Thursday, 17 April 2014
A Gov’s Bird Flu and Other Scandals
Ayo Fayose, Ekiti State Governor, is under EFCC scrutiny for fraud. Dreaded watchdog, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has been stomping through Ekiti State, poring over its books with a watchmaker’s glass. And on the strength of the words that TheNEWS scooped from the agency last week, the sleaze in the poor state stinks so high even the heavens are disturbed. But to the governor of the state, Ayo Fayose, who fielded questions from this magazine last Thursday on the development, it is all bunkum: “I am ready for any probe because I know I am clean. I don’t do anything I cannot defend.”
Fayose’s administration is being investigated for gross abuse of office, mismanagement of public funds and fraud. Top of the multifarious deal is a N1.4 billion poultry project controversy that has been hugging the headlines since 2004 and for which the EFCC has hauled in some aides and friends of the governor. Those chatting with the commission last week included Gbenga James, an agricultural consultant who is Managing Director of Biological Concepts Ltd. and childhood friend of Fayose. He thought up the Ekiti State Integrated Poultry Scheme, ESIPS. Also being quizzed are the project engineer, Richard Tinubu; the project manager, Jide Egunjobi and Dare Oguntuase, a staff of Gbenga James.
The ESIPS has been stridently criticised since 2004 when it was conceived. On 24 September 2004, the Biological Concepts Ltd entered into an agreement with the Ekiti State government to “establish, construct and equip the Administrative Unit, Feed Mill and Processing Plant at the Headquarters, farms in each of the 16 local government areas and the four designated centres.” The construction of the project was contingent “upon receipt of the sum of N300 million only as equity contribution of the state government and another sum of N100 million, also from the state government, and the sum of N400 million only contributed by the 16 local governments.” The headquarters of the project was located at Afao Ekiti, where both Fayose and James hail from. The designated four special centres are Ayede Ekiti, Erio Ekiti, University of Ado Ekiti and College of Education, Ikere Ekiti. The project began gathering controversy even before it started. A group named Ekiti Justice and Equity Movement, EJEM, fired a petition to the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, alleging that the scheme was a scam. In the petition, signed by its national coordinator, Morakinyo Ogele, EJEM also prayed for investigation into the award of a contract to renovate the Kayode Oluyemi Stadium in Ado Ekiti. The N200 million contracts was allegedly given to one Akpabio, described as yet another friend of Fayose. The noise was that only a year ealier, in August 2003, a N34 million contract to renovate the same stadium had been given to Prodem Nigeria Limited. Akpabio was alleged to have benefited from yet another N600 million contract to construct 100 housing units and was paid 100 per cent when no layout design could be seen on the project and the site was still being cleared by the state Ministry of Works and Housing. All these projects were said to have suffered from public tenders and absent in the Ekiti State 2004 Appropriation Act. EJEM has also been bombarding the EFCC with numerous allegations of fraud against the Fayose administration. The litany of allegations eventually attracted the searchlight of the EFCC, whose two investigators have been scorched in an unholy attempt at cover-up. As mysteries go, even Perry Manson, the barrister protagonist of Erle Stanley Gardner’s courtroom paperbacks, would be dazzled by the shenanigans that attended the poultry abracadabra. Events on the project began moving at noise speed from 12 March 2004 when the state’s Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Boboye Olanipekun, advised Fayose to release N400 million to Gbenga James for the project to take off even though he acknowledged that “the state Ministry of Justice was yet to prepare the necessary agreement.”
