Were it not for the much vaunted view that silence could imply consent, this would have been a perfect time to be silent till the D-day in court. However, due to pressure from my supporters, I will reluctantly venture some measured response to the Justice Elizabeth Kpojime Judicial Commission of Inquiry which in its haste to do the hatchet job of destroying my political career with a negative brush, fouled all the rules fairness, decency and modesty with speculations, half-truths, near lies, outright falsehood and fertile conjectures.
The report which Governor Samuel Ortom has already gazette in a White Paper recommended that some officials during my tenure, corporate bodies and I, should refund N107 billion and in addition, barred me from holding public office. To say the least, the report does not reflect reality and confirms the notion that it was aimed at achieving a predetermined end. Anyway, what would one have expected from a body empanelled with card carrying members of his political party, the All Progressives Congress APC?
The methodology adopted by the Commission to ferret evidence was not only forcible but tumbles from the incongruous as seen in page 4 that “Following the poor response from the public, especially the MDAs, the Commission held an interactive session with heads of MDAs in the state. At the session, a template was given to each MDA to guide in the preparation of the required memoranda”. This is a fair admission of teleguiding information for a predetermined outcome which flies in the face of procedure. Why would the public and MDAs spurn a panel set up by a sitting governor if it was in their interest and not glaringly a witch-hunt?
Is it not laughable that such a Commission would recommend the refund of funds used in administering the state? Where in the history of governance is a validly elected head of government asked to refund funds expended on development and running of the administration? The simple conclusion is that it was an odious job meant to get at me and some references to the report and the white paper will suffice. The language of the report is at best inchoate, facts were deliberately jumbled, names of the people like Ortom cunningly omitted from list of beneficiaries of some of the programmes and completed projects that were handed over and are currently in use by Ortom are listed for refund of the funds for their execution. This is a real theater of the absurd.
In its haste to indict, the commission painted a gory picture of infrastructural decay and abandoned projects and nothing could be farther from the truth as we built roads in all nooks and crannies of the state of which space constrains their being listed here. They cut across roads, water, electricity, educational and even security. Like is common however, we did not complete all the projects we started; some are at various levels of completion which puts a lie to the decay narrative.
Some companies like Benue Breweries, Agro Millers and Yuteco Foods Ltd. were sold by previous administrations. In the case of Benue Breweries, 85 per cent was sold by the Akume administration and no trace of the proceeds could be found; it is the remaining 15 per cent that I sold and reinvested the proceeds in Katsina-Ala Yam Flour mill which had started test production by the time we handed over that has become an issue. On Agro Millers, it was sold to Technoplex by Akume and he later repurchased same with all liabilities including money borrowed by Technoplex from NERFUND. Unable to repay the loan, the company was placed on receivership and actually sold by the court. The balance of the proceeds was paid during my tenure into government treasury. Yuteco Foods was equally placed under receivership before I became governor. Benue Hotels was leased to a private company to arrest the rot we met it in when I assumed office. Taraku Mills was also placed on receivership by the time we assumed office due to debts incurred by Akume administration for the company. To save Taraku Mills, we leased out Growrich Limited for N300 million out of which we used over N200 million to defray the loans from Bank of Agriculture taken by the Akume administration to import Soya Beans from Brazil and saved the company from receivership
The disingenuous omission of Ben Plastic Company which we leased to Ortom before he became Governor smacks of deliberate amnesia by the Kpojime Commission. The same deliberate omission also happened with the omission of Oracle Farms belonging to Ortom which benefitted from the N1 billion Commercial Agriculture Credit Loan Scheme, but the report insinuated that I gave the loans to my relations. This same pattern was also exhibited on the issue of purchase of vehicles for Governor, Deputy Governor elect and their wives. Rather than report it was bought in April 2015 which were handed over to Ortom, the Commission dated it 2012 instead of 2015 to exclude him. But the truth is that 10 Toyota Land Cruisers and six escort Pick up vans were purchased and handed over to him publicly as protocol requires. One of the Jeeps was given to a former governor of the state and one to my Deputy, yet it is part of the N214, 809,000 the Commission said I should refund. If it was worth its salt, it should have named and shamed all. All proceeds to the state from its investments were appropriated as revenue and adroitly expended on governance.
