.By Ben Elumah
The biggest tragedy suffered by the state of Imo in the last 10 years, is the elevation of persons who had no business in public office to positions of responsibility in government.
It is an extreme error to offer serious positions of responsibility to persons who neither have the discipline nor the culture of taking responsibility.
In the last few weeks, a number of persons who had the privilege of serving Imo state in official capacities were put in the witness box at the ongoing Judicial Commission of Inquiry on Contracts and a few of them gave self-shaming testimonies that left so much to be desired.
Mrs. Uche Ejiogu was one of such people. There are others we would have liked to talk about but Ejiogu stood out as clearly portraying what a public officer should not be in the sense that she knew what was right but chose to do what was wrong.
She conveniently blamed her indiscretion on others and yet could not present any documentary proof that those she blamed were actually the cause of her misdemeanor.
Ejiogu gave witness as relating to her stint as Chairman, Imo State Universal Basic Education Board (IMSUBEB).
We want to believe Ejiogu understood the mandate of her office; knew who she was answerable to, knew those she took instructions from and of course, those she could not take directives from.
Basically, it is safe to assume she knew very well that the ‘chain of command’ and lines of authority were clear and unambiguous in the civil service structure.
But from her testimony, it was obvious she loved her position of authority and the trappings of her office more than her honour and was willing to compromise ethical standards.
She simply could not summon the discipline to do what she knew was right when it mattered most.
Ejiogu averred that she brought a documented action plan for the school building project from Abuja and handed it over to the then Governor, Rochas Okorocha who decided how he wanted it.
She was quoted as saying that: “The next I heard about the project was when the Commissioner of Finance, Chike Okafor came to my office to ask that I release N5.2b. I did not listen to Chike but went to the Governor to give me a written approval for the demand. The governor shouted at me to go and release the money. “
All her excuses for releasing billions of public fund under her care, for a project venture she ‘was not part of’ and could not monitor, was ‘the governor shouted at me’. And without sighting the contract details or agreement and with no letter of authorization whatsoever, she released over N3billion of public fund.
For her, it seemed rather convenient to compromise and later play the blame game. This is the hallmark of mediocres.
There are definite roles for every office in public service and for the fact that Ejiogu was willing to compromise at the drop of a hat, is evidential of her huge deficit in professionalism and competence.
Just a passing look at the news reports of her testimony at the probe panel gave her away as one grasping straws.
Without probing or analyzing, a few assertions and questions jump out of the news pages:
** Granted that you were not allowed to wield influence as Chairman of IMSUBEB and choose your preferred contractors in the award of the contract, how could you as Chairman of IMSUBEB, not know the contract value of the project supposedly executed by your office?
** You recounted at the panel, the procedures for a valid contract award; how come you directed the payment of over N3billion in evident violation of the same procedures you outlined simply because “the governor shouted at you” and a commissioner suggested you may be sacked?
** Let’s assume you were terrified by the governor shouting at you to go and pay without any written authorization, were you also terrified by the Commissioner you rebuffed to approach the governor?
We dare say, it was all about convenient compromise!
** Understandably, you could not get a written approval or authorization from the governor, why didn’t you get a note from the Commissioner who also came to tell you to release the fund?
Obviously, because you do not take instructions from the said commissioner yet it was convenient to drag up his name as an excuse for your misdeed.
**You directed the payment and release of the fund because you were clearly fixated on protecting and preserving your comfort zone and apparently cared nothing about the interest of the people of Imo state whose fund you were dispensing in violation of the clear dictates of the law and due process.
In fairness to all concerned, the Government of Rochas Okorocha at the time had declared a State of emergency in Primary Education infrastructure as there was an apparent dearth of instructional materials and even class rooms for the pupils, and as such, the then Governor thought to use the task force approach to build the 91 remaining class room blocks, using the most senior members of the Government in each LGA to oversee the projects in the their respective LGAs.
The execution may be flawed, but the idea was commendable.
In any case, our grouse is that, it was the place of Mrs Uche Ejiogu and her IMSUBEB which was the originating agency for the projects, to ensure due process in the awards and insist on ethical compliance in the payment process.
But she failed in this responsibility!
And apparently because Okorocha’s name has become good for every blame, Ejiogu also opted to shift the blames to him.
But no madam, you can’t pass this buck!
For the avoidance of doubt however, we opted to address this issue because it was fast becoming a rampant norm in the civil service where appointees and staff pander to the unlawful whims and caprices of governors, in violation of extant laws and seek to exonerate themselves by merely reverberating the old excuse that they were taking directives from the governor.
We wish by this publication to signpost the fact that any illegal or unlawful liaison with a sitting governor by any appointee or civil servant who should know the rules of engagement and be versed in the extant laws guiding their service and relationship with an executive governor, will no longer be swept under the carpet.
Civil service has a regulation and service handbook and it should be enforced when violated by public office holders.
It is most unfortunate, if not calamitous, that Mrs. Uche Ejiogu who had served as a Commissioner, IMSUBEB Chairman and a parliamentarian in the Imo state House of Assembly, who should know and understand the rules of engagement and extant laws, is the one at the centre of this classical misdemeanor.
While we await the outcome of the inquiry, we insist that Imo must get it right this time!
. Eluma writes from CePWEP
(Centre For the Promotion of Workplace Ethics and Professionalism)