By Toryila KAJO, Makurdi
The Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up by the governor Samuel Ortom to probe the eight years tenure of the immediate past regime of former governor Gabriel Suswam has ended its sitting in Makurdi the Benue state capital with a recommendation that individuals and corporate bodies are to return the sum of N152.3 billion to the Benue state treasury with disciplinary action against persons involved in various infractions.
This starling revelation by Justice Elizabeth Kpojime led Commission while presenting four volumes of the report to governor Samuel Ortom at the Benue Peoples House Makurdi has sent gilt to governor Gabriel Suswam and those that served at various capacities in that regime. Former governor Suswam had made a futile attempt at stopping the Commission from probing his tenure through a court injunction even as he queried membership of the commission which he described some as card carrying members of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) in the state.
Although the commission did not named those indicted in its findings, a large percentage of Benue community and those that served in the Suswam administration are worried about the inability of the legally constituted commission to name such personalities and corporate bodies that milk the state dry. According to the commission’s recommendations, fifty two persons are and ten corporate bodies are to refund a total sum of N107, 609,321,106.00 and call for deeper investigation so as to recover another N44, 721,553,467.70.
The Commission expressed deep worry in the level of irregularities in the floating of the revenue bonds especially the 2014 N5 billion bond; noting that the bond was N4,959,000,000.00 and not N5billion and that the offer for subscription opened and closed on the same day 25th February, 2015.
“The cost of issuing the bond was N914 million that is 18.4% of the bond instead of the normal 3%-5%. Beside, only N4,537,596,320.50 billion was received by the state as proceed leaving a balance of N421,400.00 unaccounted for thus totaling N1,353,000.00 or 27% which is unreasonable. The cost of issuing a bond is normally deducted from the proceeds of the issue and not cash. The commission found that the bond proceeds were diverted to other purposes from what the prospectus claimed”.
Justice Kpojime explained that in the course of its sittings, the commission received 69 memoranda, heard testimonies from 108 witnesses and received over 394 exhibits which revealed that a total sum of N1, 021,931,043,163.63 was got from 27 revenue sources in eight years spanning from June 2007 to May, 2015.
The commission alleged that out of this amount, the actual appropriated amount was N802,044,735,336.00 leaving a balance of N219,886,307,827.63 un-appropriated while out of accrued revenue, only 15% thereof was allocated to capital expenditure with 85% was for recurrent expenditure; noting that the exercise was characterized by lack of due diligence in counteract awards, inflation, projects abandonment after collecting payment as well as payments for jobs not done just like multiple payments for same corresponding development.
According to the commission reports, other MDAs including Bureau for local government and Chieftaincy affairs and ministries of finance, commerce and industry resorts to cash transactions to obliterate the tracks of funds moment.
Receiving the report, governor Samuel Ortom thanked Justice Kpojime with his team for doing a thorough job and pledged to set up an implementation committee; noting that throughout its sitting, he did interfere or influence it decision and said those indicted will be made to vomit the money for the projects he I administration intends to execute for the benefit for the benefit of Benue community.
The governor said he will grant amnesty to those willing to return the money while those unwilling to cooperate will face prosecution because stakeholders in the state during a meeting had pressed for the recovery of looted funds for payment of salaries, pension arrears, construction of roads and other projects in the state.
Efforts to get reactions from former governor Gabriel Suswam over the report proved abortive just as the Peoples Democratic Party leadership in the state through the a Deputy vhsirman Dr. Ayar Gwer said the party is still studying the situation.