The Delta State Government led by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has been accused by members of the Hospital Management Board Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society II Limited, Asaba, of being behind corruption and diversion of over N2 billion contributory funds of the cooperative by its interim committee.
Findings by SaharaReporters revealed that one Mr Azino Whiskey, Mr Louis Nwafejeoku and Julie Uweh who act as interim chairman, secretary and treasurer respectively, had with the backing of the state government hijacked the HMB II Cooperative Society in 2017 to the detriment of the larger majority members of the cooperative.
Whiskey and 12 others were inaugurated by the Director of Cooperative at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Mr Chukwudi Onyekpa on February 21, 2017, as the interim committee of the cooperative for six (6) months with three (3) mandates – bring all members together, prepare all outstanding Annual accounts and hold an Annual General Meeting (AGM).
However, the committee failed to meet up with the mandates within the six months; yet they have refused to leave office since 2017 till date.
Instead, a few of them are allegedly diverting the funds of the cooperative that run into billions of Naira with the aid of the Delta state government, especially the Commissioner of Commerce and Industry, as well as the Director of Cooperative, Mr. Chukwudi Onyekpa.
It was gathered that one Mr Ashinze Anthony who was the secretary of the interim committee had to resign following the corrupt dealings of the chairman of the committee.
The Chairman, looking for a befitting ally that can aid his illicit dealings, had to use Mr Louis Nwafejeoku, who was sacked by the previous executive for siphoning money, as a new replacement.
It was further discovered that many of the cooperative members who have retired are yet to be paid their contributions, which is causing serious financial hardship for the retirees. Out of frustration and as a result of debt, one of the retirees has sold her house.
Findings by SaharaReporters further show that efforts by members of the cooperative to fight for their rights and money have been frustrated by the state government, which is using the Ministry of Commerce and Industry as an instrument of oppression and frustration on the cooperative members.
One of the cooperative members who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the majority of the members came together to fight the oppression and siphoning off their funds and some persons were appointed by the aggrieved members to lead the struggle.
He said, “We wanted the cooperative accounts to be frozen but the illegal committee gave the police a fake account and later went to take court injunction to stop the freezing of the account and also stop police from investigating them. They later sued the IG (Inspector-General), Delta Commissioner of Police, IPO of the case, O/C legal, and those leading the struggle.
“They have really oppressed us. They use our own money to fight us. The total contribution was N45 million monthly but now it has dropped down to about N20 million. There was a day they brought the police from state CID (Criminal Investigation Department) to arrest and molest our people while we were having a meeting and the police started beating some of our members.
“They are using our own money to oppress us, taking SAN (Senior Advocate of Nigeria) while we suffer financially. We have reported several times to the ministry of finance to stop issuing the cheques to these people but they have refused. In fact, we found out that many government officials have compromised. We have petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) but no response yet. We have also petitioned the governor but he has turned a deaf ear to our pleas, thereby giving our oppressors more leverage to siphon our money.
“The troubles made many to withdraw their membership of the cooperative, while others were frustrated to their graves. To mention a few, Ozor Denis of Government Hospital, Owhelogbo slumped and died, Godwin Opone of General Hospital, Ozoro retired, died on a seat in his town, Obiaruku because the Azino-led illegal caretaker committee refused to pay his money.
“Mr. Akpotu A. of Ofagbe Government Hospital suffered a stroke and died due to the refusal of the caretaker committee to give him his entitlements from the Cooperative. A widow has complained bitterly to no avail.
“How can civil servants be hiring a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) to fight us and frustrate every one of our moves? They are using our hard-earned money to live like billionaires while our members are suffering. We need help because they keep deducting money from our accounts as it is done from the source,” he stated.
SaharaReporters learnt that the cooperative society members through their lawyer, Olarewaju and Co, had written to the National Human Rights Commission, the state governor and many other interventionist authorities to wade into the matter, copies of which were attached.
It appears that no concrete steps have been taken so far to address the grievances of the hospital union.