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West Africa

Uzodinma, Ihedioha in face-off over alleged N19.63 billion fraud

Governor distracting Imolites to celebrate 100 days’

Imo people and keen political watchers are gradually settling down and coming to terms with the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s judicial pronouncement ousting Chief Emeka Ihedioha from power on January 14, and subsequent reaffirmation of the judgment in which it declared Senator Hope Uzodinma duly elected. But another can of worm capable of further souring relationship between the two men recently came up, with the Uzodinma administration accusing his predecessor of siphoning N19.63 billion from the accounts of the 27 local government areas of the state.

The discovery and uncovering of the alleged missing funds was contained in the audit report by the Auditor General of Local Governments and Chieftaincy Affairs in the state, which covered the period under review, May 29 – December 31, 2019, the seven months Ihedioha held office. According to the report, the payments for contracts of purchase of earth moving equipment and others allegedly not executed were made by the Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs (BLGCA), then from the State and Local Government Joint Accounts Allocation Committee (JAAC).

The Guardian gathered that there were simultaneous construction of stadia and secretariat complexes in all the 27 LGAs’ headquarters under Ihedioha. Also, the former deputy speaker of the House of Representatives was alleged to have placed an order and paid N187 million for a sophisticated vehicle for his official use, disclosing that the vehicle (a limousine) with room and parlor inside, arrived when he had been removed, prompting port officials to invite Uzodinma to take delivery of the vehicle when the ship conveying it berthed in Lagos.

Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Hon. Declan Emelumba made the aforementioned disclosures while addressing journalists in Owerri, capital of Imo State, alleging large-scale financial mismanagement and malfeasance by the erstwhile administration.

But the car purchase accusation was unfolded while speaking in a current affairs phone in and audience participatory programme of the state-owned Imo Broadcasting Corporation radio (Orient FM) last Friday, saying: “The car is equipped like Airforce One of the United States. It has a master bedroom, conference room, bar and other facilities. It is the type of car that only a monarch, an emperor or one with imperial appetite will want to use.

“In the case of the sacked governor, how can one explain that someone who claimed to have been elected to rule an impoverished people will have the heart to be riding in a N187 million car when the poor masses are battling with basic needs of food and shelter.”

On the actual cost of the vehicle, the Commissioner for Foreign Affairs in the state, Dr. Fabian Ihekwueme said: ‘The actual cost of the vehicle is N115 million, but Ihedioha and his men inflated it to the tune of N187m. The vehicle has been impounded as we speak.

Another area of dispute is the uncovering of about 1,000 ghost workers and retirees as a result of double entry of civil and public servants, and retirees’ names with fictitious Bank Verification Numbers (BVN) during payments for each month. Uzodinma accused his predecessor of being unable to uncover the fraud which made the state government to loose about N1 billion hitherto the uncovering of the fraud allegedly perpetrated by the heads of ministries, departments and agencies.

Emelumba’s statement on the said N19.63 billion read in part: “Imo State Government has approved the request of the Auditor General for Local Governments and Chieftaincy Affairs to take all necessary steps to recover the sum of N19.63 billion siphoned from the State-Local Government Joint Accounts Allocation Committee (JAAC), through the Bureau for Local government and Chieftaincy Affairs (BLGCA), by the sacked government of Emeka Ihedioha, in just seven months in office. The staggering amount was siphoned for undisclosed purposes.

“The N19.63 billion misappropriated funds was discovered during a routine audit of the accounts and records of JAAC with the Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs by the Local Government Auditor General for the fiscal year ended 31/12/2019.”

The statement continued: “The commissioner said the government’s action was in line with the New IMO Agenda to entrench a resilient and transparent public service and restore financial discipline and rule of law premised on extant laws pertaining to the custody, management and appropriation of public funds.”

JAAC was set up by law and disbursements of LGAs’ funds is guided by Model Financial Memorandum and other extant laws on custody, and management and audit of the said entity. The money was illegally withdrawn from JAAC account without any Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) or Stores Receipt Vouchers (SRV) or Stores Issue Vouchers (SIV) in accordance with extant laws.

“Some of the agents used by Ihedioha’s government to siphon the billions of naira include the Managing Director of Wall House Ltd., a crony of the sacked governor, who was paid N1.215 billion for supply of construction equipment without any document, which he didn’t supply. There was also an unconscionable mandatory withdrawal of N2.405 billion by the Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs (BLGCA)

“Others are payment of N9.378 billion to local government councils for an undisclosed purpose. Also Anyama and Co. received N245 million for no disclosed purpose. Other fictitious and fraudulent withdrawals include compulsory returns or kickback from local government councils to the BLGCA to the tune of N2.404 billion. This was deducted from the allocated funds of the LGAs.

“Payment of N245 million to Raphael Anyama & Co. (Chartered Accountants) from Rural Roads Account without payment vouchers or approvals. Payments made through the banks without payment vouchers or evidence of expenditure to the tune of N3.332 billion.

“A curious phenomenon where N25 million was paid twice to the Principal Secretary to the Governor in December 2019 as security vote, whereas such funds are not paid from JAAC accounts but from state’s funds.

