*Wife, accomplices ordered to refund over N77m

* Why Oshiomhole abandoned Commission report, recommendation

Following allegation of incompetence and misappropriation of funds against former Chairman, Egor Local Government Council Area, Hon. Victor Enobakhare by residents, and workers of the council, former Governor Adams Oshiomhole inaugurated an investigative Commission to look into the activities of the administration between April, 2013, and October, 2015, after the State House of Assembly suspended him from office for three months. The Commission findings were revealing as they were shocking. Urhere Osamudiamen brought the report.

 

Hon Victor Enobakhare

Hon Victor Enobakhare

Hon. Victor Enobakhare was once a councilor between 2004, and 2007, and became elected Chairman sworn into office on 23 April, 2013.

It was revealed, that on assumption of office, the Enobakhare administration inherited the sum of N544, 124, 177. 84 (five hundred and forty four million, one hundred and twenty four thousand, one hundred and seventy seven naira, eighty four kobo) in the various accounts of the council.

The administration of George Osunde Aimienoho, ACP retired it was said, on the instruction of former Governor Adams Oshiomhole saved the funds which Engr. I. K. Salami who took over from him, handed over to the Enobakhare administration.

Surprisingly however, between April , 2013 when he assumed office as Chairman of the council, and October  6, 2015 when he was suspended from office, he did not only frittered away the millions he inherited without visible project on ground to point at, he plunged the Council into huge debt of N631, 141, 856,.29 (six hundred and fifty million, one hundred and forty one thousand, eight hundred and fifty six naira, twenty nine kobo) and owed workers several months of unpaid salary.

“It is our hope that the findings and recommendations of the Commission of Enquiry will be considered and executed by the appropriate Authority.

“This, we believe, will go a long way to instill financial discipline, transparency and accountability which your government in the State is known for, in all spheres of Local Government Administration in the State.

“It will also ensure value for money in all procurement activities not only at Egor Local Government Council, but in all Local Government Councils of the State if applied,” the Commission wrote.

But, former Governor Adams Oshiomhole sacrificed the Commission findings and recommendations on the altar of actualization of selfish political interest.

Oshiomhole, it was scooped, abandoned the Commission’s recommendation when Enobakhare falsely assured him that he would be able to deliver at least seven of the 10 wards in Egor in favour of his godson, the incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki both at the All Progressives Congress (APC) primary, and the Governorship election proper.

Under the Enobakhare administration, workers were made to sign vouchers for projects that were never executed, and at the end, false receipts were produced to retire the fund, it was revealed.

The Commission said that from all evidence available, also, all projects executed by the Enobakhare administration were carried out without recourse to due process and in total defiance of provisions of the Edo State Public Procurement Law, 2012.

Official transactions of the ex- Chairman such as procurement, goods, services were carried out by ‘Direct Labour’ and fraught with illegalities and irregularities such as inflated prices, use of fictitious receipts and other fraudulent documentation clearly perpetuated by the councils officials and members of staff.

“Direct labour was a means deplored by the chairman, Hon. Victor Enobakhare and his gang to siphon and misappropriate Council funds into private pockets.”

Within the period, Enobakhare seldom called for exco meetings and when he did, it was merely for the ratification of decisions previously reached by the ex- Chairman and his clique especially as it concerned financial dealings.

“The forum where policies ought to have been formulated i. e. at the executive committee (EXCO), was to him a mere gathering for the purpose of imposing his ideas on other members of EXCO and for the ratification of approvals and disbursements already made by him” the Commission noted.

Minutes of exco meetings were often fabricated to accommodate under dealings of the Chairman and gang members.

According to the Commission, Enobakhare and his secretary, Joshua Uwagboe were ignorant of the provision of section 3 of the Local Government Administration and Bye Laws of Nigeria which stipulates that exco  meeting must be held at least once a month. Hence in his 30 months in office before the suspension of his administration, only 29 exco meetings held instead of the 120 required by law.

Former vice Chairman, Desmond Ugbo in his evidence told the Commission: “Under item 13 of the minute book of 30 April, 2013, nature of expenditures, the sum of N500, 000 was recorded as appropriation for the running cost of supervisors even when they were not in existence then.

