EFCC Goes After Governor Ortom over Alleged N22bn Fraud

The political travails of Samuel Ortom were compounded on Monday, July 30, after the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) disclosed that it had begun probing the Benue state governor for alleged fraud to tune of N22bn.

The anti-graft police also revealed that 21 members of the Benue state house of Assembly are under investigation for allegedly embezzling N375m meant for the procurement of vehicles for oversight functions.

The EFCC said the investigation against the top government officials commenced as far back in 2016, The Punch reports.

In detailing the accusations against Ortom, the EFCC alleged that the governor ordered the withdrawal of N21.3bn from four government’s accounts between June 30, 2015 and March 2018.

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The commission stated that the N19bn out of the money was said to be supposed to be paid to six security agencies deployed in the state to contain the clashes between herdsmen and farmers.

The EFCC, however, stated that below N3bn of the money was paid to the security agencies while the remaining funds could not be accounted for.

The allegations against the governor read in part: “We investigated four bank accounts belonging to two Benue State Government’s agencies. The first agency is the Benue State Government House which has an account in UBA with number 1017348051 and another account in GTB with number 0027952907. These accounts received N1, 916, 635, 206 from the state’s allocation between June 30, 2015 and March 2018.

“The second government agency is the Bureau of Internal Affairs and Special Services. The agency has an account with UBA with number 1007540119 and a First Bank account with number 2023788057. Between the same period, the accounts were credited with N19, 468, 951, 590 from the Benue State allocation.”

“Investigations revealed that N19bn was withdrawn by one Oliver Ntom, a cashier. Sometimes, in a day, he would withdraw as high as N500m by cashing several cheques worth N10m each.

“The permanent secretary upon interrogation said anytime security agencies requested funds, he would approach Governor Ortom who would ask him to write a memo to that effect. The permanent secretary would write and the governor would approve the money.

“The permanent secretary said the funds are usually given to six security agencies. He said the highest that any security agency gets is N10m a month while the least any of the agencies gets is N5m a month.

“He said after the money has been released, the governor usually orders that the memo be torn to pieces. It is important to note that if a total of N60m is given to all the security agencies collectively every month as claimed by the permanent secretary, it cannot amount to half of N19bn in three years.”

The anti-graft commissions also alleged that Ortom failed to pay salaries despite withdrawing N1.328bn from the joint state local government account.

As for the 21 out of the 30 lawmakers under investigation, the EFCC alleged that the legislators diverted part of the N375m meant for the procurement of vehicles in 2016.

The commission claimed that in 2016, the Benue state government awarded a contract worth N417m (N375m after tax) to a company to procure 30 Prado vehicles for the lawmakers, but that only eight members received the vehicles while the others diverted the funds.

Meanwhile, front-line PDP presidential aspirant, Kabiru Tanimu Turaki, has expressed apprehension about the survival of democracy in Nigeria.

Turaki made the comment while reacting to the invasion of the Benue state House of Assembly by armed policemen escorting eight lawmakers to perpetrate illegality.

Turaki, in a statement sent to NAIJ.com, stated that Nigeria’s democracy is being held at gun point by the federal government without remorse.

He likened the situation to the massive deployment of policemen for the Ekiti state governorship election by the federal government using 30,000 personnel besides other security forces deployed for the exercise.

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