The Guardian (Lagos)

27 July 2001

Nigeria: Government Indicts Ayinla, Aziza Others Over Cocoa Fund

Abuja — For another set of prominent Nigerians who had been indicted by the Justice Michael Edem Commission on the Cocoa Export Levy and Cocoa Buffer Stock Funds, bad news came yesterday. The White Paper on report of the commission has recommended them for various sanctions.

Top on the list of affected personalities are two former Commerce Ministers, Maj. Gen. Patrick Aziza and Vice Admiral Jubril Ayinla, both retired. The Justice Ministry, police and state security service were indeed "directed to take appropriate steps" and "legal action" to recover the "sums or money wrongfully appropriated" by the former ministers.

Also indicted were a former permanent secretary Dr. Adamu Fika, two former directors of the ministry, Moses I.E. Ajima and A.K. Amadiri and; former Commerce Secretary Otunba Dorcas Bolajoko Kuforiji- Olubi.

The commission of inquiry was established in January 2000 by President Olusegun Obasanjo, to probe allegations of the misuse of about $60 million that accrued to the country from the Cocoa Export Levy Account and the Cocoa Buffer Stock Liquidation Account.

Other members of the commission were Alhaji Muhammed Abdulkadir, Mr. Mathew Damsa, Mr. Patrick Akan, Eyo Effiom Ita, Chief O.D. Akpadiaha and Mr. Y.S. Labaran who served as secretary.

According to the government white paper, Aziza and Ayinla are to refund a total of $20 million. The other indicted persons and the sums they are to refund are: Otunba O.O.A. Odusote (N10.1 million), Chief Bayo Iyaniwuwa (N7.85 million), Mrs. Miriam T. Odagbali (N2 million), Mr. R.K. Osayameh (N4.3 million) and Mr. Segun Ajibola (N1 million).

The others are Kuforiji-Olubi (N1 million), W.O. Johnson Nigeria limited (N3 million), Grandstar Investments (N10 million), Mr. Ade Ayoola (N1.6 million), Mr. Kunle l. Alege (N1.7 million), Faida Ventures Limited (N1 million) and Alhaji A.A. Garba (N1 million).

According to the white paper, the indicted persons received the indicated sums from the account of the Cocoa Association of Nigeria (CAN) with the distressed Commerce Bank in breach of foreign exchange regulations and other laws.

Also, some officials of the Central Bank alleged to have colluded with the indicted persons in fleecing the funds are to be visited with heavy government hammer.

To that effect, government has "directed the Federal Ministry of Commerce to identify the officers and forward their names to the Federal Ministry of Justice and the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation for legal and disciplinary action".

To underscore government's seriousness with the disciplinary measure, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) has constituted a committee to see to its implementation.

Aziza was held responsible for a contract of $1,995,639 awarded from the funds to a company for the supply of tractors, vehicles and other equipment to the Calabar Export Processing Zone.

The commission condemned "the inordinate rush in the award of these spurious contracts in the twilight of the life of the last administration". It described as "reckless and self-serving," the full payment of contract sums in advance without a performance bond or bank guarantee as required by prevailing foreign exchange regulations.

Aziza and a Swiss firm, Audit Control Expertise are also to refund another sum of $450,000 which was an overpayment from the buffer stock account to the company for a contract signed on April 14, 1999 for the provision of technical assistance services.

Aziza will also refund $50,000 collected for accommodation during the second World Trade Organisation (WTO), Geneva conference after he had earlier collected $8,200 as estacode.

Aziza, Fika, Ajima and Amalire were also condemned for the payment of a non-existent variation of $915,315.68 to Rosula Nigeria Limited in respect of a contract for the supply of cargo-handling equipment to the Calabar EPZ. The Company and another, Crown Associates which served as consultants on the project are to refund the full amount to the government.

According to the white paper, the commission reported that it found some other glaring irregularities perpetrated in the award and performance of other supply contracts when it visited the Calabar EPZ and; government has directed the State Security Service and the Nigeria Police to investigate these contracts.

It added: "Government further directed that legal action be taken to recover from Maj.-Gen. Aziza, the US$746,465.11 paid to Stanmark Holdings Limited for a Cocoa Rehabilitation and Expansion Project. The Commission considered the contract a duplication and waste of public funds in the face of existing Nigeria/ICCO Joint Technical Projects. It also condemned the payment of the full contract sum up-front contrary to the terms of the contract and without a performance bond or bank guarantee.

"Legal action is also to be taken to recover the sum of $55,609.47 from Vice Admiral Jibril Ayinla. Ayinla unlawfully drew the sum from the buffer stock account purportedly to meet the costs of advertisement, printing and stationery for the Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA).

For their part the white paper said, the Cocoa Processors Association of Nigeria (COPAN), CAN, "its members as well as some public and bank officials are to refund $9 million with interest to the Federal Government. The bulk of the sum was released to COPAN and CAN as loans from the Cocoa Export Levy Account.

"The sum of $5 million was released to CAN as a loan to introduce Nigerian Cocoa into new markets in Eastern Europe and Asia. The commission of Inquiry found however that this objective was not achieved because of greed, mismanagement and the inept manner officials of the Ministry of Commerce handled the loan.

Of the loan of $4 million released to COPAN to help its members earn more foreign exchange for the country, Ile-Oluji Cocoa Products got $1,386,000, Temple & Golders Limited got $754,200, Ebun Industries Limited got $750,000, Cocoa Industries Limited got $699,999 and Stanmark Holdings $350,000. The balance of $59,800 was lost to the distressed Commerce Bank of Nigeria, it lamented.

According to government, the commission found that the Monitoring Committee was reckless in the release and management of the loan to COPAN. The loans are currently unsecured as all guarantees given by the beneficiaries, some of who have since gone under receivership, have expired.

