In Katsina State, probe of former administration raises dust
A Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up by the Katsina State government to look into the account books of government to check if there was any unwholesome activity in funds disbursement during the last administration, has come out with a damning report; It claims that more than N58.5 billion was lost, missing or unaccounted for, between 2011 and 2015, when former governor, Ibrahim Shehu Shema, was at the helm of affairs.
In one of its discoveries, the commission said 87 cheques of the worth of between nine and ten million naira each were released and cashed on May 28, 2015, less than 24 hours to the end of Shema’s administration in suspicious circumstances that pointed to last minute massive withdrawals.
But the former governor, who has challenged the composition of the commission in court has described the whole exercise of probing his administration as a ploy by the incumbent governor, Aminu Bello Masari, to witch-hunt him because of political differences.
The lost amount, according to the reports of the commission, does not cover projects executed, but monies withdrawn from government coffers as well as allocations to affected ministries, agencies and departments which could not be accounted for.
It was gathered that the red flag, which led to the commission being set up and its inauguration on March 21 2016, was raised when the new government found some discrepancies in the handover notes from the previous government. Upon investigation, Masari was said to have discovered that more than N70 billion had allegedly gone missing from state coffers within the period, as the monies were not tied to any visible projects or expenditure.
The commission which was given three months to complete its assignment had to seek extension three times due to series of cases, filed in various courts within and outside the state, challenging composition of the commission, the competency of the chairman or commissioners, or both.
In one of such cases, the Appeal Court sitting in Kaduna in case number CA/K/430/2017, granted an order which prohibited the first chairman of the commission, Justice Muhammad Ibrahim Sirajo from continued sitting. The judge consequently withdrew from the commission and was later replaced by Barrister Ado Muhammad Maaji.
After its inauguration, the commission called for the submission of memoranda from stakeholders and a total of 13 were received and public hearing commenced on May 13, 2016 and ended June 1, 2017.
While presenting an insight into how the memoranda were handled by the commission, Maaji disclosed that Memoranda 1 to 7 and 12 “were discountenanced either as a result of withdrawal by their authors or due to the fact that they were not in tandem with the terms of reference of the commission.” He said however that memoranda 8, 8(2), 9, 10 and 11 formed the bulk of the commission’s assignment.
The commission’s chairman lamented that most of those mentioned in the memoranda did not “deem it necessary to file a response or appear before the commission to defend themselves,” and that they also “didn’t send counsel to represent them even though they were given three weeks to do so. Instead, they chose to be running in and out of the state instituting one form of action or the other against the chairman, commissioners or both.”
He said in memoranda Nos. 8 and 8(2) which is on activities of the Subsidy Reinvestment Programme (SURE-P), it was discovered that a “whooping sum of N17,968,309,520.90 was missing and unaccounted for from the accounts,” while in memoranda No. 9 on the activities of the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), “the sum of N15,478,073,049.39 was found to have been lost or unaccounted for.”
He said the commission found out that the bulk of the money was withdrawn from the state Joint Local Account into the local ALGON’s account even though the latter was a Non-Governmental Organisation.
The commission’s chairman further disclosed that memoranda No. 10 which is on the activities of the state Roads Maintenance Agency (KASROMA), showed that a whooping sum of N14,921,153,015.39 was missing and unaccounted for while another memoranda on the activities of The Ministry of Environment, Departments of Community Development, Special Duties, Girl-Child Education and Almajiri Affairs, lost track of N10,146,106,063.50.
According to him, the total lost funds which he put at N58,513,641,649.09, a departure from the N55,984,273,521 quoted in the commission’s Interim Report, were discovered to have been paid into private accounts of some officials.
The difference in the amount in the interim and final reports according to Maaji, “was due to the outcome of painstaking and critical verification of the figures when writing the main report.”
Reacting to the report, Masari vowed to recover the alleged missing public funds and added that necessary legal measures would be taken to ensure their recovery, “no matter how long it takes.” He said the amount was so huge that it couldn’t have been any mistake in its diversion, and that necessary punitive action would be taken against government officials found to be involved in the diversion.
The governor also said his administration would come up with a White Paper and forward same to the Ministry of Justice for legal consideration, and that wrongs not connected to individuals would be looked into with a view to forestalling future recurrence.
But the former governor who spoke through his aide, Oluwabusola Olawale, said he was being witch-hunted by the Masari administration. He stated that he didn’t commit any crime during his tenure as the state governor and that he had executed meaningful projects for the development of the state.
Shema has also filed an ex parte motion before a High Court in the state to stop the commission of inquiry from submitting its main report to the state government. Hearing on the case has been adjourned to July 25, this year.
However what is yet unclear is how the case would affect the commission’s report because it had already rounded up its assignment and submitted to the state government few days ago. But observers said, judging by the documents presented before the commission, there is no doubt that the state government has abundant evidence to prove that monies belonging to it had grown wings and flown into private accounts.
The onus, they say, lies on the ex-governor and others affected, to justify what the monies withdrawn were used for, when the government eventually goes before a court of competent jurisdiction to present its case.