The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has frozen three bank accounts belonging to the Benue and Akwa Ibom State governments.
Officials of the two states confirmed this yesterday, declaring the action as part of the political witch-hunt against the states.
While Ortom recently defected from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Godswill Akpabio, the political godfather of the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, Wednesday defected to the APC.
In Benue State, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Terver Akase, said the commission had linked the governor to an alleged fraud to the tune of N22 billion but Ortom denied the allegation.
The EFCC said between June 30, 2015 and March 2018, the governor ordered the withdrawal of N21.3billion from four government’s accounts in Guaranty Trust Bank, First Bank of Nigeria and the United Bank for Africa.
On paper, about N19 billion out of the money was said to be meant for the payment of six security agencies that had been deployed in the state to address the incessant clashes between herdsmen and farmers.
Akase said, “Yes, it is true that accounts of the Benue State Government have been frozen by EFCC. It is part of the political witch-hunt against Governor Ortom. The action of EFCC is already having negative impact on the running of government in Benue State. It is a move that will affect salaries, pensions and other sundry payments.
“The question we are asking is; why did EFCC not investigate the governor’s security votes when he was still a member of APC? Why start the investigation now?
He warned that the EFCC should not allow itself to be used as an attack dog unleashed against perceived political opponents.
“Let the federal government tell us how much it has spent on prosecuting the fight against Boko Haram and how much it spent on the other operations such as Python Dance, Crocodile Smile and Whirl Stroke.”
He added that Benue has suffered heavy attacks by Fulani herdsmen since the beginning of the year even as he said legitimate support were giving security agencies to protect the people of the state.
“Governor Ortom has not diverted funds. He runs a transparent administration.”
Akase said the state government would welcome the investigation, but added it should start from the presidency and go across the 36 states.
“Benue should not be singled out for victimisation, intimidation and harassment as the federal government with its agencies is currently doing,” he said
In Akwa Ibom State, a source said Governor Emmanuel and state accountant-general of the state were shocked by the development.
It said, “The governor was shocked when he was briefed about the development.
“He has demanded explanation from the EFCC. Our suspicion is that our big friend who just departed is behind the issue but we will fight this injustice.”
Wilson Uwujaren, spokesman of the anti-graft agency, did not respond to inquiries.
But the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, has described the freezing of state governments’ accounts was unconstitutional and wrong.
In a statement yesterday, the Zamfara State governor described such action by anti-corruption agencies as shutting down of government.
Yari said a state like Benue facing insecurity might not be able to live up to expectations.
“The freezing of any account of the state government whether Benue or anywhere is unconstitutional and is not right,” he said.
“That is shutting down government. Government must spend, most especially Benue that is facing insecurity challenges.
“Well, we don’t know why the EFCC took the action. But if indeed EFFC froze the account, from my point of view, it is wrong.
“This government will not sit down and oversee unlawful operation from the security agencies. From what happened yesterday, everyone can understand that government is following due process and the laws of Nigeria. For one to just send security agencies to shut down the national assembly, and the action that followed, that is what gave credit to this government by local and international community.
“Similar thing had happened in 2011 and 2014 respectively, but nothing was done about it. This time around, government said enough is enough. But the government of Muhammadu Buhari is following due process and will never oversee an unlawful activity by any security agency. So in the case of Benue, I believe something must be done.”
Meanwhile, a pressure group, Benue Liberation Front (BLF) has called on the EFCC to stop its alleged persecution of the Governor Ortom following his defection from the ruling APC to the PDP.
The group stated that since the governor defected from the APC to the opposition PDP, “the EFCC has been detailed by the ruling APC to run down and frustrate the governor and by extension the people of Benue State.”
In a statement signed by its Coordinator, Yunum Tyosor, BLF noted that the EFCC, a supposed anti-grant agency, was fast losing its moral right to even prosecute alleged corrupt public officials, adding that “it has now become an attack dog of the APC-led government and a persecutor of perceived political opponents of the APC-led government.
“The EFCC has lately conducted itself in a very low esteem that makes mockery of its anti corruption fight and indeed cannot absolve itself from the several corruption allegations that have dogged it under Mr. Ibrahim Magu, whom a DSS report has indicted as not fit for the coveted office he occupies, which is why the Senate has declined to conform his nomination as the EFCC Chairman.
“Since Governor Ortom defected from the APC to the opposition PDP, the EFCC has been detailed by the ruling APC to run down and frustrate the governor and by extension the people of Benue State.
“It is on record that the state is the only state where the EFCC is investigating the security vote of the governor, even where security votes are clearly meant to be spent on security matters in the state.
“Even a kindergarten is aware of the numerous security challenges that Benue State has faced lately and one wonders if the EFCC expected the governor to keep security funds idle rather than spend for the benefits of peace and security.
“We are tempted to ask if the governor of Benue state has lost his immunity just because he defected from APC to the PDP.
“All the various security formations in the state can testify to the support, financially and otherwise that has been extended to them by Governor Ortom as they battle insecurity in the state.
“It is unconscionable that the EFCC will attempt to freeze the accounts of the state government and cripple governance in the state and throw the citizens of the state into misery and hardships.
“We join other well-meaning Nigerians to condemn in strong terms this attack dog role of the EFCC as it offends our democracy and global best practice,” BLF said.
The group called on the acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo to immediately sack the acting Chairman of EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, describing him as a danger to democracy.
“Magu has also clearly taken sides, compromised his office in the discharge of his duty, which is against the oat he took, except of course, he is takinv orders from the presidency to torment Ortom for daring to defect from APC,” the statement said.
Reacting to the development, the PDP has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately order the unfreezing of the official accounts of Akwa Ibom and Benue States illegally blocked by the EFCC.
The party described the action as a direct attack on innocent Nigerians in those states.
In a statement issued by the National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, PDP condemned the freezing as illegal, unconstitutional, overtly wicked and cannot be justified under any guise within the clear dictates and contemplation of our laws and practice as a nation.
“The PDP rejects the action of the federal government and counsels the Buhari presidency not to hide under the EFCC to unleash punishment and hardship on the people in states perceived to be averse to his 2019 re-election bid,” it said.
PDP also said by illegally blocking the flow of funds to these states, the APC-led federal government has ostensibly commenced a reprehensible design of using economic deprivation as a political tool to arm-twist governors and states to support President Buhari’s re-election in 2019.
The statement read, “The APC has been seeking ways to subjugate Nigerians, for which it has now resorted to subjecting millions of compatriots already impoverished by the misrule of the Buhari administration, to face more hardship by seizing funds legally belonging to them.
“Nigerians are all aware that no section of our constitution or any law in Nigeria for that matter confers any agency of the federal government with powers to interfere or put any restrictions on funds belonging or accruable to states as federating units of our nation.
“Apart from its state assembly, no other government body or institution has the powers of appropriation or restrictions on any funds belonging to the state.”
PDP urged all Nigerians to stand up and resist this dangerous trend introduced by the desperate APC to subjugate Nigerians, for which Akwa Ibom and Benue States are now being used to test the will of the people in this direction.