Festus Ochonogor, Political Adviser to Ifeanyi Okowa, Governor of Delta State; Festus Agas, Secretary to the State Government (SSG), and Innocent Okunbor, Director of Finance and Administration, SSG's office, have been accused by chairmen of political parties in the state over allegations of fraudulent activities involving a N45million grant "released by the governor".
SaharaReporters learnt that N45million was released to political parties in the state by the governor. However, officials of political parties have accused the political adviser to the governor and the SSG of defrauding them.
One of the political party chairmen, who preferred not to be named, said the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the governor on Inter-Party Relations, Christian Moses Abeh, had applied in a memo through his office to the governor for a grant of N85million for political parties in the state.
"The memo was later hijacked by the political adviser to the governor, Mr. Ochonogor in connivance with the SSG and the Director of Finance and Administration in the SSG's office. The governor ended up releasing the sum of N45million only, which Ochonogor, Agas and Okunbor cornered and took the lion share and gave peanuts to us the party chairmen," he said.
When contacted on the issue, Abeh told SaharaReporters that the governor's political adviser, the SSG and the Director Finance and Administration in the SSG's office, Innocent Okunbor allegedly hijacked the N45million grant.
Abeh disclosed that as a result of his refusal to part with N10million from the N30million grant to political parties in 2016 as demanded by the governor's political adviser and the SSG, the SSG has stopped his salaries since February 2018.
"I refused to given them the sum of N10million from the N30million grant released by the governor to political parties in the state in 2016. As a result of my stand against such fraud, the SSG seized my salaries since February this year till date. I would have written a comprehensive letter to the governor long ago over the sidelining, gang-up and maltreatment against me and my office because of their personal interests. As I talk, since February 2018, the SSG has stopped my salaries. I am appealing to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to intervene in this matter."
A petition dated September, 2018, entitled 'A Case of Suppression, Blackmail, Witchhunt, Intimidation, Political Persecution and Subsequent Hijack of My Official Functions with Impunity by the SSG (Chief Ovie Festus Agas) and the Senior Political Adviser (Festus Ochonogor)', addressed to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa by Abeh, obtained by SaharaReporters, explained details of the allegations of fraud.
The petition read in part: "Your Excellency will recall that I wrote you a memo on the 7th of July, 2017, titled '2017 Grant to Political Parties' with file number SSA/IPR/GTPP/03, where I listed the forty parties that are existing in the state as at then and equally said that we have additional five new parties that were registered by INEC then, but yet to receive their letters. You graciously approved and released the sum of N45million out of the N85million I proposed and the fund was subsequently released.
"Sir, from the day the memo was approved till the day the SSG and the Senior Political Adviser disbursed the fund which my office applied for, everything was shrouded in secrecy. The duo of the SSG and the Senior Political Adviser have succeeded in making my office lose respect before the political parties as a result of their personal interest; a situation where my office has become their cassava farm.
"Your Excellency, the fund was disbursed by Mr. Okunbor, DFA in SSG's office, under the supervision of the Senior Political Adviser with the assistance of the IPAC chairman, who is not a government official. Using a private person to do the work of a government established office just to humiliate me simply because they are from the same Ndokwa while I am an Isoko man.
"The original owners of the money were shortchanged and dumped. The parties turned the SSG office to their protesting ground on a daily basis, while some of the shortchanged parties have called me to threaten my life that I am the cause of their problems. Some of the original owners of the grants were not accommodated. Your Excellency, in all of these they were doing, I was neither consulted nor my office carried along. Meanwhile, the memo/file originated from my office.
"Sir, recall you approved the sum of N2.5million for me to hold an interactive session with the political parties in the state in 2016. Immediately the fund was given to me by the DFA Government House and Protocol, your Senior Political Adviser invited me to his office and demanded a part of the money from me and when I asked why, he told me that it was what the governor directed, so I obliged him N900,000. Your Excellency, should any harm befall me and my family members as a result of the shortchanging of political parties, the SSG and the senior political adviser will be held responsible.
"I was ejected from my office February 2018, as a result of my inability to continue paying my annual rent of which the SSG is fully aware of. No office, no funding to carry out my official duties effectively as a result of the SSG returning all my memos/files; no official vehicle, yet your Senior Political Adviser is constantly usurping the functions of my office for pecuniary gains. Your Excellency, immediately after the N2.5million interactive session money, you approved N30million for me as grant to the forty parties in 2016.
"When the cheque was released, I was summoned by the the Senior Political Adviser who demanded the sum of N10million for himself and some people whose identity I don't know. I refused and told him that the whole parties are fully aware of the money, that if we do anything funny, it will spell doom for us and it will cause the administration great embarrassment. Few days after, I was summoned to the SSG's office. Instead of them to strategise on how we can have landslide victory in 2019, they are busy looking for things that are immaterial.
"I was the person who saved the senior political adviser last year August when the political parties accused him and two others of stealing the SUBEB contracts you gave to them. I stopped the political parties from addressing a press conference over the fraudulent and corrupt activities of Mr. Ochonogor. After properly consulting present and past political office holders, Heads of Service and Permanent Secretaries, financial experts and civil servants, I came to the conclusion that I must humbly write you officially before taking further steps."
It was gathered that before the stoppage of Abeh's monthly salary, a deduction of 50 per cent had been carried out by the SSG, while all efforts and letters written to the governor by Abe were said to have been prevented from reaching the governor until the September petition, which he sent to the governor through a courier service.
Sources confided in our correspondent that Abeh has vowed to drag the governor's political adviser, the SSG and the director in the SSG's office to anti-graft agencies.
It was learnt that another N100million grant was released to political parties through the office of the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), and was disbursed by the SSG and the governor's senior political adviser, while another sum was disbursed to governorship candidates of some selected political parties in collaboration with their party chairmen to endorse Okowa as their consensus candidate in the 2019 general election.
When contacted on the allegations, Ochonogor debunked the allegations, stating that "It was the office of the SSG that made the disbursement. There is no office like Inter-Party Relations in the state". On his part, the SSG denied the allegations, while Okunbor said: "Please, I don't know you, I want to see and know who I am talking to please".