As PDP raises alarm over N5bn supplementary budget bid
ERSTWHILE labour leader and whistle blower, Mr Adams Eric Aliyu Oshiomhole whose eight year tenure as governor of Edo State comes to an end this weekend is handing over a list of unsolved corruption scandals to his successor, who was a principal actor in his government. Yet at the time some of the scandals were uncovered, perpetrated by his aides, the man rather than prosecuting those involved, preferred to play the ostrich by burying his head in the sand. Dating back to the last year of his administration, the gravity of the scandal is better appreciated when considered against the backdrop of the fact that the state Head of Service and a permanent secretary lost their jobs. The scams also led to the scrapping of two statutory government agencies namely, the state pensions board, and the state traffic management agency. The state pension board is essentially a public agency funded by tax payers, which has the following functions: i Formulating and evaluating policies relating to Pensions Services. ii Process payments of pensions and gratuities under the old scheme. iii Maintaining comprehensive and up- to-date personnel records for pensioners of the Civil Service. iv Co-ordinate Civil Service Pensions Scheme/Funds. v Offer pension consultancy services to other government agencies. vi Follow-up on reimbursement claims from Federal Government in conjunction with the Office of the Head of Service. vii Organise verification for pensioners. viii Maintain relationship with local government pensions and teachers pensions organisations. ix Organising pre-retirement workshop for retiring civil servants. x Any other duty as may be assigned by the governor. Topping the list is the fraud scam in pension administration in the state, which was so orchestrated that pensioners in their thousands were unable to get their gratuities, for months if not years while others had two vouchers in their names. This was in December 2015 when the governor publicly ordered the scrapping of the State Pensions Board and announced plans to set up a bureau to oversee the payment of pensions in the state, as a way to stem what he called, “the incidences of fraud in pension payment.” Oshiomhole also sacked the state Head of Service, Mr Jerry Obazeleand placed the Permanent Secretary, Information and Communications Technology Agency, Mr Dan Aigbavboa on retirement. He then directed members of the state Pensions Board to report to the state Civil Service Commission for de- briefing amidst a proper investigation and disciplinary action in accordance with the Civil Service Rules. On how the fraud was uncovered, the former governor admitted that , “I encouraged the Head of Service to give me a clear view concerning what our liabilities are in regards to accumulated
pension gratuities. I was given some numbers and my task is to find the resources to provide for these numbers.” He said, “However, in the course of trying to establish the details of what makes up these numbers, the names of the pensioners, their date of appointment, date of retirement, their salary at the point of retirement, the number of years of service which taken together are the basis for computation of gratuity, I discovered a huge gap between what the Head of Service had told me we owe and what they now generate for us to pay.” “Following some interrogations, the Pensions Board along with some officers in the Information and Communication Technology Agency had generated three versions of what our pension liabilities are. The result is that I had difficulty as to which of these versions to believe.” He said, “My intention therefore to ensure that at least, a substantial number of people who were waiting for their gratuities got paid before my 7th year anniversary was dashed because the data which we need to effect payment had been compromised.” As expected of a wise administrator, the government which Oshiomhole led sought the intervention of external auditors to look into the books and establish the gravity of the fraud while looking at the pension documents papers and prepare a fresh voucher to enable it address this issue
of accumulated gratuity benefits. That the intervention of the external auditors was quite revealing accounted for MrOshiomhole’s commendation when he said, “It shows that the Pension Board has been riddled with fraud. Cases have now been established in which one person has two vouchers, same date of birth, same first name, same surname, everything the same and two original vouchers for one pensioner.” He added, “We have also discovered cases of people who ought to have been paid their gratuities in full in one slot, many have been paid on installment basis in a manner that lend itself to fraud and manipulations. The implication of all of these is that we have had to go afresh to construct a more reliable data to enable us deal with this corruption.” “Having seen the amount of fraud involved in the pension board, we have decided to abolish the pension board and create a Bureau to be manned by technical people who are competent and also people of character and re-organize the ICT in a way that will ensure that we have data that cannot be violated or compromised. “And all those involved in this chain, in the pension board, not only will they be suspended, the police will continue