The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has narrated how the sum of N1.7 billion was withdrawn from the Akwa Ibom state government’s accounts and diverted for personal use, stating that it necessitated the freeze action on the state’s account.
In a statement of defence filed before the Federal High Court in Uyo and seen by SaharaRepoters on Friday, the commission indicted Emmanuel Udom, Akwa Ibom State Governor, the Accountant General of the state, Uwem Sunday Andrew-Essien, Commissioner of Finance, Nsikan Linus Nkan, one Margeret Thompson Ukpe and a company, Paul Usoro & Co.
In August 2018, the anti-graft agency had placed a freeze order on all bank accounts controlled by the Akwa Ibom State Government. This led to a N50 billion law suit filed by the Attorney General of Akwa Ibom State, against the commission.
In the suit, Akwa Ibom claimed that the 72-hour freeze order placed on its accounts paralysed state’s activities and brought it ridicule. The Attorney General noted in the statement of claim that “there is no basis even in the Constitution of Nigeria or any other enabling law made by anybody whether the National Assembly or the state Assembly or any other convention that authorises any federal agency or any agency to shut down the account of a state government as done by the EFCC.
“I want to state clearly that even if there was to be an investigation that the EFCC was carrying out about whether there was any fraud committed against Akwa Ibom State in that circumstance, it should be the government of Akwa Ibom that should be the victim, so there was no basis for freezing the accounts.”
However, responding to this claim, EFCC said it acted within the purview of its enactment act that empowers it to place a stop order on any account suspected to be involved in any crime.
Giving instances of suspicion, EFCC said on March 10, 2016, the sum of N700 million was withdrawn in cash from the state’s Accountant General’s imprest account.
EFCC stated further that “out of the said N700,000,000.00, the sum of N300,000,000.00 was deposited in cash to the Zenith account No. 1014604466 belonging to Paul Usoro & Co on the 14th of March, 2016 without any contractual relationship between Akwa Ibom State and the said Paul Usoro & Co.
“That the 1st defendant (EFCC) invited Paul Usoro (SAN) who volunteered extra judicial statement confessing that the said N300,000,000.00 was his professional fees for handling Mr. Udom Emmanuel’s personal matter before the election tribunal. That the remaining N400,000,000.00 was also diverted to private use.
“That in similar vein, the total sum of N1,100,000,000.00 was also removed from the Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Justice account No. 1011191486 domiciled in Zenith Bank Plc and lodged in the Paul Usoro & Co’s account number 0690123425 domiciled with Access Bank Plc without reasonable justification."
The anti-graft agency claimed that out of the N1.1 billion, Uwemedimo Thomas Nwoko received an alleged kickback of N65million from Paul Usoro.
The Akwa Ibom State government had also claimed that EFCC did not give any notice before freezing its account. Responding to this, the commission said it extended invitation to the signatories of the accounts and the “state government officials who made the said cash withdrawal”, but there was no acknowledgment.
EFCC averred further “that the various officials of the Akwa Ibom State Government who were involved in these alleged fraudulent transaction still exercise control over the account of the state; that it was in the course of the exercise of its statutory fffunction, that the 1st respondent took meansures to prevent further fraudulent and suspicious transcation on the accounts of Akwa Ibom State Government by the various officials of the state that letter of investigation activities were sent to the 3rd – 5th defendants herein on the 8th day of August, 2018 to place and lift no debit order on the accounts".
EFCC, thereby, prayed the count not to restrain it from performing its statutory functions as it acted in the overall interest of the state.