By Chinelo Obogo
When speculations that Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State will contest for the presidential ticket of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) began to circulate last year, many of his supporters cheered him on, touting his youthful age and the fact that he appointed many women and young people into his cabinet. While his critics accused him of not doing enough for the state, his supporters said he has achieved more than his predecessors.
But while the back and forth continued over his presidential bid, reports emerged alleging that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had received intelligence reports that the bailout funds given to the state by the Federal Government meant for the payment of salaries was domiciled in a fixed deposit in a new generation bank, rather than using it for what it was meant for.
The state shut down the reports and insisted that the funds claimed to have been found and returned to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), didn’t belong to the state and that it had already disbursed its bailout loans for the purpose of which it was granted as of October 2019.
EFCC takes Kogi govt to court
At one of the hearings headed by Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke of the Federal High Court, Lagos, counsel to Kogi State Prof. Sam Erugo (SAN), told the court that the freezing order Justice Tijjani Ringim granted after an ex parte application brought by the EFCC for an interim forfeiture of the sum of N19, 333, 333, 333.36 billion was illegal.
Justice Ringim made the order of the interim forfeiture after taking arguments from the EFCC’s counsel, Abbas Muhammed. In asking the court for the order, Abbas told the court that the application was brought pursuant to section 44(2) of the Constitution and section 34(1) of the EFCC Act and under the inherent jurisdiction of the court.
The EFCC, in its 13-paragraph affidavit in support of the ex-parte application deposed to, by a member of EFCC’s team of investigators, stated that the Commission received intelligence, which led to the tracing of funds in a bank and suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities deposited in an account with the name ‘Kogi State Salary Bailout’. He said the Commission acted on the intelligence after it discovered that on April 1, 2019 the management of the bank approved N20b bailout loan facility for Kogi State meant to augment the salary payment and running cost of the
He said that on June 26, 2019 the loan facility offer was accepted vide a memorandum of acceptance signed by Governor Yahaya Bello, the Commissioner of Finance, Asiru idris and the Accountant General, Momoh Jibrin. He then alleged that rather than use the intervention funds for the purpose for which it was granted, the state proceeded to open a fixed deposit account and transferred the money from the loan account.
CBN claims bailout money received
The EFCC published on its official website recently that the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, has acknowledged the receipt of the sum of N19, 333,333,333.36 (Nineteen billion, three hundred and thirty-three million, three hundred and thirty-three thousand, three hundred and thirty-three naira, thirty-six kobo) recovered from the Kogi State salary bailout account.
It said that in a letter referenced, DFD/DIR/CON/EXT/01/099 and dated November 9, 2021, the CBN informed the Executive Chairman of EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa that it has received the money in compliance with the October 15, 2021 order of a Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi Lagos directing the unfreezing of the Kogi State salary bailout account to enable the bank to remit the balance in the account to the CBN.
Kogi refutes EFCC’s claims
The Commissioner for Information and Communications, Kingsley Femi Fanwo in a recent meeting with the media in Lagos, disputed all of EFCC’s claims, insisting that the funds does not belong to the state and accused the agency of kowtowing to governors who want to discredit Governor Bello over his 2023 presidential ambition.
He said not only does the state not own the said funds but that it does not currently operate or maintain a fixed deposit account with the bank in question and neither is there a mandate letter from the to do so
He revealed that as at August 31, 2021, the balances in the Kogi State Salary Bailout accounts are as follows: Account 1 (0072969301), Nil balance, Account2 (0073522756), N999,190.50, Kogi State Government Salary Account (0073499012), N44,816,195.24.
On EFCC’s claim that the sum of N666,666,666.64 was transferred from the sum of N19,333,333,333.36 on the instruction of the Kogi State Government, he said the account is not an operational account but was opened for administrative purposes and that the amount represents eight instalments of principal amount and interest covering July 2019 to Feb 2020 that have been paid to the CBN which is in line with the terms of the on-lending facility which provides that interest of 2% is due to CBN.
