On Monday, February 16 2015, Mr. Alex Otti, as the governorship candidate of APGA, at one of his campaign meetings in Aba, told his audience, largely members of the Aba Chamber of Commerce, that he has attracted International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) grant of $100 billion for an industrial park in Aba.
He explained to his audience that the grant from IFC was structured in such a way that it would not suffer depreciation as a result of the fluctuations in the exchange rate.
He thereafter promised to tackle the infrastructure deficit in Aba, especially the deplorable road condition, blocked drainages and environmental challenges, if elected governor.
Otti who was a former banker also promised that a special ministry would be created to re-design and rebuild Aba, adding that he had the international connection and integrity to access grants and investment from multinational organisations for the overall development of the state.
In his own words; “There are multinational organisations with grants and aids tied to developmental needs, such as water, electricity, rural development and agriculture. But such monies will only go to people who have a track record of credibility and transparency,”.
To the uninformed, he was speaking factually, but to those who know him, he was engaged in his familiar trade-deceit.
The question then was; how possible is it that a private citizen such as Alex Otti will secure a $100b loan for the state? It is very unfortunate that Otti did not only take a swipe at this new AfDB facility but went further to ask the National Assembly to cancel the loan. This has again, exposed the hypocrisy and deceit in the man called Otti.
On Wednesday 16, August 2017, the same Otti who had 'secured' a $100b loan to develop Aba, addressed the press in Lagos, where he said, among other things, that the National Assembly should review its decision taken a few weeks ago and quickly withdraw or reverse approval of the 200 Million Dollar loan to Abia State, because according to him, any money given to the Abia State government is bound to disappear.
He also expressed worries that the capacity to repay the loan has not been demonstrated in any way or form, "irrespective of the outdated document titled “Abia State Integrated Infrastructure Development Project” dated October 2015".
If a man who said he had attracted a huge sum of $100b loan to develop an Industrial Park at Aba in 2015 is kicking against $200m AfDB infrastructure development loan for the entire state, what does that tell us of the man called Otti?
Can anyone recall Otti actually giving a breakdown of his repayment plan for the $100b facility he purportedly secured and was ready to "deploy on day one" if elected?
Again, is it really possible for AfDB, or any bank at all, to approve a loan facility without being satisfied with the repayment plan laid out before it? Is that possible in banking that Otti prides himself as having been part of for many years or are his worries arising from his alleged mispractices while in the banking industry?
Otti's antics can best be described as political desperation, mischief making and deceit taken too far.
Abians are wiser now.
Let me explain here that the negotiations for AfDB infrastructure development facility to Abia State preceded the current administration. The initial contacts and multilateral discussions involved Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, World Bank President, AfDB officials and then Governor of Abia State.
Due to the need to urgently renew and critically upgrade infrastructure across the state, to support improved production and the integrated development agenda of the current administration, the government decided to vigorously pursue the realization of the facility which has less than 1% interest rate with 10 years moratorium and 20 years repayment period.
The facility proposal received Federal Ministry of Finance approval as part of the national borrowing plan of the federal government and we are glad that regardless of the efforts of Otti and others who only think politics, the National Assembly approved the borrowing after reviewing the state's presentation that included well stated repayment plans.
Contrary to Otti's claims, AfDB will manage the allocation and disbursement of the funds through their accredited contractors that are expected to emerge via transparent international bidding processes. There is therefore zero chance of mismanagement of the fund by state officials as it will be fully devoted to road infrastructure, sanitation and erosion control projects across Abia State.
In any case, characters like Otti are not taken serious in Abia due to their antecedents of serial deceit with near zero known contribution to the state's development agenda. He has also not demonstrated any special interest in Abia's development beyond cheap propaganda and misinformation.
Where are Otti's investment in Abia after years of hanging around any government in power in the state? Not even a single charity project exists in Otti's name anywhere in Abia and I challenge him to name just one he did personally or using his banking leverages.
Furthermore, because 2019 is fast approaching, it is expected that characters like Otti, who returned to their permanent abode in Lagos and Abuja after suffering confirmed and reconfirmed electoral defeats in 2015 will temporarily relocate to Abia again, seeking for who to fool a second time.
Abians are wiser now and can smell the body odor of those targeting the state's treasury.
Such baseless and unintelligent allegations and claims by Alex Otti, who is obviously suffering from the hangover of defeat in 2015 Governorship election, as evidenced in his press statement in Lagos, with regards to the management of the CBN bailout and Paris Club refund facilities to the state, is a very poor start to his ill intentioned 2019 ambitions.