The White Paper, said the commission recommended that appropriate administrative actions be taken against members of the Monitoring Committee from 1994 to October 1997 for the lapses which led to the diversion of the CAN loan from its original purpose. Government accepted this recommendation and directed the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation to taken appropriate disciplinary action against all the public/civil servants among them."

"The commission further recommended appropriate administrative and legal action against another former Minister of Commerce, Rear Admiral I. Areola, the Director-General of the Ministry at the time, Alhaji Tukur Mani and others for recommending and approving disbursements to Temple & Golders when the company was already under receivership. Government accepted this recommendation.

"The commission established that the sum of $44,,449,557.94 was due to Nigeria from the liquidation of the Cocoa Buffer Stock. From this, $8 million was transferred to the NNSL/NICON account in London by the International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO) on the instructions of the Nigerian Government to rescue Nigerian ships detained at various ports abroad by foreign creditors."

Government noted that the commission further established that a total sum of $33,286,692.90 was expended from the buffer stock account between 1995 and 1999". It found that much of this expenditure was extra-budgetary and that the Federal Ministry of Commerce did not follow laid-down procedures for incurring such extra-budgetary expenditure.

It added: "The commission reported that most of the money was frittered away in 1998 and the first five months of 1999 on incessant and self-serving overseas trips, irrelevant and frivolous consultancies, and questionable contracts.

"Of the amount, $3.6 million was given out as loans to five companies - Stanmark Cocoa Processing Company Ltd, Oregun Cocoa Mills Ltd., CO-OP Cocoa Products Ltd., Beeb Holdings Ltd, and Ebun Industries Ltd. The Commission found that the Ministry of Commerce gave out these loans from the Cocoa Buffer Stock Account without approval.

"It also held that the Monitoring Committee was reckless in recommending the loans to some beneficiaries and grossly inept in its management of the loans. Government accepted the recommendation that it should take steps to recover the $3.6 million and interest from the beneficiaries.

"Government also accept the recommendation that appropriate steps, administrative or judicial, be taken against Rear Admiral Areola, Alhaji Tukur Mani and Mr. M. I. Nwagwu for paying a total sum of $166,908.60 to Financial Research Associates of London, from the account without any approval and in breach of financial regulations.

It also said: "The Commission further established that $6,509,918.69 was spent on estacode for endless overseas tours, conferences and seminars. It found that there was no authority to spend the said amount and the officials of the Ministry of Commerce and the Central Bank of Nigeria were reckless and imprudent in its disbursement."

The White Paper reads further: "The Commission described the expenditure of $438,825.81 from the Cocoa Buffer Stock Account on the ICCO's 25th Anniversary Celebrations as an exercise in extravagance and recklessness. Government accepted the recommendation that appropriate disciplinary/legal action should be taken against the official who approved the expenditure, Mr. G. S Sikoki and all others involved.

"Government is to also recover the sum of N25,550,000 from the Chief Executive Officer of the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), Dr. Ayoola Bolaji Fashina. It accepted the Commission's finding that Dr. Fashina's claim that he paid the amount, which was part of the grant of CRIN from the Cocoa Buffer Stock Account, into the institute's account with Trans International Bank Plc, Ibadan, was false.

A total amount of $1,067,860 was given as grants to CRIN and the Rubber Research Institute of Nigeria, Benin. The Commission reported that much of it could not be accounted for. It said that the requisite approvals were not obtained before the grants were released and that the Federal Ministry of Commerce neither supervised the use of the grant nor involved the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. Of the sum of $600,000 given to CRIN, $200,000 was found and frozen at the Fountain Trust Bank. Government directed that the amount be recovered with interest and deposited with the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Another sum of $920,391.60 purportedly withdrawn as a loan for investment promotion seminars in Japan, Taipei, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur is to be recovered by the government. The commission reported that documents prepared for the withdrawal contained scanty details. Neither the names of the persons who attended the seminars nor their grades were indicated, yet either of them had first class air tickets.

A total of $7,343,316.90 from the buffer stock account was remitted to the Nigerian trade desk at the World Trade Organisation in Geneva. The commission found that most of the remittances were done irregularly and that in some instances, the purposes to which the remittances were put constituted a gross abuse of public funds.

The sum of $450,000 was said to have been released for a "Ministerial Conference" while $100,000 was to have been used for the purchase of a Mercedes Benz car which was never bought. Instead of buying the car, vehicles were purportedly hired with the staggering amount of $65,000 for a two-day conference while $40,000 was allegedly used for the provision of a "conference bus" for other delegates.

Government directed the Nigeria Police and the State Security Service to investigate all the expenditure from the remittances to the trade office including another $100,000 purportedly released for "hiring of a private security company for two guests." The Auditor-General of the Federation is also to investigate the account of the Nigerian Trade Office in Geneva between 1996 and 1999 and report its findings to Government.

The Auditor-General is to also investigate the withdrawal of the sum of $1,417,322.40 from the Cocoa Buffer Stock Account under the guise of imprests. The Commission recommended that in the absence of any evidence of what the monies were expended on, the officials of the Federal Ministry of Commerce responsible for keeping the imprests should refund the said amount. Government accepted this recommendation.

The commission also condemned the Central Bank of Nigeria for advising and allowing the Ministry to keep large sums as imprest in foreign currency from the Buffer Stock Account in abdication of its duties. Government accepted its recommendation that disciplinary action should be taken against the officials of the Foreign Operations Department at the time. The commission also indicted the bank for generally failing in its duty of keeping proper custody of the buffer stock account.

It reported that once in a while the bank raised "feeble protests" at the expenditures from the account but that for reasons best known to the officials of its foreign operations department, they always invariably allowed the Ministry of Commerce to have its way.

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