It is no longer news that the attempt to shield some sacred cows in the avowed war against corruption has a beginning with the Saraki’s since the daylight robbery of Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria by the Saraki’s . Some many news sources have been blowing the whistle on what is now popularly referred to as “doctored original list” of the EFCC corruption ‘advisory’ to political parties. In exposing one of the alarming cover-ups on the road to 2007, it has been reported that some governors in the good books of President Obasanjo and the ruling People’s Democratic Party had succeeded in having their names taken off the original EFCC list. A few days back, an embarrassed EFCC chairman, Nuhu Ribadu, admitted on television that some names indeed were substituted. Definitely, Saraki belongs on a higher class of sacred cows.
In the wake of public indignation that has attended the revelation, documents and petitions sent last year to the EFCC and which, among other things, formed the basis of the commission’s searchlight on Kwara State, of which Governor Bukola Saraki is one of those mentioned in the missing list. The petitions were authored by different socio-political groups like the Kwara Emancipation Initiative, Kwara Redemption Network, and Kwara Equity and Justice Forum, one of which is said to enjoy a good measure of support of a senior minister in the Obasanjo government.Indeed, more ammunition had come from three former local council chairmen who have either buckled under pressure or are merely trying to save their own skin.
In the wake of accusations of non-performance by their constituents and most recently the wave of EFCC summons to commissioners, Council Chairmen and Directors of Personnel Management (DPMs), the trio have been singing like canaries, detailing cases of arm-twisting and generally pointing at directions the EFCC must look if the commission ever want to get to the bottom of the alleged missing local government funds, said to total to a whooping N6 billion.
Account number 0029253979001
At the moment, account number 0029253979001 with the Ilorin branch of Intercontinental Bank Plc appears to be the nemesis of every government official who has had anything to do with local government fund in Kwara State. Information obtained from EFCC working documents showed that in two years between May 2004 and May 2006, the Kwara State government operated what was referred to as “Kwara State Local Government Joint Project Account” with the Intercontinental Bank Plc which address was given as 24, Wahab Folawiyo Road, Ilorin, Kwara State. All the sixteen local government councils were made to undertake commitment to pay certain percentage of their monthly allocation into the account monthly.
It was gathered that the idea behind the Joint Project Account was for funding of capital projects in local government areas. By the arrangement, any of the cooperating local government would get 60 percent of its contribution from the pool for an approved project while the state government would match the cost to the tune of 40 percent of the total cost of the approved project.
The document further showed that the amount deducted from the councils in two years was about N2, 399, 715, 018 billion (Two billion, three hundred and ninety-nine million seven hundred and fifteen thousand, and eighteen Naira only). Signatories to the account are the state’s Accountant General and the Deputy Director of Treasury. None of the 16 council chairmen or their agents were signatories.
A breakdown of contributions to the Joint Project Account showed that during the period in question, deductions from the respective local governments were: Asa local government, N131, 827, 500; Baruteen N217, 072, 500; Edu N147, 187, 500; Ekiti N100, 492, 500; Ifelodun N200, 467, 500; Ilorin East N167, 962, 500; Ilorin South N166, 222, 500; Ilorin West N250, 297, 500; and Irepodun N137, 152, 500.
Others were Isin local government N107, 255, 500; Kiama N180, 622, 500; Moro N151, 166, 500; Offa N118, 627, 500; Oke-Ero N94, 175, 500 and Patigi N118, 882, 500 .
Tracing the genesis of the controversial Joint Project Account, investigators located three former local government chairmen who were there when the compulsory deduction scheme was initiated. The trio: Hon. Mohammed Lerama-Dubba, former chairman of Edu Local Government Council; Hon. Dele Abiodun, former Chairman of Ekiti Local Government Council; and Hon. Ahmed Ajimoti, former Chairman of Oyun local council are witnesses to one of the petitions sent to the anti-graft body.
Narrating his experience as a local government chairman, Lerama-Dubba told investigators that although the Kwara State House of Assembly passed a bill for the Joint Project Account, deductions were carried out under duress: “We were told what to do. Our hands were more or less tied and every month we watched helplessly as close to half-a dozen deductions are made on our allocations.”
