Friday 17 February 2017

N388.3b refund probe sets governors against Magu

Governors have joined the battle to stop Ibrahim Magu from becoming Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) chairman.
Some of them are ganging up with some senators who are opposed to Magu’s renomination, The Nation learnt yesterday.
The governors are said to be displeased that the EFCC is investigating the disbursement and management of N388.304billion of the N522.74 billion released to 35 states as refunds of deductions on the London-Paris Club loans.
Also, it was learnt that Magu’s fate was mentioned at the talks between President Muhammadu Buhari and National Assembly leaders, led by Senate President Bukola Saraki, in London on Wednesday.
According to sources, most of the governors are opposed to the EFCC’s ongoing probe of the N388.304billion London-Paris Club loan refunds.
Although the EFCC on Monday explained that neither the President of the Senate nor any governor had been indicted, the anti-graft agency’s action formed a major issue at the meeting of the governors on Wednesday in Abuja.
It was learnt that the governors were angry that the probe might “embarrass them”, especially those about to complete their second term in office.
Some of the governors protested to a Northeast governor who has been seeking the support of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) for Magu, a source said.
The points of the disagreement between the governors and the EFCC are:
  • under-declaration of refunds;
  • alleged diversion of some of the loan refunds;
  • curious payment of service charge to some consultants; and
  • alleged tracing of some of the cash to personal accounts of some governors.
A source in the NGF, who spoke in confidence with our correspondent, said: “Most of the governors felt bad about the EFCC’s tracking and probing of how they have managed the London- Paris Club refunds.
“At the NGF session, they said it should not be the business of EFCC to look into how they shared and managed loan refunds when they have Houses of Assembly and their citizens to account to.
“There were concerns at the meeting, no doubt. Some of the governors also complained about the way they are being treated by the EFCC. In fact, one of them was upset that his account was frozen by the anti-graft agency.
“Some of the governors said there was no basis for supporting the renomination of the   Acting EFCC chairman. Tempers flared. Some governors were visibly worried.
“Others took exception to their investigation by the anti-graft agency. From the mood at the meeting, we have not heard the last word on the acting chairman of the EFCC from the governors.”
Another source at the meeting, which extended to Thursday, said: “The governors sought to know what transpired between the EFCC and the Director-General of NGF, Mr. Asishana Okauru, when he was invited over the London-Paris Club loan refunds.”
Okauru, who was once a director of the Financial Intelligence Unit of EFCC,  explained that the anti-graft agency only wanted clarifications, which were made available to them.
Okauru reportedly urged the governors not to see the EFCC’s action as personal because the agency might have had  legitimate reasons to do what it did.
“But some of the governors were not swayed by Okaru’s persuasion. They were bitter and unhappy with EFCC,” another source said.
Responding to a question, the source however added: “It was based on the brilliant submission of DG Okauru that the Chairman of NGF, Governor Abdulaziz Yari, told reporters that the Forum would await the outcome of the ongoing investigation of the EFCC.”
To a security source, “the gang-up is not new”.
Some of the governors were said to have played a key role in the initial rejection of Magu by the Senate, he said.
They include, according to him, “those who have cases to answer, whose godfathers have always wanted a waiver commitment from Magu who has insisted that he will do his job without fear or favour.
“The facts are there; those involved know themselves. Many interests have beclouded the  confirmation process,” he said, pleading not to be identified because he is not allowed to speak to the media.
The EFCC has said that there should be no basis for anxiety over its investigation of the refunds.
A statement by its Head of Media and Publicity, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, said: “The attention of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has been drawn to a report captioned, ‘Nigerian State Governors, Senate President Saraki pocketed billions of naira from Paris Loan Refund’, which appeared in the online news portal, Sahara Reporters, on Sunday February 12, 2017 .
“The report, among others, claimed that the Commission has indicted all the governors of the 36 states of the Federation and the Senate President, Bukola Saraki in the ongoing investigation of the reimbursement paid to state governments by the Federal Government for excessive deduction charged to them on account of the Paris Club and other international loans.
“The commission wishes to state unequivocally, that no state governor or Senate President has been indicted so far by the investigation which is still at a preliminary stage.
“ Also, insinuations about cover up by some officials of the Commission are untrue as there is no incentive to do so.
“The commission implores the media to be circumspect in the reportage of this delicate issue in order not to jeopardise ongoing investigation, and be assured that they would be fully briefed of developments as soon as breakthrough is achieved.”
Magu’s fate also came up during the talks between the President and National Assembly leaders in London on Wednesday, The Nation learnt.
The National Assembly chiefs were said to have expressed reservations on some of the EFCC’s activities.
The leaders said they did not want anything which would cause a strain in the relationship between the Executive and the Legislature. They  suggested a fresh nominee for EFCC chair, the source claimed, adding: “But the President was non-committal.”
The Federal Government released N388.304billion of the N522.74 billion to 35 states as refunds of over-deductions on London-Paris Club loans.
States on top of the list with huge reimbursements are those controlled by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party( PDP), contrary to their claims of being “oppressed by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari”.
The big earners are: Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta, Katsina, Kaduna, Lagos, Imo, Jigawa, Borno, Niger, Bauchi,and Benue.
Only Kano State and the FCT did not benefit from the reimbursement.
 Ondo was only paid 50 per cent of its refunds (N6,513,392,932.28) because of leadership change in the state which will soon lead to the inauguration of the Governor-elect,  Chief Rotimi Akeredolu.
The top beneficiaries are: Akwa Ibom – N14,500,000,000.00;  Bayelsa – N14,500,000,000.00;  Delta—N14,500,000,000.00; Kastina  -N14,500,000,000.00; Lagos – N14,500,000,000.00;  Rivers
-N14,500,000,000.00;  Kaduna – N14,362,416,363.24; Borno-N13,654,138,849.49; Bauchi – N12,792,664,403.93;   Benue – N12,749,689,453.61; Sokoto—N11,980,499,096.97; Osun– N11,744,237,793.56; Anambra– N11,386,281,466.35; Edo– N11,329,495,462.04; Cross River – N11,300,139,741.28; Kogi – N11,211,573,328.19; and Kebbi – N11,118,149,054.10.
The Federal Government reached a conditional agreement to pay 25% of the amounts claimed subject to a cap of N14.5 billion to any given State.
Balances due thereafter, will be revisited when fiscal conditions improve.
“Mr. President’s overriding concern is for the welfare of the Nigerian people. considering the fact that many States are owing salaries and pension, causing considerable hardship, “the government said.

