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Phantom Auditor General’s Report and ‘N123billion Fraud’: In Defence of My Name.

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By Stephen Oronsaye.

My attention has been drawn to yet another attempt at character assassination against my person by means of false allegations in a report first published online in the Premium Times on September 15, 2014 and subsequently in some other Nigerian newspapers.

As on a previous occasion when I refused to join issues with the authors and publishers of similar false allegations and reports, I would ordinarily have chosen not to dignify the targeted hateful innuendoes in the misleading report entitled: “Auditor General’s Report Indicts Ex-Head of Service, Oronsaye, For N123 billion fraud” with any response, especially since the so-called audit report has been dismissed as a work of fiction. However, since my silence is capable of being misconstrued by the reading public, it has become necessary for me to set the records straight.

While it is not in my character to enumerate the successes I recorded in the different positions I have been privileged to hold, the records clearly attest to the fact that I did my best possible to reform the pension administration of the Service while I was Head of the Civil Service of the Federation between June 2009 and November 2010.

Therefore, it is quite curious that although “the audit report” was said to cover the period 2005 to 2010, the sponsors of the report only found it convenient to focus on the period in which I was in office and even in doing so, deliberately overlooked the period during which I and my team made efforts to address the problems associated with pension administration at the time.

The online report alleged that the “audit report” which the Office of the Auditor-General for the Federation has since disclaimed, found that the pension payroll was never subject to internal audit between June 2009 and December 2010; and that over N52 billion paid out as monthly pension was not presented for internal and federal audits for prepayment audit as required by Nigerian financial regulation (sic).

In actual fact, I worked closely with the Internal Auditor in the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation at the time. It was this Internal Auditor’s report that actually prompted the setting up of the Pension Reform Task Team at the time. This can be verified from the official records. As a Chartered Accountant and having served as Permanent Secretary prior to my appointment as Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, I am fully conversant with the imperatives of accountability and the implications of not applying the rules.

For the records, the major gap identified in the administration of civil service pensions when I came on board in 2009 was the lack of proper records. My team and I made far reaching efforts to address this shortcoming through the physical verification and biometric capture of civilian pensioners across the 36 States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) who retired from the Service before July 1, 2007.

Through that exercise, the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation identified and eliminated no fewer than 70,000 (seventy thousand) fake/ghost pensioners from the pension payroll. To my credit and that of my team, and the relief of pensioners, 34,432 (thirty four thousand, four hundred and thirty two) pensioners who had hitherto never been paid their pension at the time, were enrolled and paid their pension as well as the arrears of their harmonized pension. In addition, under my watch, the Federal Government made a monthly saving of about N1 Billion.

Perhaps if the sponsors of the report were not so lazy, they would have dug out the letters I did to the then National Security Adviser (NSA) on December 10, 2009 (Ref: HCSF/061/S.1/III/250) and November 8, 2010 (Ref: HCSF/061/S.1/VI/53) drawing the attention of the NSA on both occasions and requesting for investigations into unclaimed pension benefits that were hitherto fraudulently paid into certain bank accounts.

In like manner, I wrote to the then EFCC Chairman in November 2010 vide letter reference HCSF/061/S.1/VI/54, forwarding four spiral-bound documents containing the names of different categories of supposed pensioners and the banks to which the funds were hitherto paid. The document was put together by the then Director, Pension Department in the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation.

In that letter, I drew the attention of the EFCC Chairman to the fact that “prior to the introduction of the integrated e-payment, pension benefits were paid to banks and all the payments were supposedly claimed by the bona fide beneficiaries. However, with the introduction of the integrated e-payment system, no one had come forward to claim the pensions that were hitherto paid to the banks for onward payment to the pensioners.” I therefore requested the EFCC to cause an investigation to be made into the matter with a view to resolving all the issues and prosecuting all those found culpable.

In another related matter, I had cause to write to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in August 2010 (Ref: HCSF/061/S.1/V/81), forwarding a 561-page record containing names and account numbers of 11,732 persons alleged to be fake pensioners but who were paid pension in their names for the month of May 2010, through banks stated. Again, I requested for an examination of the banks to ascertain how the funds were applied.

 

Contrary to claims that over N52 billion paid as monthly pension during my tenure remained largely unaccounted for, I actually ensured transparency in the administration of pension through the biometric measure mentioned above among others. The full report of the Pension Task Team, which was released after I had left office in 2010 would clarify this position.