Ordinarily, such clueless allegations from Otti does not deserve any response, but for the sake of members of the public, who may be misled by the federal government acclaimed "dangerous misinformer", it is necessary to state the facts.
Assuming without conceding that Oti is smart, as a supposed former bank chief, it should be taken for granted that he will be a master of financial figures. But since he started his desperate quest to become Abia State Governor by all means with the objective of clothing himself with underserved immunity, he has serially exposed himself as a man who thinks he knows, but does not.
It is instructive to note that in 2016 Alex Otti wrote an opinion piece on Debt Management Office's proposal to borrow $30b for national infrastructure development that attracted a response by the presidency titled “Dangerous Misinformation by Mr. Alex Otti: Re: $30billion Loan: Are You For Real?".
Even with that apt and well structured chastisement from the managers of our national economy, Mr Otti has now taken his "dangerous misinformation" tendencies to Abia State for cheap political propaganda purposes. In his haste to attack the Ikpeazu administration and possibly stop new development projects in Abia State he forget his own words stated in his December 11 2016 rejoinder to the DMO where he stated as follows:
"On infrastructure, I had been an unrepentant apostle of government spending massively to provide infrastructure for industrial production and good quality of life for the populace. I had argued in my two part series “Chop Your Money 1&2” published on April 25, and May 9, 2016 respectively and another write-up titled “When and How to Spend the Money You Do Not have”, published on May 23, 2016, that we must spend a lot of money to deal with the present infrastructural decay. I had contended that it was more useful to spend our money on building roads, railways, refineries, power, hospitals and schools than save money in foreign bank accounts for which we do not get so much as interest, but also lose the benefits of having the much required infrastructure in place. Even in the write-up in contention, if DMO had read through properly, it would have noticed that I had answered the “how big” question thus “According to the IMF, Nigeria needs to spend no less than $140b in the next decade to bridge the infrastructure gap in the country” Given this position, no one can sustain the accusation that I did not say how big the required investment is."
If not for serial mischief why will it be same Otti that took out his time to call a press conference to lampoon Governor Ikpeazu for daring to borrow to develop infrastructure in a state Otti only remembers to put first during election rounds?
For the records and without mincing words, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu is open to any probe of his administration's management of the state's financial resources by any constituted authority of the state or federal government. Mr Otti is therefore enjoined to feel free to visit any relevant statutory institution and offer information on any aspect of the management of Abia resources under Governor Okezie Ikpeazu.
A review of the claims by Otti reveals a man who is either plain ignorant or full of deceit, as his press release contained outright lies, half-truths, contradictions and conjectures.
Mr Otti was part of the status quo he derided in Abia from 1999-2015 and obviously while he benefitted from the system he forgot to organize press conferences to call for a probe of the state's account, including the Federal Allocation Committee (FAAC) account that he ensured was moved to Diamond Bank when he became the MD. Little wonder Alex Otti will easily forget the N2bn loan he ill advisedly arranged for MOCERAM Umuahia that later became a burden on the succeeding administration while the factory remains moribund to date.
Can Otti honestly claim not to be part of what he pontifically described as "reign of absolutism" given his close association with governments in power in the state before 2015? May be he should show the world his original PDP membership card so that the date it was issued will become public knowledge. Long before he decided to run for Governorship in Abia State, even while serving as a banker, Otti was a registered member of the Peoples Democratic Party with membership card number 16 at his original Arochukwu Ward 3 in Arochukwu Local Government Area of Abia State.
At no point did the Governor Ikpeazu administration publicly claim that it needed only N6b to clear salary, pensions and gratuities outstanding in the state. Rather it is a matter of public record which can be verified from Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Debt Management Office (DMO) of the presidency that the documents submitted by Abia State Government in lieu of the request for bailout indicated a requirement of N38b to clear all the outstanding as at October 2015. Only N14.2b was approved for the state. It is also public knowledge that when the facility was received the state government transparently set up a committee dominated by Labour leaders in the state to allocate all the resources to the payment of some of the outstanding salaries and pensions.
Unlike other states, ICPC and Labour leaders reviewed the application of the 2015 bailout and commended the Government of Dr Okezie Ikpeazu for prudently managing the facility without diverting any portion to competing needs.
To date, the Government of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu has not borrowed a single kobo from any commercial bank in Nigeria. If indeed Mr Otti is not rusty with banking skills and processes he can easily verify this fact from the CBN and DMO. In any case, states have long been stopped from borrowing from commercial banks at the prevailing double digits interest rates, especially for the purpose of paying salaries. Only Mr Otti, the self styled astute banker, seem not to know this and hence he continues to dish out lies which accounted for his failed Governorship run as Abians saw through his politics of deceit and desperation.
