By Destiny Ugorji
A lot has been said and written, both for and against each of the parties. Different narratives have been given, but discerning minds are in search of the truth. I have made telephone calls, sent emails, texts, and WhatsApp messages, enquiring into the truth about the so-much-talked-about official vehicles, allegedly in the hands of the former Deputy Governor of Imo State, Hon. (Engr.) Gerald Irona.
Recently, I read in the social media a poorly scripted tale, stating that the Imo State police command had procured a warrant of court to arrest the former Deputy Governor over allegations that he refused to return some official vehicles used in his days as the Number Two Citizen of the state.
While some professional journalists took steps to investigate, with the view to ascertaining the veracity of the report, a few local newspapers went to press with the said report, without recourse to the ethics of the profession. It took the intervention of Dr. Walter Duru, an Assistant Professor of Communications to persuade the former Deputy Governor from directing his lawyers to institute legal actions against the said newspapers. The rest is history.
One would ask: when did semi-literate jobbers and road-side hatchet writers begin to speak on behalf of an institution as organised as the Nigerian Police Force? Since when has it become the responsibility of the partisan Press Corps attached to the Imo State Government House to issue public statements on behalf of the Nigerian Police? Is it no longer the duty of the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) to speak for the Nigerian Police Force at the state level? If there is a warrant of arrest issued against someone at the level of a former Deputy Governor and former federal lawmaker, should Nigerians not hear from the Police that was said to have procured the same? Was the warrant procured without the knowledge of the Imo State Commissioner of Police or at least, the Officer in Charge of Legal (OC legal) at the state command? There are several unanswered questions, but that is a discussion for another day.
Now, what is the fuss about? That a former Deputy Governor is being insulted over official vehicles he used while in office? What is the position of the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Commission, regarding the entitlements and privileges of former Governors and Deputy Governors in Nigeria?
Investigations revealed that following the controversial Supreme Court judgement of January 14, 2020, that brought the reign of former Governor Emeka Ihedioha to an abrupt end, the former Governor (Ihedioha) directed members of his cabinet to return all government property in their custody to the Imo State Government.
As a responsible public servant, the former Deputy Governor, Engr, Gerald Irona immediately returned every government property in his possession to the state. Specifically, on the 15th day of January 2020, three vehicles used by the office of the Deputy Governor were returned and acknowledged by the Transport Officer, Government House, Owerri, Mr. Umelo Chinedu.
The three vehicles on the former Deputy Governor’s convoy returned were: a Toyota Hilux – MR0DX9CDXK2637289; a Land Cruiser Jeep JTMHXO1J5J4161976 and a Fortuner Jeep – MHFDX8FSIKOO96247.
In his acknowledgement note, the Transport Officer stated thus: “I, Mr. Umelo Chinedu collected three above mentioned vehicles from you today, 15/1/2020. The remaining three (3) vehicles are still in the custody of the Deputy Governor, pending classification from the PS to the Governor of Imo State.”
In conformity with established conventions, the former Deputy Governor, Irona, wanted to know the position of the State Government with respect to the existing protocol, precedents and establishment circulars that applied to public office holders like the office of the deputy governor in relation to the remaining withheld vehicles.
The last sentence in the Transport Officer’s acknowledgement note further confirms this: “the remaining three (3) vehicles are still in the custody of the Deputy Governor, pending classification from the PS to the Governor of Imo State.”
Since January 15, 2020, the former Deputy Governor has been awaiting the communication of the position of the Imo State Government on the applicable protocol, precedents, and establishment circulars as it pertains to holders of the office of the deputy governor and other public officers in respect of the remaining vehicles.
Notwithstanding that he was covered under the extant laws and regulations, particularly, the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Commission’s position on the entitlements and privileges of certain categories of public officers and in this case, a former Deputy Governor, Rt. Hon. Irona, in his characteristic manner, voluntarily declared his willingness to return the vehicles if the state so sought.
Since he made his deposition in writing, should the government of Imo State not simply have written to him, requesting for the vehicles? If not for unbridled mischief, why did the state government choose to attempt to criminalize the matter, even when there was/is no crime either intended or committed?
The former Deputy Governor returned all other government property in his custody but following established conventions regarding the entitlements of certain former public officials, he sought the advice and opinion of the state government on the same. Instead of simply responding in writing, the state governor took the path of adversity. Such a stance is certainly anything but charitable, honourable, or patriotic.
Engr. Gerald Irona was not the first Deputy Governor of Imo State. There were deputy governors before him and there is already one after him. How were those before him treated? How will the incumbent be treated when he eventually leaves office? How will those to come also be treated? Is the present Imo State government not setting a bad precedent?
We saw similar scenarios play out in Ondo, Adamawa, and a few other states. We also saw how they ended. Government officials that take decisions based on malice must realise that power is transient.
Bottomline is that former Deputy Governor, Irona earlier informed the Imo state government, that he was in possession of the remaining (3) official vehicles, while asking for advice. Instead of responding in writing, the state government chose to run to the Police, seeking to criminalise a purely administrative matter. This is mischief taken too far. When the state government decided that the vehicles be returned to the state, why did they not write the former Deputy Governor to do so, at least, out of courtesy?
In all of these, it must be remembered that the former Deputy Governor, Gerald Irona is not poor, by any standards and can afford the vehicles in question, many times over. As a patriotic senior citizen, he can as well donate the vehicles, which, to be clear, ordinarily ought to be his entitlement, to the government of Imo state.
Irona is known for making huge sacrifices for the benefit of others. This may yet be another opportunity to demonstrate that streak. The former Deputy Governor should, in his characteristic manner, simply return the vehicles as a donation to the state, not minding whether it is his entitlement or not, privilege or not.
The present administration of Governor Hope Uzodinma in Imo State must eschew hate and bitterness and treat citizens with love and fairness. These billions of Naira wasted on trivialities and witch-hunts should be redirected for the public good.
Public positions are ephemeral and therefore nobody’s father’s property. The way you treat people today is the same way you shall be treated when you are out of office.
Those advising Governor Hope Uzodinma should please ask him what he will be remembered for, when he leaves office as the Governor of Imo State.
As for the vehicles in question, in the light of fresh new facts regarding the State Governor's quest for a yet more expansive motorcade (even though he currently has more than 50 vehicles in his convoy), I strongly urge that the former Deputy Governor, Gerald Irona, donates them to the governor, in keeping with his usual character of magnanimity and philanthropy.
Let Imo prevail!
Destiny Ugorji is an Owerri-based Public Affairs analyst and can be reached on [email protected].