By Olisemeka Obeche & Damian Duruiheoma
Embattled Imo governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha has dared the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to carry out its threats of probing his administration’s spending of the N8billion Paris Club Refund bailout.
The outgoing governor said in a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Sam Onwuemeodo, that it was not ready to join issues with the anti-corruption agency as it prepares to launch a controversial investigation into its spending of the funds specifically released for payment of state workers’ salaries and pensions.
“If you ask us, we won’t join issues with the EFCC as an Institution and with Magu as an individual. Investigating individuals, governments, institutions etc, is part of the Commission’s own rules of engagement and nobody should prevent them or begrudge them for doing that. We only pray that the Commission should not allow undue infiltration.
Onwuemeodo insists that that the Okorocha administration does not possess any skeleton on its cupboards and that its financial dealings were clean. “With more than one thousand landmark and verifiable projects to his credit, Governor Okorocha must have managed the resources of the State in his time as governor with high sense of prudence. And for patriotic Imo people, he remains the Defending Champion of the Imo governorship since what he has achieved in eight years exceeded all that those before him had achieved put together”, it said.
Okorocha’s defiance came barely 24 hours after EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Magu disclosed at a Press Conference in London that it was investigating Governor Okorocha over the bailout fund. Last Friday, EFCC’s zonal head for South East, Usman Imam also said the agency was investigating a case of money laundering during the last governorship election in Imo state.
Imam, while highlighting activities of the agency in the zone in the first quarter of 2019, told newsmen how EFCC operatives, acting on tip-offs, blocked accounts belonging to the state government in the build-up to the election.
According to him, the agency’s timely intervention saved Imo state over N5bn that would have been deployed for vote buying by the Okorocha’s administration. He further revealed that about N8bn from the Paris Club Refund bailout meant for payment of workers’ salaries was warehoused by the government waiting for use for the election before EFCC blocked the accounts.
Hear him: “About N7.9bn is what had been blocked, although with pressure, subsequently, about N2.5bn was released for salaries. On the whole, we have over N5bn of those funds blocked. Honestly, what we discovered was that within two days, N700m was withdrawn in cash; N200m on the first day and N500m on the second day and all these monies were disbursed in a manner that was honestly unpalatable.
“Distribution to school teachers; I don’t know, schools that you were not funding and you wake up on the eve of the election and withdrew N500m cash and start distributing N1000 each or so to teachers. Whatever that means, I don’t know.
He recalled: “When we came in, we were able to save about seventy something millions of the funds that we discovered were not disbursed, we also blocked it. People are still answering questions as to who asked them to move those monies, monies that were blocked at the banks.
“The sad story about this was that these monies were the intervention funds; the bailout funds that the Federal Government released to states to pay salaries when they were having problems paying salaries. They didn’t utilize that money to pay the salaries; they warehoused it and kept it until the election period, they started attempting to draw down the money.
According to him, the directive by EFCC Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu for proper monitoring to forestall money laundering during the election actually paid off, with Imo state one of the greatest beneficiaries of it. “Whatever happens, we have saved over N5bn of that money, as we talk, two weeks to handover. Probably, the next government would have that money to use it better. There are a lot of other general investigations going on in Imo right now,” he stated.
Reacting to the development, Okorocha, admitted that he was alarmed that the acting chairman of the commission would go to London to address a press conference focusing on him just two days after the Enough zonal head had announced to journalists that the commission was investigating him. Okorocha blamed the latest travails on his political detractors, those trying to pull the plug on his bid to head to the senate at the expiration of his eight years governorship.
The statements read in parts: “So, Mr. Imam holding his own Press Conference on Okorocha on Friday, May 17, 2019 in Enugu and the Chairman of the Commission himself Alhaji Magu holding his own press conference also on Okorocha, on Monday, May 20, 2019, and only two days after, raises genuine concern. And has also added fillip to the governor’s earlier worry that those behind the drama over his Certificate of Return have not gone to sleep but have continued to spread their dragnets or tentacles.
“Good enough, both Magu and Mr. Imam never accused the governor of mismanagement or diversion, looking at the Contents of their Press Conferences. They confirmed that the Commission is in Custody of the money. Out of the N8billion they quoted, they also confirmed that N7.9billion is what they blocked. Then, what is Owelle’s case? And the governor is not owing salary.
“Since investigation is still on, perhaps, at the end of it, the truth will become clearer especially when the incident happened long before the 2019 elections. And one could not have bought votes in the vacuum. Ultimately, vote-buying must be on the election day and perhaps, at the Polling Units where the voters were expected to be”, it adds.