Dr. Sam Egwu, former governor of Ebonyi State, shares certain traits with the late Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein. Apart from his moustache that is so luxuriant that an eagle could land on it, Egwu’s other Saddam-like nature is his insatiable lust for landed property.
The former Ebonyi State helmsman has other dubious characteristics. These include his alleged financial scams, use of proxies to milk the state through dubious contracts, diversion of local government funds, foreign trips by members of his family at the state’s expense and whimsical approval of remunerations to himself. Others are conversion of government vehicles to personal use, payments for unrendered services, inflation of contract sums, spurious bank loans and administrative tardiness.
All these are detailed in a petition that a group, which calls itself the Coalition for Good Governance in Ebonyi State (COGGES), wrote to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, a copy of which it sent to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
The 30-page petition, dated 16 July 2007 and entitled “A Comprehensive Report On The Systematic But Ruthless Looting of Pubic Funds and Resources of Ebonyi State by Dr. Sam Ominyi Egwu and His Wife from 1999 To May 2007: A Case Study of Corruption, Public Deceit and Embezzlement,” was signed by the coalition’s President, Ogazi Linus Ogbonnaya. Arranged in two volumes, the first details the facts of every allegation made against Egwu, while the second contains appendices of documents to prove each allegation. In all, Egwu and his wife are alleged to have appropriated close to N80 billion out of the over N150 billion accruing to the state as revenue under his eight year-watch as Chief Executive Officer. For his successor, the governor left a debt profile of N10 billion.
The first of the allegations against Egwu is false declaration of assets. In his Assets Declaration Form, dated 21 July 1999, Egwu claimed that he had three buildings located in Amoffia Ngbo, Ezzamgbo and Abakaliki, all valued at N15 million. But Egwu’s accusers are challenging him, claiming that it was a lie fabricated to cover up intended and pre-determined fraudulent acquisition of property while in office. They allege that Dr. Egwu, both as a lecturer at the then Enugu State University of Technology, Abakaliki campus (now Ebonyi State University) and later Commissioner for Education, had no personal house at Abakaliki, the state capital, or his town, Amoffia. They insist that the university accommodated him at its quarters, an address he still used even as governor, in his 7 May 2003 letter to Allstates Trust Bank, seeking a N71.5 million loan facility.
Before moving into the university’s house, Egwu and his family, as at 1996, were living in a two-bedroom flat at 25 Igweorie Street, Abakaliki. It was in one Mallam Gab’s block of six flats, a tenement he left in dramatic circumstance.
Another alleged false claim by Egwu in his asset declaration was that he owned farms valued at N2 million and an annual income of N500,000. His critics argue that it was a bogus declaration, made to accommodate an anticipated fraudulent wealth acquisition. Apart from the N500,000 so-called annual income, Egwu, it is said, does not own any farm except one he allegedly forcefully acquired from Umuebe Ezzamgbo villagers. The farm is located at Umuebe, not Amoffia. Egwu’s critics further contest his claim of N5 million annual income on his storage business, N8 million yearly income on contracts since 1981 and his four cars valued at N4 million bought between 1981 and 1999.
On the contrary, Egwu, the petitioners claim, could only boast of a weather-beaten Peugeot 305 saloon car, which he bought from Mr. George of Sakamori quarters, Abakaliki, on instalmental basis. This privilege was allegedly accorded Egwu because Mr. George’s wife taught in the same Girls College, Ugwuachara, as Egwu’s wife. “Residents of Abakaliki still recall that car which is a point of reference for struggling and hardworking people that tomorrow could be better,” the petitioners said.
Dr. Egwu’s desire for real estate could make the Abachas envious. The former governor’s properties are valued at N12.588 billion. They include a five-star hotel called Grace Court Hotel and Suites, valued at over N2 billion and situated along Nna Street, Abakaliki. Built within two years in a residential area, Egwu and his wife started acquiring adjoining properties to make the hotel premises bigger. To gain ownership of the N30 million property of Mr. Dominic Aja, the Head of Service in the state, the former governor built a similar structure for him near the hotel.
But another target, Mr. Okwudili Ojugwu, a businessman, was too tough for the Egwus to bend. He initially offered to sell his property near the Egwus’ for N30 million. However, when he realised he could squeeze the former governor for much more, Ojugwu raised the cost to N50 million. To further put the former governor on tenterhooks, the property owner raised its value to N70 million and, further still, to N100 million. And though Egwu was desperate to buy the property at any cost, Ojugwu was not willing to sell and was only upping the ante to discourage the former governor. The property which is now situated within the premises of Egwu’s hotel has become an embarrassing problem for the ex-governor.
