It was a shocking revelation to the people of Issele-Asagba in Aniocha South Local Government Area of Delta State when Justice Saliu Saidu of the Federal High Court in Lagos ordered the permanent forfeiture of N664 million and $137,680.11, belonging to their son, the Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Clement Illoh Onubuogo, to the Federal Government. Prior to this, another Judge of the court, Justice Abdul Azeez Anka, had on August 17, last year, in an ex-parte order by the commission, granted a temporary forfeiture of the Permanent Secretary’s property, located at 19, Madue Nwafor Street, Off Achala-Ibusa Road in Asaba and his residence, described as “Clement Illoh’s Mansion”, situated at Ikom Quarters, his home-place in Issele-Asagba.
His kinsmen thought the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was on a wild goose chase when it applied to the court to grant an order of forfeiture of the money, as they pondered it in their hearts where could their son come about such a huge money.
But to their dismay, the counsel to the anti-graft agency, Rotimi Oyedepo, pursued the case to its logical conclusion, in pursuant to Section 17 of the Advance- Free-Fraud and other Related Offences Act, No 14, 2014, having backed his submissions with a nine-paragraph affidavit, two exhibits and a written address, until Illoh was found guilty by Justice Saidu as charged in the absence of a superior argument by Illoh’s counsel, T.S Awhana.
The situation in Issele-Asagba:
The situation of things in Issele-Asagba, an agrarian community, which shares boundary with Asaba, the state capital, and co-opted into the Asaba Capital Territory Development Plan of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, has remained the same. There was no outward appearance of crisis about Illoh’s predicament. Farmers were seen going to their farm places, the market in the locality was bustling. The aged ones were seen, chatting and having palm-wine in their popular ‘Ogwua’, a small hut for gettogether, erected in front of their houses.
His kinsmen’s regrets:
His kinsmen expressed displeasure that Illoh, who rose from lower-cadre in the Federal Civil Service to become a Director and now a Permanent Secretary, failed to help the teeming graduates in his locality, lamenting thus: “we didn’t know he has such money.”
They were unhappy that he failed to site an industry in his home town to absorb unemployed youths as he could not give them job slots in Abuja. One of the unemployed graduates in Issele-Asagba, who identified himself simply as Chinonso, lamented that the Permanent Secretary amassed such wealth and yet the majority of his ‘brothers and sisters’ were languishing in abject poverty in the village.
“Yes, the bad news about the former governor of our state, Chief James Ibori, was that he enriched himself with our state’s money when he was at the helm of affairs but the good news today is that Ibori remains great and evergreen in Oghara, his home place, and across towns and villages in Delta State because he did not forget the son of whom he is. Hence, during his trials and temptation, his people, friends and acquaintances stood by him. Today, he is the greatest politician that ever lived in Delta State.
Can this be said of our P.S despite what he forfeited? “In Ibusa, Oshimili North council area, we have people like Chief Fred Ajudua, who was accused of the same offence (Advance-Free-Fraud and other Related Offences) but their people stood by them.
They stood by them because of their philanthropic services to the community they hail from. In this case, we are not aware of his wealth, he did not use it to better our lot. We can’t stand in his defence because his riches didn’t rob-off on us.
So, he should carry his cross alone”, Chinonso said. While Chinonso lamented that he had been to Abuja on several occasions in search of job slot but to no avail since he bagged his Firsr Degree at the Delta State Univerity (DELSU) Abraka in 2016, a 78 year old Pa Okwuchukwu, who said he never admired the wealth of the Permanent Secretary since his position at the Federal level, urged him to carry his cross alone. “I doubt if the youth of Issele-Asagba will come out to resist agents of the Federal Government from confiscating his properties because all the while, he pretended as if he didn’t have. How do you explain that we have a son at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity, where job slots abound and yet graduate youths wal- l o w in joblessness?”, Pa Okwuchukwu lamented.
A n o t h e r resident in Issele-Asagba, who refused to give his name but said he was transferred to the locality to work as a t e a c h e r said he had been seeing the mansion but did not know who the owner is. He confirmed to have read the forfeiture story in the newspapers but did not know it affected the owner of the house. He however lamented that the community had such a person at the helm of affairs and no developmental project was attracted to the town to boost social engagements.
It was a different tale at his property, named, Ojeagu Luxury Suites and Apartment Limited, in Achala-Ibusa axis of Asaba. The hotel was in full-swing. Clients were seen patronising the place. No sign of fear that the property had been confiscated by a competent court of jurisdiction.
The Christmas trees and other attractions that were mounted to wish the teeming customers or new visitors to the hotel Happy New Year, were shinning like the morning stars. While residents of the area claimed not to know Illoh as the owner of the hotel, they praised his business acumen for citing a relaxation centre in the budding area. According to a member of the landlords’ association in the area, who does not want his names in the print, “the hotel had boosted night-life in the area for years. The hotel had compared favourably with others, including the Nice View Hotel that seems to be the modern and most expensive in the area for now.” On his ordeal, the source, who maintained that his major occupation is politics said, “This goes to show that it is not only political office holders that steal or misappropriate money. Here we have a case of a civil servant, a Permanent Secretary for that matter, who was involved in sharp practices.
I think if the civil servants can steer-clear of fraud, and stop teaching politicians the way to loot the treasury, things will get better in this country. Because in most cases, they are the ones showing the politicians the way to steal public funds. That is the lesson I see in this case.” One of the ladies working at the hotel, who identified herself simply as Cynthia, was unperturbed about what now happens to the owner of the property. According to her, the only contract between the owner and herself is work and payment of my salary.
She said, “We are not aware of his predicament here. As you can see, we are on duty. Maybe it as a rumour that he lost a court case in Abuja. My work here is soldier go, soldier come, barrack remains. How much am I being paid on a monthly basis to warrant wagging war for somebody whose quiver is filled to the brim in Abuja. If they come seal off the hotel, instead of allowing myself to be arrested for a crime I did not commit, I will quit. If work fails here because of the seizure by the Federal Government, I will seek employment elsewhere.”
A resident in the area who said she also work in the hotel, lamented that the manager of the hotel refused to pay her for two months, claimining that they didn’t make profit. “So, what you are telling me now is a shocking revelation”, she said.
Escape death by the whiskers (Reporter’s diary):
Our correspondent escaped being lynched by irate youths in Issele-Asagba. He did not know he ran into one of the youth who had benefitted from Illoh. “I was asking the young man, who is within 22 to 26 age bracket of how I could locate the said ‘Clement Illoh’s mansion’, but little did I know that some youths had placed survellance on the structure. “Before I know what was happening, he beckoned on his colleagues, six of them, all in their 20s, immediately surrounded me and began to interrogate me.
I had to tell them it was one of his business partners in Abuja, who knew I was undergoing my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Asaba, that sent me to know the condition of the house after the court verdict in Abuja, to ascertain that no agent of government had infiltrated it.” When they heard thisthey relaxed, but they did not allow me to see the house as they turned me back from the spot, saying, “tell him no problems with the house, it is intact.”