The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is investigating Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom and many members of the House of Assembly for alleged diversion of N23, 088, 586, 206.

But the governor said last night that he had no fear over the probe. He demanded fairness.

About N22, 713, 586, 206 was withdrawn in cash, allegedly on the governor’s instruction as security votes and other “curious” overheads.

The Assembly members are expected to account for N375million.

The anti-graft agency said some of the cash withdrawals were made in bits of N10million over the counter.

The EFCC found it “ridiculous” that 500million was cashed in one day.

Besides the governor, more than 30 suspects are being investigated. They include 21 members of the House, three permanent secretaries, four cashiers, a contractor, directors of Finance, some accountants, and bank managers.

The EFCC believes that most of the funds were diverted, with, according to the agency, the governor directing permanent secretaries to tear the disbursement lists.

Here is the breakdown of the funds allegedly diverted:
N1, 916, 635, 206 (withdrawn from the Government House two accounts);
N19, 468, 951, 590 (cash taken from two accounts of the Bureau for Internal Affairs and Special Services);
N1, 328, 000, 000 (withdrawn in cash from the account of the Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs); and
N375million meant for the purchase of Prado SUV for House of Assembly members but N275m shared by 21 lawmakers

These highlights were released at a session in Abuja by top officials of the anti-graft commission.

On the alleged diversion of N1, 916, 635, 206, the fact-sheet said: “On the 31st of January, 2018, an intelligence was received that some officials of Benue State have diverted about N8billion. Based on the intelligence, the EFCC commenced investigation. It was discovered that between June 30, 2015 and March 2018, cash was withdrawn from the Government House accounts and diverted.

“Two accounts actually belong to Government House.

“These accounts received about N1, 916, 635, 206 between June 30, 2015 and March 2018. The huge sum was withdrawn by some cashiers, namely Emmanuel Aorga; Patrick Aba; and Ochoga Peter.

“From bank details, Aorga withdrew N369, 728, 950; Ochoga cashed N704, 041,000 and Patrick Aba N130, 199, 386.

“In most cases, they were issued N10m cheques in order to withdraw the money in bits.

“For the Government House, the Permanent Secretary, Mr. Gabriel Iangba, who was interrogated, claimed that these are funds for security, governor’s travels, protocol services and security votes, among others.

On the N19, 468, 951, 590 taken from the Bureau for Internal Affairs and Special Services, the EFCC’s fact sheet indicated that the money was withdrawn from the Bureau’s two accounts.

“The N19.4billion was withdrawn between June 30, 2015 and March 2018. These funds were cashed in similar manner like that of the Government House Accounts. The withdrawal was effected by a cashier in bits of N10million. In a day, the same man withdrew N500million in a N10million per transaction model.

“During interrogation, the Permanent Secretary for Bureau for Internal Affairs and Special Services, Boniface Nyaakor, claimed that they normally gave six security outfits some of the cash. When asked to give details, he said while the highest remittance of N10million will go to one of the outfits, the rest will get N5million each.

“He said memos were usually raised and the governor was always approving. He said once the funds were cashed, he will list out how the funds will be disbursed. After the disbursement, he will bring back the paper to the governor and Ortom will ask him to tear the distribution list.

“We discovered that once the monthly allocation hits these accounts, the withdrawal of all the funds is a maximum of two days.

“It should be noted that all the cashiers were invited with their supervising accountants. They confessed that once the money was cashed either in Government House or at the Bureau, they have a place they used to deposit it and the affected permanent secretaries will take over disbursement.

“And apart from banking transactions, all records of disbursement have been destroyed.”

Asked if a governor can be questioned on security votes, a top EFCC official said: “The governor has to show records of how security funds are spent.

“In the case of Benue, the Security Votes Schedule was not even captured in the State Appropriation Act. They only put ‘Tentative’. This is done as a cover-up.”

Concerning the N1, 328, 000,000, the EFCC gave details of how it came about the discovery.

The commission’s fact-sheet said: “A petition was received from a Commissioner in the Public Complaints Commission (PCC), ex-Commissioner of Police Abubakar Tsav on June 10, 2016 alleging that pensioners and workers were going through hardship due to non-payment of salaries and pensions. The petition by Tsav was against Governor Ortom and a former Chairman of Gwer West Local Government Area, Mr. Titus Zam.

“The petitioner alleged that the governor withdrew N 929, 903, 967 account of the Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs.

“Based on this petition, an investigation was carried out and it was discovered about N1, 328,000, 000(N1.328b) cash was withdrawn from the account between October 2015 and June 2016.

“In the course of further investigation, it was one John J. Bako, who is said to be a member of security outfits in the state withdrew N28million from the account while N1.3billion was withdrawn in cash by Andoor Festus, who is said to be a cashier of the Bureau. The money was withdrawn in cash in bits of N50m, N100m, N120m, and N260m.

