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John Okiyi Kalu: How Alex Otti orchestrated his own “hostile handover”

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As a matter of personal philosophy, I refrain from criticizing new administrations, at state or federal level, or passing judgement on its activities before their first 100 days in office especially if no major blunder is committed that threatens security and survival of the people. I may extend that to as much as 180 days before taking a stand one way or another. This is because I understand the challenges of forming and stabilizing a new administration which normally will require time and patience from the people. Indeed, my refrain in comments made before the inauguration of the new administration in Abia State was usually to call for prayers and patience for them as I believe no two administrations are same or will meet similar challenges.

Earlier today, I read a publication captioned “My administration experienced hostile handover” wherein the head of the administration in Abia State, Dr Alex Otti, was quoted as saying, among other things, that he experienced a very hostile handover on May 29, 2023, when he took over governance from his predecessor, Okezie Ikpeazu, PhD, and I’ve decided to temporarily deactivate my observer mode to respond ostensibly because I was involved in the transition arrangement set up by his predecessor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, to usher in Otti’s administration.

According to Otti; “Let me reveal that this administration experienced a very hostile handover situation which made it very difficult for us to hit the ground running on the 29th of May, as we had anticipated. We, therefore, assumed office blindly and had to start practically from below ground zero. We are now discovering that the reason for the lack of cooperation might have arisen from widespread mischief by some of those who were given custody of our collective assets and welfare.”

Obviously, he is trying to justify his volte face during the inauguration of a thinly veiled hostile panel to probe his predecessor after severally stating in public that he is not interested in witch hunting anyone but will rather focus on substantive governance. Try as hard as he may, my personal take is that the probe is something he has always wanted to do and indeed promised the political cabal that supported him to power, hence the restriction of the terms of reference to only the Ikpeazu years whereas he campaigned on Abia being allegedly looted and misgoverned by successive PDP administrations since 1999.

Make no mistake about this, I fully support the recovery of all government assets found to have been illegally taken by anyone no matter how highly placed. Those assets belong to the people of Abia State and no human being should appropriate them for personal use under any guise. Those who allegedly looted movable and immovable government assets should return them immediately without requiring to appear before any panel even though we already know from the publicly quoted comments of the Chairman of the panel that she will most likely not be fair to all those appearing before her.

As regard hostile handover, I wish to use this piece to highlight and inform members of the public and historians that all facts available to me prove that it was actually Otti that orchestrated a hostile take over of government.

i. Shortly after the contentious announcement of Otti as winner of the governorship election by INEC, then Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, in good faith, congratulated him on his victory and urged his opponents to consider not taking him through the same litigations that he was taken through by Otti and others in 2015 and 2019 so as to allow him settle down quickly to work. In subsequent statements and interviews, he prayed for the new administration to succeed and do better than his administration for the sake of Abia.

Unfortunately, Otti was on Channels TV the next day to make a meal of the congratulatory message by saying that Ikpeazu had no other option but to congratulate him because he ‘won massively’. He went ahead to instruct Labour Party Lawyers to challenge the victory of all PDP legislative election winners which irked the party establishment in the state into taking a decision to challenge his own election which in their view did not comply with our electoral laws and was marred by substantial irregularities. Indeed, the party stopped short of censoring Ikpeazu for unilaterally congratulating Otti who they felt did not actually win the election, but the now former Governor stood his ground for what he perceived as the greater good.