“The minute of 20 May, 2013, under ratification of expenditure in item which has to do with furnishing and three years rent for the councils Guest House, the sum of N490, 000 was entered in exco members minutes whereas, in the minute record book signed by the Chairman and his Secretary, was entered, the sum of N4, 950,000 with a different file having number ELG/C/383/T4.

Also, the minutes copy of 23 July, 2013, did not contain where deliberation on the sales of unserviceable vehicles was resolved.

“In 2014, we only held exco meetings three times to my knowledge but was surprised to see 13 minutes of meetings signed by the Chairman and Secretary in the record book”, Ugbo said.

“I found out from the minutes of exco dated 28 August, 2013 in the minute’s record book that the installation of CCTV surveillance system in the council was paid for as stated under item 24 while members of exco were not given that minutes and the sum of N5, 080, 650.00 stated for it.

“This is as N400, 000 was released to a committee commissioned to investigate a robbery incident in the council in June 2013 but no report ever came out of the exercise.

“Also, various committees were constituted with large number of persons as members; some 170, while others like the House numbering committee having 383.

“Enobakhare appointed 66 persons as Special Assistants whose names were secretly replaced by some other names without informing the affected persons or terminating their appointment.

“All these, were mere manipulation and deceit for reason best known to the Enobakhare’s gang as some were paid barely few months salary, while others were not paid at all.

“The Enobakhare administration can best be described as a political gang up and not a Government as it were”, Ugbo told the Commission.

This is as it was said, that he was a master at the application of the principle of divide and rule, had poor working relationship with his exco members: supervisory councilors, members of the council legislative arm, and even the council’s workers.

The Enobakhare administration had operative ring of six persons viz: Victor Enobakhare , former Secretary to the Local Government, Joshua Uwagboe, former Cashier, Osayande Osagiator, former Head, Works Department Engr. U. D. Omorede, Head, Environment Department, Sunny  Ikhimwin, and erstwhile treasurer, Kessington Osifo.

Under the administration, financial advances were given to workers with impunity under different guises and often for bogus projects and / or purchases.

Some of which were never carried out such as the case of an electricity transformer allegedly purchased in the name of Mr. Enoma Emmanuel as the advance holder for the sum of N3, 198,000.00.

Monumental sums in unretired advances were unearthed from available records. As at December 2014, unretired advances amounted to a whopping sum of N259, 719, 612.77.

Some of those said to had been in possession of unretired advances as at December 2014 were: Emmanuel Aghedo – (N72, 539,129.00), R. N. Edenamigho – (N52, 951, 728.00), – George Gill Odigie – (N13, 750,000.00), B. E. Uhumwangho – (N11, 420,000.00), Martins Aimune – (N8, 950,000.00), Uyigue Ekpen – (N7, 000, 000.00).

Sensing that trouble was looming, Enobakhare’s accomplice in the council civil service embarked on acts to cover their evil tracks as cases of missing files containing sensitive documents relevant to the administration activities were established by witnesses, the Commission said.

The Commission said it was its belief that Enobakhare was in connivance with others in frittering away the council funds through these unretired advances.

54 persons who included members of staff of the Council, political appointees, contractors, the former chairman, Victor Enobakhare and his vice, Desmond Ugbo testified before the Commission.

Probably more revealing, is the evidence of Joseph Ebamehita Edoyugbo, Auditor from the office of the Auditor General, Local Government attached to Egor Council.

According to him, during the inspection of 2013, 2014 Egor Council account, it was observed that there exist irregularities in the disbursement of funds.

“For instance, in PVA125/September/2013, 126/September/2013, 245 – 247 0f November, 2013, the sum of N2, 667,000 was paid to Mrs. Aimienoho and 55 others. But the sub – receipt was not signed by any person.

“An indication that nobody was paid except Mrs. Aimienoho who signed the main payment voucher.

“Consequently, I have to raise query for the sum of N2, 511,000 to be refunded to the council’s treasury excluding her own allowance amounting to N156, 000.