The former council boss swore there was never a time he and any of his colleagues received full allocation sent in by the Federal Government in Abuja. A copy of the allocation sheet for November 2004 showed that out of a gross allocation of N37, 196, 135.32 (Thirty-seven million, one Hundred and Ninety-six Thousand, one hundred and thirty five naira and thirty-two kobo, Edu local government paid N6, 132, 812.50 (six million, one hundred and thirty-two thousand, eight hundred and twelve Naira and fifty kobo) to the Joint Project Account. There were other deductions like N811,
353.80k for the Traditional Council, and N194, 260.39k as bank charges. The net allocation to the local government was N36, 190, 521.14 (Thirty-six million, one hundred and ninety thousand, five hundred and twenty-one thousand and fourteen kobo). That month, the total deductions from the 16 local councils to the Joint Account were N100, 018, 792.42 (One hundred million, eighteen thousand, seven hundred and ninety-two naira and forty-two kobo).
Hon. Lerama-Dubba revealed that the allocation sheet with figures therein was prepared every month by the State Accountant General, adding that council chairmen were kept in the dark about the true allocations from the federal government. However, from information sought from the website of the Federal Ministry of Finance as propagated by a catholic monthly publication, Democracy Monitor, council chairmen were able to track their allocations. The Edu council boss said that way, he was able to know, for instance, that what came to his local government in November 2004 was about N52 million; not the N37 million declared by the state.
Detailing how the scheme affected his own local government, Hon. Dele Abiodun, suspended chairman of Ekiti local council, produced piles of documents for allocation sharing and deductions. One of such documents sent to the council from the office of the Accountant General showed that for the month of May 2004, Ekiti Local Government received N21, 035, 439. 36. The document in part read: “Please note that the above listed amount will be transferred to your banker through Intercontinental Bank (Nig) Plc, Ilorin as specified in the Accountant General’s mandate.”
Attached to this document was another, already prepared and awaiting the signature of the council chairman. Hon. Abiodun said the same paper was sent every month to each of the 16 council chairmen though with varying figures. Addressed to the Ilorin Branch Manager of Intercontinental Bank, it read: ‘sequel to my local government council agreement with the “State Executive Council to jointly fund Developmental Capital Projects”, within my local government, I hereby authorize you to debit my local government Account No. 0029-212285-001 of your bank and credit the Local Government Development Project Joint Account No. 0029-253979-001 with the sum of N4, 187, 189.50 on monthly basis.”
In the two years under review, the Joint Project Account had swollen to N2.5 billion, yet in the history of the account, only five local council were said to have benefitted, though disproportionally, from its content. Edu LGA was not one of them.
Hon. Lerama-Dubba said he once proposed to construct five abattoirs across the local government. He proposed to buy a grader to improve rural roads and to purchase a rig for drilling boreholes. At the time of these proposals, Edu LGA had contributed over N100 million. All the three proposals were shot down. No new ones were suggested by the state government.
Another disappointing experience was recounted by Hon. Dele Abiodun who told investigators that in May 2004, he awarded a 6.5 kilometer road contract, the Isolo-Ikerin road in Ekiti local government area, for N72 million. The contract was awarded to Ebila Construction Company, owned by a Syrian, Himau Saimau. Telling how things went awry, Abiodun said: “Work started, but I was called and told that I could not do that kind of capital project. I said we could do it, that the road was important and strategic. They said no! The Ministry of Local Government took over the project, renegotiated with the contractor and the contract was jerked up to N89 million. When the contract was first signed, it was supposed to be two surface dressing. They made it one surface. The contractor complained they were too many people to be settled. To my surprise, the contractor was paid from the Joint Project Account for a job the state government had taken over.”
In the on-going searchlight on missing local council funds, Himau Saimau was invited by the EFCC. He is said to be on the run. Sources inside the EFCC revealed that other individuals so invited are the State Commissioner for Finance, Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, serving council bosses, the Treasurer and Directors of Personnel Managements.
