Peter Obi’s phantom N75bn: Of half-truths and social media hysteria

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peter_obiBy James Eze

Governor Willie Obiano has finally broken his silence on the controversial N75 billion supposedly left by his predecessor, former governor Peter Obi. Speaking through the Secretary to the State Government, Professor Solomon Osita Chukwulobelu, in a press conference in Awka on Saturday, Obiano dissected the various items in Obi’s handover note, stripping everything to barebones for a better understanding. What finally came out of the conference is that contrary to the mass hysteria on social media, what Obi actually left behind is N9 billion. On the surface of it, this should be a happy ending to the long tale of a wise, prudent governor, who is renowned for his frugality. After all, it is no mean feat to leave all of N9 billion behind by a Nigerian public official.

However, basic accounting principles demand that once we look at assets, we must almost impulsively, also look at the liabilities. A look at the liabilities side of Obi’s handover notes indicates that out of the N185 billion due to be paid to contractors at the end of his two terms tenure, the former governor was only able to pay the sum of N78.9 billion, leaving a staggering N106.2 billion overhang on contractual debts alone. It would have been just okay if it hadn’t also come to light that the handover note throbs with so many half-buried skeletons. For instance, Obi’s categorisation of the N9 billion that his administration invested in the Nigeria Independent Power Project, which the Federal Government unilaterally exacted from the accounts of all states and local governments in the federation, as part of the assets in the handover note does not smell very nice. Neither does the revelation that only N1.9 billion was invested in Intafact Beverages Limited, as against the N3.5 billion declared by Obi in his handover note. Questions might be asked as to why the former governor had to make such a false declaration since all these accounts can be independently verified and established by anyone who wishes to pursue the matter further.

It is also a subject of perplexity that Obiano’s predecessor paid Denca Resources Limited the sum of N250 million as counterpart fund for the building of 400MW Independent Power Plant in Ogbaru, which has since turned into a mirage. Obiano’s claim that the management of the company has remained elusive since the inception of his administration, dodging invitations for a conversation from state officials, deserves a serious look in. But even more curious and depressing to anyone, who is familiar with the iron-cast profile of the former governor, as a man of unimpeachable integrity should be the realisation that part of the so-called N75 billion liquid assets he supposedly left his successor is the N750 million investment in Emenite Limited. Already, questions are being asked as to why Obi should present this as part of his cash savings for Anambra State when in actuality, the N750 million is the state’s equity holding inherited from the investment made in the company in October 1961 by the former Premier of Eastern Nigeria, Dr. Michael I. Okpara. The amount represents the 16.5 per cent equity share for the state. How a 54-year-old investment made before the creation of Anambra State suddenly became liquid investment in Obi’s handover note remains an enduring curiosity to many people.

The perplexity grows even more with the discovery that Obi also seemed to have been too clever not to know that some of the investments he brandished as part of his legacy are even not qualified to be classified as investments. In point of fact, counterpart funding investments of N500 million with the Bank of Industry to support SMEs in the state and additional N500 million with the same bank to support Micro Credit Banks in the state should not have been listed as part of the hefty N75 billion left behind for Obiano. Neither should Obi have also cited the N480 million counterpart fund with the Agric Bank, which was meant for support to farmers in the state as well as the N1billion he borrowed from the Federal Government for onward lending to farmers in the state as part of the heirloom handed to his successor. Similarly, Obi’s claim that the N10 billion that the Federal Government is expected to refund to the state for fixing some federal roads, which has now shot up to N27 billion is a part of the liquid asset he left behind is also vacuous and misleading. The truth is that no one knows how long it will take the Federal Government to meet this obligation, especially in the face of the present state of the economy. So far, Obiano’s strident appeal for this refund has not elicited the desired reaction from the federal government. How does this begin to qualify as an asset left by a prudent administrator?

Truth be told, what may attract attention in Obi’s long list of non-investments are the foreign currency components of the handover note. Obviously worried about the final verdict of history on his administration, Obi made frantic efforts in the final months of his tenure and invested the sum of $155 million or N26.6 billion in Eurobonds and other foreign denominated securities held with Access Bank, Fidelity Bank and Diamond Bank. But sadly, given the current decline in capital markets, the state would incur a heavy loss of $32 million, representing 14.8 per cent and a Naira loss of N100 million respectively were it to attempt to liquidate this investment portfolio. So, not even this investment is enough consolation for the hoopla that has trailed Obi’s hyperbolic claims.

Let it be said that it has become clear that Peter Obi’s handover note is full of dead bodies. While this may not be strange in a country where public office holders are generally known to leave the treasury empty when they exit office, what appears totally strange to many people is why the Obi camp chose to turn this seriously flawed document into a new Angelus; to be recited anytime Governor Obiano does something worthy of praise. Stranger still is the fact that while it is on record that Chief Willie Obiano has always acknowledged Obi’s contributions to the emerging Anambra narrative and even called for a standing ovation for Obi and his team in public functions, there has always been a bold and crude attempt to demonise Obiano and his wife. The lowest of this despicable campaign by Obi’s loyalists was the rumour fuelled on social media last month, claiming that Ebelechukwu, his beautiful wife, had died. One would have expected that there would be a degree of method to the madness of these opposition elements, who obviously have gone beyond the brief handed them by their master in this curious campaign against a man, who has not offended anyone.

It has to be noted too that those whose only complaint about Obiano’s final decision to break his silence over the contentious handover note is that he should have spoken out earlier actually miss the point entirely. As a seasoned technocrat and level-headed administrator, Obiano is not one to play to the gallery or hanker for cheap populism. In fact, when a group, known as Concerned Anambra Professionals, began to raise the red flag over the dead bodies that lay half buried in Obi’s handover note just a few weeks after Obiano was sworn in, the governor took out pages in national newspapers to distance himself from that effort. He did that not because of lack of merit in the agitation of the period but because of the need to be fully convinced that it was expedient to do so and also because of his abiding faith in the merits of the paradigm shift from Agulu to Aguleri and from Obi to Obiano. In fact, he was totally committed and remains infinitely committed to preserving that historical hand of friendship that sealed the gubernatorial race in November 2013.

Even so, it must also be noted that Obiano’s eventual breaking of silence on the contentious N75 billion is a direct response to the endless campaign by Obi’s loyalists to reduce all his achievements to the existence of a phantom N75 billion legacy somewhere. Those close to Obiano can easily testify that he would have preferred to continue his tireless striving to build Anambra in silence, looking for creative ways to rev up Internally Generated Revenue and sustaining the tempo on his agenda to transform the state. However, the relentless castigation of his administration and the virulent attacks on his family by people loyal to his predecessor has forced him to set the records straight.

In the final analysis, it is never late to set the record straight. It might take months or years but truth pressed to earth will rise again!

  • Eze is the Special Adviser on Media to Governor Obiano. Email: eziokwubundu@gmail.com

 

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