“Also, I observed that the Works department did not comply with the rules and regulations for the grading of roads. Retirement made in the months of May 2013, shows that the sum of N39,190,000 was used for grading, but the sum of N20,000,000 that was said to had been used for haulage of laterite, was not communicated to the office of the Auditor General of Local Government for certification. That is to say, there was a deliberate circumvention of laid down rules in order to conceal something.

“We have asked that the sum of N20m should be refunded to the Council.

“There was another striking issue of purchase of transformer which was not referred to Audit for inspection. One Mr. Enoma Emmanuel claimed to have purchased a 300KVA Transformer for the council.

“He did not follow the rules to get store receipt voucher as evidence of purchase and besides, the purchase was not communicated to the office of the Auditor General, Local Government for certification contrary to the F.M 17. 10 (b).

“We asked for explanation or the money should be refunded to the council’s treasury because there was no evidence that the transformer was bought.

“In seven months, 2013, Mrs. Enobakhare and 92 others allegedly collected the sum of N3, 111,500 (three million, one hundred and one thousand, five hundred naira) on the platform of Women Advisory Committee.

Contrary to financial memoranda stipulations, the sub receipts attached to the payment voucher were not receipted by the purported payees.

There was also no written authority for Mrs. Enobakhare to collect the said sum.

“Also from January to October  2014 Mrs. Enobakhare  on behalf of Women Advisory Committee members collected as monthly allowance the sum of N6,185,000 (six million, one hundred and eighty five thousand naira).

“These payments made wholly by cash have no written authority for her to collect same and the sub receipts attached to the payment vouchers were not signed by the payees.

“We have asked that the sum of N6, 185,000 being amount for 91 persons excluding her, be refunded to the Council’s treasury.

“My observation for 2015 is that most health officers in the Environmental Department use facilities receipt in retiring advances. For instance, in the month of July, advances worth N55, 920,000 were retired.

“But the sum of N13, 520,000 meant for workmanship for labourers would not appear to have been paid as sub receipt attached to the payment vouchers were not signed by the labourers.

“We also observed that the Chairman of the Council spent so much on disposing of refuse in his Local Government between January and October 2015. The sum of N101m was used for clearing refuse given an average of over N10m per month.

“So, if the Council owed several months of salary as at that time, it looks unreasonable to have spent such money on refuse clearing.”

The Environmental Health Department was the conduit pipe through which Enobakhare and his gang members siphoned the Council funds as evidence of witnesses revealed.

Attempts by the Commission to invite representatives of Ericcar International Ltd, a company claimed to had been regularly used by the Environment Department and which was paid millions of council funds on a monthly basis, failed as it could not be traced at the address indicated on their receipts issued to the council, number 100, Texile Mill Road, Benin City.

This company received payments from the Council authority amounting to N11, 250, 000 (eleven million, two hundred and fifty thousand d naira) in December 2013 alone. Between January and 30 October, 2015, a time span of 10 months, the Enobakhare administration disbursed the sum of N101, 583,000 as work advances to the Environmental Health Department.

A breakdown of the figure reveals that from January to June 2015, N27, 023,000 (twenty seven million, twenty three thousand naira) was released while the sum of N74, 560, 000 (seventy four million, five hundred and sixty thousand naira) was granted between August to October 2015.

The Commission wondered why the sum of N27, 023,000 was spent on Environmental sanitation from January to June 2015 (a period of six months) only for it to increase astronomically to the sum of N74, 560, 000 from August to October, a period of just three months.

Head, Environmental department, Sunny Ikhimwin explained the increase was due to maize season which shoot up level of refuse.

Interestingly, on resumption of office, Enobakhare placed the department of Environmental Health under his office.

The Commission visited some streets where the administration claimed to have desilted drains, worked on roads, and cleared refuse dumps.

“Of particular interest is the case of Ogida Street and adjoining Streets, as well as Aisosa Street between Okhoro and Medical Store Roads.

“The residents of Ogida Street told the Commission that at no time has Egor Local Government Council, its agents or contractors carried out desilting of drains or maintenance of their roads.

“The same scenario played out at Aisosa Street between Okhoro and Medical Store roads when the Commission visited.