On allegations of expending unappropriated funds, it was only in its haste to indict their targets that it did not notice the appropriation laws as well as the supplementary appropriations. The Commission listed N10.9 billion as proceeds from sale or lease of government companies, N14.2 billion Sure-P funds, N18 billion Bonds proceeds, N35 billion logistics fund for security surveillance and N5.8 billion cost of running government. The Sure-P fund was coming piecemeal and monthly and therefore used to execute the different schemes where 8500 unemployed youths and women were paid stipends and in other schemes, buses were purchased and handed out to beneficiaries to operate. Local government portion of the funds were disbursed through the Joint Account Allocation Committee (JAAC) of which I had no control and asking me to refund money for schemes executed at the state and local government levels smacks of importunity.
Part of the contradictions which smacks of the confused state of the Commission was the issue of the N18 billion bonds. Two bonds were issued, N13 billion and N5 billion which proceeds were used to fund infrastructural projects but the Commission alleged the N13 billion which was the first bond was diverted and embezzled; yet in pages 87 – 88, the White paper said Mr. Oklobia and I should refund N911, 820,226.50 being the unaccounted balance of the N13 billion which means it was expended and accounted for but it asks for its refund. That is the confused state of the document. The second N5 billion bond was floated but by the time the proceeds came, we had accessed facility from the bank to pay salaries and the bank seized the proceeds to defray the facility earlier owed and these are documented transactions. The commission is asking me to pay N914 million cost of processing the bond which is laughable knowing full well that fees are payable for such transactions to SEC and the Nigerian Stock Exchange upfront, in addition to publicity, meetings, travels and other related activities to issue bonds. If not for the predetermined end of the Commission, all the facts needed to see how funds of the state were applied are in our audited accounts submitted to the state assembly.
On alleged illegal deduction from LG account for payment to Ashi Foods, how can I, not being an officer of the food company be asked to refund money paid to a corporate organization? On the sale of government stocks under BIPC management, I would refrain from commenting on it since it is a case already filed by the EFCC against me and commenting on it would be subjudice.
Some other orders for refund include monies allegedly shared by the Head of Service to civil servants for election. If such happened, when did vicariousity begin to apply to criminality? How am I involved in that to be asked to refund such money? The same line runs through the entire document like where someone was said to have given money to another person on my behalf where such person allegedly denied knowledge of such, yet the Commission ordered I should pay back the money. Also, the Commission said N77, 340,000 was distributed by the SSG for the 2015 general elections and after acknowledging that such money was distributed, asked me to refund same even when I was not associated with the transaction if it took place.
The N161 million case the White paper said was given to GTB bank staff in tranches for deposit in accounts of a Bureau de Change is one of the most ridiculous of the recommendations. Names were mentioned and the amount known and with the use of BVN, such transactions could have been tracked to see if there was any link to me? Such other funny recommendations like asking for the refund of monies used to conduct Local government elections, run government house and logistic surveillance for security even when herdsmen attacks took place in several local government areas including Makurdi, the capital and we had to engage the security agencies and fund their operations to secure the state, yet the Kpojime Commission said I should refund the money used to secure the state; one wonders what I was elected to do.
In the recommendations, one sees the intention and therefore should not bother to be incensed by the comedy of errors or how can in a Christian community; money expended for Christmas gifts is being asked to be refunded? Even purchases like the Land Cruiser for the Chief of Staff that was appropriated and bought, the Commission is asking for the refund; even handling charges for cash withdrawals by the Accountant General of the state is listed as funds to be refunded, so the document is just not worth the paper it is written on. On Ecological funds, it said the money was diverted but did not say who did and when because it is obvious to them that it is money accruing over a period of time and therefore not the way they stated.
On the N1 billion paid to CGGC Projects limited handling the Igbor-Ikpa-Wannune road, the contractor mobilized to site, did appreciable work and was still on site when we left office and the Commissioner for works who ran against Ortom as a running mate and I are being asked to refund the money?
The Aper Aku stadium turnaround was approved by the State Executive Council and the contract executed and the Commission is asking me to refund the cost which is N164 million. The same for the Makurdi Ultra-Modern market which had been completed shops allocated, yet I am asked to refund the money. The Greater Makurdi water works also falls into this category; the contract of N6.2 billion was approved by the Exco, the amount appropriated and contract awarded and executed, yet I am asked to refund the money used for it. Funnier still, the Commission said it traced N2 billion reimbursement by the federal government to the state to an account in ministry of water resources but could not say how it was expended, very laughable.
Babcock Electrical project led to the lighting of over 150 communities in Benue Sate in our rural electrification project but Ortom wants me to refund the money used for rural electrification , so what is it that I did as governor am I not being asked to refund the money? Should this piece of document be seen as something one should take seriously? Please judge for yourself.
. The writer, Suswam, Ph.D, CON, was Governor of Benue State from 2007-2015