Former Aba North local government chairman, Honourable Alex Mascot Ikwechegh, has denied leaving behind a salary deficit of 21 months when he exited the council in 2010.
He also countered the allegations of inflating the council’s secretariat construction cost and misappropriating bank loans, describing them as “political statements” to “counter my position in the polity”.
The Aba-born business tycoon, philanthropist and politician, while speaking to journalists in Umuahia (the Abia State capital) on Friday, said an elected LG chairman can’t appropriate a one-month council workers’ salary without being held accountable.
“You’ve got the LG Chieftaincy Affairs who oversees activities of the local government,” Ikwechegh said.
“You’ve got the commissioners, permanent secretaries and directors. You’ve got the House of Assembly that plays an oversight function towards the activities of the LG. You’ve got the Head of Service, cashier and treasurer.
“So, there’s no way an LG Chairman can take funds and keep them for himself,” he added.
Ikwechegh said when he became LG chairman in 2008, he met eight months’ salary arrears which he reduced to five months after three months in office.
The former LG chairman, who attributed the feat to the excess crude funds, said that aside from paying three months’ salary arrears, he also embarked on building constructions and renovations simultaneously despite the biting global recession.
“I built the one-storey council secretariat, renovated the entire council, built a health centre at Umuodo, asphalted the council premises and some side works despite receiving zero allocation,” he said.
“The governor, out of magnanimity, would give us money. I remembered that the least I got back then was N4 million and the highest I got was N17 million and my wage bill was N31 million.”
Ikwechegh said other means he explored to take care of the shortfall was to increase the LG’s Internally generated revenue (IGR) to within N4 million and N6 million.
“What we were doing back then was to use two months’ allocation to pay one-month salary because if we get N15 million, we’ve got to get another N15 million to add up,” he said.
“Eventually when I was leaving, although there’s no excuse, we tried to manage it and I owed one and half month salary.
“So, you can say that we had nine and a half months’ salary arrears when you add the eight months I inherited. It was not a peculiar thing with Aba North alone. All the LGAs owed salaries because of the economic crisis.”
He challenged those with access to the public archives to go and verify his claim.
According to him, he could not emulate the then Ukwa West LG chairman who had to downsize in order to use what he had to pay salaries.
“But I couldn’t do it because I didn’t think it was right,” Ikwechegh said.
“So, what we did was to identify and eliminate the ghost workers. That was how we didn’t hit the 15 months’ wage bill.
“I remembered, even though it wasn’t palatable then, I would post photocopies of the cheques received from the FG on the notice board for workers to see. So, there’s no stringent alliance that validates the allegation that I embezzled council funds.
“I met eight months’ arrears and when I left it was about nine months,” he said.
On the alleged N50 million spent on the construction of the one-storey council secretariat, Ikwechegh said the peddlers of such news are scared of his conspicuous achievements as the Aba North LG chairman.
“The records are there and the contractor that built it is still alive,” he said.
“My cashier and treasurer are alive. My Head of Service who’s a respectable man, Chief Ben Nwogu, is alive. My legislators are all alive. They can attest to the fact that I didn’t spend N50 million on the building project.
“If you checked the entire LG headquarters and go back to pre-Ikwechegh, you’ll see a huge difference. The whole place wasn’t like that when I came. We erected the building using direct labour. I called the Head of Service and the F&G and told them we could not afford to bring in a contractor to do the job.
“So the HOD, the engineers and one of the councillors who happened to be a builder, Chief Bunch by name, played a role to ensure the building was erected at the lowest minimum cost.
“I can’t even remember how much but it was not up to N20 million,” he said.
On the appropriation of bank loans, Ikwechegh said the business of government is a difficult one that a layman might not be able to understand.
“When I came into the council, Aba North was banking with Zenith Bank,” he said.
“My predecessors owed the bank. So, when funds dropped, the bank withheld them and asked us to reapply. This process takes up to two weeks. Then, you are struggling to pay the workers.
“I negotiated with First Bank, got a better offer, had them pay off Zenith Bank and became free from their shackles.
“We renegotiated our repayment and charges with First Bank and reduced them to a lower percentage,” Ikwechegh said.