According to the Commission, when Enobakhare was asked if he ever cut down/regulate on spending for environmental sanitation by approving less sums, he responded thus: “I have never reduced their application for funds, for sanitation exercise because they are professionals”.

In the same vein, the sum of N3, 459,000 was claimed to have been spent on the printing of standardized record books for health centres by Fred and Sheg (Nig.) Ltd.

Contrarily, Head, Primary Health Care Department, Egor Council, Ogbeide Gabriel in his evidence told the Commission that since he assumed duty in 2009, no record book was purchased or printed for his department.

The Commission noted that it was a ghost project through which Council’s funds were siphoned by Enobakhare and his gang.

Sanni Aliu, Senior Technical Officer, Works department in his evidence said that on the orders of the TLG, Kessington Osifo, he signed three vouchers, N17m, N3m and N3.5m respectively. But was only given N3.5m for one of the projects while he could not say who collected the others.

The projects; a block of six classrooms, at Edaiken Primary School – N17m, a bore – hole at Edaiken Primary School – N3m. The block of classrooms included toilet and office, and maintenance of receptacle at Uwasota.

Also, Aghedo Emmanuel, Principal Technical Officer, Works department testified that the TLG, Kessington Osifo ordered him to sign vouchers of different sums to be released for the execution of three various jobs but only got N5m out of the N6.2M budgeted for the maintenance of Iyoba road and receptacle.

Though he signed the voucher of N16m for the renovation of Uroumwon Primary School, and N32m for the construction of tables and chairs respectively, the cheque for the cash was never given to him.

Aghedo said, he was shocked when the TLG disclosed that the cheques have been given to the Chairman (Enobakhare), who had given the jobs to someone else whose identity was not disclosed.

Enoma Emmanuel former Higher Technical Officer, Works department in his evidence told the Commission that his name was written on a voucher of N3, 198, 000 purportedly used for the purchase of a 500kVA Transformer. Whereas, Enoma was not an electrical engineer, it was said.

Enoma further in his evidence testified that though he signed the voucher of N17, 910, 350.00, he was actually given N8m for the rehabilitation of six classrooms and offices at Ugbowo Housing Estate Primary School.

“I signed for N17m that was written on the voucher but was given N8m as actual. The project was completed but I didn’t ask for the balance N9m because you don’t ask questions.

“To retire the work I did, I produced receipts to cover for the entire N17m. Though I collected N8m but I equally produced receipts to cover the N9m I did not collect.

“I don’t know who collected the balance N9m. I had to inflate the figures on the receipts to cover up the N17m.”

Enoma said that he signed the voucher for N17m on the instruction of his boss, Omorede.

“If vouchers are signed, it means the cash was released”, Engr. Omorede Ugiagbe Darlington told the Commission in his defence.

Officers feel gratified when they are made to do purchase on behalf of the Council and would report back to their Head of department as evidenced in the testimony of William Okuonghae, Principal Works Superintendent, Electrical.

“I have to say the truth. When one is sent for purchase, we report back to the H. O. D. I gave my H.O.D. the sum of N200, 000 that is Egnr. Omorede  D. U. for both transformers after purchases.”

Okuonghae said he was assigned to buy for the Council a 300kVA transformer at the rate of N1, 198,000, and 500KVA transformer at the rate of N3, 750,000.

For these he showed appreciation to his H.O. D. Engr. Omorede with the sum of N200, 000.

Enoma Emmanuel under cross examination, told the Commission that though he initially collected N4m for the rehabilitation of the failed portion at Uwasota road, two days later, his H. O. D. Engr. Omorede ordered him to return the money to him which he complied in the presence of the TLG, Kessington Osifo.

“As the advance holder, I retired the money though I didn’t know how the job was done. I retired the advance with receipts. I produced fake receipts to retire the money.”

From the evidence of Donald Okpo, Manager, Prane Integrated Nigeria Ltd, there was no bidding for the contract of construction of Edaiken New Market. Rather, it was the Chairman, Enobakhare that approached the company to handle the job on the basis of Build, Operate, and Transfer.

