sitting last Wednesday, the House recommended to the governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, to suspend the council chairman from office for one month to allow for unhindered investigation into the allegations.
However, speaking with newsmen in his Umungalori Ohuhu country home, Nwachukwu faulted the recommendation for his suspension by the Abia lawmakers, arguing that it amounted to usurpation of the powers of Umuahia North Legislative Council, which has the powers to investigate and suspend him, if found guilty of the charges; and recommend same to the House of Assembly for ratification.
He said he had expected the House of Assembly to direct the petitioner to channel his petition to the Umuahia North Legislative Council for investigation.
He contended that as an elected chairman, he should be tried under the provision of the constitution, not laws made for Transition Committee chairman.
He also disclosed that in a letter dated February 9, 2018, a day to the burial of his uncle, the Assembly had invited him to appear before its Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs Committee on Monday, February 12.
According to him, he told them that the day was not convenient for him as the traditional burial rights of his late uncle would still be running and they agreed that he would now appear on Monday, February 19, 2018.
He expressed surprise at the turn of events, with the Assembly recommending for his suspension even before he appears before the said committee.
In denying the charges levelled against him, Nwachukwu said he never lavished N6 million council fund on the burial of his uncle, saying that between December and now, the council could not boast of N2 million in its account, wondering how he could have spent money that was non-existent.
According to him, the Finance and General Purpose Committee of the Council met prior to the burial of his uncle and approved N6 million for him to bury his uncle.
He said he rejected it because he was aware that the Council doesn’t have up to N2 million in its IGR account, adding the meeting later approved N1 million which he was yet to claim.
He denied he ever deployed Council fund to bury his uncle, adding the he received assistance from various quarters.
He said he suspects that the move against him was politically-motivated since it was being rumoured that he was interested in running for the Ikwuano/Umuahia Federal Constituency, while others were hunting him down for throwing his weight behind Chigoziri Gabriel who wants to contest for the House of Assembly.
“A pro-Ikpeazu group, the Ikpeazu Fans Club which I served many years as Secretary, held an awards ceremony and in their communiqué, they enjoined me to run for the House of Representatives. I told them to give me time to consult with my God before giving them any reply.
“I have never told anyone that I want to run for House of Representatives and I don’t even have the money to fund such project,” Nwachukwu said.
Meanwhile, the Executive Committee of Umuahia North comprising the Secretary to the Council, Chief Chris Nwokocha, the Chief of Staff to the Chairman, Hon. Okezie Obasi, the six Supervisory Councillors and Special Adviser on General Duties, rising from an emergency meeting in Umuahia during, which they deliberated on the “purported move by the State House of Assembly to suspend their council chairman,” dismissed the petition by Okoronkwo as “nebulous, a charade, unfounded, misleading and a bunch of falsehood against an innocent man.”
In a nine-paragraph statement, the Executive Committee maintained that Nwachukwu was innocent of the charges, adding that he has maintained an open door policy since he assumed office and could not be accused of any hidden agenda.
According to the Committee, “the allegation of Hon. Nwachukwu spending a whopping N6 million council fund on the burial of his late uncle is totally false, the information is verifiable from Umuahia North Council financial records.”
They appealed to the governor, party leaders and other stakeholders to wade in and arrest the situation, warning that the political fortunes of PDP were at stake should the mischief makers be allowed to succeed in their wicked mission, just to score cheap political points.
“If the ugly trend is not checked and stopped in time, the aftermath will spill over to other council areas of the state which will spell doom for our party (PDP) in the forthcoming general elections,” the committee said.
They warned that they would not hesitate to “mobilise the people of Umuahia North to resist any attempt to truncate the existing peace and political stability in Umuahia North local government area.”
The committee pledged to continue to support the good governance of Ikpeazu “in his efforts to bring dividends of democracy to the people of Abia State.”