By Jonathan Ugbal
The three civil servants arrested on Monday in Calabar for allegedly leaking documents which showed the payment schedule of NGN250 million withdrawn from each of the local government areas in Cross River state for the procurement of aircrafts and the construction of the Obudu international cargo airport are still in police custody.
They include Mrs Pauline Odey, who is the Director JAAC and Mr. Essien Antigha who is the Chief Executive Officer, Accounts in the Ministry of Local Government Affairs as well as Mr. Orok Bassey Ironbar, the Director of Finance in the office of the Accountant General.
The trio are held at the Anti Cultism and Kidnapping Squad unit of the Cross River state police command located at the Cultural Center complex in Calabar.
Investigations, police sources said, remain ongoing with pressure on the government to order their unconditional release after CrossRiverWatch had reported their arrests earlier on Tuesday.
Findings revealed that Mrs Odey was invited by the Commissioner for Local Government Affairs, Mrs Stella Odey Inyang to her office and when she got there, was told by a Police officer that she was under arrest alongside Mr. Essien.
Family sources said she was not aware of her alleged crime until she was taken to the police unit. Same happened to Mr. Essien.
As for Mr. Ironbar, he is said to have driven into the premises after an invitation and was then arrested.
Their relatives said the trio are held at the charging room where CrossRiverWatch publisher, Mr. Agba Jalingo was held for over a month, cuffed to a refrigerator.
“They complained about mosquito bites and the unpleasant smell as well as the fact the place was crowded,” one who visited them (names withheld as part of editorial policy) told this reporter.
At least four visitors said no fewer than 26 people including the trio, some underage kids and those arrested for not wearing face coverings were detained there while cultism and kidnapping suspects filled the cell.
CrossRiverWatch had, in an exclusive, reported on the plans for Governor Ben Ayade to withdraw NGN250 million from the account of each of the 18 local government areas in the state, totaling NGN4.5 billion for the procurement of aircrafts and the construction of an airport in his hometown, Obudu.
The airport project is currently a controversial subject with two deaths reported, a building razed, properties destroyed, 21 locals facing trial as well as an injunction to stop work.
These drew mixed reactions from the populace and days later, CrossRiverWatch published the payment schedule showing that the monies have been withdrawn as part of the local government’s “equity contribution.”
According to the documents, Governor Ayade approved the deduction of the sums in a letter dated April 10, 2020 as reported here.
A week later, the Manager of FirstBank PLC in Calabar was directed to withdraw the monies from the Cross River local government salary account to 18 different accounts in three banks as reported here.
This was less than a month after the state had withdrawn NGN50 million from each of the local government area accounts totaling NGN900 million as contributions to the COVID-19 fund.
This means that in less than 60 days, the Cross River state government has withdrawn at least, NGN300 million from the accounts of each of the 18 local government areas despite the non existence of elected council representatives and executives since December 2016.
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