The Egwus also own Hope High International School, Abakaliki, valued at over N1.2 billion. Constructed within one year, the school which admitted its first set of students in 2003, is situated on 40 hectares of land, which originally belonged to the state government. However, the original master plan shows that the entire Onwe road area where it is situated was meant for the construction of a market, a church, a recreation centre and other facilities. Moreover, part of the land on which the school is situated was reclaimed at a huge cost from rivers Iyiokwu and Iyiudele in Abakaliki, using the state’s share of the ecological fund.
For the Egwus, the acquisition or abandonment of property could also be subject to ego. This trait came to the fore when the former governor abandoned the construction of a mansion along Pontius Ibogu Street, off Ezza road, Abakaliki, valued at N850 million. The reason was simply that two mansions which were more beautiful than his were being put up by Sam Agom Eze, a banker and Chidi Nwankwo, the state Accountant-General.
Egwu’s other choice properties include a block of 12 flats at Eboh Street, valued at N45 million; a similar N35 million structure at 8 Francis Orji Street, and another N55 million property at 3 Douglas Ogbonna Street, all in Abakaliki. He also owns a N50 million duplex at Umuebe, Ezzamgbo, in Ohaukwu Local Government Area of the state.
The former Ebonyi governor has an ultra-modern farm and country home, both valued at N820 million. Covering an area of over 100 hectares, the farm is a shouting distance from the site of the Ebonyi State airport project which was, at Egwu’s order, relocated from its original site along Abakaliki-Onueke road. Not a few citizens of Ebonyi believe that Egwu relocated the airport to its new site with the intention of having it service his farm.
According to COGESS, the farm is being developed by a consortium of experts, including technocrats from the Isreali-owned Dizengoff West Africa who were paid $6m for the now abandoned Nkaliki automated hatchery. COGESS reckons that the unwritten brief for Dizengoff now is to build the Umuebe farm as part of the initial contract for the botched hatchery project. Egwu’s repeated trips to Israel lends credence to this argument.
Also listed as part of Egwu’s booty are: a duplex with surrounding bungalows worth N25 million at Otuokpeye, Amoffia Ngbo, where his parents hailed from; a duplex at Mrs Egwu’s family compound at Ezzamgbo with a network of tarred roads, all valued at N85m; a four-storey edifice at Ezzamgbo worth over N80m; petrol filling stations at Amasiri, Ebonyi State and Port Harcourt, Rivers State, worth over N150m; a seven-hectare fenced plot at Mile 50, Abakiliki, purchased from the Pecuno family at the cost of N35m and a private recreational centre and resort opposite Hope International High School, Onwe Road, Abakaliki valued at N200m.
Egwu is also in the pillory for embarking on the construction of a personal shopping complex opposite Democracy Estate, Abakaliki valued at N150m; purchase of the Starberg mechanised quarry, off Abakalilki-Enugu Expressway, valued at over N800m, and for the acquisition of the headquarters of Widow Care Foundation, Mrs Egwu’s NGO, opposite Democracy Estate, Abakaliki valued at N80m.
The petitioners disclosed that the quarry site on the hills dovetails into the recreation centre and resort on Onwe Road and Hope High International School on the flood plains of Iyiokwu river to form an unbroken 2-kilometre chain of a private estate newly acquired by the Egwus, which terminates at the Afikpo Road junction. In a zone where a plot of land sells for over N3m, COGGES puts the value of the stretch of land at N550m.
Far from being satisfied with his vast acquisitions, Egwu cornered an over 500-metre stretch of land between Ezzambgo Motor Park and the bridge on the way to Enugu,which is worth over N20m; a building belonging to R.O. Nkwocha at 6872 Presidential Road, opposite Presidential Hotel, Enugu purchased by proxy for N700m; former Seven-Up Bottling Company, along Independence Avenue, Enugu purchased for N500m; a mansion at Victoria Island, Lagos valued at N710m; a hotel nearing completion along Independence Avenue, Enugu worth over N600m, and over 200 choice plots of land within and outside Abakiliki valued at over N300m.
Egwu also acquired a record number of moveable assets and shares to complement his real estate acquisitions. The former governor has in his fleet 17 exotic cars valued at more than N268m. The list excludes four of the seven bullet-proof cars purchased at N260m that Egwu allegedly appropriated to himself while leaving office on 29 May. The vehicles include a Range Rover B6+ armoured jeep, BMW X5 (3.0), BMW X5 (armoured) and Mercedes Benz 500 (bullet-proof).