The governor, this magazine gathered, on the same day, minuted on Olanipekun’s memo to his deputy, J.A. Aluko, to “please treat.” The N400 million was directed to be contributed by the 16 local government councils in the state. But Aluko, who Fayose has since removed as his deputy over irreconcilable differences of which the poultry project was major, felt uneasy over the memo and made enquiries from the Principal Assistant Secretary, PAS. The advice he got made him to send back a memo of caution to his boss. He educated Fayose that the amount he, the governor, was seeking for the project belonged jointly to the state’s local governments. “All such funds belonging to the local government,” he noted, “is (sic) being managed by the Political and Economic Department, P&E, of the Governor’s Office on their behalf.” Biological Concepts, Aluko remarked, was unknown to the P&E “as there has been no previous communication or transaction between the two before now to warrant releasing such money. The former deputy governor advised that, to accord the project proper accountability, Biological Concepts should send a fresh proposal to the P&E department, “stating its quotations, bill of quantities and how it arrived at N25 million (given each local government) and not just by mere demand.” He also advised that the project go through due process and the Tenders Board and should be thoroughly vetted. Meanwhile, release of funds in all guises went on at frenetic pace, even if it was not matched by project execution. On 12 April 2004, Biological Concepts wrote Fayose a request to be paid N60 million. The request was branded “professional fee.” The request described the amount as representing “15 percent of the total cost of the project instead of the 25 percent we usually charge on such projects. We have offered the concession against the background of our cordial relationship with the Ekiti State Government.” The governor approved the request immediately. The original project cost of N400 million was also hiked to about N1.4 billion. Biological Concepts applied for a variation of N400 million “out of which N200 million has been paid to him.” The flow of money was uni-directional; it was all going the way of the consultants. It was even unable to raise the N300 million loan it promised to secure from Wema Bank to execute its own part of the project because it could not provide a collateral. The state government, however, decided to spoon-feed it. “Fayose led Ekiti State Government to secure the N300 million loan for Biological Concepts. N100 million for the original four poultry farms proposed in the initial proposal and N60m consultancy fee was added to the N300 million, making it another N460 million and this was promptly released to Biological Concepts,” EJEM’s petition disclosed.
The state did not make provision for the project in the 2004 Appropriation Act, nor did any of the 16 councils have the project in its 2004 budget. These contravened Section 22, subsection 4 of the Anti-Corruption law 2000, which states that: Any public officer, who in the discharge of his official duties, awards or signs any contract without budget provision, approval and cash backing, shall be guilty of an offence under the Act and on conviction be liable to three (3) years imprisonment and a fine of the one hundred thousand naira. Like Aluko, the state’s PAS (LGA) also felt uncomfortable about the project. Reacting to a request for N50 million balance made by Biological Concepts and approved by the Governor, the PAS, Alex Akintunde, in a memo LGA/284/121 dated 1 June and signed by the PAS, and addressed to the Director of Local Government Affairs, noted that the procedure was wrong. “Ordinarily, one would have expected that before any other payment is effected, such as the N50 million just released, there ought to be a progress report prepared by the supervising ministry, (Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development). However, the N50 million was paid because an approval had been given by His Excellency. But in the circumstances, I wish to suggest that the MARD be requested to forward a progress report on the project to determine if the level of development on the project justified the amount so far released.” In another memo, dated 1 June 2004, D.O. Aina, Director of Local Government Affairs, observed that, “up till date, no legal agreement has been produced between the state government and Biological Concepts on the project. Also, this office regards Biological Concepts as a contractor working for the government while Biological Concepts claims it is a consultant for the government. This position should be made clear.” As Aina pointed out: “If Biological Concepts is working as a contractor, all payments are taxable. To this effect, a sum of N50.7 million is due for deduction as tax. This aspect requires a written directive from the Executive Governor.” Fayose is not known to have given such directive. EJEM fumed that Biological Concepts which proposed to invest N300 million in the project did not invest a single kobo, but was insisting on collecting 70 per cent of whatever profit was made whenever the farms became operational. After TheNEWS exclusively exposed the poultry charade one and half years ago, Fayose began to make a public show of about four, five poultries ostensibly brimming with chickens. The state government splashed money on special reports in selected electronic media to debunk the fact that the project was a fraud. But the claim of fraud has stuck, so much so the EFCC was eventually compelled to step in to investigate – and nearly had its hard-earned positive reputation incinerated by two of its officials. A source at the EFCC told this publication that the officials were despatched to Ekiti State to investigate the poultry project as well as some other allegations levelled against Fayose’s administration. But the two were alleged to have compromised their assignment and the integrity of the Commission with an N18 million kickback from the state government. The EFCC headquarters smelt rotten fish in the report and sent an assessor from the Federal Ministry of Works back to Ekiti State to do what would be considered an independent job. The FMW official was also alleged to have been bribed. Ekiti government’s bag of tricks would, however, be exposed when the EFCC dispatched another assessor, a professional on loan from the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors to the state for yet another assessment of the true state of things. The EFCC source informed that the surveyor was also offered a huge bribe in his hotel room, which he firmly rejected. The two officers have been arrested by their employers and are now answering questions on the N18 million gratifications. Aluko’s name also cropped up as having received a cheque of N5 million as pay-off from James on the poultry project. But the former deputy governor told TheNEWS last week he did not receive a kobo from anybody. The cheque being bandied about as bearing his name, Aluko said, actually bore the name of an aide of Fayose and was given to the governor himself. Fayose removed Aluko for what he termed disloyalty, but the former deputy insisted he was removed because he was becoming too uncompromising over the poultry matter. Another casualty of the poultry saga is Taiye Fasuba, who Fayose suspended indefinitely last week as chairman of Ado Ekiti Local Government. Both men have been well known to be foes in Ekiti State and when assassins, in 2004, attempted to snuff life out of the former local government boss, accusing fingers readily pointed towards the governor.
