Enugu — The decision of the Enugu state government to demolish the existing state secretariat and build a new one at the cost of N31.6 billion has set the administration on collision path with the long-sleeping opposition members.
And as if the opposition parties, which some people in the state regard as "vegetative opposition", have just been awaken from their slumber, they have regrouped and appeared ready for what seems to be a showdown, should the Chime administration insist on going ahead with the execution of the secretariat project which some call a "white elephant project".
So far, nine opposition parties coming on the plank of the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) have strongly called on Enugu State House of Assembly to immediately commence impeachment process against Governor Chime for what they saw as alleged subversion of due process, fraud and execution of contracts without appropriation. But the legislature is mainly made up of members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The call came even as the Enugu State Chairman of Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, Mr Sunday Onoh and a member of the party in the state, Mr Osita Okechuwu, sued Governor Chime at the Federal High Court, Enugu for the proposed N13.6 billion state secretariat complex. The plaintiffs are, among other things, praying for an order "restraining the governor, his agents or proxies from demolishing the old State Secretariat building at G.R.A. Enugu and erecting a new Secretariat Complex at the same site as recently announced by Enugu State Government."
At a press conference in Enugu, the state chairman and secretary of CNPP, Messrs Adonys Igwe and John Nwobodo, said the organization, which is made up of about 35 opposition political parties in the state, decided to demand Governor Chime's impeachment in view of some identified constitutional breaches by his government.
The organization cited a recent advertorial placed by the state government in a national daily which contained "outrageous pre-qualification requirements principal among which is evidence of satisfactory execution and completion of building construction contracts with annual cumulative value of at least N400,000,000 in the past three years. The advertorial contained only 3 lots the summary of which is construction of 6-classroom block and remodelling of existing school buildings."
"Our investigations at UBEC, Abuja, show that the initial procurement plan contained over 600 lots, and later substituted with a 3 lot plan in suspicious circumstances. What explanations can one offer in support of the dubious pre-qualification requirements if the government has no plans to divert or make brisk business out of it for self-aggrandizement using fronts and cronies?"
Alleging that contractors for the project are predetermined by the state government, the CNPP asked the Enugu State Universal Basic Education Board, ENSUBEB to split the contract and allow for competitive and transparent biddings because "the current procurement is shrouded in secrecy and the integrity of the process has been compromised."
CNPP further raised an alarm over the Enugu Street-light project, awarded to Kanuel Engineering by the state government. The group said the project was neither appropriated nor was there any virement as at the time the project was smuggled into the budget a year after it had been executed.
But in the suit number EN/M/132/2012 filed by the state CPC chairman and the governorship candidate of the party in 2011 elections, the applicants said as tax payers and residents of Enugu State, they had stakes in the affairs of the state including how the resources of the state were used.
They argued that if the interim order they sought was not urgently granted an irreparable damage would be done, adding that it would amount to financial recklessness for the government to embark on such extravagant project in the face of other pressing or more cogent demands on the financial resources of the state.
The plaintiffs further averred that it would amount to mortgaging the future of the people of Enugu state for the government to borrow a huge amount of N13.6 billion from two new generation banks to execute a secretariat project.
They added that the "tax payers feel obliged to do all within their means - lawfully to stop the state government from the act of financial recklessness which will also destroy the legacy bequeathed to the people by the Colonial masters."
Similarly, the Civil Liberties Organizations (CLO), in a strong-worded statement issued from Lagos and made available to our reporter in Enugu, condemned the proposed project, saying that the huge amount earmarked for it could be used to reactivate moribund industries in the state and create employment opportunities for the teeming jobless youths in the state.
"We also make bold to say that N13 billion can reactivate all or most of the following industries in Enugu state and employ, at least, 20,000 graduates: Adani Rice (Adarice) Project at Adani in Uzo-Uwani local government area; Alluminium Products, Ohebe-Dim in Igbo-Etiti local government area; Vegetable Oil Nnachi in Udi local government area; Cashew Industry, Oghe in Ezeagu Local government area; Niger Gas, and other industries at Emene in Enugu East local government area; Hotel Presidential, Enugu that has become a home for rodents and cockroaches among other insects; or develop and provide quality and affordable education sector in the state; pay the minimum wage to the civil servants of the state; develop network of feeder and inter local government roads that have become death traps for the citizens; build an international market or site other industries that will encourage economic and social development in the state," Ezike stated emphatically.
Executive Director of CLO, Comrade Ibuchukwu Ezike, who signed the statement, cited the Nigerian Constitution of 1999. The CLO Executive Director said, the secretariat in question was just renovated this year with large sums of tax payers' money, arguing that if, indeed, the governor knew that his government was going to demolish the secretariat and build "weaker structures to replace the strong and solid ones built by the British, why did he waste public funds on renovation of the old buildings few months ago."
However, Governor Chime has said he was unperturbed by the sudden spate of attacks he is receiving from opposition parties in the state under the umbrella of a section the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP).
Speaking through his two aides - Senior Special Assistant on Inter-Party Affairs, Evangelist Chris Asadu and the Chief Press Secretary Chukwudi Achife, who made this known in separate statements, said this was because those behind it were yet to disclose any reasonable substance in their criticisms.
Asadu, a former CNPP Chieftain, said the Governor should neither be worried by the opposition's threats to form a coalition against the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2015 nor by the dust it is trying to raise on plans to build new workers' secretariat.
He pointed out that only a splinter group of nine out of over 37 opposition parties were behind the attacks and seemed to be merely exercising their right to freedom of expression in order to seek relevance rather than pursue any discernible cause.
He wondered why anyone should kick against a new secretariat when there was no whimper, when the same Governor announced his plan to build a workers' estate and also lifted the embargo on employment that had been in place for years before he came into office.
In the same manner, Achife pointed out that the credibility of the group's criticism was further undermined by the claims it had made in the media saying that it decided to launch the attacks on the Governor because he (Chime) had allegedly become "inaccessible" to its members after they had supposedly helped him to victory in the 2011 elections.
Achife noted that not only had the Governor set up an all-inclusive government with some opposition figures occupying positions but that he had maintained a broad-minded and non-partisan policy in the implementation of his transformation agenda in the state.
"We understand these attacks as a mere exercise of freedom of expression and not that there is any real substance in them. These things happen now and then, democracy permits it and as such the Governor is not perturbed about it. All I can say is that he is focused and will remain focused on the job he has been elected to do and which as objective minds have acknowledged, he has been doing well," Achife explained.
However, notwithstanding the series of criticisms and condemnations as well as the litigations against the government on the issue, the bulldozer moved in on Sunday, September 23, 2012 and reduced to rubbles the buildings that used to house three ministries: Science and Technology; Commerce and Industry; Agriculture and Natural Resources. And this is just the phase one aspect of the demolition exercise.
Our reporter learned that bulldozers belonging to Arab Contractors Construction Company rolled into the Secretariat complex and began to destroy the buildings one after the other.
When Sunday Trust reporter visited the site of the demolition on Sunday evening, suspected looters were busy helping themselves with iron rods and other items like furniture which they removed from the rubbles and carted away in their wheelbarrows.