Why Benue Assembly Members Are Refunding Money To EFCC – Speaker

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Rt. Hon Terkimbi Ikyange is the Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly who represents Ushongo Constituency on the platform of the All Progressive Congress, (APC). In a media interaction recently, Hon. Ikyange dispelled allegations that the leadership of the assembly was involved in N750m Car Scam and why some members are refunding money to EFCC. Toryila KAJO was there for nationalTrail

What has necessitated this media interaction?
I have read many stories especially in the social media in recent times that Benue State House of Assembly Makurdi which I lead is involved in what they described as N750m ‘Car scam’. Today, I have called you so as to put records straight on this matter. As far as I am concerned, there is no financial scam in the Benue State House of Assembly that I lead. The figure of N750m mentioned, I still find it difficult to know where these writers got it from. The truth remains that when we came on board as 8th Assembly, I made a request to the executive arm of government for cars for honorable members and contract was awarded to that effect. At the moment, I didn’t know the exact contract sum awarded to that contracting firm. Thereafter, I received my official jeep from the contractor just like other principal officers of the House and for close to one year, we have been using the vehicles. Part of 2015, I also made another request to the governor that members of the House are entitle to car loan of N5.6m as provided by the law. However, due to current economic realities, that amount could not purchase even a Hilux vehicle that could be used in our rural communities during oversight functions. The governor then awarded the contract for the purchase of these Prado Jeeps at the cost of N317m and how the State Executive Council sat and considered the bidding and how it arrived at the contractor, I was not there and therefore wouldn’t know. I came to understand that, then, the value of Prado Jeep in the market was higher than the amount of money the contractor requested for the purchase by 1.5m to N2m because I was made to also understand that was the final amount after the deduction of VAT, withholding Tax and 1% was about N12.5m whereas a Prado Jeep was sold between N13m to N14m as the case may be. Therefore, the contractor could not do otherwise but supplied nine of the vehicles and could not get additional ones. With this development, members became agitated and we began to look for a possible way of solving the problem. So, members met and agreed that since the award of contract for the purchase of vehicles for them which was not forthcoming, the contractor should give them the amount of money voted for the vehicles to enable them purchase vehicles of their choice and at the end of the day, individual members received money from the contractor based on the agreement they reached. Some members later bought Land Cruiser Jeep, some Hilux Van without knowing that it was an offense under economic law. After some times, an invitation came from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and on reaching Abuja, they demanded to know how our vehicles were purchased. After individual members explanation, EFCC operatives said what we did was a faulty process; observing that the ideal thing to do was for the contractor to go back to the governor with a complaint that money released per jeep was not enough for the purchase of the facility and then request for upwards review of the contract sum. The EFCC therefore, demanded that those members who collected cash from the contractor should refund it to them for onward refund to the Benue state treasury for the purchase of vehicles for members who were not given. So, from the N317m of which there were some cash collection, 12 were PDP, 8 APC and 1 Labour Party members involved and of the nine vehicles brought by the contractor, APC got 8 and PDP 1.
What is the true position of the alleged N500 million traced to your Bank Account?
It is rather very funny when I read the story in the Nigerian Pilot Newspaper. I don’t know where the Reporter got his source of information. How do you imagine that Benue State House of Assembly which is not autonomous and depend on the Executive Arm of government for money to carry out its function, a Speaker would have gotten such an amount to be lodged in his Bank Account? Or, is it that when the N1.5billion monthly allocation coming from the Federation Account to the state, the governor will say, Mr. Speaker, take N500m? If that is so, what about other 29 members or are they sharing money in the state? Or is it EFCC that gave such information to the Nigerian Pilot Reporter? Sometimes they will call you and said I have information on you, should I publish it? There are some people out to tarnish the image of the leadership of the Assembly. We made up our mind that whatever the provocation and distraction from our desire to legislate for good governance, we will not deviate. So, I have no N500m in my bank account and I only hear of such amount on radio and newspapers. I have one account with Zenith Bank which is functional and that of Fidelity Bank which is dormant at the moment and verifiable by anyone wishing to do so.
There are allegations of members planning to impeach the Deputy Governor over Car money. What’s your take on this?
Well, some of my members were mentioned in the purported impeachment plan which I’ m not aware. Let me tell you that APC has wrestled power from the then ruling PDP in the state in which the governorship result margin was just 100,000 votes. So, APC government in the state is not comfortably enjoying power. With this, do you think the PDP will sit and be clapping or thanking APC? During our inauguration, APC had 14 members with PDP 15 and 1 Labour but with his sympathy to the PDP thereby making PDP 16 against 14 APC members. Before our inauguration, some PDP house members at a function in Oturkpo granted interview to Channels Television alleging that governor Samuel Ortom was bribing them with N5m and a Prado jeep each for them to vote for an APC person to emerge as a Speaker and other principal officers. On our inauguration, APC was able to lobby and canvass for support and some PDP members voted in favor of the APC which led to my emergence as the Speaker. But today, the house is sharply divided along party line during plenary as seen by actions of some members. So, the allegations of planned impeachment of the State Deputy Governor, Benson Abounu is a creation of the PDP to cause confusion.
Why is it that PDP members were not present at the press conference you are holding?
I want to say that if an issue is before the house and we need to speak about it, the house will mandate the House Standing Committee Chairman on Information to speak on its behalf. When Hon. Kester Kyenge (PDP) resenting Logo constituency was addressing a press conference with you, did you see APC members there? The allegation he made at the conference against the house leadership, certainly the house will invoke some of its rules to reply him. As far as I am concerned, no member is shut out of this media conference. If Hon. Kyenge is asked by the Justice Kpojime Panel to refund a huge amount of money to government coffers, you know that he will not fold his hands but will fight back just like Hon. Paul Biam of Ukum constituency who is to cough out N350m. Don’t forget that both of them were coming to become the speaker and the chance is not there hence their unruly behaviors at plenary but we will always use the House Rules to apply on any member’s misbehavior. PDP members are not here because they are behaving as usual even though this allegation of N750m concerns the entire house members.
Why did the House collect N146m for the tour of local government councils for staff verification exercise but abandoned it midway without refunds to the state treasury?
Yes, members collected this money for that purpose and toured up to ten council areas but met resistance from staff who complained that the executive arm of government had carried out same exercise without paying them the bailout money. Therefore, unless they are paid, they won’t subject themselves to another exercise. Members of the house saw reasons with the affected staff and decided to put the exercise on hold until they are fully paid their arrears of the bailout before the house will resume the exercise. Part of this money was for the procurement of biometric Machines, training of the staff and their allowances for the job they were going to carry out and allowances for 30 members of the house going for the exercise. As a Speaker, I am entitled to about 12 staff and they are to have allowances for each night of the exercise. So, we will complete the exercise with time so as to ascertain the staff strength at that tier of government in the state.