The News (Lagos)

Nigeria: Probing The MILADs

Lagos — Confronted by empty treasuries, civilian governors shrug off their awe of military men as they swear their determination to probe the misdeeds of their predecessors. But can they go the whole hog?

Prince Abubakar Audu, the civilian governor of impoverished Kogi State, is a sad man. The All People's Party (APP), chieftain's unhappy state of mind is informed by the embarrassing level of financial recklessness with which his predecessor in office, governed the state. Audu's sadness began days before he assumed the reins of government in the state. While other state military administrators were putting finishing touches to their handover ceremonies that took place 29 May, Colonel Augustine Aniebo was scheming how to bolt from the state through the back door.

A week to the handover date, Aniebo departed Kogi State and travelled abroad "for medical treatment." Not a few people believed that the former MILAD decided to abscond in order to save his skin from what might come out against him. It was discovered that the Kogi Government House and other choice properties were mortgaged by Aniebo, for a N500 million bank loan.

Others are the state government's liaison offices and the governor's lodges in Lagos, Kaduna and Abuja.

Trade Bank PLC, the United Bank for Africa PLC, and the Bank of the North Limited are reportedly in possession of the title deeds to the structures.

"It is really disheartening, moreso when there is no record anywhere to show what the money was used for, or that it was even lodged in the state treasury," Prince Abubakar lamented. He added that the banks would be justified if they decide to seek the orders of the courts to acquire the properties.

The governor further revealed that "this facility is different from another N500 million collected from the Federation Account. "We are contending with inherited debts totalling over N5 billion and there is no way we can appease the banks now."

Aniebo left Lokoja before the inauguration of the civilian regime for London, ostensibly for medical treatment. "I saw him on 25 May, he was hale and hearty, he neither told me he was sick, nor did he indicate that he wanted to travel abroad." Aniebo, according to Audu, was not taken to the airport on a stretcher or an ambulance.

To worsen matters for his successor, Aniebo did not give the commissioner of police "any handover notes to pass on to the incoming civilian administration on 29 May," Audu charged.

This made Kogi, the only state in which the State Transitional Implementation Committee (STIC), rather than the military administrator had to carry out the task of handing over power to a democratically- elected government on 29 May.

But indigenes of the state would not only buy Aniebo's excuse. To them the former administrator fled from the imminent truth that he had practically nothing to hand over to his successor except a huge pile of dubiously acquired debt of over N4.12 billion.

A few days before he fled the country, Aniebo was rumoured to have pleaded with Audu to arrange for a secret handover ceremony, possibly before 29 May.

But the refusal of the elected governor to be party to such an arrangement was said to have scared the former MILAD. Before he disappeared, however, Aniebo, according to an accusation going the rounds at Government House, Lokoja, lifted as much as N11 million off the state's purse, for his medical treatment, less than a week before the handover date.

On assumption of office, Audu unearthed more spurious expenditures. The departed MILAD offered each commissioner who served under him N1 million as furniture loan. Permanent secretaries were not left out from Aniebo's largesse; each of them was dashed N500,000 for the same purpose.

Soldiers who served under him at the Kogi State Government House were also said to have helped themselves to some choice property on the eve of their departure. "Soldiers in Government House carted away government property up to mattresses and pillows," a fuming Audu told journalists in Lokoja. The governor was said to have wept openly when he got full details of the monumental stealing of government money perpetrated by his predecessor. "The state's accounts in various banks are overdrawn to the tune of N229 million allegedly used for execution of unidentified projects." To obtain these loans and overdrafts, valuable state government properties were mortgaged," Governor Audu posited.

By the time he fled the state, the former MILAD was owing the state's workers N336 million in salary arrears for the months of April and May and separate salary arrears of N165 million for the months of January and February.

Aside these, Aniebo left other outstanding obligations to local contractors amounting to N2.1 billion as well as a sundry payment of N120 million, excluding cheques that had no cash support.