It is also uncharitable for anyone to concoct a report suggesting that as Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, I oversaw an era of corruption in pension administration to the low level of receiving kick-backs totaling N1.03 billion from the Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP). It is on record that I repeatedly faulted the NUP for deducting check-off dues from its members, contrary to the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and in fact wrote to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to reverse the unconstitutional trend at the time.

It is news to me that N700 million was paid to 223 contractors for store items. Throughout the 16 months during which I served as Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, I largely avoided involvement in procurement issues. The Tenders’ Board handled all issues of procurement and it was chaired by the Permanent Secretary. The only instance I got involved in a procurement was as a result of a direct intervention for the purpose of ensuring a smooth pension process and that particular procurement was less than N80 million.

In its effort to taint my image, the online report further alleged that the sum of N15 billion released by the Federal Government for the settlement of the death benefits of deceased civil servants in July 2010 could not be accounted for, adding that the money was moved to an illegal account in Union Bank and personally operated by our client. The report went on to claim that 58 Bank accounts were opened at my instance between 2009 and 2010 without the knowledge and approval of the Accountant-General of the Federation. To crown it all, it further alleged that “over N54 Billion was transferred to these illegal accounts and eventually withdrawn for undisclosed purposes”.

Again, for the records, the said N15 billion released by the Federal Government was NEVER touched during my tenure as Head of the Civil Service of the Federation because as at the time of my retirement in November 2010, the pension harmonization process had not been concluded.

In fact, the then CBN Deputy Governor (Operations), in response to the enquiry cited in paragraph 13 above, furnished the Office of the Head of the Civil Service with lists of pension accounts maintained with 15 Banks vide letters Ref: GOV/DGO/CON/CBN/01 dated August 25, 26 and 30, 2010 and September 1, 2010. The returns made by the Deposit Money Banks to the CBN at the time indicate that the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation did not operate up to 58 accounts all of which were opened prior to my assumption of office as Head of the Civil Service of the Federation.

For the records, contrary to the claims contained in the sinister report, the OHCSF during my tenure only operated 17 accounts out of the existing accounts in 12 different banks. These accounts were later consolidated into not more than seven. The assertion in the online report is therefore not tenable.

Furthermore, the OHCSF during my tenure established the electronic Pension Management Platform (EPMS) to check and facilitate transparent pension management. In addition, the office at the time carried out a nation-wide biometric enrolment of pensioners, which involved officials from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Department of State Services and other relevant security agencies. It was this exercise that uncovered the thousands of fake pensioners on the payroll at the time.

Indeed it was during that period that cases of fraud in the administration of pension were uncovered and they were still being investigated as at the time I retired in November 2010. I therefore find it an epic distortion of facts to allege that my tenure was characterised by fraud when what I did was to address the challenge I met on ground.

It is rather telling that in obvious disregard of the facts, the online report was silent on what transpired during the Senate’s Public hearing on alleged fraud in the administration of civil service and police pensions in 2011, during which all those who gave evidence absolved me of any act of complicity.

While I bear no grudge against anyone seeking to probe my tenure as Head of the Civil Service of the Federation or indeed any other position I have held, I find it preposterous for any individual or group of persons to be so hell-bent on maliciously and falsely discrediting my genuine contributions to the development of the country.

It is not far-fetched in the circumstances to observe that the grouse of the sponsors of these false reports against me arose from their resentment to my sincere efforts at reforms that will bring about lasting change to a system that was bedeviled by the flaws I exposed. The Principal actors in the administration of civil service pensions between 2005 and 2010, the period covered by the alleged “audit report” are still alive! It would therefore have made for more balanced reporting if the Premium Times and other newspapers had made efforts to investigate the truth instead of being led blindly to attempt to tarnish a hard-earned reputation.

 

 

For the records, I am a Chartered Accountant with decades of audit experience, a former Permanent Secretary, State House and the Federal Ministry of Finance as well as the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, and now the Chairman, Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Through my years of practice, I have been guided by my firm belief in due process and accountability.

By normal Federal auditing procedure, where an audit has been carried out, audit observations made are forwarded to the auditee/entity for a comment/response. Ideally, those in office are expected to comment on audit observations regarding an entity. However, if they are unable to comment/respond then the proper procedure is for the observations to be passed on to those that were in the office covered by the audit, provided the persons are alive. I can confirm that no one has reached out to me in that regard.

