The hitherto peaceful Abia State House of Assembly may be headed for turbulence in the weeks ahead following allegations of financial scam against its key principal officers. Both the Speaker, Rt. Hon. Chikwendu Kalu, and his Deputy, Hon. Cosmos Ndukwe are in the eye of the storm.
Like a hurricane, indications of the storm came to the fore last week when a group of persons from the Speaker’s Isialangwa South state constituency demanded his immediate resignation or they would be forced to commence the process of recalling him. The constituents in a petition signed by Irondi Victor, Otuonye Alozie, Udo Ngobi among others, premised their call for the Speaker’s resignation on the recommendation of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) which allegedly indicted Kalu in 2013.
The Speaker’s kinsmen accused him of complicity in a N1.2 million deal with his client while practising as a lawyer in Aba. They said he defrauded his client – Nze Jerry Nwankpa – of the money he brought to him for the purpose of buying a property in Aba. According to them, the Speaker was later investigated and indicted by the NBA but concealed it from them otherwise they would not have voted for him in 2015. They said he deceived them, hence the call for his resignation.
For them, the report of the LPDC panel headed by Mr. Jacob Daudu (SAN), with legal icons like Yusuf Ali ( SAN), Emmanuel Ukala ( SAN), Lawal Rabana ( SAN), Edward Pwajok, and Alhaji Tijani Inuwa- Dutse as members was too serious to be ignored.
The panel had in its direction delivered on September 9, 2013, said “ We, hereby, find the respondent Chikwendu Kalu guilty of infamous conduct in the course of the performance of his duty as a legal practitioner as set out in the counts 1,2 and 3 of the complainant by the NBA dated 26 th February 2013 contrary to Rules 1,23, and 55 of the Rules of Professional Ethics and punishable under section 12-(1)-(a) of the Legal Practitioners Act as amended. We are satisfied that the appropriate order to make in the circumstance is to direct that the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court to strike out the name of Chikwendu Kalu from the roll of legal practitioners and we so order.”
According to the certified true copy of the direction by the LPDC obtained by The AUTHOURITY, Kalu’s client, Jerry Nwankpa had petitioned NBA seeking disciplinary action against him for allegedly defrauding him of N1.2 million. The NBA document read in part: “That Mr. Chikwendu Kalu , in March 2007 and in the course of your practice as a solicitor to Nze Jerry Nwankpa, was given the sum of N1.2 million by the said Nwankpa for the purpose of paying for property known as No. 2 Okorocha Avenue Umungasi Aba, Abia State, converted the money to your personal use without carrying out the instruction of your client, thereby causing him financial loss , and thereby conducted himself in an infamous professional manner….
“That you Chikwendu Kalu instead of paying the money into clients’ account opted to keep the money in your office from 31/3/2007 to 15/4/2007 and later alleged that the sum of N850, 000 was stollen and turned around to accuse your client Nwankpa and one Sam Epelle as the persons who broke into your office all with view to cause them financial loss , and thereby breached rules 1 and 23(2) of Rules of professional conduct “.
The Speaker’s kinsmen said the NBA damming report was so embarrassing that he must honourably throw in the towel and clear his name of the mess, claiming that he deceived them about his true professional status before getting their mandate in 2015.
“The people of Isiala Ngwa South state constituency never knew that the former Barrister, Chikwendu Kalu, had been probed, investigated and tried by his peers and colleagues and his name struck out from the roll of legal practitioners. What made the action of Kalu so obnoxious and evil was not just that he could not produce the money put in his care but that he made false allegations against his clients claiming that they broke into his office to steal the money. We were told that the two men never recovered from the shock of the actions taken by a man who put himself forward as a lawyer. They have since both died of heart- break.”