Audu's woes would pale into a minor problem when compared to Governor Achike Udenwa's inheritance in Imo State. Udenwa recently cried out that his predecessor, Colonel Tanko Zubairu (retd.) left for him, a debt burden of N10 billion. Already, an indigene of the state, Bob Njemanze, has dragged Zubairu to court to account for the billions of naira he purportedly spent while in office. All over the state, documents are flying about alleging gross embezzlement of public funds against the former MILAD.

Some of the projects on which Zubairu claimed to have expended huge amounts of money but which are being queried include 36 boreholes sunk at N1 million each. Indigenes of the state say the former administrator could not name the beneficiary communities of the project. There is also the N27 million he claimed to have spent constructing "unidentified" road drainages.

For painting the Nigerian coat of arms at the gate of Government House, Owerri, Zubairu signed away N3.750 million. He claimed to have purchased organic fertiliser at the cost of N10 million, while another N100 million was said to have been spent on tarring some unnamed roads within Owerri.

Direct from the state ministry of finance, the former MILAD was collecting N19 million every month as expenses on security, running costs, touring advance, fuel, gifts, donations, vehicle maintenance and women affairs.

Between January and September alone in 1998, Zubairu was said to have collected N150 million from Imo State. The MILAD collected N500,000 for receiving visitors when General Sani Abacha died last June.

Also accused is his wife. She was said to have collected over N1.5 million in four instalments for her "wardrobe furnishing." Also, she was said to have enjoyed a monthly imprest of N5 million as "touring advance." It is the story of wanton embezzlement in Anambra State against the immediate former military administrator, Wing-Commander Emmanuel Ukaegbu (retd.). The people are describing as "roguish" his claims that he spent N147.9 million to construct a 1.2km access road leading to the new Government House. The same man had, ironically, spent N6.7 million on a 3.8km road.

Some other projects Ukaegbu claimed to have executed are also labelled drain pipes. These projects include the giant gates on the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway. The gate at the Onitsha-end of the road is said to have cost N9.9 million while the one at the Ugbinoba end (boundary of Anambra and Enugu states), gulped N8.5 million. There were also three questionable roundabouts at Ifile- Awka, Anambra-Agulu junction and Amanse which cost the state N11.3 million. The former MILAD is also said to have claimed the sum of N98 million as the cost of constructing 70 units of houses for civil servant in the state. Each time he travelled outside the state, it cost the tax-payers N500,000.

In Jigawa, the last MILAD, Lt-Col. Zakari Maimalari (retd.), was reported to have spent N110 million in just eight days. The elected governor of the state, Alhaji Ibrahim Saminu Turaki, said Maimalari withdrew the money between 23 and 31 May. He pointed out that instead of N250 million which the soldiers claimed to have left behind, only N110 million was seen by his regime on assumption of office.

The case of Ogun State is even worse. One of the former military administrators of the state reportedly signed an irrevocable standing order for the deduction of N14,570,833.33 every month from the state's treasury beginning from March last year till August this year. The money usually deducted at source from the state's allocation from the Federation Accounts, is being paid into a Lion Bank's account for the construction of the state government's liaison office in Abuja. Meanwhile, the former MILADs in the state, Col. Daniel Akintonde (retd.), Group-Captain Sam Ewang (retd.) and Commodore Kayode Olofinmoyin ( retd.), have been summoned before the state House of Assembly to give account of their stewardship, particularly regarding disbursement of public funds.

Osoba last week asked the House to recall Ewang, in order for him to give account of a N200 million Federal Government ecological fund granted to the state while he was in office. It was meant for road, water and other special projects, but was disbursed within two months in a questionable manner. Ewang is also to explain the award of a 19- kilometre road contract at an unjustifiable cost of N60 million.