Egwu’s foray into blue chip companies was total and sweeping. At the home front, the former governor commandeered majority shareholding interest in Eastern Bulkcem Limited by proxy investors in Nigercem at a value of N1.1billion. Determined to consolidate the Nigercem deal, Egwu committed N200m of Ebonyi State government funds to the acquisition of 10 per cent of the company’s equity, a transaction facilitated by the now distressed Allstates Trust Bank in 2004.
Egwu incorporated Hardis Nigeria Limited to manufacture interlocking tiles, polythene products and table water. The company has been the sole supplier of interlocking tiles used in Government House since 2006. The former governor also acquired shares in the defunct Standard Trust Bank plc via proxies valued at over N350m in addition to shares worth over N850m in Access, Intercontinental, UBA and Zenith banks through proxies.
On her part, Mrs Egwu established Widow Care Paints under the umbrella of her NGO, Widow Care Foundation. Since its establishment in 2005, the unwritten rule is that all government contractors meet their paint requirements through the company.
Last year, Egwu was dragged before the Code of Conduct Tribunal for making false declaration of his assets between May 1999 and 2006, especially for failing to declare a duplex building in his country home, which the bureau valued of N50m.
According to the bureau’s prosecutor, OT Olatigbe, Egwu was also charged with acquiring above his legitimate means A 5-Star Hotel named Grace Court Hotel, Abakaliki and High Hope International School valued at N350 million, which he acquired by proxy contrary to Section 10 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act Cap C15 LFN 2004 and “punishable under section 23 off same Act, as incorporated under paragraph 18, part 1, fifth schedule to the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria’’.
While admitting that it has little information about Egwu’s foreign booty, COGGES provided a list of close associates of Egwu who could provide useful information in this regard.
It was alleged that throughout his eight-year reign, Egwu found the State Local Government Joint Account irresistible. For so long the former governor and his wife regularly dipped their hands into the coffers, run unilaterally by Egwu with the aid of the state’s Accountant-General. Under the arrangement, LG chairmen whose funds were lodged into the accounts and the Joint Account Committee were not allowed to know the inflow and outflow from the account. Instead, they were provided monthly figures by the Accountant-General, Chidi Nwankwo, after the first line deduction of items as approved by the governor. A princely amount of N15billion had been fleeced from the Joint Account as at December 2006. A breakdown of the scam indicates that between December 2004 and the end of 2005, the sum of over N1.2 billion, being excess crude allocation due to the 13 LGAs of the state, was concealed from the Joint Account Committee, resulting in the diversion of the sum by Egwu.
To explain the fraud, the petitioners provided a vivid illustration using allocations for three months in 2004 and 2005. In December 2004, Federal Allocation to the 13 LGAs was put at N831.741m while the actual allocation distributed by the state government came to about N738.849m, leaving the state government with a balance of over N92m. In January 2005, the Federal Allocation was N793.032m whereas a little over N700m was distributed to the LGAs, leaving Egwu with a net profit of about N93m. The figure for February 2005 was N776.298m as Federal Allocation, whereas N683.403m was disbursed, leaving Egwu and his Accountant-General with a balance of N92.895m. Based on this, the petitioners projected that close to N15 billion must have been concealed and stashed away by the former governor in his eight-year rule.
Providing details of internal memos and reports to back its claim, COGGES alleged that Dr. Egwu used his office as governor to solicit for aid, receive sundry bribes and financial benefits from Allstates Trust Bank and other banks operating in the state. His tactics involved blackmailing banks with threats of removal or non-domiciliation of state government accounts from such banks. Prior to his assumption of office, the statutory allocation account of the state was mainly domiciled with Union Bank of Nigeria plc. But all that soon changed after the conservative first generation bank refused to ‘play ball’. The governor ensured that the state account was moved to a ‘compliant’ Allstates Trust Bank. For his effort, Egwu allegedly received over N231millon from Allstates as bribe masqueraded as ‘PR incentive’ gains accruing to the bank on account of its relationship with the state government, loyalty scheme and unsecured overdraft facilityterm loans.
In one of such instances, Egwu’s application for an advance of N32m addressed to the Branch Manager, Allstates Trust Bank plc, 1 Ogoja Road, Abakiliki was granted shortly after the application was made on 2 December 2004. The advance which was sought by Egwu to ‘enable him to take care of some pressing personal needs’ was approved with dispatch by Tawari Kester, Credit Risk Manager via an internal memo to the Abakiliki Branch Manager of the bank.
