Few days after defecting from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) opened a probe on the Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom 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About N22, 713, 586, 206 was withdrawn in cash, allegedly on the governor’s instruction as security votes and other “curious” overheads.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- N1, 916, 635, 206 (withdrawn from the Government House two accounts);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- N1, 328, 000, 000 (withdrawn in cash from the account of the Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs); and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 It was discovered that between June 30, 2015 and March 2018, cash was withdrawn from the Government House accounts and diverted.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 The huge sum was withdrawn by some cashiers, namely Emmanuel Aorga; Patrick Aba; and Ochoga Peter.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.”
Meanwhile, the EFCC has invited 21 out of the 30 lawmakers in the Benue State House of Assembly for allegedly diverting part of the N375m meant for the procurement of vehicles in 2016.
According to the anti-graft agency, the Benue State Government had in 2016 awarded a contract worth N417m (N375m after tax) to Mia-Three Nigeria Limited to procure 30 Prado TXL vehicles for the lawmakers.
However, only eight members received the vehicles while the others diverted the funds.
The report adds, “About 21 of the lawmakers are under probe. However, 25 of the lawmakers have returned all the money they received which adds up to N245m. Four others have failed to return the remaining sum of N31m.”
Attempts to get a reaction from Ortom were unsuccessful. Calls to the mobile of his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Terver Akase, were neither picked nor returned.
It's however curious to wonder if the governor would have been going through this probe if he had not defected from APC.