The Yobe State Coordinator of the Joint Admission Matriculation Board, Sanusi Atose, has blamed the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria's North-East for his inability to account for N613,000 belonging to the board.
JAMB had summoned Mr. Atose to Abuja to appear before an administrative panel led by Registrar Ishaq Oloyede to explain the disappearance of the cash after he received registration scratch cards of that amount.
But in his explanation, the official, according to details of the session exclusively obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, claimed an alleged Boko Haram attack in Yobe State left him unable to account for the money.
Mr. Atose said tellers, receipts and invoices were destroyed in the attack, which he said left him with no documentation for the transaction.
Mr. Oloyede, a professor, however, dismissed Mr. Atose's claim as another disingenuous cover-up for fraud.
"Kindly go and pay government money within one week, else you will be in trouble," the registrar told Mr. Atose.
Also appearing before the panel, Daniel Agbor, who is the Kogi State coordinator of JAMB, said he spent N7 million his office could not account for on assisting other workers in his office, who he said were ravaged by poverty.
He also claimed that some of the cards sent to the state were stolen by unknown persons.
"The state of the state offices is such that we are in poverty and money is there with us," the coordinator told the panel.
"You need the grace of God in the state offices not to steal money because money is tempting. We borrowed the money and I am not the only one, I will provide the list of everyone involved in the fraud," Mr Agbor said.
"To err is human, to forgive is divine, please don't take me to the police, please be lenient with me, sir," he pleaded.
"If you hear that I have given up in the police cell, will you say I am sorry? I just gave birth to my first issue. Most of us are on loan, my salary is N175, 000, but when they deduct my loans, my salary remains N90,000, which is not enough for me so I borrowed from the government purse," Mr. Agbor said.
Mr. Agbor told the panel that he paid N265,000 into an account allegedly on the instruction of the former registrar of the board.
"I was informed of missing scratch cards, but security personnel, the police and civil defence, invaded the office, retrieved the cards and they paid some money back. I informed the former registrar and he directed me to send the money to an account, which I did. I later learnt the money was transferred to the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence. So that one was not calculated at all," he said.
But the panel told Mr. Agbor his defence was untenable.
"I will give you one week from today as we speak," Mr. Oloyede told the coordinator. "I want to see you pay everything in your custody, else I will hand you over to the police.
"Deduct the N265, 000 from the N7 million, then give us the account in which the former registrar gave you to send the money to."
JAMB became a subject of intense media scrutiny this week following reports that an official at its Makurdi, Benue State office, Philomena Chieshe, claimed a snake swallowed N36 million government cash in her custody.
Since the revelation, more stranger-than-fiction claims by JAMB officials, accused of fraud, have emerged.
On Wednesday, Premium Times reported that the state coordinator of the board in Nasarawa State, Labaran Tanko, claimed that scratch cards worth N23 million were destroyed when his car caught fire.
The bizarre claims were made before an investigative panel set up by JAMB following the discovery of widespread fraud in its state offices.
The fraud involved the sale of scratch cards to candidates for admission to tertiary institutions in Nigeria. JAMB was set up in 1978 to coordinate and streamline admission into undergraduate courses in tertiary institutions in the country.
Before Mr. Oloyede's tenure as registrar, candidates purchased scratch cards at JAMB's state offices and other designated centres to register for examination or check admission status.
However, reforms introduced by the new registrar since 2016 ended the use of scratch cards and replaced it with a more efficient platforms such as E-pins.
Yet more bizarre claims
Murtala Abdul, a staff of the board in Kogi State, reported that some officials forged his signature and stole N10,283,000 at the state office.
"We discovered a shortfall of over N600,000 after reconciliation of accounts but we later discovered we overpaid on the change of institution scratch cards," Mr Abdul said.
"In the course of reconciliation, the marketing team came up with another invoice which I was told I collected in 2015. Someone copied my signature that I signed to collect the scratch cards," he said.
The registrar dismissed Mr. Abdul's claim, observing that his signature was not forged and that he signed the two documents on different occasions when he collected the scratch cards.
"We have uncovered what had not been discovered before. The investigation carried out in your state indicates that the sum of N10,283,000 is missing from your end. Are you saying the official that gave you the scratch cards does not know you and you said someone forged your signature?" Mr. Oloyede asked Mr. Abdul.
"The teams in charge of giving scratch cards to states have two documents that must be signed before a state coordinator can collect the scratch cards; which you collected, signed and you just confirmed it that you signed for the cards," Mr. Oloyede added.
In the case of Osun State, the state coordinator, Olaolu Adeniyi, said N1.34 million disappeared when his accountant was on dialysis.
"My accountant told me that he handed all the money to his deputy and the deputy confirmed that he has spent the money," Mr Adeniyi told the panel.
Addressing the panel, Mr. Oloyede said his appointment as Registrar of the board made him see that corruption has different grades.
"When I hear the amount of money that is missing, I get scared. This is government money," the registrar said.
"I gave all state coordinators notice that I was going to stop the sale of scratch cards but they thought it was not possible because they thought they could stall the process internally.
"The state coordinators thought I was going to use internal mechanism to stop the sale of scratch cards. But I must sincerely commend the effort of the external consultant that I brought in," Mr. Oloyede said.
During the session, the panel pointed out that in some other states, the state coordinators simply could not explain how money dissappeared.
For instance, Yakubu Aliu, the coordinator of Kano State could not account for N20 million; and Priscilla Ogunsola for N31 million in Edo State.
In Plateau State, Zakada Yakubu could not explain the disappearance of N15 million.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES later, the spokesperson of the board, Fabian Benjamin, said all the officials suspected of fraud had been suspended for failure to account for money at their disposal.
"The committee has written a report on the suspects and it has been submitted to the Federal Ministry of Education," Mr. Benjamin said. Once it is approved, immediate action will be taken. As you know, there are procedures in the civil service."
"The board will make sure it wipes out every act of crime and criminality."