N20Bn Bail-out Fund: Gov Bello Threatens Action against EFCC, Others

*Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State.
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By Kehinde Akintola in Abuja


The Kogi State Government on Thursday threatened to sue the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for presenting false documents to the Court on the allegation bothering on the warehousing of N20 billion salary bail-out fund in a Fixed Deposit Account.


According to Tribune Online, the Kogi State Commissioner for Information, Hon. Kingsley Fanwo, who issued the threat notice in Abuja, during the press briefing, disassociated Bello’s administration from the purported bank account.


While stressing that EFCC misled the Court in the ruling that the bail-out salary account should be frozen pending the conclusion of the investigation, as delivered by Justice Tijjani Garba Ringim of the Federal High Court Lagos on Tuesday, the governor vowed to prosecute the anti-graft agency and some unnamed politicians.


He said with nostalgia, “while we are yet to conclude on the EFCC’s motive for this dishonourable act, we did not but wonder if the ‘new’ EFCC is now lending its machineries for the use of politicians and detractors to tarnish the image of a state that has enjoyed the confidence and commendation of domestic and international partners.”


Hon. Fanwo who reiterated the state’s readiness to contest the allegation said: “We are waiting for the order, we are waiting, when we receive the order then it means that many heads will roll because if you are granting order based on falsehood, misleading information, then you know you are in for it.”


He observed that Governor Bello inherited over N50 billion arrears of salaries and allowances to civil servants and pensioners, adding that the previous administration had applied for bailout funds from the Federal Government to settle the said arrears but could not access the funds until the expiration of their tenure.


“Accordingly, Governor Bello who pursued the bailout fund applications successfully secured Mr President’s approval for the funds which were disbursed in tranches,” he affirmed.


As stipulated in the Kogi State Accountant General’s financial record on the utilization of the N19.999 billion bail-out account for payment of workers’ salaries, seen by Nigerian Tribune, on the 23rd July 2019, the sums of N550,805,780.30 was paid into the SSG office’s UBA account; N3,610,282,746.20 paid into State Pension’s UBA Account; N10,838,911,472.52 paid into Kogi State Salary’s Sterling Account; the sums of N750 million and N60,842,051.50 were paid into House of Assembly’s Sterling Account while the additional sum of N10.920 million (1st 28-days allowance) paid into House of Assembly’s Sterling account, respectively.


In the same vein, on the 24th July 2019 the sums of N300 million arrears of union dues for 2016-2018 paid into the NLC’s Zenith bank account; N200 million arrears of union dues for 2016-2018 paid into the TUC’s Polaris bank while N120 million arrears of union dues for 2016-2018 paid into the Joint Negotiation Council’s Ecobank account, respectively.


The financial record also showed that the sums of N3 billion was for direct payment of February 2019 workers’ salary paid into Kogi State (SRA) UBA account on the 29th July 2019; N400 million direct payment of 10% of August to December 2019 workers’ salary paid into Kogi State (SRA) Sterling account on the 19th August 2019; N100 million gratuity paid to pensioners via State Pension Board’s UBA Account on the 26th September 2019 and N50 million as payment of Earn Academic Allowance(KSU) paid into Kogi State University’s First Bank account on the 25th October 2019, respectively.


Hon. Fanwo stressed that the anti-graft agency at no time invite nor inquire from the state before embarking on the investigation or go to court to freeze the controversial account, adding that “we sympathize with the chairman of EFCC, he will not be everywhere, but we as a state, we are ready to even support EFCC in building capacity so that the fight against corruption will be better executed by the administration.


“This is unfortunate because the international community will be watching us, they would see that what they took to Court to secure that unfortunate order was a misrepresentation of fact which misled the court into granting what they should not grant ordinarily. This is unfair to our judiciary.”


While arguing that “those allegations are from malicious men and women employing the machinery of government to do the bidding of their seen and unseen allies”, argued that the State received several awards from the World Bank, Office of the Accountant general of the Federation, among others for transparency and accountability on financial administration.


The governor argued that Kogi State Government at no particular time give “mandate or instruction to Sterling Bank Plc to open a fixed deposit account on its behalf as it could barely meet the salary obligations for which the funds were received at the material time.


“That Sterling Bank Plc by its letter of 1st September 2021 confirmed in writing that the ‘the Kogi State Government does not currently operate or maintain a fixed deposit account with Sterling Bank’. Here is a copy of that letter.


“The letter proceeded to confirm that all the balances in all the accounts operated by Kogi State Government was approximately N46 million.


“Finally, the letter confirmed that account number 0073572696 cited in the alleged order of the Court is ‘an internal (mirror) account operated by the Bank for the purposes of managing the Kogi State Bailout Facility,” he added.


While responding to question on whether the purported smearing campaign was as a result of Governor Bello’s 2023 presidential ambition, Idris answered in the affirmative, stressing that “we know there are vested interests, possibly because they’ve heard that millions of Nigerians are already calling on the Governor to be President and they are feeling threatened.


“So the best thing they think they can do is to go and be instigating this kind of confusion. But we are not going to allow that, it’s not about his presidency he has not said anything about it, whether he will be contesting or not. But at the right time, he will respond. But before then, we need to collectively come together to strengthen the system.”


When asked to unveil the suspected politicians, Hon. Fanwo said: “Somebody asked whether we are suspecting anybody? No, no, no no. we don’t have to suspect anybody. But our people say when you draw the rope, what the rope is holding will come out. We will draw the rope and what the rope is drawing will eventually be unmasked. I said instead of using the resources of their states, that is why we are all journalists, let us go and find out what are the states?”


While responding to question on the response of the Sterling bank’s Branch Manager, via a letter dated 2nd September, 2021, Kogi State Commissioner for Finance, Budget & Economic Planning, Asiwaju Asiru Idris affirmed that his office initiated the letter titled: ‘Request for clarification regarding certain alleged transactions with your bank by the Kogi State by the Kogi State Government being investigated by EFCC’, dated 1st September, 2021.


The letter was jointly signed by the Permanent Secretary, Elijah Evinemi; Accountant General, Momoh Idris and Commissioner for Finance, Budget & Economic Planning, Asiwaju Asiru Idris, respectively.


While expressing grave concern over the media report on the Court Order vis-à-vis the EFCC allegation on the N20 billion salary bail-out, the trio said: “Again, it becomes more staggering when further allegation was made that the balance in the said fixed account stands at N19,333,333,333.36 billion, with N666,666,666.64 million stands as deficit that is till been traced according to the report in the media,” the letter read in part.


While responding to question on the plan to sue EFCC and the media houses that reported the Court Order, the State Legal Adviser, Barrister Okezie argued that defamation is a strict liability offence and whether or not you don’t even have a defense, the only justification you have is whether it is true or not, where justification and defense has failed you it is not as defense that you heard it from somebody or you got it from a source and that you did not know that it was false.


“This is why we always urge you to at least reach out to us before going to press with it, but that didn’t happen. We have not said that we are going to sue your colleague who have made that mistake but let it be known clearly to you that all our options are open and when you defend somebody it is not a defense to you that you got it from the source you consider to be strong even if it is a court order, provided it is false.”


Relying on intelligence, the EFCC had filed an ex parte application before the Federal High Court in Lagos to freeze the state’s account with Sterling Bank to stop further dissipation of the funds in the fixed deposit account.


The agency accused the Kogi government of keeping the said amount in an interest-yielding account rather than the account opened to cater for workers’ salaries.


Granting the application, the judge, Tijjani Ringim, on Tuesday, ordered the state government’s account frozen and adjourned the matter till December 1 for the report of the EFCC investigation.


* Text aside caption courtesy of Tribune Online

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