Stephen Ukandu, Umuahia
Abia State governorship flag bearer of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, in the 2023 poll, Professor Greg Ibe, has kicked against the alleged move by the State Government to obtain a bank loan to bail out the Abia State Polytechnic Aba.
Professor Ibe who described the move as “digging a hole to fill another hole” expressed worry over the increasing debt burden of the state, and advised Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu to jettison the plan.
The Chancellor, Gregory University Uturu said there was no wisdom in increasing the debt burden of the state by going for a fresh bank loan, when in fact the state could bail out the institution from its share of the federation allocation.
Professor Ibe spoke on the heels of alleged plan by the state government to borrow N450 million to bail out Abia State Polytechnic Aba following the withdrawal of its accreditation by the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE).
NBTE had in a statement by the Spokesperson, Ms Fatima Abubakar, cited the failure of the institution to pay its staff for 30 months despite warnings by the Board, as reason for the withdrawal of its accreditation.
The Board further explained that the Management of the institution had not shown any commitment to clear the backlog of arrears and ensure regular payment of salaries.
Since the NBTE action, there have been clamour for the intervention of the state government to save the institution from immediate collapse.
Resultantly, Gov. Ikpeazu pledged N450 million intervention fund to help stand the institution on its feet.
Meanwhile, the speculation for a bank loan became rife following the circulation of a memo by the Bursar of the institution, Mr Friday Omenihu, requesting all Departments to direct their students to pay their fees into a dedicated Zenith Bank account “as directed by the State Government.”
Investigation by Ikengaonline revealed that the memo with reference number: ASP/BUR/401/11/XXX was dated August 9, 2022.
According to the memo entitled “RE-DIRECTING OF LODGEMENT TO ZENITH BANK PLC”, sighted by our Correspondent, students of the institution are to henceforth, make payment of their fees into the bank account.
It read: “As directed by the Abia State Government. You are by this memo, requested to direct our students, that henceforth, all lodgments/deposits should, as a matter of urgency be made into an account stated below:
“BANK: Zenith Bank, ACCOUNT NO: 1224974199 ACCOUNT NAME: Abiapoly Special Intervention/Subvention Account. This is for your information and necessary action, please.”
Meanwhile, Professor Ibe, has described the move as “digging a hole to fill a hole.”
Professor Ibe accused the state government of using the move as a cover to borrow more money for “unclear purposes after Abia stakeholders blocked an earlier move to borrow N60 billion.”
According to him, why borrow N450 million when Government can actually bail out the institution if it is sincere?
“Why plunge the state into further debt? Abia already has almost N100 billion debt hanging on its neck. How will the school operate if their debt servicing will take all the revenue collected from School fees?
“The state keeps receiving allocations from the Federal Government every month and Abians want to know how the funds are spent.
“If two aides of the Governor can be paid up to N25 million monthly for media – one totally redundant and almost a radio station owner – why can’t the State bail out Abia Poly?
“ABSUTH has lost accreditation to admit medical students because the doctors have been on strike for non payment of their salaries for over two years. ABSU lecturers are complaining of salary arrears of over nine months. Where is Abia money going?”
But in a swift reaction, Commissioner for Information, Eze Chikamnayo, denied that any two Governor’s Aides were being paid N25 million monthly, dismissing the allegation as unfounded.
“There is no such thing. It’s only a figment of the imagination of the peddlers. I advise Abians to be weary of those propagating such lies.”
Chikamnayo also denied that the State Government was obtaining any bank loan but clarified that the directive for Abia Polytechnic to operate single treasury account was part of the measures to curb sharp practices and enthrone transparency.
“The directive was to open a single treasury account and ensure all inflow go into one account for transparency and accountability. It’s a control measure to enable all stakeholders know what comes in and goes out.
“There is no way we will allow them to have 20 or 30 accounts because those multiplicity of accounts lead to sharp practices.”
He further explained that the “State Government does not interfere in the internal affairs of the institution.
“Abia Poly is semi-autonomous entity. Abia Government doesn’t interfere in its internal affairs. If the Management decides to go for a loan will it be in Government’s name?”
Ikengaonline recalls that Government had earlier liquidated N2 billion loan obtained by Abia Polytechnic.
In May 2022, some stakeholders including former Senate President, Senator Adolphus Wabara; ex-banker and Labour Party governorship candidate, Dr Alex Otti, among others, had spoken out over alleged move by the Government to obtain N60 billion loan.
But the Commissioner for Information when contacted then could not confirm or deny the move but simply said most of those criticising the Government were biased and members of the opposition.
When prodded further, the Commissioner retorted: “When last did you ask the Federal Government to deny or confirm if they are obtaining or giving out loans?”
Continuing he said “Those making those allegations are mostly members of the APC that has borrowed and over-borrowed until even their own National Assembly is trying to put a wedge on their borrowing spree.
“If they can’t question the Federal Government that has gone haywire with borrowing, what morality do they have to come and start looking for what?”
Meanwhile, statistics from the Debt Management Office, showed that as at December 31, 2015, the debt profile of Abia State was N37.55 billion but by March 31, 2021, it rose to N70.57 billion, an increase of 110.47%.
There are speculations that Abia’s debt has now risen to over N90 billion but as at the time of filing this report, Abia’s current debt profile is not on display on the list of heavily indebted states.