The Judicial Panel of Enquiry established by Governor Alex Otti to scrutinize the governance of his predecessor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, convened for its inaugural session on Tuesday. The panel, composed of legal experts and chaired by retired Justice Florence Duruoha-Igwe, convened in Umuahia to delve into matters concerning the administration of the state from May 2015 to May 2023.
The panel’s commencement comes in the wake of reports suggesting that an injunction was allegedly obtained by Dr. Ikpeazu to prohibit the state government from probing him or his officials for their actions during his term. The panel, however, denied any receipt of such an injunction.
Governor Otti, who inaugurated the Judicial Panel of Enquiry on the Recovery of Government Properties, Funds, and Related Matters on June 27, had publicly pledged to recover any state resources pilfered by public officeholders. The panel was given a clear mandate to investigate and recover embezzled funds and properties within the stipulated time frame.
Justice Florence Duruoha-Igwe (rtd), in her opening address as the panel’s Chairperson, emphasized the importance of adhering to the terms of reference. She underscored the panel’s dual role of investigation and advisory, affirming its commitment to pursuing individuals proven to have been involved in misappropriation.
While clarifying the panel’s intentions, Justice Duruoha-Igwe stated that the objective was not to engage in a witch hunt, but to ascertain the fate of Abia State’s funds and properties during the specified period. She underscored the quasi-judicial nature of the panel, stating that it was not a conventional court, and that its actions were focused on evidence gathering and proceedings.
Addressing the gathered assembly, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Ikechukwu Uwanna, decried the rampant looting that occurred during the previous administration. Uwanna firmly asserted that individuals implicated in the embezzlement spree would face consequences for their actions. He urged the panel to conduct a thorough and unflinching investigation, stressing the importance of holding public servants accountable.
Uwanna also urged members of the public to contribute any pertinent information that could aid in the recovery of embezzled funds within the state. He underscored the collective responsibility in addressing the issue and called for timely completion of the panel’s task, allowing the government to address other pressing matters.
The Chairman of the Umuahia branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Jasper Ejiomofor, lauded Governor Otti’s decision to investigate his predecessor’s actions, but expressed a desire for a broader scope of the probe. Ejiomofor contended that the period under scrutiny should be extended further back, as some of the egregious incidents of looting that plagued the state occurred prior to the last administration.
The commencement of the Judicial Panel of Enquiry signals a critical phase in Abia State’s pursuit of accountability and restitution for the alleged misappropriation of public funds and resources during the previous administration. As the panel delves into its investigations, it is poised to play a pivotal role in shedding light on the circumstances surrounding the state’s financial affairs.