Barring any last minute change in plan, the Abia State Governor Dr Okezie Ikpeazu will today hold a crucial meeting with the 17 Transition Committee Chairmen, according to NewsCritc sources.
Though the agenda of the meeting was not made known at the time of going to press, however, it was gathered that the important meeting will duel on the recent developments in the local government councils over funds.
For instance, few weeks ago, there were protests in Ohafia local government council and the aggrieved workers almost manhandled the council Head of Service, Dr Dom Onuzurigbo over non-payment of salaries. Few days later it was followed by another protests in Umuahia North LGA, which led to the closure of the council by NULGE. The protesters carried placards with inscriptions like ‘we have not received our Leave Allowances 2014, 2018, 2019’. Another placard read ‘NFIU should come and intervene our allocations have been given and we have not received anything’, and the other one says ‘pay us our salaries, four and half months’ salary arrears’.
The workers of Umuahia North LGA who chanted anti-government slogans during the protest chased away the local government council chairman, Barr Kelechi Ezechukwu for his negligence and insensitivity to issues concerning workers’ welfare. They accused the TC Chairman of colluding to deny the workers their wages and other entitlements on the excuse that the biometrics screening did not clear some workers for payment of salaries.
Other LGA councils that experienced similar form of protests over salaries were Aba North and South, Umuahia South etc. Some of the workers who spoke to our correspondent on the issue alleged that the financial autonomy granted to LGAs by the federal government is being undermined in Abia as the state government is still in control of the LGA funds, using the TC Chairmen as accomplice.
Investigations revealed that apart from the fact that the local government allocation still go to the joint account, about three different account heads is being operated through which the LGA funds are moved out to other channels. One of such account is the Joint Project Account, operated by the councils and state government for projects, also is the Security Account, Media and Sanitation Accounts through which funds are removed from the local government funds for other purposes.
Already, the Joint Project Implementation Committee has been inaugurated with three chairmen as members, one each from the three senatorial zone, the Attorney- General, the Auditor General and the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Chief Henry Nwachukwu as Chairman. It was gathered that each local government contributes N50 million monthly to this joint project account.
Members of the NULGE believes that this is a conduit pipe through which local government funds are being diverted through collaboration with some LGA chairmen, who are also allowed to collect N1 million running cost every month besides their security votes of N4 million per month.
From all indications some TC Chairmen are more concerned with their pockets than doing the work of development of the rural areas as our findings revealed. In Umuahia North, the TC Chairman Barr Kelechi Ezechukwu has not executed one project since his appointment as Chairman by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, the reason some concerned residents of Umuahia North LGA are calling on the governor not to extend his tenure due to non-performance. They accused him of conniving with the powers that be to deny workers their salaries.
NewsCritic reports that one of the issues that led to the present protests in the LGAs is the issue of Biometrics data capturing. The government according to investigations hired a consultant, Telegent Solutions run by Chris Ujumadu to verify LGA workers. The exercise according to our findings has covered seven LGAs out of 17 Abia councils, and it is the implementation that is causing part of the problem in the councils.
The government is said to have saved about N23 million from the verification of the seven councils workers, but the workers are saying that the whole exercise is replete with fraud and aimed to deny staff their legitimate earning. Besides, they alleged that the money they claim they save by the screening end up in private pockets, making the whole process a ruse. They also wondered the sense behind the payment of N135 million to a consultant to recover N20 million for government, and want the biometrics to stop.
It is some of these developments that sources disclosed are beginning to worry Governor Ikpeazu, who want to clarify the position of his government on LGA administration as it concerns its funds. Political merchants in the state are said to be invading the Ministry of Local Government Affairs with monetary requests using the name of the governor as bait. Competent sources within the ministry told our reporter that the situation is almost getting out of hand prompting the Permanent Secretary, Chief Nwachukwu to seek audience with Ikpeazu, who denied sending anybody for purposes of collecting money for whatever purpose.
But only on Monday, following the release of July Allocations, the Accountant General of Abia State was in a secret meeting with the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Nwachukwu, in the office of the latter. The closed door meeting lasted for about two hours before the Accountant General left quietly. During the meeting the permanent secretary was said to have left a standing order that no one should be allowed into his office, until he is through with the AG.