Pastor disrupts service, beats security guard over church ownership

A 56-year-old pastor, Jones Nwaeze, was on Friday arraigned before an Ikeja Magistrates’ court in Lagos for allegedly chasing worshippers with sticks and threatening to burn down his church.
Nwaeze, a resident of Oba Akinjobi Road, Ikeja, Lagos, is being tried for breach of peace and assault before Magistrate Mrs Y.O. Ekogbule.
The prosecutor, Insp. Clement Okuoimose, said the accused committed the offences on Feb. 12 at No. 95, Tina St., Ojodu, Lagos.
He said that the accused, a pastor of Ministry of Gospel of God Church, conducted himself in a manner likely to cause breach of peace by chasing away other worshippers with stick and fuel.
The prosecutor said the accused invaded the church during Saturday morning prayers, disrupted the service and assaulted some of the worshipers.
He said that the security man attempted to prevent the accused from gaining access into the church premises because it was not the first time he (accused) was disrupting church service.
He said, “He (pastor) hit the security man with a stick on the head, dragged him on the ground and the security man sustained injuries.
“One of the worshippers alerted the police who rushed to the scene.”
Okuoimose said the accused claimed ownership of the church, saying he had invested heavily on it by bringing converts and he needed his share.
The prosecutor said the offences contravened sections 166 and 171 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2011.
Section 171 states that if found guilty, the accused will serve three years jail term.
The accused however pleaded not guilty to the offences levelled against him.
The Magistrate granted him bail in the sum of N20, 000 with two sureties in like sum and adjourned the case till March 13 for mention.