But Fayose swore on his innocence. Fasuba’s removal was not unexpected. Fayose, however, explained he was removing the local government chairman for ineptitude. “I want to say clearly that the local government chairman is not performing at all and government is not happy with the level of performance of the chairman,” he stated. But Fasuba was quoted by The Tribune of Thursday 27 January 2006, which his dismissal was not unconnected with what he told the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, on the poultry project, among other things. What he said exactly was not disclosed. Fasuba told TheNEWS last Friday that Fayose removed him because he requested from him the state’s local government’s share of the oil price windfall, which he said the federal government had released to state governors. The ex-local government boss said it has become the norm for Fayose to be deducting monies from Local Government allocations indiscriminately. The N25 million deduction purportedly meant for the poultry project, Fasuba said, was a series of what he called illegal deductions, for which local government chairman in the state were not briefed and which built up to that amount. Two weeks ago, all the 16 council chairmen in the state were invited to Abuja to account for the money allocated to them since the year 2003. The ICPC, sources said, discovered that the account they presented were different from an earlier account they submitted to the state’s House of Assembly. Taye Fasuba however disowned the account sent in on his behalf and told the officials that he only received 30% of the monthly allocation while 70% went to the governor since the government came into being in year 2003. Coming back from Abuja, Fayose called a press conference where he accused Fasuba of lack of performance and gave high commendation to the 15 who allegedly lied to ICPC. Two days after, he announced a gift of Peugeot 406 car to each of the chairmen and this was widely publicized in Nigerian papers. Fasuba however got his own reward in a different way. Suddenly, a petition surfaced at the House of Assembly signed by one Wale. The legislators who were on recess were called in to consider a motion of sack but they resisted the governor. He was not to be bothered by the intransigence of the lawmakers who hitherto had been supine in their relationship with the executive. He went to the radio station himself and announced the sack of the chairman. Both the EFCC and ICPC are nearing conclusion of their investigation to determine the veracity of the allegation that 70 per cent of the allocation to the 16 councils since the year 2003 has been creamed off by the governor. An official of the ICPC, however, said they had gone round the state and could not see what the councils have been doing with the huge allocations to Local Governments since 2003. This, according to ICPC’s calculations, could amount to N27.8b.
