Group petitions EFCC, demands investigation of Esan North East LG over alleged N310.7m impropriety

October 16, 2019

A group, Concerned Uromi Kingdom Illustrious Sons in Esan North East Local Government Area, Edo State, has petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) demanding the investigation of the Executive Chairman of the Esan North East Local Government Council, Edo State over allegations of unaccounted N310.7 million fund, including misappropriation of N13.348 million Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the Council.  The group also demanded Legislative Council of Esan North East LG to investigate and prosecute the Executive Chairman of the Council, Hon. Augustine Okobhole.

The Principal Officer and members of Esan North East Local GovernmentCouncil had in a preliminary report datedOctober 2, 2019, after an emergency meeting convened by the Deputy Leader of the House, Hon. Oaikhena Godfrey, declared that information at the disposal which they said is verifiable  andbelieved to be true indicated: 1. the issuance of multiple accounts in the name of Esan North East LocalGovernment |Council funds by the Executive Chairman of  Esan North East LG Council, Hon. Augustine Okobhole.

  1. Operating of multiple accounts in the name Esan North East Local Government Council as against single account policy of the State and Federal Government. The accounts were identified to include Unity Bank Plc Account Number 0030202481, Unity Bank Plc Account Number 00421473..; Zenith Bank Plc Account Number 1015219…; Fidelity Bank Plc Account Number 6220020870 and other bank accounts yet to be known.

The Legislative Council declared that about the N13,348,000.00 was remitted to the Council Treasury by the Revenue Verification Committee of the Council through Account Number 101512907 Zenith Bank Plc.

The Concerned Uromi Kingdom Illustrious Sons in the petition through a legal counsel, R.O. Ibe and Co., dated October 2, 2019, therefore, demanded the Legislative Arm of the Esan North East Local Government Council, Uromi, Edo State, to probe “the case of fraud, financial impropriety and misappropriation of the Esan North East Local Government Council accruable funds and sundry financial crimes by the Executive Chairman of the said Council and his management   team since his inception in office;” also demanding the need to call the chairman and others for questioning, full investigation and prosecution.

Solicitors to the Concerned Uromi Kingdom Illustrious Sons, in Esan North East Local Government Area of Edo State identified Comrade Benedict Igberase of Onewa Uromi as leader of the group.

The Counsel to the petitioners, thereafter, narrated inter alia:

That the LG got the sum of N13,348,000 as Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) from traders; remitted into the Council’s Bank account No. 1055217507 domiciled with the Zenith Bank Plc between January 2019 and August 2019.

The Counsel acknowledged that the said sum was made known to the Petitioners by the Revenue Verification Committee set up by the Council Chairman headed by the Secretary to the Local Government Council.

The petitioner alleged that the N13,348,000 is not presently traceable in the Zenith account and was not utilized for the purpose envisaged by Section 23(2) of the Edo State Revenue Law for Uniform rates, fees and charges collected by local government councils. The petitioner argued that the law requires that a minimum of 50% of the tax payers money should be expended for the provision of basic amenities for the payers, noting that this is not seen done in the LG.

The petitioners further complained that the Executive Chairman has been imposing uniform daily levies of N200 as stall fee, amounting to N72,000 per year derivable from each stall contrary to the previous N5,000 per annum from each stall owner approved by the Council.

Stall owners were said to be agitating the new levy regime, viewing it as strong fraud on them. “It was realized that the N200 cash was not payable by each stall owner into the Council’s bank account as N200 cannot be paid to bank daily, thereby, giving him more room to fraudulently siphon stall owners without accounting for them,” the petitioner said. Invariably, N200 daily payment was collected in cash by agents of the council. The petitioner assured that statistical analysis of the income, offer and allocation letter to stall owners shall be made available in the course of the investigation of the case.

The petitioners disclosed that further investigation revealed that the Paris Club refund received by the Local Government Council on December 11, 2018, was N116,350,894.36, protesting that the Executive Chairman presented N100 million that was expected to take care of two months salary arrears of the Local Government employees but the chairman paid just one month. The group alleged that the balance of N60 million, including the N16,350,894.36, totaling N76,350,894.36 cannot be accounted for by the Executive Chairman. The group, therefore, demanded that the LG chairman should give account of the money.

The petitioner also narrated that at a time in 2019, N45 million was set aside for monthly salary to clear the arrears with instruction of payment on 25th day of every month. The group noted that the money set aside through the effort of the immediate past Chairman of the National Union Local Government Council Employees (NULGE), Esan North East Chapter under the then leader, Mrs. Rose, decrying that the money disappeared. The group insisted that Mrs. Rose can testify to this or, it could be verified through the scrutiny of the Council’s salary voucher within the period under review.