In Katsina State, the last MILAD, Lt-Col. Joseph Akaagerger, left a little over N2 million in the state treasury but his successor, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, inherited a liability of N457 million. In Abia State, Governor Orji Uzor Kalu has cried out that he inherited a debt burden of N8 billion while his predecessor "left no kobo in the state treasury." He disclosed that the state has lost N3.2 billion through fraudulent means since it was created on 27 August 1991.

In Borno State, the governor, Alhaji Mala Kachallah, inherited N111 million from his predecessor while a debt of N2 billion awaited his attention. In Kwara State, the governor, Muhammed Lawal, lamented recently before the state's legislators that although his predecessor claimed to have left behind N138.12 million, the actual expendable money he met in the treasury was N94.22 million. In Benue, the governor, Mr. George Akume, was flummoxed by what he met in the state treasury when he assumed office. The governor cried out, while inaugurating the state House of Assembly, that the last MILAD of the state Brigadier-General Dominic Oneya (retd.), left N111 million in the vault, but with staggering liabilities in loans and unsettled payments amounting to several hundreds of million.

Delta State is not left out of the fraud saga. Navy-Captain Walter Feghabo, the former MILAD, was accused of kleptomania.

The presidential lodge contract which cost the state N185 million was grossly over-inflated. Commissioning of an uncompleted housing project alongside the Government House and those already commissioned by the administration of Col. Dungs also gulped money. He was also accused of voting N500 million for the fencing of the Government House and N90 million on the Delta Broadcasting Service when no single equipment was purchased.

Feghabo, according to Deltans, diverted millions of state funds to his pockets in the name of maintaining peace with regard to the Warri crisis, while he made Abuja his second home. "The trade mark of his administration is deceit," a Delta State indigene told this magazine.It was as a result of such allegations of inefficiency that the state council of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), had threatened to disrupt then head of state's visit to the state 12 May. Though Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, seemed to have headed the workers' call not to come and "glorify fraud," his representative, Major-Gen. Godwin Abbe (retd.) was treated to a show of shame by workers who openly denounced Feghabo.

Some of the placards read: "Feghabo must be probed,"

"Remove Feghabo even if it is two days remaining."

"We are tired of absentee MILAD." Feghabo further jolted his critics when he announced that his government spent N28 million to receive the head of state's representation during the one-day visit." The workers were on total strike in the last two weeks of his administration to press home their disapproval of his rulership. And, perhaps, sensing danger, he, in a statewide broadcast, 27 May owned up his failure to live up to expectation, adducing the outbreak of Warri crisis as a chief reason.

Feghabo did not, however, leave Delta without another running battle.

Workers, who sensed he might loot the treasury dry connived and spirited away the state's acting accountant-general, Mr. Cyril Agbele. The administrator, through his then chief press secretary, Austin Iyasere, made repeated broadcasts on state radio calling for the whereabouts of the officer. He threatened him and other officers with summary dismissal and arrest. They refused to yield until the end of Feghabo's administration.

A source told The News in Asaba, the state capital, that "it appears that was the only option we had to salvage our state from the mindless looting of Feghabo."

A confirmation of the graft represented by the former MILAD's administration was given recently by Governor James Ibori, who disclosed that he inherited a debt of N3 billion.

The fate of the people of Edo was not completely different from that of the Deltans. While Navy-Captain Anthony Onyearugbulem (retd.) was presiding, foundations of such collapse were, however, said to have been laid by Baba Adamu Iyam (retd.), who ruled before Onyearugbulem.

High Chief Nosakhare Isekhure, chief priest of Benin Kingdom, told the magazine that Onyearugbulem came in as a populist riding Okada (motorcycles) to pursue fuel dealers, "... I told myself, this is what populists do". In no time, according to the Chief, the MILAD fizzled out with his crusade.

He embarked on N165 million computerisation project in the secondary schools, a project Isekhure said is far from the priority lists of such schools. "How many of the schools enjoy regular electricity supply, they don 't even have computer teachers," he said.

