Alex Otti: Beyond half-truths and misinformation, By Enyinnaya Appolos

Posted by News Express | 26 August 2017 | 1,604 times

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•Enyinnaya Appolos

On Monday, February 16, 2015 Dr Alex Otti, as the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (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, because 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 Managing Director/CEO of Diamond Bank, 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 multi-national organisations for the overall development of the state.

His words: “There are multi-national 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 on his familiar trade, deceit. The question then was: How possible is it that a private citizen such as Alex Otti will secure a $100 billion loan for the state? It is very unfortunate that Otti did not only take a swipe on this, 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. 

The same Otti who said he had 'secured' a $100 billion loan to develop Aba, while addressing the press in Lagos on Wednesday, August 16, 2017,  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 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 out-dated document titled ‘Abia State Integrated Infrastructure Development Project’ dated October, 2015.”

If a man who said he has attracted a huge sum of $100 billion loan to develop an Industrial Park at Aba in 2015, is now kicking against $200 million African Development Bank (AfDB) infrastructure development loan for the entire state, what does that tell of the man, Otti? 

Can anyone recall Otti actually giving a breakdown of his repayment plan for the $100 billion facility he purportedly secured and was ready to deploy on day one, if elected?

Again, is it really possible for AfDB to approve a loan facility without being satisfied with the repayment plan laid out before it? Is that possible in banking/financial management, in which Otti prides himself as having been part of for many years? Conversely, could his worries arise from his alleged mis-practices while in the banking industry?

Otti's antics can best be described as political desperation, mischief and deceit taken too far. But Abians are wiser now.

However, it is important to explain here that negotiation for the AfDB infrastructure development facility to Abia preceded the current administration. Due to the need to renew urgently and critically infrastructure across the state, to support improved production and the integrated development agenda of the current administration, the Governor Okezie Ikpeazu-led administration decided to vigorously pursue the realisation of the facility, which has less than 1per cent interest rate, with 10 years moratorium and 20 years repayment period. 

The facility received approval of the Federal Ministry of Finance, as part of the national borrowing plan of President Muhammadu Buhar’s All Progressives Congress (APC) government. We are glad that regardless of the efforts of Otti and others, who only think politics, the National Assembly has approved the borrowing, after reviewing the state's  presentation that included well articulated 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, which will be 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. Furthermore, because 2019 is fast approaching, it is expected that characters like Otti - who returned to their permanent abodes in Lagos and Abuja, after suffering confirmed and reconfirmed electoral defeat in 2015 - will temporarily relocate to Abia again, seeking who to fool. But, Abians are wiser now! They can smell the body odour of those targeting the state's treasury and not the welfare of the electorate.

Such baseless 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 Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) bailout and the Paris Club refund facilities to the state, is a very poor start for his ill-intentioned 2019 ambition. Ordinarily, such unfounded 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 mis-informer”, it is necessary to state the facts.

Assuming, without conceding, that Oti is smart, as a 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, Otti wrote an opinion article on a proposal by the Debt Management Office (DMO) to borrow $30 billion for national infrastructure development. The article attracted a response by the Presidency entitled Dangerous Misinformation by Mr Alex Otti: Re: $30 billion Loan: Are You For Real?”

Even with that well-structured chastisement from the managers of our national debt, 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 $140 billion 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 then should the same Otti 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, 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 institution and offer information on any aspect of the management of Abia resources under 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 organise press conferences to call for a probe of the state's account, including the Federal Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) that he ensured was moved to Diamond Bank when he became the MD. Little wonder, Otti will easily forget the N2 billion 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? Maybe, 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 Ikpeazu’s administration publicly claim that it needed only N6 billion 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 and Debt Management Office, that the documents submitted by Abia State Government in lieu of the request for bail-out indicated a requirement of N38 billion to clear all the outstanding as at October 2015. Only N14.2 billion 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 bail-out and commended the government of Dr Ikpeazu for prudently managing the facility, without diverting any portion to competing needs.

To date, the government of Governor 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-digit 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 N30 billion, Ikpeazu’s administration never accessed those funds to date. We challenge Mr Otti to publish the name(s) of the local bank(s) 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 proffering to the Federal Government 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 in-flows to the states, from federal revenue receipts, have fallen much below wage bill level for many states, including Abia for most of the past 22 months. At a particular period the state wage bill hovered around N2.7 billion with FAAC receipts at between N1.6 billion and N2 billion respectively monthly.

As his custom is, Otti lied that Abia State Government received N5.3 billion Paris refund and Mr Obinna Oriaku, Commissioner for Finance, told the citizens that he needed N700 million to clear outstanding salaries and pensions. While the statement is expected from a 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 N10.6 billion, the governor approached the Abia State House of Assembly for approval to investment of 50 per cent of the funds on outstanding salaries, as suggested by the Presidency, with the remaining 50 per cent 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 on road construction projects, N2.5 billion  on bridges, N685 million on hospital projects, and N200 million on street lighting projects.

Labour leaders in the state later approached the governor to add N700 million to the allocated N5.3 billion 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 N700 million 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 N15 billion. Given the available data that showed that outstanding salary and pensions stood at around N13 billion 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 were received, his government will clear all the outstanding salaries and pensions. 

Sadly, the Federal Government only released N5.715 billion to Abia State. Yet, eager to do the greatest good to the greatest number of workers, 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 per cent to salary/pension outstanding and 30 per cent to infrastructure development projects. 

As at today, all the ministries, departments and agencies (MDA) in Abia State, constituting more than 70 per cent of the state workforce, have received July salaries. Given that we are currently in August, it should be noted that more than 70 per cent of the state's workforce are 100 per cent 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 two months’ salary outstanding, while secondary schools teachers have three months. Local government workers have two months outstanding with five months for pensioners, while state pensioners have six months outstanding. 

While the governor is concerned about the yet to be cleared salary and pension backlog, 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 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 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, while two bridges have been delivered with new hospitals, classroom blocks and buildings, as well as other human capacity development projects. 

Finally, the Ikpeazu-led government is not afraid of any probe or oversight by any agency of state. Besides, our books are open for inspection. We hope that Mr Otti will also accept a holistic probe of his activities at First Bank 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.

Enyinnaya Appolos, Chief Press Secretary to the Abia State Governor, writes from Isiko.

Source: News Express

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