The petitioner further argued that the claim by Hon. Augustine Okolbhole, the council boss, that he has completed 85% of projects in the LG was false and were found not to be in existence. The Counsel noted that even the 1% of the projects done were executed through direct labour contrary to compliance with procurement due process. He referred to the construction of Onowazi Market and Slaughter slab at the new cattle market in Uromi, stating that the Council Chairman lied when he said that about N25 million have been utilized but the cost was actually N8.9 million which was approved for disbursement as agreed with the Executive Council of the LG. The Counsel also noted that even the construction of the two blocks of three classrooms at Idegun Primary School, Amenelokhian, and others which were among the claimed completed projects were executed without following procurement due process.

The petitioner maintained since the assumption of office by the Executive Chairman, he has been using direct in executing project, including purchases, providing services and other works without following due process. The petitioner relied on the April 5, 2019 at Town Hall meeting at Uromi on the occasion of the 47th Annual Convention of Uromi Community Association where it exposed that the claimed 85% completed projects are not in existence.

The petitioner narrated: “only 155 of the projects executed were seen done, though without the procurement due process being followed.” The petitioner cited instances Okolbhole has been using direct labour in executing projects since assumption of office as the Council Chairman, making reference to the records like the purchase of vehicle for Uromi Vigilante Group, purchase of stationeries of about N2.8 million which the Counsel promised will be made available during investigation.

The petitioner also revealed that the Executive Chairman could not allegedly account for N150 million that was collected as Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) from Hotels, Private Schools, Private Medical Centres, Shopping Centres, motorbike riders, etc. where the Council realizes between N1 million and N10 million monthly for the 16 months Okolbhole was Executive Chairman. The Counsel promised the details will be made available when required.

The petitioner stated further that in spite of the hundreds of millions ranging from N144 million monthly allocations from the Federal Government to the Local Government Council, the  IGR ranges from N1 million and above realized monthly, the Executive Chairman has not been able to show any meaningful project he has completed.

“It is also the demand of the petitioner that the Executive Chairman and the management team should be made to explain to the entire Uromi Community, who are the public owners of this money, how they spent about N310,698,894.04 that is yet unaccounted for as enumerated in the revenue profile.

The petitioner alleged that since the inception of the Augustine Okolbhole as the Executive Chairman of Esan North East Local Government Council, he has been spending the Council’s money recklessly through his acclaimed purchases, provision of services and works done without following complying with procurement due process, using Mr. Esezobor in the Engineering Department of the Council, who is not a qualified engineer to engage the claimed direct labour and advances with the full knowledge of the past and present Head of Local Government Administration (HOLGA) in the Council within the period the money were utilized.

The petitioner further protested that the chairman is the only person that receives alerts on financial transactions made on the council’s accounts without the knowledge of the Treasurer to the LG and the HOLGA, so as to cover financial improprieties.

The petitioner also claimed that in some of the projects the chairman executed, director of works and housing department and the procurement departments were sidelined in the transactions while Esezobor plays the role of the council’s engineer with the calculated intent to allegedly embezzle the council’s funds.

The Counsel disclosed that the petitioner has details of the minutes and records of the bureaucracy in the council’s official files containing the communication between Esezobor and the cohorts, extracted purposely to validate this petition, assuring that the petitioner shall produce it to any authority that will be conducting inquiries into the alleged complicity.

The Petitioner, thereafter, declare, “The chairman and his management team are, therefore, called upon to explain why the Director of Works and Housing was not carried along and the procurement procedure not followed in executing his acclaimed projects, if any.”

The counsel maintained that the petitioner’s question now include: “How can the executive chairman manage these albatross of heavy burden of guilt that becomes an obstacle to success? How possible is it for him to be performing the various functions of the Executive Chairman, the Legislative Arm, the Civil Service in the Council.” The petitioner insisted that these need explanation to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

“We, therefore, urge the EFCC and the Legislative Arm of the Local Government Council to use the petitioner’s complaint as a clarion call to investigate the Executive Chairman of the Esan North East Local Government Council and his management team…

“They should also ensure that they evaluate the manner the federal government allocations and funds realized through IGR from the LG within the past 16 months, were utilized because the petitioner is sure a lot of the money were diverted to the Council boss personal pocket.

“The EFCC should trace the money the chairman has misappropriated and bring them back into the coffers of the LG,” Counsel to the petitioner declared.

The Counsel stated that the Commission should also take note that the Council Chairman operates multiple accounts with different banks which include Unity Bank Account Numbers 0030202481 and 0042147… and Fidelity Bank Account number 6220020870; Zenith bank Account number 1015212907; and UBA Account which are against the State and Federal Government single account fiscal policy.

“We expect your quick response to this clarions call in order to forestall further misappropriation of funds and stop the looming agitations by members of public in Uromi Community and financial recklessness by the Council boss and management team.

“We count on your prompt action in this, the Counsel, R. O. Ibe Esq, had declared.

The petitioner copied the EFCC Zonal Chairman in Benin City, Edo State.

The Counsel also noted that the above subject matter earlier written to the Zonal Chairman, dated September 13, 2019, by the petitioner under reference is still valid and relevant.

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