16 July 2017

Nigeria: ICPC Raids Fiscal Responsibility Commission Over Corruption Allegations Against Chairman

Operatives of the Independent Corrupt Practices (and other related offences) Commission last Wednesday visited the Fiscal Responsibility Commission, FRC, headquarters in Abuja and carted away several volumes of files and official documents.

PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the raid followed a petition received from a group of "Concerned Staff of FRC" against the acting chairman of the commission, Victor Muruako.

The petition dated May 29, 2017, signed on behalf of the group by Jonathan Yakubu, was addressed to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.

A copy of the petition obtained by PREMIUM TIMES on Friday was also sent to the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo; Director General, State Security Service; Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Procurement/Due Process as well as the Chairman, Public Complaints Commission.

In the petition, the group accused Mr. Muruako of a host of offences, ranging from impersonation, corruption, fraud, sabotage, persistent breach of the Public Procurement Act 2007, Impunity to abuse of office, among others.

THE PETITION

Following the expiration of the tenure of the pioneer board of the commission on December 4, 2013, the group said Mr. Muruako was appointed "to oversee the affairs of the Commission pending the reconstitution of the Board."

However, they said no sooner was Mr. Muruako appointed in January 2014 than he swiftly re-designated himself "acting Chairman" from his previous position as deputy director, beginning to draw N1.13 million as salary per month, equivalent to the pay of a substantive executive chairman.

Since then, the workers said, Mr. Muruako has not only been parading himself as chairman of the commission, but has also been signing official correspondences in that capacity and drawing all allowances equivalent to those associated to that office.

They alleged that since assumption of office, Mr. Muruako had perpetrated various abuses of the office, including recruitment of ghost workers and including them on the commission's payroll without following due process.

They cited the case of one Francis Alia of No. 1 A Close, Aba, Abia State, offered probationary appointment on March 10, 2014 as an Assistant Executive Officer (Information Technology) on Grade level 06 step, who since his appointment, has never been seen in the office.

On November 13, 2015, the group said, Mr. Muruako's attention was drawn to a number of financial and administrative irregularities, including 16 names, including Mr. Alia's, found in the commission's staff payroll as ghost workers, who have been receiving salaries for months without being genuine staff.

Also, Mr. Muruako was accused of corruption and fraud following the discovery in December 2014 that he caused to be prepared two different vouchers with the same payment particulars for about N6.06 million as special incentives to himself and 141 staff, against the actual amount of N19.2 million.

He was also accused of approving the payment of N4.2 million for the purchase of office equipment that were not captured in the inventory record in the Commission's Stores Unit as of November 2015.

Other allegations included misappropriation of about N4.25 million allocated in the 2014 budget for research and studies, as well as legal purchase of computer systems for the Commission.

Also included in the petition was an allegation that Mr. Muruako was fond of using his office to intimidate other government agencies, by constituting illegal probe panels to investigate phantom petitions against them for alleged violation of the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

The staff cited the example of the Veterinary Council of Nigeria, whose Registrar Mr. Muruako wrote to in March 10, 2015, informing him of a petition he said the commission received against them in respect of a breach of Public Service Rules, Financial Regulations and statutory provisions of the management of the institution.

Contrary to the mandate of the commission, the staff said, Mr. Muruako constituted an illegal audit committee headed by one of his allies, to audit the council's financial accounts and documents without any official documentation of what transpired during such audit process.

Mr. Muruako was equally alleged to have made false claims to the Finance Committee in the House of Representatives that about N25 million was spent on research and studies, purchase of office furniture, computers and printers, while another N5 million was spent in buying a 250KVA generator, when indeed they were not true.

Other alleged infractions included in the petition against him included abuse of due process in the award of contracts, including those for the purchase of refurbished generating set (N16.9 million), purchase of Nissan bus (N19.8 million), Nissan salon car (N10.5 million), computers and accessories (N9 million), printing of annual report (N9 million), and office furnishing (N6.7 million).

Rather than investigate the series of allegations against him, Mr. Muruako was said to have embarked on a victimisation spree, including issuance of queries, suspensions and forceful ejection and deployment of staff found to have signed the petition against him.

The ICPC officials were said to have arrived the Asokoro district office of the Commission on Wednesday afternoon requesting to see the chairman.

At the end of the visit, which lasted for more than an hour, the officials conducted searches in the chairman's and other offices, including the Accounts Department, at the end of which they went away with several files and documents.

In a brief telephone chat with PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday, Mr. Muruako confirmed the visit to his office by the anti-graft agency on Wednesday, but refused to give details, particularly about the several allegations raised in petition against him.

"I will not say they did not come. Yes, they (ICPC) came. But it is nothing to worry about. Where I am now, I cannot talk in details about why they came. I will appreciate if you can call me back on Monday. But, if you feel you want to go ahead and publish that I confirmed, you can go ahead.

"I don't know what information you had. But I have nothing to hide. I believe an agency like the Fiscal Responsibility Commission, with the kind of work we are doing, trying to set up structures for accountability and transparency, we should be sensitive to preserve it from people trying to bring it down," Mr. Muruako said.

The spokesperson to ICPC, Rashidat Okoduwa, did not answer calls to her telephone when PREMIUM TIMES called on Sunday for her comment. She did not also respond to a text message sent to her phone at the time of this story.

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