Using the same bait of domiciliation of state account, Mrs Egwu compelled Intercontinental Bank plc to recruit Sam Agbo, her cousin and portfolio manager, as the branch manager of its Abakiliki branch. Mr Agbo who was then a marketing executive with the Abakaliki branch of STB was catapulted to the position of branch manager in his new job with little or no experience in core banking operation. As a reward, Intercontinental Bank plc, Abakaliki was given all the major accounts of Mrs Egwu’s affairs, including the Women Development Centre, Widow Care Foundation, Hope International School, Widow Care Paints and Hardis Nigeria Limited.
Quoting generously from the content of a recent committee report on the salaries of primary school teachers in the state, COGGES spared no punches in lampooning Egwu’s claim to instituting a sound education legacy for the state. The report revealed how the former governor connived with Austin Edeze, the state’s UBEB chairman, to exaggerate the state’s educational position so as to attract fatter intervention funds from Abuja. In all, the duo were alleged to have connived to establish 50 non-existent primary schools, with more than 2000 ghost teachers and 100,000 phantom pupils.
By sleight of hand, Egwu was able to report an ever-increasing yearly student enrolment with its attendant yearly increase in the volume of funding from the UBE Headquarters. Egwu and his partner defrauded UBE and its funding partners to the tune of over N83m.
Yet the UBE largesse would seem like toffees when compared with the close to N500m plunder by the duo via the release of N1.1billion by Egwu to Edeze for the construction of 300 UBE blocks in the three senatorial zones of the state. The greater chunk of the project which cost was put at N3.7m per block was awarded to Ultimate Ezes Limited owned by Edeze, Egwu’s UBE chairman.
The former governor is also on the pillory for the use of fronts and proxies to defraud the state of large chunks of money via award of contracts. Some of the regular attributes of such contracts included award without tender or involvement of the Finance and General Purpose Committee; anticipatory approval of significant percentage of the contract sum before the awards are sent to the F&GPC; immediate and repeated variations; inflated sums/poor or incomplete execution, and award of contract to unqualified friends or relations of the governor and his wife.
In one instance, a contract for the building of resident doctors’ quarters at Ebonyi State Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki valued at N328.5m was awarded to Partengoff Nigeria Limited, owned by Olisa Metu, Egwu’s close associate, via a letter of intent, with no evidence of the company’s application. Without subjecting the contract to tender or F&GPC consideration, Egwu approved the payment of N60m mobilisation with no performance bond/bank guarantee. In another case, contract for the purchase of Peugeot vehicles for official use was awarded to M.N Nwankwo, Egwu’s Principal Secretary, for N16.7m. Another contract for the supply of an unspecified number of vehicles was later awarded to KEE Ventures Limited for N67.5m, with N64m mobilisation paid upfront, representing 94 per cent of the contract sum, leaving a balance of N3.5m. Curiously, an additional N10m was handed to KEE Ventures upon delivery of the vehicles as payment for upward variation of the contract and the outstanding balance.
It is also on record that on 26 October 2004, Egwu approved the award of contract for the assessment of Ebonyi State Primary and Secondary Education System to PMI Associates at the cost of N10.15m. Strangely, while the letter conveying the award of the phantom contract was dated 26 October 2004, the letter communicating the completion of work to the governor was dated 27 February 2004!
Like many of his contemporaries, Egwu cherished globetrotting and was ready to pay the price. In November 2005, Egwu approved and released the sum of N11.2m to enable himself, his wife and Eunice Mmachukwu Egwu (baby), Mrs Janet C. Agbo, Mrs Theresa Adua and Hon. Collins Agbo travel to the US on a 14-day trip to witness the graduation ceremony of Sandra Chiamaka Egwu, his daughter.
In April 2006, the governor approved and released the sum of N7.4m to enable his wife, daughter (Chiamaka who graduated a year earlier) and one Dr. Obidigbo Chike travel to China for the 99th session of the Chinese Export Commodities Fair. Though Egwu had approved N5.2m for the trip, the amount was jacked up after Mrs Egwu complained about the paucity of the amount. However, as expected, the additional approval was dressed as funds meant to augment shortfall in purchase of flight tickets.
