N4.3b Secret account: How Ondo Assembly downplays a leak

The dust raised in Ondo State over the discovery of N4.3b found in a secret bank account with Zenith Bank is not about to settle soon. The latest in the series of backlashes is the seeming public loss of confidence in the state House of Assembly.

It was gathered from reliable sources that the Speaker of the House, Mr. Bamidele Oleyelogun, has been running helter-skelter, appealing to notable leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to help him pacify Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu.

From independent sources, it was gathered that Oleyelogun is jittery that the squabbles between the legislative and executive, if not carefully handled, might bounce back on him.

The drama got a twist when the lawmakers convoked a parliamentary meeting last Monday. It was rumoured that thugs had invaded the Assembly Complex, although the meeting was later held at the Speaker’s Lodge. There was another false alarm that police had swooped on the arena, only to discover that they were lawmakers’ security details.

Penultimate Tuesday at the plenary, the House Committee Chairman on Public Account, Mr. Ademola Edamisan, had raised alarm over the N4.3b secret account opened sometime in 2008, but which was discovered in 2018.

The Assembly had summoned the Commissioner for Finance, Wale Akinterinwa and the state Accountant-General, Mr. Laolu Akindolire, to the plenary, quizzing them on the money that had been reportedly spent.

Aside the secret account opened by the administration of the late Dr. Olusegun Agagu, whose government was sacked by court order in 2009, the Assembly also probed the N500m Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP) counterpart fund.

The body inquired from the Environment Commissioner, Mr. Funsho Esan, why the impact of NEWMAP was not felt by the people, even after the state government had paid a counterpart fund of N500m.

Esan had appeared at that Thursday plenary, while the Chairman of Ondo State Development and Investment Promotion Agency (ONDIPA), Mr. Boye Oyewunmi, was asked to submit documents on properties of government in Abuja and Lagos State on Thursday, May 21, 2020.

While interfacing with journalists, the House Committee Chairman on Information, Mr. Gbenga Omole, recounted all that happened in the House and assured the public that the legislature would unravel the mystery behind the fund misappropriation.

He disclosed that the lawmakers had ordered the Finance Commissioner, Accountant-General and ONDIPA boss to reappear in the House last Thursday with the information on the subject-matter, as related to their ministry and agency.

This generated some controversy in the public domain, especially among major opposition parties, which demanded for the accrued interest on the money for a period of 10 years, flaying the present administration for spending the money without appropriation.

They urged the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) and other graft-related agencies to take up the matter by prosecuting the principal suspects involved in the matter.

Some sources within the Assembly also hinted that the House leadership was making moves to serve Governor Akeredolu an impeachment notice, though it was refuted three days later by the Speaker, Bamidele Oleyelogun, who said Akeredolu did not commit any impeachable offence.

The Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Donald Ojogo, swiftly cleared the air immediately the money was mentioned, revealing that it was Akinterinwa, the Finance Commissioner, who discovered the hidden account.

Ojogo recounted that “at the inception of this administration, concerted efforts were made to take a comprehensive inventory of all assets and liabilities of the government, which include liquidity status. This exercise, modestly conducted without the usual noise, was aimed at avoiding sensationalisation and needless acrimony. In this regard, all development partners of the government, including banks, rendered highly commendable forms of assistance.’

According to him, the new recovery has been reflected in the state’s records for proper accountability and transparency, saying, “it should be noted that neither the Finance Commissioner nor the Accountant-General was in his present position when the said account was opened more than 10 years ago.

“The invitation of the Finance Commissioner by the House of Assembly and indeed, same extended to both the State Accountant-General and the Auditor-General is in line with government’s desire to make as transparent as possible, the management of our commonwealth in Ondo State.’

Furthermore, the former Commissioner for Finance during Agagu’s regime, whose government was said to be involved in the matter, Senator Tayo Alasoadura, explained that Agagu administration didn’t operate the secret account. He said all bank accounts operated by the administration were in the name of Ondo State Government, and all were on record.

Alasoadura, who is the Minister of State for Niger Delta, explained that the inability of the Agagu administration to properly hand over to Dr. Olusegun Mimiko’s government in 2009 might have contributed to the error in documentation.

He, however, condemned the bank for not calling the new administration’s attention to the account, since the government-operated accounts in all banks operating in the state, as a policy.

