SLEAZY DETAILS OF HOW BAYELSA TREASURY WAS LOOTED
Fresh fact emerged during the week how officials of Bayelsa state government allegedly fleeced the people of the state of several billions of naira under the guise of developing the state.
Besides, the sleazy details of how funds meant for the development of the oil-rich state are converted into hard currency and sent abroad by top officials of the state government was unearthed.
A source at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) explained that 'it is because of the deluge of fraud and financial misdeeds that we discovered in the state that we are looking for the commissioner for finance of that state, Dr. Sylva Opuala Charles, to come and answer some questions.'
Opuala was charged along with other officials like the state's Accountant-General, Director of Treasury and Director of Finance by the EFCC on allegation of laundering over N2.5 billion belonging to the state government. EFCC eventually declared the commissioner wanted on Wednesday.
But the state government, in a rebuttal, said that the commissioner for finance is not on the run as stated by the EFCC.
Mr Doifie Ola, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Timipre Sylva, also asked for time to be able to respond to allegations that officials of the state government are involved in mass looting of the state treasury.
According to EFCC sources, 'the EFCC first got wind of the mass looting that has been going on in the state in 2009 when a whopping $40m was about to be sent out of the country into a private account. The EFCC decided to secretly follow the money and it was discovered that the money was actually sent out into a dormant account belonging to a moribund company. They sent it into the account of Bayelsa Oil Company, but we discovered that the company is not functional.'
The EFCC also discovered that certain government officials have been using five accounts the state keeps with one of the first generation banks that recently ran into trouble with the Central Bank of Nigeria.
'We discovered that they have five accounts, namely; Development Fund, Consolidated Revenue, Recurrent Revenue, Salary, and Recurrent/Expenditure. But the purpose for which these accounts are run are not strictly followed by government officials.'
The anti-graft agency officials also discovered that the 'N2billion taken by the state government as overdraft from the Consolidated Revenue Account to augment salary in 2009 was not used for the purpose it was taken. Ordinarily, the overdraft should have been moved into the salary account but we are not able to trace it.'
The EFCC source also added that early this year, 'N380 million was moved out of the account of the state government and sent into the account of one Sanni Maigidia, a bureau de change operator in Kano who was instructed to change the money into dollars and pay to one Abdul-Rasheed Ahmed on the instruction of the commissioner for Finance, who then handed over the money to one Yakubu Mohammed. That happened on the 22nd of January.
'Again, on the 5th of February this year, N70m was moved out of the state government account and it followed the same process. We found that fund movement strange especially as they were all heading in the same direction, ' the source added. Sunday Sun findings also showed that the EFCC discovered that the state governor released N1.8billion from the state treasury as consultancy fees to set up a micro-finance bank without its being appropriated by the state government.
'Again, we discovered that the N75billion the state got from a consortium of banks for development cannot be traced to any of the five accounts. We also found out that N1.5billion is removed by the chief of staff to the governor, Samuel Ogbuku as security vote every month.'
The commission operatives were also said to have discovered that N150 million was moved into the personal account of the chairman of the State Environmental Protection Agency, Reginald Dede, for payment for projects executed for the state government.
''You wonder why such a lodgment was made and the only reason for such huge lodgment is that the owner of the account is the one that used fronts to execute the projects and he was just being paid. The said amount under normal circumstances ought to have been paid into the Agency's coffers not into a private account.'
However in a swift reaction the state government said it had noted the declaration by the EFCC, stressing that Opuala was not running away from the law but had to stay back in Yenagoa to attend to financial matters that require his attention.
According to the overseer of the Ministry of Information, Strategy and Orientation, Mr. Nathan Egba, Opuala had not gone to report himself to the EFCC based on an agreement between the state government and the commission that he (Opuala) should stay behind so that civil servants would be able to receive their salaries.
Egba promised that Opuala would turn himself in as soon as possible so as to clear his name.
The state government said, 'We however wish to state that he (Opuala) was not running away from the law. He stayed back in Bayelsa based on an agreement between EFCC and the state government in order that government business will not ground to a total halt. For instance he needed to arrange for civil servants salaries. He will however turn himself in, so as to have the chance to clear his name'
But the EFCC has punctured Egba 's claims, stating that at no time did it reach any agreement with the government over Opuala.
In an interview with Sunday Sun, the Head of Media and Publicity of the EFCC, Mr. Femi Babafemi, said there was no such an agreement.
'There is no agreement like that. We have written three letters to him and he has not come' he said.
Doifie Ola, while speaking to Sunday Sun, on telephone, said that the allegations bordered more on issues that has to do with the ministry of finance. 'I don't have the fact and figures now. This is close of work. The working week has ended and I can't lay my hands on the information I need to respond till Monday. I don't work at the ministry of finance so whatever I give you might be inaccurate.'
Meanwhile, our reporter gathered that both the Commissioner for Finance and that of Local Government Affairs left Yenagoa Friday morning by road. When he tried to confirm from our EFCC source, he was told that the Commission's operatives were aware of the two Commissioners' movement and were on their trail.