Amby Uneze writes that Imo State has been in the news for the wrong reasons, in recent times. If it is not the military invading Orlu in a wild chase for Eastern Security Network operators, it is Governor Hope Uzodimma and his predecessor, Senator Rochas Okorocha struggling for state property
For Senator Rochas Okorocha, who was the Imo State governor from 2011 to 2019, he never believed that the state he ran as an emperor for eight years could in less than two years of his exit turn against him.. If it is not for for disrespect to judicial rulings, it is his penchant to run the state as a family concern. As governor, Okorocha had the habit acquiring state and people’s land illegally. He had an obscene passion to acquire properties, even with state resources. The list goes on.
This is a man who superintended the resources of the state for a good eight years, and what the people got from him was an unwholesome increase of his estate and property in all the nooks and crannies of the state. Do we talk about the Eastern Palm University at his village Okpoko in Ideato South local government area, or his Royal Palm Hotels and Apartment in Owerri which he said is owned by his wife, Nkechi, or the former Imo Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) at Orji, that he turned to his private Rochas Foundation, or the massive land he grabbed to build his private mansion at Spibat?
Again, Okorocha’s conversion of the New Owerri area originally mapped out for the relocation of the New Government House which he gave out to family members and cronies is another issue of concern to the government and people of the state. It is indeed an understatement for someone to say that Okorocha and family members own half of the property in Owerri, capital of Imo State. One of the frequently asked is, ‘were all these properties he claims belong to him and his family members there before he assumed office in 2011? Of course, the answer is in the negative.
Granted that the period of his reign as governor experienced opening up of the state astronomically, it is also believed that the major reason for opening up the state was to enable him acquire more estates and property in those virgin areas. No wonder, Okorocha publicly claims to be richer than the state. That assumption actually cannot be questioned considering the level of alleged wealth he amassed using his office as governor.
Based on the above scenario, subsequent governments after him started the process of getting back some of the property he illegally acquired while serving the state as governor. This objective has been pursued doggedly, using every legal means. His immediate successor, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, who had a stint as governor before the Supreme Court removed him, set up a Judicial Panel of inquiry into land matters and related issues. That panel was set up to investigate wrong acquisition of lands and review lands taken over by the Okorocha administration without due process.
The panel drew its powers from the Imo State Judiciary Panel of Enquiries Law created under the administration of Rochas Okorocha. To do its job efficiently, the panel invited memoranda from the general public – interested groups and persons. With the coming of Governor Hope Uzodimma, the panel was allowed tto continue with its enquiry for the general good of Imo people, having seen its potency.
The Panel completed its seating and came up with a 74-page report with recommendations to the Imo State Government, which the state gazetted and it became a supplemental legislation, having the full backing of the law. It was based on this that the Imo State Government sealed the premises of the Royal Palm Estate as recommended by the Judicial Panel of Enquiry and gazetted, having been built on an area specified as a green verge.
Reacting to issues of the implantation of the content of the gazette, the State Commissioner for Lands, Survey and Physical Planning, Chief Enyinna Onuegbu said, “the Governor has directed that we certify all CofOs issued in the state as well as to maintain a register for allocation. We want to maintain transparency by ensuring that all allocation must be by public notice so that Imo people will know that a particular area is available for allocation and they will bid for it. We are expecting the gazette that will emanate from the judicial commission of enquiry on lands and related matters so that all the areas where the previous government took over peoples’ lands without proper revocation can be retrieved and given back to their rightful owners. Luckily the Exco has approved it.”
On what government intends to do with the areas originally mapped out for government projects such as the proposed new Government House complex at New Owerri, etc, that had been tampered with by previous government, Onuegbu pointed out that the white paper answered those questions where public lands were taken for mixed used without change of purpose and when “we start to implement it, Imo people will know that that it is for their interest.”
According to him, if the white paper says that those structures would be demolished we will implement it to the fullest. Most of those structures did not get the approved plans. This is a government that has come to put things on the right part. Secondly, if you come inside Owerri you will find out a clash between federal agencies and state without due process or letters of exchange between the two governments; people used the name of federal government to occupy lands which they wouldn’t develop instead few years after they mapped them out and sold them to themselves for private use. I want to assure Imo people that our eyes are on the ball. I want to urge them to give Governor Hope Uzodimma the support he desires by acknowledging his performance level.
Raising their voice in support of the government’s action, Imo Stakeholders rose from a meeting last Saturday and mandated Governor Hope Uzodimma to use all legal means to recover every property, including money belonging to the state which was stolen by any public official regardless of the status. The stakeholders drawn from all walks of life from the three senatorial districts also said they are irrevocably committed to supporting the government of Governor Uzodimma and will stand with and by him to ensure that his plan to ‘Rebuild Imo’ is achieved.
Those in attendance came from the 305 wards in Imo State and include prominent men, women and youth leaders who mould opinions in the traditional, religious, political, academic, business world.
The stakeholders made a resolution in writing that gave teeth to the mandate they gave to the Governor. “We the stakeholders from Imo State from the 305 wards in the state, after a meeting in Owerri, do hereby resolve to mandate the state government to recover every property, money or wealth stolen from Imo people by any person, no matter how highly placed,” the people resolved
Earlier, Governor Uzodimma in his address to the stakeholders titled “Imo State Must Be For All Imo People”, used the opportunity of the 4th Stakeholders meeting since he assumed office to brief Ndi Imo on his achievements so far in the last one year in office.