Alasoadura had lauded Governor Akeredolu’s administration for discovering the money, praising the Assembly for quizzing the executive on the account and accrued interest.

Contrary to speculation that the N4.3bn was spent by Ondo State government without appropriation, Akinterinwa affirmed that the money was properly appropriated and included in the 2019 Budget.

He dispelled the impeachment moves by the lawmakers as untrue, stressing that Governor Akeredolu would not get involved in any shoddy deal and act devoid of due process.

He said: “The executive is not hiding anything, as we have always said. The narrative set out by mischief-makers is that there was no appropriation for the money in question. This is untrue. The 2019 appropriation passed by the Assembly included among others, this

N4.3b under the overall summary of the budget. Item on cash reserve/rollover fund is very apt and unambiguous for the public to confirm the truth. The story of non-appropriation is utterly mischievous.”

There are feelers around the Assembly Complex that the N4.3b alarm was stage-managed by some lawmakers to embarrass the executive arm of government, which they felt has not been treating them fairly, just like the snake saga last year.

Reeling out the lawmakers’ resolutions after the Monday session, Omole declared that the Speaker’s Lodge was not under siege, attributing the face-off between the executive and legislative arms to “fifth columnists at work.”

He asserted that there was no move to commence impeachment process against Akeredolu, dispelling the siege on the Speaker’s Lodge as a hoax. He said: “The lodge was never under siege. The armed policemen sighted there were at some distance away and were there to maintain peace, law and order.

“On the issue of the N4.3b under scrutiny, all relevant documents should be submitted to the Committee on Public Account and Committee on Finance and Appropriation respectively.

“That no member of the House of Assembly should talk to the press without making reference to Mr. Speaker. The only person authorised to speak on behalf of the House is the Chairman, House Committee on Information.”

He iterated that “there is a robust relationship between the executive arm of government and the legislature. Whatever has been planted in the media in recent times are the handiwork of fifth columnists.’

Confirming the fifth columnist and third force influence, public analysts
pointed out that the rumbles in the House were being sponsored by
Akeredolu’s political adversaries within and outside the party, in view of his re-election bid.

The Assembly members had raised the similar alarm last July during one of their Yoruba sessions that snakes and termites invaded their chamber and lamented that the ceiling also caved in on a member, but denied the narration before the governor. Oleyelogun blamed it on the media.

The Guardian gathered that the lawmakers are allegedly picking on
Akeredolu to blackmail him into buying cars for them. They are said to be insisting on Toyota 4Runner, a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV). One of the principal officers was accused of presenting an inflated invoice to the Governor.

It was learnt from a reliable source that the Governor had made arrangement to order 50 2019 Kia model, and give 24 to the lawmakers. The Speaker and Deputy Speaker were said to have received new SUVs, and the rest were distributed among the commissioners.

A public analyst, Mr. Yemi Akintomide, said: “I am not surprised at all about the sharp turning and the abrupt motion in which the double-mouthed spokesperson of ODHA backed out and refuted his earlier statement on the probe of the controversial N4.3b.

“This made it the second time Gbenga Omole would put up this cowardly act by backing out to deny his own statement on a very important issue involving lawmakers and the executive.”

“This act of weakness and lack of courage to own up to his words after a little tongue-lash by Mr. Governor was also displayed by this same honourable during the “Snake at the chambers” saga in 2019.”

Like other analysts, he flayed the Assembly for chickening out, when having a conflict with the executive, frowning at the fact that they have rubbished the image of the House as lawmaking arm of government.

“My advice to Hon. Omole, whom I respect as a bold, agile, vibrant and no-nonsense politician before he was elected into the House, is to be cool, calm and collected so that he can still hold his head up and beat his chest proudly that he made a good representation of his people, his family and his very self during his stay in the Assembly.’

The House at the last plenary sitting on Thursday acknowledged receipt of documents demanded from the Finance Commissioner and the state Accountant-General. The lawmakers again blamed the media for hyping the N4.3b saga.

Oleyelogun said no one was being accused of fraud, as being speculated in the media, warning against negative reports in the social media, which are inimical to the public interest.

He said the ongoing investigation into the N4.3b financial transaction, which is in the public domain, is in line with the constitutional responsibility of the Assembly.

The Speaker, apparently haunted by impeachment moves by some of his colleagues, smartly declared a month’s recess. Hopefully, the dust raised by the saga would have settled by then, when the governorship primary would take centre stage.

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