From the Commission’s calculation, if all the 1,955 shops were given out at the rate of N876, 000 for lock up stores and N450,000 for open stores, the contractor, Prane Integrated Nig. Ltd. would have realized the sum of N45, 728, 400 in one year amounting to the sum of N1, 143, 210,000 (one billion, one hundred and forty three million, two hundred and ten thousand) in 25 years.

Executive concession agreement puts the Edaiken New Market project cost at N863, 797,624.88 (eight hundred and sixty three million, seven hundred and ninety seven thousand, six hundred and twenty four, and eighty eight kobo).

When the project cost is deducted from the revenue of N1, 143,210,000 (one billion, one hundred and forty three million, two hundred and ten thousand naira) to be generated by the developer in 25 years, there will be excess sum of N279, 412, 375.12 (two hundred and seventy nine million, four hundred and twelve thousand, three hundred and seventy five, twelve kobo).

From the terms of the agreement, none of this revenue will go to the Council in 25 years.

In the opinion of the Commission, “ Enobakhare connived with the contractor to rip off the Council of its revenue base for 25 years.”

Supervisory Councilor for Agriculture, Mrs. Stella Ogida Otokhile in her evidence said: “I discovered that in one of the exco minutes, it was written that I moved a motion for the sales of broken down vehicles in the Council. Though, I moved a motion, but it did not include the sales of tractors or vehicles.

“This was added to the motion I moved without my Knowledge or that of other supervisors”

Instead of impacting Egor people with positive dividends of democracy, the Enobakhare administration would rather under all manner of programmes collect money from them.

“Some time ago, we were asked to bring five names from the wards in the Local Government Area for Agric loan.

“The women were asked to pay N1, 000 for the form but the forms never left my office.

“I am not aware of any seminar for farmers which appeared in exco minute of June 24, 2015, Item 2. I therefore objected to ratification of the N2m for the farmers’ seminar”.

Similarly, the council fleet of 10 mini luxurious buses generates N190, 000- N300, 000 daily. The Mass Transit Company opened an account with the UBA. But no sooner than the outfit began operations, the Manager on the alleged instruction of the former Chairman diverted the revenue derived to political patronage of individuals, witnesses said.

The Enobakhare administration against stiff opposition bought the buses from Uyi Technical Motors at the rate ofN13, 600, 000 totaling N136m.

A project said to had been financed by the United Bank for Africa (UBA). Whereas, from the Commission findings in the open market, price per unit of the same specification of bus, is N8m which would have totaled N80m.

Enobakhare’s defence

He admitted inheriting the sum of over N300m in the council’s coffers from his predecessors.

According to him, the wage bill of the council was N45m monthly and that paucity of funds was reason for irregular exco meetings.

As regards Uruomwon Primary School project, Enobakhare admitted awarding the contract of renovation of four classrooms block, office and a borehole. He said the former director, Works, Engr. Omorede handled the project which was awarded towards ending of 2013.But he discovered that the job was abandoned for no reason even after all his efforts to make Engr. Omorede deliver.

In three years as Chairman of the council, he got over head for only six months and security votes for 14 months while he got only N1m as furniture allowance, he claimed. But all Councilors got their furniture allowance in full.

“It is on record that my salary is the lowest, I received N299, 000. Though the council rented for him a Guest House for the period of his tenure in office in fulfillment of the responsibility to provide accommodation for the Chairman.

Said he had 15 Special Assistants while he paid 23 months’ salary within the period.

Enobakhare claimed ignorance of the alleged difference in exco minute given to members and the ones pasted on the exco minute book.

Though not specific, he expressed regret over some of his actions blaming it all on the dwindling funds of the council. “I am very, very sorry for that action of mine”.

“I want to assure this Commission that whether I am still Chairman or not, I will ensure that the Primary School, office, and bore hole at Uruomwon is completed.”

He told the Commission that revenue derived from  Uwelu and Evbareke spare parts markets were used for what he called, political oiling.

Also he explained that due to monthly deduction of N45m from the federation Allocation that accrues to the council, it owed the sum of N40m, for the purchase of the mini luxurious mass transit buses and N42m for over draft of salary payment to council members of staff.