Is that a man (Ikpeazu) that can be accused of orchestrating a hostile hand over? Note that Otti never had the personal grace to call Ikpeazu or seek direct meeting with him throughout the transition process but chose to speak with others within the Ikpeazu administration probably because of his fabled disdain and bitterness towards Ikpeazu who defeated him twice before then.

ii. It is public knowledge that Otti could not wait to be inaugurated before he started issuing statements and performing duties that are constitutionally strictly assigned to an inaugurated Governor of a state. From ill advisedly storming an active project site in Aba with staff of Julius Berger to orchestrating politically motivated industrial actions, to writing banks etc, he sought to totally asphyxiate the Ikpeazu administration and stop it from performing the statutory duties allowed by law. Indeed, his manipulation and orchestration of a strike by civil servants at the twilight of the Ikpeazu administration is by far the most self defeating action he took against his own interest. Many commissioners could not reach the relevant civil servants in the MDAs to properly hand over to the permanent secretaries who would in turn have handed over to Otti’s commissioners whenever they emerge.

iii. As an immediate past member of the state executive, I recall that Governor Ikpeazu did not only direct a seamless hand over, the council approved funds for the procurement of vehicles for the incoming administration, and relevant officers were directed to ensure that whatever the new administration needed was provided. I am sure the minutes of that particular exco meeting is now available to Otti for review, yet he accuses Ikpeazu for what he personally orchestrated by himself.

iv. Governor Ikpeazu directed the setting up of a joint transition committee to which Otti nominated 8 members, to oversee the transition process. After the inaugural meeting of the committee of which I was the Chairman of the Venue Sub-Commitee, we met to discuss how to organize the program. It was at that meeting that the Otti team demanded that they be made part of the preparation of the handing over note to be presented to the new administration. But chairman of the committee, Barr Chris Ezem, rightly advised that the function of compiling handover note was resident in his office as Secretary to the State Government, just as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation is responsible for that of the Federal Government. Moreover, no member of the Otti team is under official oath hence cannot be trusted to preserve public information as required by law.

Apparently, the Otti team reached their principal and he unilaterally decided to boycott the committee and set up his own transition/handover team. I recall that as Chairman of Venue Sub-Committee, we were inspecting the Umuahia Township Stadium and Ochendo International Conference Centre when the Otti nominees received phone calls to withdraw immediately. That was the end of that handover interface. Yet Otti is mouthing “hostile handover” as excuse for his reported shortcomings.

v. Regardless of the exit of the members of Otti’s team, Governor Ikpeazu directed that we still go ahead to prepare and handover critical inauguration assets such as the parade vehicles, podium and others to the Otti team. He was even ready to receive and fund whatever they have compiled as cost of holding the statutory hand over ceremony. They rejected all and indeed those at Otti’s inauguration will recall that his team members said he did not want to touch anything used by Ikpeazu including the new government house, official podium, parade vehicle etc

vi. In one of the published responses of the Otti team to the issue of N24bn stamp duty fund for Abia State, they were quoted as saying: “The truth is that the Governor of Abia State, Dr. Alex Otti, even before he was inaugurated, got wind of the money, proceeds of Stamp Duties refund, and stopped the payment to Abia so that it would not be looted by those who were running the state then.The money is actually N48bn, but we’re expecting the sum of N24bn which is yet to be paid.“. Is this not a clear admission of hostile interference with the administration of the state at a time he was yet to be inaugurated?

vii. What is more? Dr Okezie Ikpeazu even offered to personally welcome Alex Otti and his entourage to the Exco Chambers of the Government House at 9am on the day of inauguration but Otti never responded.

viii.Alex Otti went ahead to break all known protocols by not inviting the then Governor Okezie Ikpeazu to his inauguration. I challenge him and his team members to produce a copy of the letter of invitation to Governor Ikpeazu with acknowledgement stamp.

Otti’s legendary disdain for his predecessor is public knowledge and that appears to be the only driving ideology or agenda of his administration at the moment. Now that he has instituted the probe he threatened even recently via a press release, let’s hope he can now focus on substantive governance for the good of Ndi Abia. Never mind that he has made history as the first Abia Governor to threaten his predecessor with anti-corruption agencies.

Still, I wish to personally state that those illegally with public assets must as a matter of responsibility return them to the people of Abia State while the panel follows the witch hunting script given to it. We dey here!!!!

John Okiyi Kalu writes from Aba. Phone No-0803300 8046.

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