In response to our enquiries, Gov. Fayose last Friday told our reporters that it was not true that he kept the proceeds from the excess crude to himself. He presented a document that showed that, Fasuba collected a total sum of N58,881.128 million from the fund for the purpose of buying earth moving and road maintenance equipment. Fayose, however, argued that Fasuba was being mischievous in pleading ignorance on the N25 million deductions, and indeed all others, as whatever deduction is made from the local government handout is always discussed with the local government chiefs and documented before it is done. Chairman of Ekiti South West Local Government, with headquarters in Ilawe Ekiti, Lanre Omolase, corroborated Fayose’s words. He said it is not the governor’s won’t to remove money from local government allocations arbitrarily. Omolase said there are projects that are jointly executed between state and local governments and for which the latter’s contributions must necessarily be removed from the allocation due to them. Fasuba, however, maintained that most of the projects for which Fayose taxes local governments have nothing to do with them. The poultry project, for instance, he said, was the creation of the state government and the governor had no business imposing it on local governments and deducting such a huge sum of N25 million from their allocations without their approval. The EFCC is also investigating an allegation by EJEM that Fayose’s claim of dualising the Ado Ekiti Township road is fraudulent. The dualisation of the six-kilometre road was awarded in 2004 to J.P. Sigma Nigeria Ltd. for N1.57 billion. But Ogele wrote to the EFCC that what was passed off as dualisation is actually the addition of another single lane to an existing road. EJEM calculated that the contract sum should not have been more than N150 million at N25 million per kilometer for a new six-kilometre single lane. Also disputed was another N1.2 billion contract awarded Kopek Construction Limited to dualise the 13-kilometre Ado-Ikere Road. As in the contentious Ado Ekiti Township road project, Ogele stated that only an additional single lane is being added to the Ado-Ikere road and the contract sum should not, therefore, have exceeded N325 million. By December 2005, Ogele disclosed, the contractor has been paid the sum of N760 million, when, he said, 10 percent of the project had not been executed. The EFCC has also been probing the properties allegedly bought and owned by Fayose in Nigeria and abroad. These include houses in Alapere in Ketu, Lagos and another one on Plot 10, Block IX, GRA, Iyaganku, Ibadan. He is also believed to have bought two houses in London in the name of Juicy Properties Limited. Five houses were allegedly bought in Ado-Ekiti, the state capital. One of these houses was paid for directly from Local Government Account. Two other properties are also under the commission’s searchlight. One of them is a hotel said to have been bought through Tunde Osinowo, now in EFCC net. Osinowo is a Lagos-based printer. To fund the purchase of these properties, two aides are believed to be the conduit pipe used in withdrawing foreign exchange. Fayose himself is believed to have foreign accounts in England and South Africa. One of the two aides, Mrs. Biodun Olujimi, who replaced Aluko as Deputy Governor, was documented to have collected the sum of $50,000, in one instance, from James on 24 April 2004. Fayose’s Personal Assistant, Goke Olatunji, is the other aide fingered as Fayose’s pipe. The governor is also being probed for frittering away N11 million monthly on aircraft services. He retains two airlines, one of them purely for helicopter services, on N6 million and N5 million monthly. Fayose, in an interview with this magazine last week, admitted to retaining the services of the airlines. He explained it is unavoidable if he would keep the state running smoothly. The governor is also said to have expended over N450 million on purchases of exotic cars. The poultry project appears like a conduct pipe for the disbursement of the states resources to Fayose, friends and family. From the documents available to EFCC, it will appear the Finance Ministry of Ekiti State had been moved to Biological Concepts Ltd, office in Ibadan. In April N44m was disbursed to Fayose himself. On 26 April 2004, he collected another N17m, and yet an unspecified amount of money in dollars. On 31, March 2004, the governor’s mother received a car gift worth N2.5m. The list of the beneficiaries is like the ‘who is who’ around the governor. Goke Olatunji, N5 million, the then Deputy governor a total of N7m according to the record meticulously kept by the office of Mr. Gbenga James. Other beneficiaries are Grid Associated for designing Fayose’s house, N1.250,000; Femi Jogo, a business man friend of Fayose based in Ibadan, N2m; Tunde Osinowo, another businessman friend of Fayose based in Lagos N1m; Commissioner for Finance N1m; Commission for Agriculture, N2.9m in three tranches; another gift to Goke Olatunji, N250,000. The Attorney-General was also documented to have collected N150, 000 from the poultry largesse. Members of the State of Assembly collected N2.2m when on 3rd of May 2004 they visited Ibadan to take a look at the parent poultry there. Permanent secretaries pay masters at different times received millions of naira. Kayode Osho, the governor’s former Chief of Staff and now Works Commissioner got 10 air conditioners worth N720, 000. One Prince Olayisade was also given 10 air conditioners worth N720, 000. The Governor’s brother, Emmanuel Fayose also on 22, March 2004 was dashed N100, 000 from the poultry fund. The governor’s Pastor, one Pastor Bello also took a note to Ibadan to receive N500, 000. On 3 August 2004, the grand total of cash spent was N132, 947,181.00. This included money doled out to some journalists to stop general publication and special gifts “to save my integrity.” On 26 May 2004 a cheque of N12m was issued to one Francis Aiyegbeni in lieu of a property the governor bought from him at the GRA, Ado-Ekiti. The money was taken from the local government fund as indicated on the check stub available to EFCC. About the same time, specifically on 20 May 2004, another cheque of N9m was given out to the governor for the renovation of the governor’s private house. On the surface, Fayose appears unperturbed. But sources close to him said he has been contacting key figures in the Presidency and figures close to President Olusegun Obasanjo to intercede on his behalf. But the president, it was gathered, simply sent him a message to clean up his act with the EFCC.
