Okunland Can’t Be Theatre For Political Bloodletting

There is no doubt that the accusations and counter accusations over misappropriation and embezzlement of council funds in Kogi State must have engaged the attention of all Kogi State indigenes both at home and abroad.

What started like a child’s play has no doubt snowballed into a theatre of war between a pressure group known as ‘A New Kogi’ formed for the promotion of accountability, transparency in conduct of government business and forging of good governance in the state.

The crisis started with an open letter to the EFCC chairman in Nigerian Tribune of 29th March, 2010 detailing the monumental fraud bordering on the purported looting of N3.2 billion in the Kogi State Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs resulting in the arrest and detention of 4 prominent sons of Okunland namely, Abiodun Ojo (a former Commissioner for Finance and incumbent Commissioner for Agriculture), Joseph Faniyi (incumbent Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs), Obaro Kayode (Chairman, Yagba East LG), and Stephen Asala (Chairman, Yagba West LG). Other non-Okun people mentioned and detained by EFCC include Major Albert Adesina (former Commissioner for Agriculture), Gabriel Dauda (Chairman, Ogori-Mangogo LG), Yahaya Abubakar (Chairman, Okene LG), Ahmed Raji (Chairman, Adavi LG), and Enesi Jimoh (former Caretaker Chairman of Adavi LG).

The highlights of the allegations made against the arrested people include:

· Supply of educational materials to primary schools at inflated costs

· Supply of refurbished machineries for which payments for new ones were duly made

· Sharing of money deducted from the 21 Local Governments in the state between Joseph Faniyi and serving Local Council chairmen

· Failure of Peter Enejo, Chairman of Ofu LG to remit Pay As You Earn (PAYE) tax to the tune of N52.5 million for the period 2007 to 2009 to the Board of Internal Revenue
He is said to own 3 houses in Abuja , 2 in Lokoja, Ofakaga, 9 exotic cars and a gas station in Agbeji.

· Deduction of N6 million each from the funds of the 21 Local Councils for a staff audit that was never conducted

· Acquisition of houses in Spain, Lokoja and Abuja by the incumbent Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Joseph Faniyi

· Ownership of 6 filling stations and 17 houses in Lokoja and Abuja by the incumbent Commissioner for Agriculture, Samuel Abiodun Ojo

· Money laundering in an advertorial open letter to the then Ag. President, Goodluck Jonathan, published in the Nigerian Tribune of 12 April, 2010, the Director-General, Press Affairs to the Executive Governor, and Secretary to the State Government, refuted all the allegations of fraud and rather linked the debacle to a purported plan by what he called ‘desperate politicians to discredit their perceived political foes ahead of 2011 general elections’.

Allegation of forgery of the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs letter head and the signature of the state governor was also made against the pressure group.

In another advertorial by the Hon. Commissioner for Information in Kogi State published in Nigerian Tribune of 4th May, 2010, appeal was made to rubbish the advertorial of the New Kogi which was published in Nigerian Tribune of 3rd May, 2010 with an appeal made to the public to disregard and treat the advertorial with levity.

In the said advertorial which was a follow up to an earlier petition sent to the EFCC, Faniyi was alleged to be involved in money laundering using bank accounts of Kunle Abogun. Again relevant Intercontinental Bank and Oceanic Bank documents in relation to the alleged money laundering transactions were published.

In yet another advertorial sponsored by the pressure group, the attention of EFCC was drawn to further financial transactions between Faniyi and Kunle Abogun backed up by documentary evidence such as names of banks and account numbers through which some monetary transactions between the duo took place with an appeal to EFCC, ICPC, Code of Conduct Bureau and the office of the Inspector General of Police to move into Kogi State and arrest ‘the criminal gang in Ibrahim Idris’ government’.

In another advertorial in Nigerian Tribune of 5 May, 2010, copies of bank documents to support some financial transactions in relation to the alleged looting of council funds were published. In a counter advertorial by the Chief Press Secretary to the Honourable Speaker published in the Nigerian Tribune of 6th May, 2010, the accusation of members of the House of Assembly of conspiracy and cover up by the pressure group was refuted with an invitation to Dr. Ozovehe Adinoyi, the Coordinator of the pressure group to come to the floor of the State Assembly to defend all the allegations made against them and forwarded to the EFCC.

However, there is no doubt that all is not well with the management of public funds in all the 21 councils, a development which must have been responsible for the call by the Olutimehim Abayomi panel set up by the Kogi State Government to investigate allegations of financial recklessness of Ibaji Local Government for extension of the panel’s investigation to cover all the remaining 20 Local Councils in the state as reported on the front page of The Graphic of Tuesday, May 4, 2010.

The bitter truth is that the pervasive poverty and underdevelopment in all spheres of life in the entire state cannot be separated from mismanagement and outright embezzlement of council funds throughout the state.

Notwithstanding, appeal is hereby made to all Okuns for restraint irrespective of the side they belong in the debacle as we can no longer allow shedding of blood of our illustrious sons on the altar of politics. The wound inflicted on Okunland following the gruesome murder of Chief Philip Olorunipa, Kogi State Electoral Commissioner on March 7, 2004 and Sunday Atte, the leader of the legislative council in Yagba East LG of Kogi State who was equally murdered in iexplicable circumstances on February 5, 2005, is yet to heal.

All the warring factions both in and outside Okunland should sheathe their swords and let peace reign in Okunland and the entire state while the EFCC that is already looking into the allegations of financial impropriety and embezzlement of public funds against the two commissioners, the serving local council chairmen and the ex-local council chairman, is left to get to the root of the looting spree.

•Joseph writes from Lagos.  May be reached on 08053488121; odunayo_joseph2006@yahoo.com