The Committee on Recovery of Movable Government Assets in Imo State has been embroiled in controversy with the former governor of the state, Rochas Okorocha and some members of his family. Chairman of the committee, Jasper Ndubuaku, talks about the controversy and the allegation that a member of the team slapped Okorocha’s daughter, Uloma Nwosu, in this interview with CHIDIEBUBE OKEOMA
What mandate was given to the assets recovery team that you chair?
Initially, the mandate was to recover all the moveable assets of the government that are in the wrong hands which include industrial fans, vehicles and properties, except landed properties.
But what the former state governor, Rochas Okorocha, and some people are saying is that you were set up to intimidate the former first family of the state. How would you respond to that?
I do not know if a governor is entitled to go home with 65 vehicles belonging to the government. Initially, we thought it was 65 but now, we have discovered that not less than 180 vehicles went home with Okorocha, his family members and staff. He had a way of not working with records. He would buy cars, collect the keys and distribute without talking to anybody. From the record we have, there were over 100 Toyota, Hyundai, and Kia cars purchased by the immediate past governor with state funds but now, none is at the Government House. I do not know if he purposely used them as gifts. One of his principal officers told me on the phone that the instructions given to give out most of the vehicles were done verbally. Somebody could walk into the Government House and if he (Okorocha) liked the person’s face, he could say ‘give him a vehicle’. Such things are illegal, even for a governor. Even as governor, you have no right to give out government properties at will. That is what we are working on now; all these papers you see here are for vehicles that were given out by the governor by verbal instructions. He was using Imo State funds and he gave out vehicles worth more than N2bn by giving verbal orders to his family members, personal staff and even his personal drivers.
What is the worth of the properties that you have recovered so far?
We have recovered two asphalt plants and more than 70 vehicles. I cannot start to estimate how much but the properties we have recovered are in the region of N2bn, to put it roughly.
Okorocha has said that you are after his life and those of his family members.
After whose life? One, I have never gone anywhere without a search warrant or a court order. Though the police permitted us to break in if they refuse to allow us in, it is on record that we have never gone anywhere without a court order. So, it is funny when they say such things. Even it was Okorocha’s daughter who confronted us at their warehouse. While we were waiting for them to open the warehouse, she arrived with the police, soldiers and officers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps as escorts – one little girl. But you are here now, did you see anybody else? So I do not know how we can be intimidating Okorocha or any member of his family when he has all the military and police escorts. Who are we intimidating? Is it the man who has surrounded himself, family members and properties with military men that will say we are intimidating him? We did not abuse anybody. We are on a legitimate assignment. We are not on any vendetta mission and we are not after his life. We are only preoccupied with the mandate given to us by the governor to recover all stolen movable assets belonging to the Imo State Government. Okorocha is whipping up sentiment and we are aware of that tactic. It won’t help him or anybody who carted away properties belonging to the people of Imo State.
The incident with Uloma Nwosu, Okorocha’s daughter, during which she was slapped; would you say you took it too far?
One thing that baffles me the most is that we went to the premises with a court order that gave us the right to break in but we refused to break in. We told the security men that we wanted to see the owner of the place. We waited for three hours before Uloma arrived. She came with military men, policemen and civil defence officers and they started shooting immediately. This attracted people from Alaba market. She refused to open the place; we wasted another two hours while she was busy making calls. At a time, we got impatient. We bought a hammer while she was there and started breaking …. You would think the place was another Government House because everything there had Imo State Government logo on them. We were not wrong to do what we did. We did not assault her. I have watched that video. Anybody who watched that video and said that was a slap is a criminal. There were so many things there belonging to the government. We did not slap her. We were civil and professional. They are crying wolf. They want to conceal their loot. We have sealed that warehouse with the help of the police. Everything there had Imo State Government logo on them, laying credence to the fact that they belonged to the state government.
Your committee was accused of demanding bribe from a politician to return a vehicle you wrongly took from him; how you have been enriching yourselves with the powers given to the committee?
I think the man who made that statement has apologised personally to me and my colleagues. So I do not think it is worth talking about again.
So what happens after recovering properties allegedly belonging to the state government? Will you approach the court?
As far as I’m concerned, everybody we catch should be prosecuted but the governor does not want to prosecute anybody. He just wants the properties stolen from the government to be recovered for the people of Imo State. Okorocha’s chief driver took home about seven vehicles belonging to the state government. How can a driver be entitled to a vehicle, let alone seven vehicles? We recovered two Prado SUVs and one Toyota Camry from a former personal assistant to the immediate past governor. He hid them at home. Two Prado SUVs – can you imagine such audacity?
Do you get threat calls and messages in the course of carrying out this assignment?
It is a constant thing. I drive myself and I have no security men around me. I am courageous because I know I am doing the right thing. Threats come every day but because we are passionate about the development of Imo State, we will move on.
Let me say that this assignment is not just about one person and I do not want to specifically talk about the Okorochas. The issue is that we have identified where most of the stolen vehicles are. We will get them.
Apart from Okorocha, which other politicians are you investigating?
I called the former Deputy Governor, Prince Eze Madumere and told him many missing vehicles had been traced to his former office. He wanted to be friendly towards us and I told him it was not a matter of being friendly. The problem with the Okorochas is that they want to keep everything they have taken. Even those who are enlightened willingly brought such vehicles to us. Some are even professors and they know these things are wrong but they are still holding back because they want to make it seem like there is a fight.
We have a court order granting us permission to invade their places and recover properties belonging to the Imo State Government. Once we run out of patience, we will invade these places or get warrants to arrest them. The stubborn ones are the ones we are targeting for prosecution. We were supposed to have rounded off a month ago but this is a committee; no salary is being paid to us.