On the whereabouts of our bailout funds which was obtained in June 2019, Fanwo said the bank in its statement clearly confirmed that the entirety of the bailout fund was transferred to the State Salary account in accordance with the mandate and on-lending structure and that some of the information and documents previously submitted to the EFCC and the treatment and recognition of the liability to CBN in the bank’s books including the internal labelling of the liability account in favour of the state under the account type intervention fund, could have been misconstrued as a fixed deposit created on behalf of the state
Fanwo alleged that officials of the bank who wrote the letter on September 1, 2021 were invited and detained by the EFCC and under duress made to write and sign extra-judicial statements which fit the narrative which the EFCC wanted. He said despite the treatment, the bank still proceeded to deny via their letter dated October 5, 2021 that the Kogi State Government opened or operated a ‘Kogi State Salary Bailout Fixed Deposit Account, wherein an alleged N19,333,333,333.36 was hidden by the state
“We had in the past challenged and we hereby again challenge the EFCC to produce the account mandate, account package, and the phone number and BVN of those who allegedly opened and operated the ‘Kogi State Salary Bailout Fixed Deposit Account’ on behalf of the Kogi State Government. Nigerians know that a fixed deposit account cannot be opened without a mandate, an agreement as to terms including tenor, interest rates and the rest. The EFCC should produce all these to the public. Finally, the EFCC should tell Nigerians who was drawing the interest from the said fixed deposit account and where the interest was being paid by Sterling Bank Plc.
“Rather than provide all these documents to back up their wild claims, and answer the above posed questions truthfully and faithfully as a responsible organization; the EFCC descended into the realm of lies, not only to Nigerians but to the Court. The EFCC claimed that the mandate form which was duly signed and clearly endorsed with our Bailout Accounts 1 and 2 covered and serves as the mandate for the ‘Kogi State Salary Bailout Fixed Deposit Account even though the mandate/account opening form attached to their affidavit in support of that deposition court did not support their claim.
“If truly the Kogi State own and operates the ‘Kogi State Salary Bailout Fixed Deposit Account’ including the funds which were alleged to have been found in it, why has the EFCC not arrested and prosecuted those who signed the account opening form for opening the said fixed deposit account and those who have been giving instructions in respect of the account? Why is the EFCC only harping on the refund of the funds to the CBN? Or does the refund of proceeds of crime cancel the commission of the crime? If the Governor of Kogi State has immunity from arrest and prosecution, do the officers of who usually sign mandates and account opening forms including supplying their BVN for account opening and who also provide instructions for movement of funds, immune to arrest and prosecution?
“The answers to the above is clear because the EFCC is just chasing shadows particularly as it relates to Kogi State and Governor Yahaya Bello. If anyone should be maligned in this entire saga, it is the bank which admitted opening a mirror account in the name of Kogi State Government without its mandate and authority and which has now undertaken to return funds found in the said account to the CBN. Nigerians should ask the EFCC whether Kogi State sat down with the EFCC or any bank and undertook to refund any money to the CBN? Is it possible that the bank will write and undertake to return funds or a loan it has already granted to Kogi State and which has been disbursed to its account without the authority or consent of the borrower or an order of Court?
“This whole saga is a hatchet job conceived by politicians and implemented by the EFCC and we need not look further for evidence of the foregoing statement than the mischievous and defamatory use of Governor Yahaya Bello’s picture in the body of the statement released by the EFCC on November 19, 2021. This whole charade is political, it is aimed at tarnishing the governor’s rising political image, ridiculing him, bringing him into disrepute, lowering him in the estimation of right-thinking members of the society by portraying him as a corrupt person. The EFCC does not care for how this will affect the fortunes of the state and shake investor confidence once it can satisfy the desires of its political allies and godfathers.
“Let it be known that the Kogi State Government refutes every bit of these false allegations being peddled by the EFCC. The Kogi State Government had disbursed its bailout loans for the purpose for which it was granted as of October 2019. There is therefore no ‘hidden bailout funds/loan’ belonging to Kogi State that is capable of being returned to the CBN or frozen by an order of Court. The EFCC knows this; indeed, the fear of exposure of its lies in Court and the attendant sanctions/backlash informed its decision to hurriedly withdraw the sham suit it filed in Court,” Fanwo said.