Akwa Ibom Governor Udom Emmanuel and his Commissioner of Finance, Akan Okon, have been implicated in a fraudulent diversion of N1.5b belonging to the State-owned mortgage bank, Akwa Savings & Loans Ltd.
Documents obtained by SaharaReporters have confirmed the diversion by the duo to fund political activities.
SaharaReporters' investigation revealed that in 2014, the Akwa Ibom State government obtained a loan of N1.5b from Akwa Savings & Loans Ltd. for the purchase of controlling shares in Champion Breweries Plc, a beer brewing company formally owned exclusively by the State government which was later privatized. The government did not provide any collateral for the loan, which had a negative effect on the operations and viability of the State's primary mortgage bank.
The Akwa Ibom House of Assembly approved the State government’s request to borrow N3.4b on March 3, 2016. The approval followed a letter from Governor Udom Emmanuel, seeking leave to obtain a loan of N1.49b to enable the State government to repay its debt to Akwa Savings & Loans Ltd. The House also granted the governor approval to secure a loan of N1.938b for the payment of the State's counterpart funding for the Universal Basic Education program.
After deliberation on the matter, the lawmakers submitted that it was important for the State government to repay the loan to Akwa Savings & Loans. They added that the loan would enable the bank stay afloat and retain its workforce, who were indigenes of the State.
However, instead of repaying the loan owed to Akwa Savings & Loans Ltd, the governor, in collusion with his finance commissioner, fraudulently diverted the money from the Akwa Savings & Loans Ltd account no. 1006986768 with the United Bank for Africa (UBA) to a dedicated account no. 1019451348 with UBA, of which the finance commissioner was the sole signatory and operator. The diversion of the money has denied the State mortgage bank access to its money.
Documents obtained by SaharaReporters revealed that a regulatory body, the Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation, (NDIC) was alerted of the fraudulent diversion of the money. The NDIC, in a letter dated May 3, 2016 with reference no. NDIC/LO/SIID/AKSMF/Vol. 1 and addressed to the Commissioner of Finance in Akwa Ibom State, expressed dismay with the diversion of the money.
According to the letter, an investigation by the NDIC examiners revealed that contrary to a letter with reference no. M/S/381/Vol. 11 dated April 5, 2016 in which the finance commissioner claimed that the State government's N1.5b indebtedness to Akwa Savings & Loans Ltd. had been offset and repaid, the finance commissioner had actually instructed UBA to transfer the money from the Akwa Savings & Loans PMB Ltd. account (1006986768) with UBA, to a dedicated account (1019451348) with UBA, which had the finance commissioner as the sole signatory.
Part of the letter from the NDIC signed by Molu, E. S. for Director, Special Insured Institutions Department, read:
"The implication of the Commissioner's action is that the PMB is denied access to the N1.5 billion for its operations. More so, the withdrawal of the N1.5 billion continued to impact the PMB as it posted a negative Capital Adequacy Ratio of 9% compared to CBN's minimum prescribed threshold of 10%.
"Therefore, we direct that the N1.5 billion should be immediately transferred to PMB's UBA Account (1006986768) to fund its operations.
"For the avoidance of doubt, any delay in transferring the N1.5 billion to the PMB will result in the imposition of a Holding Action on the PMB as provided in Section 36 and 37 of BOFIA 1991 (as amended) and the Central Bank of Nigeria will be advised accordingly."
The letter, which was copied to the State governor, gave the finance commissioner one week to forward documentary evidence of the transfer of the N1.5b to Akwa Savings & Loans UBA account to the NDIC and the CBN.
A source contacted by SaharaReporters disclosed that the finance commissioner, Mr. Okon, has threatened the corporate branch manager of UBA in Uyo for implicating him and the State governor by opening its records to the NDIC. Mr. Okon has ordered the bank manager to doctor its records and cover-up the fraud or risk losing the patronage of the State government.
A highly placed government source in the State told SaharaReporters that the governor is likely using the N1.5b to fund "pressing political activities," like the congresses of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the PDP Zoning Committee headed by the Akwa Ibom State governor, and other party matters.
Meanwhile, workers at Akwa Savings & Loans Ltd. protested at the bank's premises on Monday, May 9, over the inability and failure of the bank to pay their salaries.
The protest grounded activities at the head office of the bank located at 42 Oron Road in Uyo, the State capital. Local government employees whose salary accounts are domiciled with the bank also took part in the protest. The workers protested under the auspices of the National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (NUBIFI), an affiliate of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).
While the company's employees demanded the immediate payment of their salary arrears, those from the local governments claimed the bank has not paid their salaries since January, saying they only received payment notifications on their mobile phones without being paid by the bank.