N8.5bn fraud: Atewe gave N35m to Winners’ Chapel – Witness

An Abuja-based businessman, Mr. Nkem Ahidjo, claimed on Friday that N35m out of the N8.5bn allegedly diverted by retired Maj. Gen. Emmanuel Atewe was paid to the Living Faith Church, popularly known as Winners’ Chapel.
Atewe served as the Commander of the military Joint Task Force, Operation Pulo Shield, in the Niger Delta before his retirement.
He was last week re-arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for an alleged fraud of N8.5bn, which the EFCC claimed was perpetrated during the operation.
He is facing 22 counts before Justice A.O. Faji of the Federal High Court in Lagos.
The other defendants in the case are a former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Patrick Akpobolokemi; Kime Engozu and Josephine Otuaga.
The EFCC accused them of conspiring among themselves to divert N8.5bn from Operation Pulo Shield between September 5, 2014, and May 20, 2015, using six companies.
The six companies were listed as Jagan Ltd; Jagan Trading Company Ltd; Jagan Global Services Ltd; Al-Nald Ltd; Paper Warehouse Ltd; Eastpoint Integrated Services Ltd and De-Newlink Integrated Services Ltd.
They had been arraigned on three occasions and had on each occasion pleaded not guilty to the offence.
In a bid to prove its allegations, however, the EFCC called Ahidjo as its first witness on Friday.
Led in evidence by the EFCC prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, Ahidjo introduced himself as a businessman, who dealt in stationeries, printing, and general contracts.

Maj. Gen. Emmanuel Atewe

The witness said he carried on his trade under his five companies based in Abuja, adding that he was a registered contractor with the National Assembly, the National Population Commission, and the Independent National Electoral Commission, to which he made supplies.
He claimed to have known Atewe from Villa Church in Abuja, where they both worshiped, as of when the retired general was still a Guard Commander.
The witness said, being a pentecostal, he also attended Living Faith Church, and Atewe also worshiped there.
He said he cultivated a good relationship with Atewe, to the extent that he attended “midnight church” in Atewe’s house in Abuja, three times a week.
Ahidjo narrated to the court how Atewe moved to Bayelsa between July and September 2014 where he served as JTF Commander.
“He invited me to Bayelsa and I went. He told me that the Federal Government gave JTF a grant for security and building of barracks and if I have any company into which account money could be paid. And being somebody I knew very well from Guard Commander to Major General, I provided the companies that I listed earlier,” Ahidjo said.
The witness said on a second invitation and visit to Atewe in Bayelsa, Atewe told him that three payments were about to be made into his accounts and as soon as they were made he should acknowledge the payments and await further instructions.
He said within two to three days of the meeting, he started to receive the payments and accordingly informed Atewe, who asked him to hold on till he (Atewe) returned to Abuja.
The witness said upon Atewe’s return to Abuja, he invited him to his office at Niger Barracks in Abuja, where he introduced, Engozu, who is the 3rd defendant, as the person that would take delivery of the money from Ahidjo.
Ahidjo said in view of the volume of the monies, Engozu advised him to change the money from naira to dollar before delivery, and he according contacted a Bureau de Change operator, named only as Jimoh.
“Each time I received it (money), I would call a BDC operator, named Jimoh. I knew him before this time. He would change the money, I would pay him the naira equivalent and take the dollars. Once I changed it, I would wait for instruction either from Major General Atewe or Mr. Kime. That was what we continued to do until the end of the transaction in 2015,” Ahidjo said.
He said he received a total of N4,915,163,103 within the period, out of which about N4.1bn were converted to dollars and delivered to Engozu, who in turn issued a receipt for each payment based on Atewe’s instruction.
Ahidjo said of the remaining amount, he was instructed by Atewe to transfer N35m to Winners’ Chapel; N103m to INP Ltd; N170m to First Investment Ltd; N99m to Lord Fem Ltd; N88m to Ocean Gas and N297m to Cisco Nobot.
Asked by the prosecutor the purpose of the transfer to Living Faith Church, Ahidjo said, “I don’t know what it was for; it was on the instruction of Maj. Gen. Atewe. All these monies, I don’t question what they were meant for. It is not my money, so I can’t question what it was for. Maj. Gen. Atewe asked me to act on instruction.”
Justice Faji adjourned till March 21, 2017, for Ahidjo to continue his evidence.

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