He also briefed them on the security situation in the state and the recent development involving the former governor of the State, Senator Rochas Okorocha who, according to him, recently took the laws into his hands by going to forcefully unseal a property sealed by the government.
Governor Uzodimma reiterated his earlier stance that he has come to serve Imo people with sincerity of heart, noting that his government will only do the things that are in tandem with the wishes of the people of Imo State. He insisted that nothing will make him change his vow to God regarding service to Imo.
He also pleaded with the people to be wary of those who are instigating crises in parts of the state for selfish political reasons and maintained that his government will never allow such persons and the mercenaries they are using to wreak havoc in the state to have their way.
Giving more teeth to the government to implement the contents of the whitepaper on lands, Justice Fred Njemanze of the High Court sitting in Owerri had on February 24, 2021, granted an application filed by L.M. Alozie (SAN) seeking for interim forfeiture of all properties acquired illegally by Senator Rochas Okorocha while in office as the Executive Governor of Imo State between 2011 to 2019.
However, Okorocha in a swift reaction to the court order said “Let us first and foremost, describe the Interim Order of forfeiture as belated, an after-thought and deceitful. It has further exposed the double-standard of what we have in Imo today as a state government. And equally strengthened our consistent claim that what is happening in Imo is a clear case of vendetta, envy, hatred and conspiracy by the state government against Okorocha and his family.
Okorocha in a release by his media adviser, Sam Onwuemeodo noted that in their application for an Interim Order of forfeiture last Wednesday, the government never talked about the distortion of the Owerri Master plan again. “They talked about illegally acquired properties. This is why the order is an afterthought, belated and deceitful. And with this Court order after they had invaded, looted and destroyed the properties in question leveraging on the Whitepaper, it only showed that they had acted wrongly, arbitrarily and unlawfully right from the outset.
“Governor Uzodinma’s government also deceived the Court to give them an Order of interim forfeiture because they never let the Judge know that there has been an existing and valid High Court Judgment on the properties. In Suit No: HOW/947/2019, Hon. Justice T.N. Nzeukwu gave Judgment on these properties on Monday, September 7, 2020. We are not talking about Interim Order, but Judgment and after looking at the facts on ground, restrained the State Government and its agents over these Properties.
“Nigerians should also recall that long before now, following baskets of petitions written by the State Government to EFCC and ICPC against Okorocha, over these properties, on July 25, 2019, the EFCC got an Interim Order of forfeiture from a Federal High Court in Port-Harcourt in Suit No: FHC/PH/MISC/93/2019 and also sealed these properties. The Federal Government was the Applicant, with Okorocha and others as the Respondents.
“After thorough investigation and after detaching the facts from falsehood, on Friday, September 13, 2019, His Lordship, Hon. Justice J.K. Omotosho vacated the Interim Order of forfeiture granted to EFCC on July 25, 2019. What we have in Imo now as a government, never let Hon. Justice Njemanze knew of these developments.
“The question now is, with all these existing court cases and judgement on the same issues, was it proper for the state to get a fresh Interim Court Order of forfeiture on the same Properties? We do not think so. It all showed desperation on the part of the government to get at Okorocha”, he stated.
He maintained that Justice Njemanze was deceived by the government to give the Interim Court Order, stressing that such order cannot stand. “It cannot fly. It died on arrival because you do not build a five-storey building on sinking sand”.
Interestingly, political pundits believe that the framers of the laws understood that the state doesn’t hold the monopoly of being right all the time, which is why the court exists for anyone to seek redress. They advised Senator Okorocha not to be ‘so rusty that he has forgotten the role of the court’.
“He should have known that he has no powers to challenge the authority of the state and remove a seal placed in a premise by the Imo State Government. By taking laws into his hands he sought anarchy, perhaps deliberately, to attract public sympathy and create bad public relations for Gov. Hope Uzodimma”, they stated.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state expressed dismay over the imbroglio happening in the state over time, accusing the All Progressives Congress (APC) led government and members to stop the panic caused by the party in the state.
The state publicity secretary of PDP, Ogubundu Nwadike said “we wish to add that since the inception of the present APC Government in the state, Imo State has never experienced any modicum of peace rather the state has continued to wallow and dangle on the debris of hopelessness, misgovernance and massive developmental haemorrhage. Rather than tormenting and unleashing terror on the Imolites, the APC Government in the state should begin to champion a harmonized and defined strategy for leadership excellence and good governance.
“We hereby call on the Federal Government to reign in their surrogates in Imo State to avoid a total breakdown of law and anarchy in Imo State before it’s too late,” the party cautioned.
If the white paper says that those structures would be demolished we will implement it to the fullest. Most of those structures did not get the approved plans. This is a government that has come to put things on the right part. Secondly, if you come inside Owerri you will find out a clash between federal agencies and state without due process or letters of exchange between the two governments; people used the name of federal government to occupy lands which they wouldn’t develop instead few years after they mapped them out and sold them to themselves for private use. I want to assure Imo people that our eyes are on the ball. I want to urge them to give Governor Hope Uzodimma the support he desires by acknowledging his performance level