Ebonyi Governor David Umahi has sought N1 billion as “atonement” for Peoples Gazette’s exposé of his underhand dealings in public service.
In a letter dated February 1, 2021, counsel to Mr. Umahi, Chukwuma-machukwu Ume, a senior lawyer, also demanded a retraction of the Gazette’s investigative report, while threatening to commence legal action if the proposed sum was not remitted within seven days.
On January 29, the Gazette exclusively reported how Mr. Umahi transferred billions to his private firm, Brass Engineering & Construction Nig. Limited from Ebonyi treasury — brushing aside extant code of conduct regulations precluding senior public officers from conducting private businesses while in office.
Financial records of Ebonyi State’s, recently obtained by the Gazette, showed a sustained trend of illicit financial flows from the state’s purse to Brass Engineering, in excess of N3.6 billion between 2011 and 2019.
Founded and chaired by Mr. Umahi since 1993, Brass Nig. Ltd., documents revealed, received several tranches of disbursements made from Ebonyi coffers for shoddy government contracts commandeered by Mr. Umahi for the firm.
The Gazette also uncovered how state officials erased suspicious payment records between Ebonyi and Brass Engineering, said to be managed by Governor Umahi’s younger brother Austin.
When the Gazette presented our findings to Mr. Umahi prior to our publication of his suspicious use of state funds ahead of publication, the governor, who had initially declined to challenge the accuracy of our discovery, instead sent a barrage of insults.
“What is ur f**kin business about who transacts govt business?” Mr. Umahi said in a message to the Gazette. “Go to hell and die.”
In a letter titled: “Your Peoples Gazette malicious and defamatory publications of January 29, 2021 & January 30, 2021,” Mr. Ume, the governor’s lawyer, however, argued that the Gazette did not make recourse to the “comprehensive information of the day to day governance of Ebonyi State on its website.”
Even though the Gazette’s report had only captured Mr. Umahi’s looting of the state’s finances between 2011 to 2015, when he was deputy governor, and 2015 to 2019, as governor, his lawyers still ridiculed themselves by referring the Gazette to Ebonyi’s 2020/2021 financial records in their rebuttal.
The Gazette’s reporters had come under severe pressure from Mr. Umahi’s aides to take down the story shortly after the report was published. When ignored, the governor’s henchmen swiftly resorted to death threats.
“You’ve just done harm to the image of Ebonyi State, and I can assure you that if you don’t retract it, we might fall out with you,” an aide to Governor Umahi, who called in to express displeasure about the Gazette’s report said Saturday afternoon.
“This thing can cost people’s lives, this particular thing you did can cost people’s lives, and I know what I’m saying,” Mr. Umahi’s aide added.
Despite threats to kill the Gazette’s reporters, alongside overwhelming evidence of his sordid financial activities, Governor Umahi, who has long been infamous for hounding journalists, is still seeking a written apology from the newspaper as well as retraction of its factual report to forestall litigation.