The Speaker’s kinsmen also lambasted members of the House for “hurriedly defending and exonerating the Speaker in a newspaper advertorial without proper investigations”. They accused the Deputy Speaker, Cosmos Nukwe who signed the advertorial of a cover up for his own investigation on another financial scam also pending in an Umuahia High Court. They said that the action of the lawmakers was very disappointing lamenting that “Abia is in a mess”.
But in a swift reaction, the Speaker dismissed those behind the call for his resignation as meddlesome interlopers bent on blackmailing him. He said that the matter was already pending in court, adding that it will be sub-judice to comment on it.
Meanwhile, a source close to the Speaker accused the impeached ex- Speaker, Hon. Martins Azubuike of sponsoring the move to unseat the Speaker. According to the source, Azubuike is yet to forgive the Speaker for unseating him, hence his resolve to fight back by proxy.
Lending credence to this assumption, the Deputy Speaker, Cosmos Ndukwe in an interview with our correspondent , wondered why the issue was coming up now after the impeachment of the former Speaker. He argued that for the matter which had been lying low for long just to be excavated now made it look more suspicious. “If a witch cries in the night and a child dies in the morning what do you call it?” He queried.
On the allegation that he hurriedly signed an advertorial in defense of the Speaker to cover up his own case, Ndukwe said he acted as the Spokesman of the House, adding that the said case against him was also an attempt by his detractors to blackmail him. Ndukwe further said that the House conducted an investigation and discovered that the Speaker was never pronounced guilty by any court of competent jurisdiction, and that the matter was still pending in court, hence their action.
Meanwhile, the impeached ex- Speaker, Azubuike, said it was laughable for anybody to look his direction as the mastermind of the Speaker’s ordeal since they are not from the same constituency. He denied any involvement in the Speaker’s travails.
His words – “How can that be possible? I don’t know anything about it. I am also a lawyer and I know that NBA is a big body that whatever action it took could not have been instigated by me”.
Azubuike, representing Isiala Ngwa North, was on December 29, 2016, impeached for alleged financial misconduct, and replaced by Hon. Kennedy Njoku representing Osisioma constituency who resigned after 24 hours. Njoku’s candidacy was said not to have enjoyed the support of Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu who rather preferred Kalu as Speaker. Njoku though the popular choice of his colleagues, had to honourably resign in the interest of peace.
However, major stakeholders and political leaders in Isiala Ngwa South LGA have rallied support behind the Speaker who they see as their illustrious son. The stakeholders in a four- point communique issued after an emergency meeting at the Speaker’s country home disowned those calling for his head. Reaffirming their loyalty and continued support to the Speaker, the stakeholders enjoined members of the public to discountenance the calls for his resignation, saying they are frivolous and the handiwork of faceless detractors.
Similarly, the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Isiala Ngwa branch has assured the Speaker of its total support in the face of his current travails.Chairman of the branch, Chief Chukwuemeka Agomuo who led the members on a solidarity visit to the Speaker, dismissed the allegation against him as “a bogus allegation by a faceless group”.
But political watchers predict that if the tide were not stemmed on time, the Ngwa extraction of Abia Central might be on the verge of losing the speakership slot to their Umuahia / Ikwuano kindred in the zone.The position of Speaker has already gone round to all three LGAs of Ngwa extraction of Abia Central in the House of Assembly, and should the incumbent lose the seat, the slot will automatically move to Umuahia/ Ikwuano. While the Governor is from Abia South, his Deputy hails from Abia North, hence the Speakership was ceded to Abia Central in the spirit of equity and justice.
It is also believed among political pundits that if the masterminds of the current smoke are of Ngwa extraction trying to settle political scores, they may be playing a dangerous game – one at the expense of the Ngwa nation. There is however, another suspicion that the current storm is targeted at pulling the speakership seat off the feet of Ngwa people through the backdoor. But it is very unlikely that the Umuahia power brokers which were very instrumental to power shift to Abia South would be interested in altering the current power arrangement at least for now. However, as the hide and seek game and the political intrigues play out, the real faces behind the masquerade will one day be unmasked.