A Pandora box
Another source of financial controversy has been the activities of Transition Implementation Committee (TIC), the body that managed the local government areas for a while. The petition stated that between May 2003, when Bukola Saraki’s PDP government took over from Mohammed Lawal’s ANPP, and May 2004, the new governor appointed transition committees to run the affairs of the 16 local councils. In the first six months, the most senior civil servants in the councils called Director of Personnel Management (DPM) ran the councils. They were merely given a little part of council allocation to cover salaries. In the second six months, caretaker committees were appointed by the state government. They too had no access to council allocation. They were given enough to cover salaries and emoluments and N200, 000 per month for running expenses. The total accrual to all the local governments for the 12 months came to N7.9 billion (7 billion, 843 million and 364,000 naira). The petition pointed out that since the TIC hardly exhausted a quarter of their accrual, someone must account for the balance.
Lerama-Dubba who was one of the elected chairmen that took over from the TIC stressed that in states like Kogi and Ondo which also operated TICs, elected chairmen were given money to commence projects as soon as they took over. “Some got N300 million, N400 million, N500 million respectfully, depending on each council accrual. In Kwara, nothing like that happened. Nobody mentioned the TIC allocations.”
One knotty issue that has kept popping up in all the petitions sent to the EFCC is the operations of a company, OlaKleen. This company, said to be owned by the governor’s younger brother, Olaolu Saraki, is the consultant to a state project named “Operation Keep Kwara Clean”. Although Olakleen is only working in the state capital, Ilorin, the 16 local councils are made to pay for the service, coughing out about N14 million every month.
Reacting to the arrangement, Dubba said: “In my local government, I employed my own cleaners whom I pay N5, 000 in salary on a monthly basis. I had 30 cleaners, yet I was still compelled to pay N960, 000 a month to Olakleen when they were neither working for me nor operating in my local government.”
Just as Olakleen is a source of grouse to local government chairmen in Kwara, so also is issue of 4 per cent deduction from each local councils meant for the salaries of traditional rulers. In another petition, it was stated that a 2001 law stipulated 2.5 per cent of council allocation to the traditional councils; the current government raised it to 4 percent. Pointing out what he called arm-twisting, Dubba said: “My local government-Edu LGA- has three traditional rulers: Emir of Lafiagi, Emir of Saragi and Emir of Shonga. Lafiagi’s salary is N80, 000, the other two N50, 000 each, making it a total of N180, 000. So if I have N70 million allocations, 4 percent of it, about N3 million is taken from me to pay a salary of N180, 000. In addition, the monthly miscellaneous of these traditional rulers are the burden of the local government. If they are sick or travelling or having ceremonies, we pick the bills.”
The EFCC was also informed that because of sundry deductions- which included 1% deduction for the Local Government Service Commission for training of staff- Ekiti local council was often borrowing money to pay salary.
The former Chairman, Dele Abiodun claimed that when he assumed office in April 2004, he received N19 million from the state, though what came from the federal was N45 million. “Out of these N19 million, deductions was made for the Joint Project Account, Olakleen, and other strange expenditures ordered by Governor Bukola Saraki. What was left was about N15 million so I just paid salaries and folded my arms. But in August 2005, there was an obvious error in their arithmetic because what came to my council was jut N2.5 million. I screamed and ran to the Commissioner of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, he too was alarmed and said this is serious and advised me to write a memo to the governor. I did, but in the end I was asked to take overdraft of N14 million from the bank to pay salary.
Overwhelming as the deductions obviously were, the former council chairmen said that in what amounted to overkill, they were denied excess crude oil earnings as shared by the federal governments to states and local councils. Same for VAT and internal revenue earning of which they were entitled to 10 per cent.
Defending the actions of the state government with regards to deductions from council funds, a source within the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs told investigators that a part of the Joint Project Fund was actually used to buy bank shares for all the local governments. He said the Joint Account was meant to accelerate development by forcing council chairmen to embark on meaningful projects which they would not ordinarily had embarked on their own.
Dubba dismissed the story of bank shares as false. He said that it was only when Trade Bank, owned by the state government was shopping for N25 billion capital base that the local councils were forced to buy Trade Bank shares by force. “The monies were deducted but the bank finally liquidated and no local government got their money back.”
How on earth did the EFCC “advisory” miss Governor Bukola Saraki’s name?