By Chris Njoku and Damian Duruiheoma, Owerri
Imo State government on Monday accused former Governor Rochas Okorocha of attempting to hijack the state’s university.
But the former governor has insisted that the university was set up based on a public-private-partnership basis between Imo State government and the Rochas Foundation.
Imo government said N20billion was invested in the institution by the state government.
Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba, told reporters in Owerri, the state capital, that the Uzodinma administration moved to recover the Eastern Palm University, Ogboko, from Okorocha.
He said the former governor, now a Senator, wanted to appropriate the institution to himself.
Displaying documents, including approval from the National Universities Commission (NUC) to authenticate the state ownership of the university, Emelumba asked Okorocha to apologise to Imo people for attempting to steal their commonwealth.
He said: “This is one of the most elaborate and devious scams to dupe an entire state of their patrimony using the instrumentality of state power.”
He said from the acquisition of the 101 hectares of land where the said university is located, it was made clear that it was for the permanent site of a state university.
He said the government subsequently paid N58 million as compensation to the owners of the land.
According to the commissioner, the former governor told Imo people in 2012 that he was building a permanent site for the state’s university in Ogboko.
He also told them that the land was being acquired to host the permanent site, only for him to turn around to allegedly try to convert it to his private university.
“The approval by NUC expressly stated that Eastern Palm University is the 42nd state university in Nigeria. Nowhere was it designated as a private university,” Emelumba said.
In the letter sighted by our correspondent with reference number NUC/ES/529/Vol103 dated 13th April 2016, the NUC confirmed that Eastern Palm University is a state university.
It reads in part: “This is to inform Your Excellency that with effect from 13th April 2016, Eastern Palm University in Ogboko, Imo State, is formally recognised as the 42nd state university and 143rd university in the Nigerian university system.”
Emelumba said between 2013 and 2019, N20 billion had been spent on building the university.
“These were taxpayers money and the records are there. How can anyone with a conscience claim that the people funded a private university for him?” he asked.
The commissioner said the government was shocked when Okorocha started laying claim to the university based on a fraudulent public-private partnership arrangement.
According to him, Okorocha as the owner and representative of Rochas Foundation negotiated with himself as Governor of Imo State.
“So, the negotiation was between Okorocha and Okorocha and Okorocha dubiously allocated 90 per cent of the ownership of the university to himself and a paltry 10 per cent to Imo people who built the Eastern Palm University with their money,” Emelumba said.
He said no responsible government would allow such a brazen daylight robbery to subsist, hence the government moved to recover the university for the people.
He said all those involved in what he described as the greatest scam of the century are being investigated for possible prosecution.
Emelumba assured Imo people that Governor Uzodinma will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that those who stole or tried to steal their patrimony are appropriately punished.
Okorocha dared Uzodimma to recover the university if he has the legal power to do so.
He insisted that the university, which was a creation of the law, does not belong to the state government.
The senator was reacting to the government’s statement that it had recovered the Eastern Palm University and had been empowered to deal decisively with anyone or group of persons ready to test the will of the government over the ownership of the university.
In a statement on his behalf by his media adviser, Sam Onwuemeodo, Okorocha urged the general public to disregard the claim by the state government that it had recovered the university because it had no reason to take over the university from him.
According to him, the government’s claim was only aimed at distracting the public from the total collapse of governance in the state.
He said: “The Eastern Palm University was a creation of the law. It has a law establishing it. It is a legal entity. So, it is not a kiosk or market store one could wake up one day, to claim or announce to have recovered.
“The Eastern Palm University was established by the Imo State of Nigeria, Law No. 3 of 2019. And part II, No.3 (3) Stated that ‘the University shall be owned on a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) basis, by the Imo State Government and the Incorporated Trustees of Rochas Foundation, hereinafter referred to as the Parties’.
“The Agreement and Memorandum of Understanding between the Concerned Parties are domiciled in the relevant bodies or Institutions.
Okorocha said it was absurd for the government to announce to have recovered an institution established by law, through a press conference held in one of the offices in government house, with a and claim to have based the action on a Whitepaper, seen by nobody.
The former governor reminded Governor Uzodimma of his assurance to release the Whitepaper on all the recommendations of the panels set up by his government or the government before him.
“Instead of living up to his vow or assurance to release the Whitepaper, he decided to play Politics of Vendetta with the issue.
“It is also important to state that the government came up with the worrisome claim of recovering the Eastern Palm University to distract attention from the ugly developments in the state, in the past two days, in which, not less than five Imo Indigenes had been killed…”
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