With regards to the approval from the Abia State House of Assembly to borrow N30b, the Ikpeazu administration never accessed those funds to date. We challenge Mr Otti to publish the name(s) of the local bank that availed the facility to the state government or shut up.
It is common knowledge that Nigeria is in recession and even Otti has written ill informed articles to the Federal Government on how to exit recession. In one of his recent articles, the managers of the national economy described his article as "dangerous misinformation" and queried his knowledge of financial matters by asking him: "are you for real"? It is this same Alex Otti that is now engaged in spreading further misinformation against the Abia State Government.
The primary effect of the current economic situation in the country is that revenue inflows to the states from federal revenue receipts have fallen much below wage bill level for many states, including Abia State, for most of the past 22 months. At a particular period the state wage bill hovered around N2.7b with FAAC receipts at between N1.6b and N2b monthly.
As his custom is; Otti lied that Abia State Government received N5.3b Paris refund and Mr Obinna Oriaku, the Commissioner for Finance, told the citizens that he needed N700m to clear outstanding salaries and pensions. While the statement is expected from an unreal character who spreads misinformation as a hobby, it is important to state that when the state received the first tranche of Paris Club refunds totaling N10.6b, the Governor approached the Abia State House of Assembly for approval to investment of 50% of the funds on outstanding salaries, as suggested by the presidency, with the remaining 50% allocated to infrastructure development projects. It was on that basis that the House approved the following expenditure in December 2016.
The details are as follows: N5.3 billion on Salary arrears and pensions, N1.7 billion for road construction projects, N2.5 billion on bridges, N685 million on Hospital projects and N200 million for street lighting projects.
Labour leaders in the state later approached the Governor to add N700m to the allocated N5.3b to ensure that the available funds are spread to more units of the state's civil service, and the Governor graciously accepted. At no time did either Labour or the Commissioner for Finance claim that the N700m was what was needed to clear all outstanding.
When the state applied for the second tranche of Paris club refunds, it was calculated that based on verifiable figures the state will receive a minimum of N15b. Given the available data that showed that outstanding salary and pensions stood at around N13b, the Governor who was eager and committed to paying off all workers outstanding declared without prompting that once the inflows, expected before end of July 2017, is received his government will clear all the outstanding salaries and pensions.
Sadly, the Federal Government only released N5.715b to Abia State. Yet eager to do the greatest good to the greatest number of workers, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu directed the Labour-dominated committee, headed by Mr. Oriaku, to apply all the received money to payment of salary and pension arrears. Whereas the federal government recommended that states apply 70% to salary/pension outstanding and 30% to infrastructure development projects.
As at today, all the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA) in Abia State, constituting more than 70% of the state workforce, have received July salaries. Given that we are currently in August, it should be noted that more than 70% of the state's workforce are 100% on salaries. Yet there are still challenges that were not met with the received funds. The already issued payment mandates were not enough to cover the following salary arrears within the state workforce: primary school teachers still have 2 months salary outstanding while secondary schools teachers have 3 months. Local Government workers have 2 months outstanding with 5 months for pensioners while state pensioners have 6 months outstanding.
While the Governor is concerned about the yet to be cleared salary and pension backlogs, some of which originated from 1999-2002 period, he is mindful of the need to avoid borrowing from commercial banks to clear the outstanding. The era of Banker Alex Otti showing up at government houses to hoodwink states into borrowing from commercial banks at high interest rates is gone. The Government of Dr Okezie Ikpeazu will continue to innovate to tackle the issue of outstanding salaries with a view to ensuring that all Abia workers are up to date with salaries and pensions without exception.
To date, the Ikpeazu administration has commissioned 26 completed roads in the state within the last 24 months and is currently at 65 other road construction sites spread across the state. The Government is speedily constructing the first interchange (flyover) at Osisioma Aba, while 2 bridges have been delivered with new hospitals, classroom blocks and buildings as well as other human capacity development projects.
Finally, the Government led by Governor Okezie is not afraid of any probe or oversight by any agency of state and our books are open for inspection. We hope that Mr Alex Otti will also accept a holistic probe of his activities at First and Diamond Bank so as to show himself fit and proper person to make allegations bothering on corruption and financial mismanagement. After all he who goes to equity must go with clean hands and clean conscience.
…Appolos writes from Isiko.