Rumpus in Kwara over ‘theft of N11.9 billion’

Everyone is waiting to know what Kwara state government intends to do to the audited report involving past government in which billions were misappropriated. UMAR BAYO ABDULWAHB reports.

There is confusion in the camp of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) following the recent forensic audit report which revealed that the whoping sum of N11.9 billion was stolen from the treasury of the Kwara state government between 2011 and 2019.

The report, a forensic audit report revealed that at least N11.9bn of public funds were carted away from the treasury of Kwara state between 2011 and 2019 without any lawful tie to any project or programme.

The audit also showed that N2bn cash withdrawals not tied to any project or official expenditure were made within eight days in February 2019, barely one month to the general election.

Expectedly, the report generated ripples within the camp of the opposition PDP whose members and prominent figures believed the report was a calculated attempt to nail the coffin of the opposition ahead of the 2023 election.

In a swift reaction, former governor of the state, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, whose administration was accused of the allegations dismissed them as unspecific and generally unfounded.

He said, “Every expenditure during the period under review was properly appropriated and followed due processes.”

Speaking during the submission of the report to Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq recently, Partner at the SSAC and Professionals, Anthony Iniomoh said the report is in two volumes covering Internally Generated Revenue, Capital Receipts, Internal and External Loans, Recurrent / Overhead Expenditure, Personnel Cost (Salaries and Wages), Capital Expenditure, Assets Disposed, Kwara State Internal Revenue Service, Infrastructural Fund Kwara (IFK), Harmony Holdings Limited, amongst others.

“A few highlights of our findings may be necessary for the record. Our forensic audit revealed a colossal pilfering of N11, 981,268,709 which we recommended should be recovered to the public coffers. Similarly, we recommended to the state government to prosecute certain officers and companies in addition to claiming exemplary damages on transactions totalling N6,023,358,444, amongst other key findings,” Inumoh said at the presentation of the report.

“This is especially so in the cases of firms that we observed were paid huge public funds without any evidence of work done on record.

In one instance, records show that a firm that was incorporated at the Corporate Affairs Commission on June 14 2016 was paid by the state government for a contract it purportedly executed for the state in April of the same year. It became apparent that this was a preconceived attempt to defraud the state.

“There was an instance of public officer getting paid at two different places for years, which is a clear breach of the law. Other infractions arising as a result of obvious conflict of interest and violation of due process were also spotlighted for the government to draw up new policy instruments to prevent such in the future.
“There was also a cash withdrawal within eight days of N2.06 billion in February 2019 which was of interest to the audit.

However, no documentation was made available to validate the purpose for which the money was withdrawn. There were also several other cash withdrawals within the state over the period running into billions of naira which we could not validate. These and others have been recommended to be referred to an Administrative Panel of Enquiry.

Furthermore, the audit revealed that loans were obtained by the state government within the period under review.
“The elements of these loans could not be validated. Above all, the bank accounts to which these loans were disbursed to and what the loans were used for could not be established or validated.”

The report suggested to the government to prosecute some individuals and firms indicted in the two volume report, while other issues are to be referred to administrative panel of inquiry for some individuals to explain their roles in the many infractions.

Governor AbdulRazaq, for his part, said the revelations were truly disturbing but hardly surprising, given the patterns of events in those years.
“We thank you for the robust work. It confirms what we have been saying all along,” he added.

“We also saw that it has taken a bit of time and I know that there were certain deliberate efforts to obstruct your work. That was why it has taken some time because you have made certain complaints about that and we tried to push those that were supposed to open the doors to make the doors easy for you.
“Your report, like others, would help us to steadily put the state in the right direction to deepen transparency and accountability. We would go through the report fully and look into your recommendations.
“With few things you said, it is mind-boggling especially withdrawing cash of over N2bn a month to the election and all sorts of infractions that took place. Certainly, we shall progress from here and do the needful.”

The event was attended by the Secretary to the State Government, Prof Mamma Saba Jubril; Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice Senior Ibrahim Suleiman; commissioner for finance, Florence Olasumbo Oyeyemi; Accountant General of the State, AbdulGaniyu Sani; permanent secretary, Ministry of Finance, Abdulrazaq Folorunsho.

Other members of the audit firm are Tijani Dako and Bamidele Sobiye.

Former governor kicks

Reacting to the report, former governor, Ahmed in a statement through his press secretary, Alhaji Wahab Oba described the allegations as ‘preposterous, naive unspecific and generally unfounded’.
He said, “Every expenditure during the period under review was properly appropriated and followed due processes. If there were infractions as alleged, there are laid down procedures for correction.
“Since we left office more than three years ago, the accounts have been properly audited by various auditing agencies and had been certified. Any query now, six months to election, on the legality or otherwise of the expenditure, are after thought and politically motivated.
“Rather than search for what is not lost or embark on political vendetta, this government should account for more than N.3trillion accruing to it in the last three years without commensurate infrastructural development. The debt profile of this government is unprecedented in the history of Kwara state. As at today, Kwara state is paying not less than N1.3 billion monthly as interest on various largely unaccounted- for loans.

“As recently confirmed by His Exellency, AbdulRaham AbdulRazak in his guided chat with his media agents, N17 billion out of N27 billion bond is sitting in a bank while the state continues to pay interest on it. This raises a lot of questions as to the reason the bond was taken in the first place.

“The governor should tell Kwarans when last he held a state executive council meeting to approve various contracts and other expenditures. The time of reckoning is here.”

Prosecute indicted individuals immediately- group

Irked by the mind boggling revealtion, a leading pro-democracy group, Kwara Must Change urged the state government to charge all those indicted in the submitted forensic audit to court so that they can have fair opportunity to respond to specific allegations leveled against them in the damning report.

Another group, Kwara Must Change also said that, “The indictment of various individuals in the report would amount to nothing, if they are not charged to court immediately.”

In a statement by it convener, Abdulrazaq Hamzat, the group explained that the engagement of forensic auditors to investigate various allegations levelled against officials of the past administration by different committees set up by government is an indication that the state government is not on witch-hunting mission.

Group justifies timing of report

In what seem to be a response to issues raised by the former governor, Ahmed on the timing of releasing the audit report, Hamzat praised Governor AbdulRazaq for not rushing to accuse anyone of wrong doing by further subjecting the reports of its various committees to forensic audit.
According to Hamzat, several committees set up by the Abdulrazaq-led administration has indicted several individuals in the past administration, but instead of acting solely on the indictment of those committee’s, the government choose to delay action, subjecting it’s own committee’s indictment to further forensic audit, so as to ensure that no one is being indicted without any evidence or out of sheer dislike or malice.

“Since 2019, immediately after the otoge administration came on board, many have called on the government to prosecute officials of past government indicted in various reports, but for reasons best known to them which is now glaring to all, they choose to subject those reports to forensic audit to ensure no one is being wrongly alleged.”

Hamzat maintained that government’s willingness to wait for independent forensic audit after several of its own committees had indicted the past administration is a progressive virtue should be applauded.

Speaking on the forensic audit report, Kwara Must Change is of the views that government no longer have any excuse to delay prosecution and it urged government to charge the concerned individuals to court with immediate effect.

“Now that the forensic audit is out, giving details of the various allegations, it is now time for the government to charge those indicted to court without any delay,” Hamzat said.