“The state government is shocked and embarrassed that within just seven months, a government could perpetrate such quantum of fraud by an unconscionable abuse of public trust through the use of public funds for self-serving purposes. Consequently, the government has approved the request of the Auditor-General for Local Government to enforce his recovery order on the Permanent Secretary BLGCA and others indicted as agents used by the Ihedioha government to siphon N19.63 billion. Government has immediately ordered the reshuffling of DAGS and treasurers.”

Other areas Emelumba expressed misgivings included the pension payments to the retirees during the period Ihedioha. He described the situation in which consultants were used as tardy and a waste of scarce resources, and described the frustration encountered by the government in getting the consultants to render account, including the digitization issues therein.

But in replying to the accusations, the Special Adviser, BLGCA, Mayor Eze, in the Ihedioha administration, said: “To make some facts clear for the reading public to make up their minds by dealing with the online and viral version.

“1, Wall House was paid N945 million so far before we left and not N1.215 billion as claimed. He has also delivered 17 pieces of the earth moving equipment to the present government of Imo State and they are parked within Heroes Square premises.

2, There was no such thing as unconscionable mandatory withdrawal of N2.405 billion, from who to who, where and when? 3, There was nothing like payment of N9. 378 billion to local government councils for an undisclosed purpose. If such funds were paid into local government councils, that’s a bonus. But who paid that and from where? 4, Anyama and Co received N245 million for no disclosed purpose. I do not know who is Anyama and Co and the Bureau did not pay that under my watch.

“5, Compulsory returns on kick backs from local government councils to the BLGCA to the tune of N2.404 billion. There is absolutely nothing like that.”

Eze also made more clarifications and denials when he stated: “Payment of N245 million to Raphael Anyama and Co (Chartered Accountants) from Rural Roads Accounts without payment vouchers. I repeat, I do not know this individual or company and no such money was paid to him when I was in the Bureau as Special Adviser.

“Payments made through the banks without payment vouchers or evidence of expenditure to the tone of N3. 332 billion. Like others above, this is total fabrication and falsehood. Curious phenomenon where N25 million was paid twice to the Principal Secretary to the Governor as security vote. Once again, this is laughable. Was the money paid in cash or through an account? This is a senseless fabrication. I am yet to see the attached document for other details.

Conclusively, Eze said: “I have never in life seen this level of intent to attack and malign others without a single shred of evidence.”

Also, in reply to the Information and Strategy Commissioner in My Radio FM, Chief Press Secretary to the then governor, Ihedioha, Chibuike Onyeukwu, waved off the allegations, regarding them as spurious. He also asked Uzodinma to humble himself and go to his boss (Ihedioha) for tutorials on good governance, arguing that since the 100 days in office of the governor was approaching, he was looking for a way to distract Imo people so they wouldn’t notice how badly he has performed so far.

In his words: “These allegations are spurious because 100 days in office for the Uzodinma administration is approaching and because they have nothing to offer, they want to distract Imo people. He should come to His Excellency, Ihedioha for tutorials on good governance.”

He insisted that due processes were observed by his boss in all the contracts he awarded during his short administration.

But Emelumba dismissed the issue of tutorials, saying that Uzodinma was better equipped with experience, education, capacity, training, exposure than Ihedioha, insisting that it was like comparing orange and apple.

­Also, the Executive Chairman of Pensions Commission under Ihedioha, Mr. Chime Alille, said: “My attention has been drawn to some comments credited to the current Imo State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Hon. Declan Emelumba, published under the above heading few days ago.

“I am a thoroughbred finance and management professional with no interest in political theatrics and controversies. Ordinarily, comments that fly in the face of reason do not capture my fancy. In this case, as the Executive Chairman of Imo State Pension Commission in the Rebuild Imo Administration of His Excellency, Rt. Hon Emeka Ihedioha, I am directly involved.

Hon. Emelumba ordinarily is deserving of my respect until I read his submissions in the above article. I am still in doubt whether he crosschecked his facts or he went outright for a hatchet job to destroy the landmark achievements and excellent job that was done by the Ihedioha Rebuild Imo Team in reforming pension administration in Imo State, which has been receiving accolades all over Nigeria and beyond.”

He explained further: “Absence of evidence of Ihedioha’s verification exercise. Nothing could be more laughable and farther from the truth than this assertion that there is no evidence of Ihedioha’s verification exercise. In the first place, the Ihedioha administration paid pensions for five consecutive months commencing immediately after the verification exercise from August to December 2019. These payments were made with data from the verification exercise and on the digital platform set up thereafter.

“For the first time in Imo State, BVN of each individual pensioner was used for direct payment into their Bank accounts. The records of the payments are there with the Accountant General as well as the pension staff in the State Civil Service and the Local Government Pension office. The payments were all made electronically and the pensioners promptly notified by bank alerts. As the Chairman of the Pension Commission, they nicknamed me “Mr. Alert” for the consistency and frequency of bank alerts they received.

“In addition, I left five computer servers and 50 laptop computers with the Pension Office in the Accountant General’s Office, Treasury House, Owerri. Those servers contain the pension database as well as verification details of later exercises done in December 2019 and January 2020 that have not been processed and uploaded to the pension payroll.

“I also know that the consultants CROESUS Int’l Ltd has forwarded the contents of the digital database to the consultant AFRISOFT appointed by this present administration, of which they have acknowledged receipt. So what other evidence of verification does Hon. Emelumba want? The balance of 22 computer servers and 350 laptop computers are in the custody of the store in Government House.”

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