****************************************************** My Accusers Are Shameless Liars Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, in this interview with Idowu Akinrosoye, says the allegations against him are sponsored by his opponents who want to take his seat in 2007 at all costs. Q: You are said to have been toying with allocations meant for the local governments... A: You see, they should substantiate their facts. And when you come for an interview like this, you should interview some chairmen too. That is the best way to get answers and you will see the communiqué of the chairmen. You will see clearly that they get their dues from the state government. When they all write and sign for you, what else do you want? The only person who can say that is the chairman of Ado Local Government, Taiye Fasuba, who is working with my detractors. If 15 are saying ‘yes’ and only one is saying ‘no,’ whom will you believe? Q: What is the problem between you and Fasuba? A: There is no problem. I am the governor. Taye Fasuba has been misappropriating funds in the local government. Abia State removed local government chairmen, what happened? Bayelsa even removed eight what happened? If I take any action, it is still within my constitutional powers. He was suspended on Wednesday, and the House of Assembly ratified it on Thursday. So, my action is legal and legitimate. But wait, he who alleges must prove. So, I am waiting for them to prove all these things they are saying. From what I gathered, they held meetings. They said they want to ruin me so that I will not be credible in 2007. You see, I don’t want to make any issue on the EFCC because it is not an issue. But he who alleges must be prove. Let them show a paper through which money is traced to me. Let them show cheques written in my name, houses bought in my name. I had good businesses before I became the governor. I was a rich man. I sponsored my campaign for three years. So, as a governor, I can buy houses if I want to. I declared my assets before I became governor. They should prove that I have stolen public funds and not these frivolities. I had built and bought 13 houses before I became governor. I have houses in Ibadan, I have one of the modern hostels in Agbowo, built in 1996. Did I not have a business empire before I became governor? If I want to buy a house anywhere, I will make it public. Q: On the poultry project, you began releasing money even before the papers were perfected... A: It is not true. The bone of contention is: Was the project done? Can you link the project with the finances? The talk is that it has gulped so much money compared with what is on ground. You see again, the onus is on them to prove. They were stealing government documents. They said I paid for helicopter. Yes I paid for it. Maybe they want me to trek to Abuja. Even some states buy it. If I have money, I will buy an aeroplane. It is only that Ekiti has no money. When I travelled with helicopter, I don’t go with my full entourage. Fuel will be reduced, police will be reduced, drivers will be reduced. So it is economical. Are you now saying that I don’t have right to fly an helicopter? To hell with them. I am working very hard. Sometimes, I don’t sleep until 5 a.m. When they become governor, they should not buy helicopter but be riding okada. Q: But you are said to have had cause to run to the president to save you from the EFCC? A: I will not join issues with them. Obasanjo wants straight forwardness. He wants people to prove their case. EFCC is there to establish cases and present it before the law court. I remember that some of my detractors like Ojo Falegan, Femi Falana and co wrote a petition to Obasanjo that I built petrol station in South Africa. I have only been to South Africa for three days in my life. The president said they should produce evidence. I want them to show me the cheque written in my name and the account where it was cleared. If any of the Directors of the Biological Concept is traced to me, I will resign straightaway.