Disclosed that UBA financed purchase of the buses as the federal Government SURE – P fund accruing to the Council was used as collateral.

Hence, when the SURE – P fund stopped coming, UBA started deductions from the federation allocation account to re – coup its funds spent on purchase of the buses.

Meanwhile, the Councilors who initially opposed purchase of the buses later succumbed after receiving gratification of N1m from the executive arm and passed the budget containing proposal of purchase of the vehicles, Enobakhare alleged.

He said he has no regret whatsoever in the purchase of the vehicles as he asserted: “If not for the purchase of the buses, Egor finances would have been grounded. I do not regret buying the buses.”

Also, he told the Commission that the sum of N5m was spent on the inauguration of the buses which the former Governor, Adams Oshiomhole was invited to superintend.

The 10 buses each was said to had been bought at the cost of N13, 600,000 even though they were refurbished.

Enobakhare closing his defence stated; “The issue of salary which is not peculiar to Egor alone, but to 15 Councils cannot be used in judging my administration.

“About the procurement law that I did not follow, was a mistake. I have learnt a lot from this Commission. I appeal to the authority to give me chance to make amends. If I am given the chance to return as the Chairman of Egor Local Government Council Area, I will follow due process as regards the procurement, and not take the advice of the so called experts.”

Commission’s Submission

From evidence available, it is clear that the suspended Chairman lacked governance and leadership skills. The basic rules and regulations guiding the operations of his office were lost on him.

He had no policy direction and showed no sense of purpose as Chairman. The forum where policies ought to have been formulated i.e. at the Executive Committee, (EXCO) was to him a mere gathering for the purpose of imposing his ideas on other members of the Exco and for the ratification of approvals and disbursements already made by him.

He lacked the capacity to balance the priorities of the Council. With no sense of direction, it is not surprising that he did not only siphone Council revenue and allocations but recklessly mismanaged even the funds inherited by him from the previous administration.

In the words of John Owie, Supervisory Councilor for Education: “He the Chairman never listened to advise when it came to advice against reckless spending.”

His administrative carelessness, negligence and nonchalance were made bare for all to see by his failure to ensure that his Council received its share of the Federal Government bailout funds.

His administration had the heaviest backlog of unpaid salaries yet he trifled with help that came from the Federal Government. This is regrettable and absolutely unforgivable.

He sidelined all administrative infrastructures, checks and balances put in place by law, circumventing due process and treating the Legislative Arm with utter disdain.

Accountability has been nonexistent under his administration and millions of Council funds have been lost.

His greatest achievement has been to plunge the Council from credit into financial debt. The debt profile of the Council as 6 October 2015 when he was suspended was N631, 141, 856. 29.

Flowing from the above, this Commission recommends that the Chairman, Hon. Victor Enobakhare, the erstwhile Secretary, Joshua Uwagboe, the erstwhile Treasurer, Kessington Osifo, the erstwhile Cashier, Osayande Osagiator, erstwhile Head of Works Department, Engr. U. Darlington Omorede, Sunny Ikhimwin, Head of Environment, and Mrs. M. Enobakhare (wife of Victor Enobakhare) are jointly and severally accountable for and should be made to refund to Egor Local Government Council the total sum of N77, 589, 491. 00 (seventy seven million, five hundred and eighty nine thousand, four hundred and ninety one naira.)

Commission’s Recommendation

“In the light of the findings of this Commission and in view of the fact that the very people he has led for the duration of his time as Chairman until his suspension from office no longer want him as their leader, this Commission is constrained to recommend that Hon. Victor Enobakhare should be relieved of his position as Chairman, Egor Local Government Area forthwith.”

But it remains a surprise that the former Governor, Adams Oshiomhole whether consciously or unconsciously ignored the findings and recommendations of the Commission he inaugurated to investigate activities of the former Chairman, Victor Enobakhare administration.

This is especially considering the energy and vigour with which the Change Campaign and Fight against Corruption of his party, All Progressives Congress (APC) is being pushed, and also his very vocal condemnation of perpetrators of corruption.