Though Onyearugbulem was seen to have started his self-avowal salvage mission on a good note last August, the mission ran into troubled waters when he got involved in local politics which culminated in his tussle with the revered Bini monarch, OmoN'Oba N'Edo Erediauwa Akpolokpolo.

Onyearugbulem left this state in more problems than he met it, said Barrister Fred Orboh, a Benin-based legal practitioner. He further told The News that, "the N105 million left in the state's purse by the MILAD can hardly meet government's demands for a month in a democratic setting."

Caretaker chairman of the state NLC, Comrade Yisa Osifo, told the magazine that "Onyearugbulem's salvage mission became savage mission at the end of his tenure."

Igboteko Mowinta, Edo State chairman of Committee for Defence of Human Rights, also carpeted the former MILAD for wasteful spending and failure to account for the N200 million ecological fund sent to the state by the Federal Government last year. The government, according to Mowinta, also made available N80 million to the beleaguered Bendel Cement Company, Ukpilla, which needs over N2 billion to operate at full capacity.

As if in complete agreement with Mowinta, a day to the expiration of Onyearugbulem's tenure, residents of floodaffected communities staged a peaceful demonstration round the streets of Benin where they denounced their plight and called for the release of the N200 million ecological fund money meant to alleviate their plight.

It was gathered that, apart from several millions of the state money misappropriated through contracts, 20 per cent of which goes to the MILAD, several other steps were taken to loot the state by Onyearugbulem. An undisclosed sum was said to have been lodged in a fixed account, a step which disrupted payment of the N3,000 minimum wage. The ex-MILAD had pleaded with Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, NLC president, to allow a two weeks grace for the money to mature so as not to deny the state its "benefits". The actual benefit, it was gathered, was the N4 million it yielded to the MILAD.

A day to the end of his tenure in Edo, Onyearugbulem announced the sack of Mr. E.O. Enemaku, the state's accountant-general whom he accused of sabotaging his efforts to pay workers' salaries. The real reason, it was gathered, was the disappearance of the accountant who was said to have been worried at the ever heightening rate of looting and the continuous presentation of several cheques by different government officials at the last week of the regime. One of the cheques was the one authorising the payment of N6 million to Onyearugbulem to enable him pack his belongings from Benin to Owalla-Avnvu in Imo State, his home town.

Government sources told the magazine that the MILAD had earlier paid N1.4 million to each of state's executive council members and top aides apart from one 504 saloon car he dashed each of the commissioners. The state also purchased a fleet of cars for judges and judicial officials in the state, a contract which was said to have earned Onyearugbulem a 20 per cent cut.

On the assumption of office of Governor Lucky Nosa Igbinedion, he suspended contracts awarded between February and May, but that is not seen as a probe, a source added. Knowledgeable party men believe it would be difficult for Igbinedion to probe Onyearugbulem in view of their closeness while the latter ruled the state. An instance was given when Mrs. Grace Onyearugbulem joined the Igbinedion on a trip to London last April.

If the new civilian governors match their determination to probe their MILAD predecessors with action, the soldiers may be called to cough out their loot. Incensed by the stupendous degree of looting by their predecessors, the governors have been spitting fire. Governor Lam Adesina of Oyo State was the first to posit that the Nigerian political class has overcomed the fear of the men in uniform. Adesina had sworn to probe the financial atrocities of his three military administrators predecessors- Col. Ahmed Usman (retd.), Brigadier-General Ike Nwosu (retd.) and Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Prince Amen Oyakhire. As a prelude, the governor has summoned some past commissioners in the state to come and answer questions on their activities while in office.

The new regime met N240 million in the accounts in May and a debt of N1.6 billion.There were unpaid arrears of salaries which put the account of the state in the red.

Additional reports by Innocent Atabo, Bamidele Adebayo, Ademola Adegbamigbe, Ayodele Ojo,Tunde Oladipo and Taiwo Adisa.

Publication Date: July 5, 1999

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