The Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre has demanded for investigation into the burning of the homes of some villagers in Imo State.
Its Executive Director, Okechukwu Nwanguma, said that his organisation received the report on February 3, 2024.
Nwaguma said: “RULAAC received it with serious concern information about suspected arson which resulted in the complete burning down and ruination of three of the major buildings within the premises of Ezinihitte Mbaise Local Government Area Headquarters at Itu, Ezinihitte Mbaise, Imo State. The affected buildings include the NPC and ICT buildings.
“This ‘strange’ and disturbing incident was said to have happened on Thursday, February 1, 2024, and a few days after the immediate past Sole Administrator (SOLAD) of the LGA, Hon. Chukwuma Ojukwu – one of those appointed by Governor Hope Uzodinma in the past four years, handed over to the director of administration and general services, being the next highest office holder in the local government administration.
“The SOLAD and his colleagues in other LGAs in the state handed over following the dissolution of the local government administrations in Imo State by the governor.”
Nwanguma said an insider estimated that the worth of the property damaged cannot be less than N500 million, comprising computers in the ICT centre, records of National Population Commission, and the cost of rebuilding the three buildings that were burnt down.
He added: “This is yet to be verified.”
He also mentioned that an independent on-the-ground investigation was ongoing – including interviews with some eyewitnesses and people within and close to the LGA administration.
He further said that while preliminary findings are yet to establish the exact cause of the fire, the “massive bush surrounding several buildings within the premises” was believed to have accelerated the easy and fast spread of the fire, the maximum damage to the buildings and ruination of vital official assets within them.
Nwanguma said: “Sources have come up with a conspiracy theory stating that a former SA to the Governor on Narcotics and illicit drugs, one Eze Ogbonna, who is said to be one of the staunch supporters of the immediate past SOLAD may know what happened.
“The source quoted the former SA to have made a ‘threat’ that ‘something will happen in the LG that will shock all of us’.
“He was said to have made the ‘threat’ on Wednesday and Thursday, ‘the mystery fire occurred’.
“Sources suspect that he may have done this – ‘going by his record of violence’ – as a means to destroy evidence of alleged misappropriation by his political ally, the former SOLAD.
“RULAAC has reached out to the immediate past SOLAD and confronted him with this alleged threat attributed to one of ‘his allies’.
“But the former SOLAD exonerated the former SA and explained that he made the statement about something different, which was an expectation of a certain political appointment and had nothing to do with the fire disaster.
“He argued that someone who wanted to burn a building probably to destroy evidence would most likely target the administrative building where vital documents are kept. But this wasn’t the case.
“The administrative building was not affected.
“He denied the allegation of likely responsibility for instigating the suspected arson.”
Nwanguma also said other sources have blamed this incident on the alleged perennial neglect of the local government facilities by past SOLADs.
The activist said that one of them argued that questions must be directed to the Chairmen that superintended the Council in the last four years.
Nwanguma mentioned that a political commentator accused the immediate past SOLAD, like others before him, of abandoning the local government facilities and of ‘non-performance’.
RULAAC believes that there is an urgent need for an official investigation to unravel and resolve this incident.
Nwanguma continued: “The Imo State House of Assembly Member representing Ezinihitte State Constituency Dr. Henry Agbasonu must formally bring this incident to the attention of the State House of Assembly for prompt, exhaustive and effective investigation to unravel the persons and or factors responsible for the ‘strange’ and avoidable fire disaster and the attendant damage and loss.
“All those found culpable must be brought to book and made to pay for the losses. Measures must be put in place to avoid a repeat of the tragedy.
“On his own, Imo state governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma should summon all the past SOLADs of the Local government in the past four years and have them account for what they have done with all the funds made available to them for the running of the local government and community development projects.
“They need to offer explanations why they failed to do their jobs.”