Tension In Benue Over Alleged N4.9b Fraud | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Tension In Benue Over Alleged N4.9b Fraud

Dr. Samuel Ioraer Ortom; Benue State Governor
Posted: Jun 22, 2016 at 4:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Ejikeme Omenazu

Lagos –  Recent reports that the nation’s anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has commenced probe of the administration of Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State over alleged N4.29 billion fraud has led to tension in the state.
Local, national and online media were last week awash with reports of the EFCC commencement of  the N4.29 billion fraud probe against the Ortom’s administration and some top members of the government, including prominent lawmakers from the state.

The alleged probe was sequel to the receipt of three petitions reportedly sent to the EFCC by two people and a group, detailing how the state’s funds were allegedly siphoned by Ortom, an All Progressives Congress (APC) governor, through proxies within his first year in office.
In one of the petitions, Ortom was reportedly accused of using a member of the House of Representatives to allegedly launder about N2.6 billion in a first generation bank and two of the third generation banks. The allegedly laundered money, they pointed out, was part of the state’s bailout fund from the Federal Government, collected at the instance of President Muhammadu Buhari at the inception of the administration.

In the second petition, the petitioners alleged that certain fraudulent activities were perpetrated at the local government areas in the state, claiming that about N929.9 million were allegedly diverted at the Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs.
The petitioners, whose names were not made public by the anti-graft agency, further claimed that two persons were used as fronts and allegedly made questionable withdrawals from the Joint State Local Government (JSLG) account number that was domiciled with the Makurdi branch of the third generation bank.
The petitioners also accused some members of the state House of Assembly of certain questionable actions, stressing that there was the need for some of the state lawmakers to answer questions over the N750 million car loan given to them.
According to the petitioners, only selected few lawmakers were allegedly given cars, while fake chassis numbers were reportedly inscribed on vouchers to indicate that other members of the House also got the cars.
The petition, lavishly quoted in the media, reads in part, “The Bureau had sent the request for bailout by the staff strength they met. Yet, soon as the bailout was received, a staff audit was carried out and Mr. Zam who is Governor Ortom’s Special Adviser in charge of the Bureau, publicly announced that over five thousand ‘ghost workers’ were discovered.
“…We are worried that after doing away with over five thousand workers, the remaining confirmed staff are still groaning under the yoke of nonpayment of their wages for months.”
However, a top official of the EFCC who sought anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter, confirmed the receipt of the petitions against the government. He added that the EFCC operatives were investigating the veracity of the petitions and would soon take appropriate action.
According to him, “I can confirm to you that the commission has received petitions against Governor Ortom and other dramatis personae over alleged diversion and other financial infractions. We have also commenced investigation on the veracity of the petitions. And I can also tell you that the commission will soon take necessary action on the matter.”

In response to the allegation, the Senior Special Adviser (SSA) to the Governor on Media and ICT, Mr. Tahav Agerzua, confirmed that some members of the Benue State House of Assembly had been invited by the anti-graft agency in Abuja.
His response came as Ortom’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Terver Akase, denied the allegation, saying that no official of Benue State government was under probe.
Akase, however, admitted that the EFCC operatives visited the state after they received a petition written to them by the present administration of Samuel Ortom concerning the alleged looting of N107billion by the immediate past administration of Gabriel Suswam.
According to Mr. Akase, the anti graft agency was in the state as part of its routine investigation regarding the petition.

Making further denial, Argezua denied the governor ever transferred such huge amount from the financial system, blaming the reports on those he claimed had looted the state to the tune of N107 billion before he took over. Agerzua also maintained that none of the governor’s aides had been invited by EFCC for questioning over the allegation, which he described as spurious.

Agerzua pointed out that even the lawmaker, Mr Emmanuel Udende, a member of the House of Representatives, whose account was allegedly used by the governor to launder the money, had also denied being the courier. He however admitted that “the sum of N929 million was judiciously used for security issues and properly accounted for and not misused as reported by the petitioners to EFCC.”
According to him, “Checks at the Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs where an alleged N929,903,967.00 was stolen by two persons, revealed the following: Mr Festus Andoor is the cashier of the Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs who has the mandate to make withdrawals from the Joint Allocation Account Committee’s Bank account as approved by the 23 local government chairmen at JAAC meetings.
“These approvals include disbursement of funds to tackle security challenges especially herdsmen’s attacks in the 23 local government areas in recent times as well as other emergencies such as the burial of the late Tor Tiv Orchivirigh, Dr Alfred Akawe Torkula.”

He added that the said allegation was false and targeted at tarnishing his image, questioning the sources credited with the story. He maintained those indicted by a government probe panel had been fighting back through making false allegations against the governor and the administration.
It would be recalled that the Justice Elizabeth Kpojime Investigation Panel that carried out the probe of the past administration, had in February this year, directed 52 persons, including former governor of the state, Gabriel Suswam, to return N107 billion stolen from the state coffers between 2007 and 2015, while ordering investigation into the another N44 billion.

Argazua continued: “The publications are part of a grand design by those indicted by the Kpojime Commission for looting N107 billion from the coffers of the state who are using part of the resources to fight the Ortom administration. I appeal to members of the public to disregard the spurious allegations and be assured that efforts to recover the loot are on course.”

“The publications are part of a grand design by those indicted by the Kpojime Commission for looting N107 billion from the coffers of the state who are using part of the resources to fight the Ortom administration. I appeal to members of the public to disregard the spurious allegations and be assured that efforts to recover the loot are on course.”

The N4.29billion fraud allegation, observers stress, could be the latest of such media wars between the old and new administrations. Many people are now beginning to wonder when Ortom and Suswam, who is no longer in power after serving two terms, will declare a ceasefire for peace to reign in Benue State in the interest of the citizens, as there cannot be real development in the midst of contrived hostilities and unnecessary media war.