This was conveyed to the Finance Commissioner via a letter dated 12 April 2006 with reference number EBSSGM.039/V.IV308 and signed by Prof. Ozo Nweke Ozo, Secretary to the State Government. “I convey the approval of His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Ebonyi State for the release of the sum of N2,123,542.00 only to augment the shortfall in air fares of Her Excellency, the wife of the Executive Governor and two others, to the 99th Session of Chinese Export Commodities Fair,’’ the memo read in part.
Before the recent travel jamboree, the governor had in 2001 fraudulently designated his younger brother, Joseph O. Egwu, as an Investment Officer of Ebonyi State government and also designated his brother-in-law, Donald O. Ogba, an Education Officer of the state government for the purpose of securing travel visas to the US along with a delegation of Ebonyi State government officials under his leadership as Head of Delegation. That trip cost the state N14.7m.
Away from verifiable statistics of Egwu’s misdemeanors, the petitioners in conclusion called on President Yar’Adua to conduct a thorough and urgent investigation of the allegations it raised against the aspiring National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. “We really believe that Dr. Egwu did not prove in the eight years of his stewardship that he was a fit and proper person to have been saddled with very high responsibilities of the office of governor,” COGGES argued.
As reported by TheNEWS on ( July 2007, condemnation of Egwu’s financial administration began with his own House of Assembly. The then Speaker, Christopher Omisu rejected the eight-year expenditure account under Egwu. He said: “When we requested for statutory expenditures of each ministry, the state government presented us with what we considered to be a working paper which we have referred to the House Committee on Public Accounts for studies. May be the incoming state Assembly will continue where we stopped,” Omoisu declared.
After reading the said report the state auditor-general found all the items to have contained some fundamental errors, spanning all of the years of the Egwu administration from December 31 1999 to 2007. The report highlighted that although the financial details of 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 were not available, those of 1999 to 2003 which were available show that the details of the expenditure were largely incoherent and at variance with established public accounting procedures. In his query on the 1999 expenditure, the Auditor-General submitted thus; “The office of the Accountant-General in its Annual Accounts report submitted to my office did not show how the grantssubventions were paid to the various parastatals in the state.
Rather, they were lumped together under the Secretary to the State Government’s Office and their respective state ministries. The arrangement made it difficult for my office to determine how much of the grantssubventions were received by the various parastatals.”
Moreover, the Auditor-General raised questions on the lumping of expenditure of state and local council audit under one head, the decision of the ministries of Finance, Education and the Secondary Education Board to print and use irregular receipts for collection of tolls from motorcyclists, school fees and other tuition fees from students. The Auditor-General noted that these irregular revenue books had no security numbers and lack proper control/checks on them by the responsible establishments. “These made it difficult for proper monitoring of the revenue accruing from them to the state government, a contravention of Ebonyi State Circular No. Eb/MICAD.49/133 of August, 1998 and Federal Government of Nigeria decision on the Printing of Official Gazzetes, Revenue Books…” The Auditor-General remarked.
Egwu’s critics, therefore, said that it was for these and more reasons that neither Egwu nor former President Olusegun Obasanjo commissioned any project in Ebonyi for eight years.
However, Dr. John Otu, former Commissioner for Information under Egwu, has a different view about COGGES’ petition. Otu described the writers of the petition as a bunch of discredited politicians and bad losers bent on truncating Egwu’s bid for the PDP Chairmanship. “We have gone through this before; this is not the first petition against Egwu. The good thing is that the EFCC has been here and they have seen for themselves, first hand, all the good things that Egwu has done,” Otu said.
One after the other, Otu took time out to attack the heap of allegations against his former boss.
“Egwu has commissioned road projects across the three senatorial zones of the state. Today, over 200 students of Ebonyi State extraction are enjoying scholarships in various universities across the United Kingdom. We have functional free health care services and Egwu established and built the Ebonyi State University,” the former commissioner intoned.
On the allegation that former president Obasanjo was never in Ebonyi to commission any project throughout Egwu’s reign, Otu thundered: “That’s a big lie. The President was in Ebonyi on 8 December 2000 and laid the foundation stone for the Afikpo/Abakaliki road and commissioned some faculty buildings at the Ebonyi State University. He was also here in 2003 to launch the rice mill in Abakaliki which he nicknamed Uncle Sam’s rice.”
Otu concluded that the smear campaign would not deter Egwu from seeking mandate as the next chairman of the PDP.
When contacted, Celestine Nworji, the immediate past chairman, Local Government Service Commission, declined comment, saying, “Am I EFCC? Go to EFCC and find out?”
Will Egwu join the rank of former state chief executives that were arrested and docked? Maybe, maybe not.