“A letter of invitation was sent to the State Government. The first letter was sent on July 18, 2016 and reminders were sent but no reply. The last letter was sent to the Permanent Secretary, Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs on July 9, 2018 but Bako and Andoor are yet to come.

“These are people the EFCC cannot trace. This commission believes the state government should know who they are since they were linked to the account.”

In a follow up by The Nation bordering on alleged apology to Ortom by Tsav recently, a top official said: “The petition bordered on a case against the state. The money he claimed was being diverted was not his money but it is public funds.

“We owe Nigerians a duty to see to the conclusion of this investigation. If Tsav apologized, he has blown the whistle, he cannot retrieve the petition.”

As part of the sleaze in Benue State, the EFCC also uncovered how the state government allegedly paid N80million into the account of a Boko Haram suspect Aliyu Yaminu, who is nicknamed Tershaku.

Tershaku, who was arrested by the Nigerian Army in April, has since been in custody.

The EFCC said: “Between December 20, 2017 and April 6, 2018, the Joint Account Allocation Committee (JAC) has been remitting N20million to the account of Al-Tershaku Global Security Limited allegedly owned by Tershaku. JAC posted N80million to this account as at the time of Tershaku’s arrest. This is aside suspicious cash lodgments by Tershaku himself into the company’s account.”

In the same vein, the EFCC confirmed that about 21 members of the Benue State House of Assembly and a contractor have a case to answer over N417million contract for the purchase of 30 Prado SUV for lawmakers in the state.

Some of the lawmakers were said to have allegedly conspired with the contractor, Alh. Ahmed Baba, who owns Mia Three Nigeria Limited.

“It is a case of diversion of contract funds. A N417million contract was awarded to Mia Three Nigeria Limited (owned by Alh. Ahmed Baba) by the Benue State Government for the supply of 30 Prado SUV for members of the Benue State House of Assembly for oversight functions.

“With less Tax and Value Added Tax (VAT), the worth of the contract amounted to N375million. The cost of each car was around N12.9million. But out of the N375million, about N275million was diverted by the contractor in connivance with members of the Benue State House of Assembly.

“Eight members of the Assembly took delivery of the Prado SUV, one did not benefit because he hijacked a vehicle from the convoy of the Deputy Speaker but 21 others only collected cash from the contractor instead of vehicles.

“The EFCC team has so far recovered N244million from the affected members of the Benue State House of Assembly. Four members refused to pay back the full value of the SUV after remitting. They reluctantly refunded N1million each to EFCC after much pressure.

“These four members and outstanding sums are as follows: Addingi Mguman (N9million); Kester Kyaenge (N9million); Terkaa Ucha (N4million) and Terzeer Adzuu (N9million).

“We have been interacting with the lawmakers since 2016; it is not as if we have just started the investigation. Some of them, including the Deputy Speaker, came to honour EFCC’s invitation last Thursday. It was while we were interacting with the Deputy Speaker that he was impeached.

“They were asked to report on Monday (yesterday) except a member that applied to perform this year’s Hajj.

“These lawmakers and the contractor have a case to answer because the Prado SUVs were not meant for leisure

“The members have been reporting because their case file is with the Legal Unit of EFCC. We asked them to be reporting because we do not know the exact date they will be arraigned.”

More than 30 suspects are being investigated. They include 21 members of the House, three permanent secretaries, four cashiers, a contractor, directors of Finance, some accountants, and bank managers.

‘Let the probe be fair’

Benue State officials spoke yesterday on the planned probe of Governor Samuel Ortom. His Chief Press Secretary Mr. Tever Akase called for a fair investigation.

Speaking with our correspondent on the telephone last night, Akase said: “The point is that Governor Ortom’s government is transparent. He has nothing to hide. Since he became the governor, every year he published the statement of account in national newspapers.

“This is to show that he has nothing to hide. So we welcome the EFCC investigation. This is anti-graft and we believe they are doing their job. However, we are asking that they should be fair in their investigation. A man who is suspected is not guilty until he is found guilty.

“As I said, we hope that the investigation by the EFCC will be fair without any political undertone. We don’t want to read any conspiracy into it because we have nothing to hide.

“Governor Ortom has been faced with security challenges and he is expected to address them. And this he has been doing. He has not embezzled public funds. Neither has he converted public funds to his personal use. In all, we want a fair hearing, fair investigation.

Special Adviser to the Governor on Media Tahav Agerzua said: “The EFCC can probe any person or organisation based on allegations which may turn out to be true or false. In the case of Governor Ortom, they can probe but I assure you that they will find nothing at the end of the day.”

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