Award Gate: It’s a Case of ‘Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves‘ – Keyamo

In Breaking News, National News, Reports

by crossriverwatch admin

Festus Keyamo - Lawyer and Human Rights Activist
Festus Keyamo – Lawyer and Human Rights Activist

Lagos lawyer, human rights activist and anti-corruption crusader, Mr. Festus Keyamo has described the ongoing crisis in Obudu local government as akin to the legendary folktale about Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

In a telephone interview with crossriverwatch, Keyamo said, “getting an award for whatever reason is not the point; it is the attempt or actual use of public funds to procure that award that is the matter of public interest here. The acts of both the Chairman of the council and the Councilors are actionable under our anti-corruption laws”.

Crossriverwatch had exclusively reported that the Chairman of Obudu Local Government, Mr. Emmanuel Uminya Ikwen, had in a letter to the Legislative Council on Thursday February 28, 2013, requested for an approval of N6m overdraft from the Obudu branch of First Bank Plc. to procure an award of excellence from Grassroot Leadership Ventures Ltd, a private company based in Abuja. The award is billed to be presented to him on March 8, 2013.

The Councilors in return requested for N1.6m from the Chairman to facilitate the approval. In a memo to the Chairman, the leader of the House, Hon. Ugar Andeshi said the N1.6m was meant for their travel and logistics to Abuja to accompany the Chairman to the award ceremony.

But sources say, having discovered that the overdraft had already been collected and the Chairman was only seeking retrospective approval, coupled with pressure the news of the sour venture was generating from the public, the Councilors in a detour, set up a committee headed by the Chief Whip, Hon. Lizzy Udie on February 28, 2013 to reach out to the bank and confirm if the overdraft had actually been drawn.

The councilors also resolved that they will commence impeachment proceedings against the Chairman yesterday, Tuesday, March 5, 2013, if the allegation was confirmed.

The Deputy Leader of the House Hon. Martin Orim told crossriverwatch that “The committee has not submitted its report. But I spoke with one of the members of the committee who informed me that they met with the First Bank manager on Thursday after our sitting and the manager confirmed that the Chairman had already collected the loan. The manager also said that the Chairman later came to him to tell him there was crisis around the transaction and he has returned part of the money while he is making arrangements to pay the rest.

“That is criminal. I have also called the Clerk of the House, Mrs. Akade to provide the letter for the approval of the overdraft that was sent to us, which was read on the floor of the House on Thursday and the lady says the letter is missing. The woman is a criminal. The Chairman has paid her to sneak the letter away. I have told her she wants to end her career in Obudu if she does not provide that letter tomorrow. With all these things that are piling together, she and the Chairman will go together. We will receive the report of the committee formally tomorrow but the way the situation is going, the Chairman will not escape it”. He said.

Crossriverwatch made contacts with the bank. An official who said he could speak to us only if we will protect his identity said, “Yes, the loan had already been collected. We have a very cordial working relationship with the Chairman so we had no reason not to since we bank for them. We know they are credit worthy to the tune of the amount the Chairman was asking for.

“The idea of getting approval, eehhnn, to the knowledge of the bank, that is not one of our requirements for overdraft. That is strictly a Local Government affair and First Bank should not be drawn into that. Once the Chairman was able to meet the bank’s internal requirements for granting an overdraft, we had no reason not to advance it”.

On whether part of the money had been returned or not, our source said, “He is our customer and that is part of his private information that we are obliged to keep confidential just like it is the case with every other customer”.

Crossriverwatch gathered that, when the committee submitted its report yesterday on the floor of the House, in dramatic recoil, the Councilors who had threatened impeachment the previous day became sharply divided and started speaking in discordant tunes.

The Clerk of the House Mrs. Akade who allegedly smuggled the Chairman’s letter to the House requesting the overdraft approval from the file, was also said to have avoided sitting leaving the seat for the Deputy Clerk.

Most of the councilors have cautiously avoided press interviews having been warned at the seating.

But some of them took to the social media to make their point. The Leader of the House, Hon. Ugar Andeshi on his facebook wall wrote: “In our sitting today, neither the word ‘impeachment’ nor the phrase ‘vote of no confidence’ were mentioned by any honorable member. What is this ‘brouhaha’ about?”

The Chief Whip who headed the committee that went to the bank also wrote on her facebook wall that: “Hon. Emma Ikwen, Chairman of Obudu has not done anything to warrant impeachment. Any person or group of persons thinking of impeaching him must be day dreaming. Chairmen of other LGAs who got Award did not face any impeachment threat from their councilors, so I don’t understand why anyone would nurse such ideas in the first place”.

But Keyamo said “The matter is far from what others have done in other local governments. That argument is like saying the Inspector General of Police should release all the criminals in the cells because he has not caught the ones on the streets. That argument does not stand the test of law. It is a case typical of the story of Ali Baba and the forty thieves.

“The matter is that the Chairman has breached public trust by attempting to or actually using public funds to pay for a personal award. I don’t also know if he followed the due process of approval and clearances for that kind of loan as required by the applicable local government law. And the councilors too by their letter have become accomplices in that act of corruption.

Keyamo who is also an EFCC prosecutor said “I will make contacts with the Grassroot Leadership Center since there are here in Abuja. And it is also a good thing that they will all be coming here in Abuja for the Award. It will be a good opportunity for the EFCC to get them for questioning.

“These kinds of things are rampant across the country and because the grassroot people do not know the details, the Chairmen do these things and get away with them. Your state should be grateful for the work crossriverwatch has been doing because I have been receiving your alerts now and following you for six months. Your team needs to be encouraged to do more and expose corruption at the grassroot”.

It will be recalled the Chairman has been a guest of the EFCC in the past when he was invited last year by the anti-corruption agency for question over a petition accusing him of embezzling over N12m by a youth association in Obudu.

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