investigation in the light of the fraud that have been established and based on the Civil Service rules, they will be dealt with according to the rules. For those who are political appointees, over the next 24 hours, government will make a decision as to what to do with them.” Ironically, from all indications one year later, the Police was never allowed to investigate the criminal aspects of the pension fraud under Oshiomhole. Millions of Naira worth of public funds meant to pay pensions that were paid into private coffers as a result of the fraud, were left with those who illegally acquired them. In February this year, Mr Adams Oshiomhole as Governor announced that he had dissolved the Edo State Traffic Management Agency, EDSTMA popularly known as Oshiomhole Police for extorting monies from innocent citizens and unsuspecting motorists. He also directed the arrest of two unidentified ‘members of staff’, of the disbanded Edo State Traffic Management Agency (EDSTMA) for fraud, arguing that some of the officials of the agency were caught in the act of extorting monies from the public. He spoke when he paid on an unscheduled visit to the EDSTMA offices located at Sapele and 3rd East Circular Road, and their head office inside the headquarters of the state Ministry of Works in Benin City. The visit was after months of complaints by citizens on air and some by way of written petitions to the office of the governor. The agency also had a long list of court cases with citizens whose vehicles were illegally impounded or were forced to part with huge sums of money paid into dedicated bank accounts to get their vehicles back. MrOshiomhole admitted that these public servants/officials were milking the residents while the monies they collected were not being remitted into government coffers. “So, I want to once again publicly announce that these men called EDSTMA, have since been disbanded. They have no business on the roads. Henceforth, anybody they harass should report them to the nearest police station.” He said: “So, I appeal to members of the public not to part with money to anybody. Nobody is authorized to collect one naira from anybody. If taxes are to be paid, taxes are to be paid to the banks, not cash to anybody. All those cash they have been collecting are illegal, and they are going into individual pockets.”“Let me use this medium to advise road users. Nobody should part with one naira, whether it is called fine, it is called levy, it is called tax, or by whatever name called. No cash transaction is permitted by Edo State Government. We want the roads to be free, but we don’t want them to be taken over by thugs.” It was gathered that Mr. AustineEvbakhavbokun, a retired Commissioner of Police was appointed the chief executive of EDSTMA when MrOshiomhole reconstituted the agency in December 2015. Before this time the agency was being supervised by the state Commissioner for Transport. In one instance a former Commissioner for Transport Hon. IdehenUwuilekhue called on officers of the agency to always be in uniform for ease of identification when on duty, to avoid embarrassment and molestation from motorists and members of the public. He gave the advice during the ministry’s regular briefing of EDSTMA officials and unit heads in Benin City during which he urged the officers to be civiled in the discharge of their duties as it is their responsibility to control traffic, adding that any official caught extorting money from motorists would be punished and dismissed from the agency. The agency contracted traffic management to individuals it called unit heads who were to recruit their personnel and pay them. Some unit heads were Rev. Ojo Patrick (King’s Square) (Ikpoba Hill area), Mr. AlileOsaretin, Mr. Monday Ogiegor (Aduwawa axis) (Siloko Zone), Mr. Ephraim Odobo (UgbowoZone), Mr. Israel Osato and JohnbullEdenazogie (Sapele Road), among others with a weekly revenue target to be paid into the state treasury. Mr. Chris OsaNehikhare, a motorist said MrOshiomhole lied when he said EDSTMA officials were not employed, constituted and empowered by the state government, “to harass, intimidate and collect levies and fines from the hapless Edo citizens.” He said, the whole saga should have been investigated because “we knew the source of their uniforms, identity cards, bank details and those who benefited from the fraud. We are aware that some victims made payments to banks.” Oshiomhole it was who said his government had received lots of complaints from both government officials and members of the public concerning the illegal activities and extortion by members of the EDSTMA. He promised that, “We will, immediately, set up a committee that will commence the prosecution of any person claiming to be an EDSTMA staff.’’ However, like the pension fraud whose perpetrators went without prosecution, again despite the millions of Naira extorted from the public by EDSTMA officials, MrOshiomhole looked the other way and gave all the fraudulent officials of this government agency including those who were caught in the act a clean bill of health as he left office. A few months ago, a former civil commissioner in the administration of Mr Adams Oshiomhole, under whose tenure EDSTMA flourished, MrOrobosaOmo-Ojo, in a book, titled, “Breach of Trust, alleged that the Edo state government under MrOshiomhole fraudulently spent N14 billion to design a website-www. or the Edo Open Portal project in 2015. Government officials had labelled the site as, “the official data repository for Edo State Government. It provides an easy way to find access and reuse public datasets from the State Government, international organizations and non-state actors.” They said, “this data will become a platform for improving transparency, catalyzing innovation, and enabling social and economic development. We encourage all users to leverage the information in this portal to develop tools and applications which benefit all Edo State citizens.” Despite these assurances,Omo- Ojo said the amount used in establishing the portal was alarmingly exorbitant, describing it as a scam, designed to cover- up for large scale fraud in government operation and a means to rationalise a $225 million World Bank which has been mismanaged by the state government. OmoOjo then urged the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate the Open Portal project and others scams in the ICT agency of the governor’s office including biometrics, oracle, internet provision for Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs). Reacting to the allegations, erstwhile Chief Press Secretary to Mr Adams Oshiomhole, Peter Okhiria, said “we have a copy of the book, we will react to the allegations appropriately.” They never reacted to the allegations raised by MrOmo-Ojo. If these corruption scams were swept under the carpet by a man who had all he needed to do the needful, but chose to do nothing, it will be foolhardy to expect his successor who was part and parcel of the apparatus of his government to do otherwise. For that will be a tall dream! Alarm over Oshiomhole’s N5bn supplementary budget bid A days to his exit from office as the Edo state governor, the PDP in Edo state yesterday raised an alarm over a plot by Mr Adams AliyuOshiomhole to ask the state assembly for approval of a supplementary budget of N5billion. Chief Dan Orbih, the state chairman of the party at a media parley in Benin city said that he was worried that the APC dominated assembly will do the bidding of the governor despite the fact that his days in office are numbered. He said at these critical times for Edo people it is a matter of grave concern that a governor who has less than a week to stay in office will be asking the state legislature to approve a N5billion supplementary budget. “One will begin to wonder why a man who has less than 7 days in office will be asking the state house of assembly for approval to spend N5-billion. These are very harsh times for Edo people. This will further plunge the state into indebtedness.” According to Orbih, the claims by the outgoing government that the monies were needed so that he could pay contractors at this very late hour of his tenure as governor is false because most of the so-called contracts as are highly inflated and have been captured in earlier budgets. Orbih used the opportunity to welcome President Muhammadu Buhari on his 2-day working visit to the state where he will commission a ward in the Central hospital, a rehabilitated school named after Mr Sam Ogbemudia and a resurfaced road, all in the state capital. He however said that while the President would also be asked by the governor to commission the Edo University, Iyamho, the President as part of his anti- corruption campaign would do well to take a tour of the Oshiomhole place in the same locality valued at N10-billion. “While at Iyamho he should ask the governor who are the actual owners of the Univesity which was built 100 percent with state funds and take a walk across the road to see why Edo state is the third most indebted state in the country…as Adams Oshiomhole will present to Mr President clear evidence of those who have used the revenues of the state for their personal interest.” Orbih who is the Esama of Uromi also reacted to the suspension of the traditional ruler of the community for one year by the outgoing governor and said that as a man born to be King who cannot be appointed from a ruling house or at the discretion of the state, the governor acted in error. “The action of the governor is unpardonable, vindictive and spiteful as it is capable of provoking the peace-loving people of Uromi …it was an action the governor took because of his perception that the traditional ruler supported the PDP candidate in the last governorship election in the state. “The governor has no powers under outer laws to condemn a traditional ruler who ascends the throne through primogeniture and for us in PDP we will continue to recognize the Onogie as the King of Uromi.” The budget contained in a letter which the Speaker, Hon JustinaOkonoboh has already received is asking for the funds so that the governor can pay outstanding debts to consultants and contractors. Meanwhile Orbih yesterday announced that INEC has finally invited the PDP and its candidate, Pastor OsagieIze- Iyamu to inspect the remaining electoral materials used in the conduct of the September 28 2016 governorship election in the state. He said with the turn of events, he is confident that justice would be served at the end of the day when the tribunal begins sitting in earnest more so with the volume of evidence his party will be making available at its sittings

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