In the desperate bid to ridicule me, the author of the Premium Times report made a rather uninformed attempt at suggesting that my Chairmanship of the Presidential Committee on Financial Action Task Force (FATF) attracts pecuniary benefits. The records are clear and they confirm that no member receives stipends or sitting allowance. The membership of the Presidential Committee on FATF, which comprises relevant Government agencies, has remained the same since 2004, except in cases where the officers have changed desks.

In the light of the foregoing, I would advise Premium Times and the media houses that published their jaundiced report to desist from reckless and malicious distortion of facts and the making of unfounded allegations designed to tarnish my reputation. I am not unmindful of the consequences of these acts and will take whatever steps may be required in defence of my name.

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Paris-bound bizman arrested with 111 cocaine wraps

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The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency has arrested a 48-year-old businessman, Emmanuel Orjinze, at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, for ingesting 111 wraps of cocaine.

The suspect, who claimed to be a professional footballer in Europe, was arrested on May 21 during the outward clearance of an Air France flight to Paris, France.

This was made known in a statement signed by the agency’s Director of Media and Advocacy, Femi Babafemi, and shared on the agency’s website on Sunday.

The statement read, “Operatives of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency have arrested a 48-year-old Paris, France-bound businessman, Emmanuel Okechuku Orjinze, for ingesting 111 wraps of cocaine, which he excreted after days of observation in the agency’s custody following his arrest at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.

“Okechukwu, who also claims he is a professional footballer in Europe, was arrested on Tuesday, May 21, during the outward clearance of Air France flight AF 878 from Abuja to Paris, France.

“After a body scan confirmed he ingested illicit drugs, he was taken into custody where he excreted a total of 111 pellets of cocaine that weighed 1.603 kilograms over three days. The suspect claimed he did business in the maritime sector while still scouting for any European football club to engage him. ”

In the same vein, the NDLEA officers operating at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos hinted that they had dismantled another drug trafficking syndicate at the airport.

This, they said in a statement, followed the arrest of four members of the network and the seizure of a total of 8kg of methamphetamine and 7.60kg of Loud, a synthetic strain of cannabis imported from South Africa.

The statement added that a drug trafficking syndicate was busted at the airport when an official was caught with illicit substances in their backpack and bag.

On May 21, 2024, the NDLEA officers, supported by aviation security, intercepted the official at Terminal 1 and discovered the drugs during a search, blowing the lid off the syndicate.

“A swift follow-up operation at the Ajao Estate area of Lagos led to the arrest of two other members of the syndicate: Chris Nwadozie and Chinedu Nwaosu. Further investigation led to the arrest of another member of the cartel working within the airport system on Saturday, May 25,” the statement added.

In a related development, the agency also arrested a freight agent, Sonubi Abiodun, for attempting to export eight parcels of cocaine concealed in paint buckets to the United Kingdom.

Additionally, the NDLEA operatives arrested suspects producing and distributing skuchies, a mixture of black currant and illicit drugs, in Lagos, and recovered 2,480 litres of the psychoactive substance.

In Cross River State, a suspect, Ogar Emmanuel, was arrested with 2.5kg of cannabis, while 290kg of cannabis was recovered from the warehouse of Usani Ikpi, who is still at large. Additionally, three suspects – Sa’adu Sule, Mukhtar Nura, and Hamza Nura – were arrested in Katsina State with 70kg of cannabis, which originated from Ogun State.

The statement added, “No fewer than five suspects including Ezekiel Munda, 30; and Sule Mustapha, 21, were arrested by the NDLEA operatives on Thursday, May 23, during raids at the Karu Abattoir, Jikwoyi and Tora Bora hill area of the FCT, Abuja, where 95.01kg of cannabis and different quantities of opioids were recovered from them.

“In Edo State, operatives arrested a physically challenged notorious drug dealer, Zekere Sufianu, 45, at Auchi town on Wednesday, May 22. At the time of his arrest, he was found with 751 grams of Loud, 178 grams of tramadol, and pills of swinol,” the statement concluded.

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FG suit against 36 govs over LG funds begins

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The Federal Government has approached the Supreme Court with a suit seeking to compel governors of the 36 states of the federation to grant full autonomy to the local governments in their domains.

The suit, marked SC/CV/343/2024, was filed by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), on behalf of the Federal Government.

The Federal Government is urging the apex court to issue “an order prohibiting state governors from unilateral, arbitrary and unlawful dissolution of democratically elected local government leaders for local governments.”

In the suit predicted on 27 grounds, the Federal Government accused the state governors of gross misconduct and abuse of power.

The FG, in the originating summons, prayed the Supreme Court to make an order expressly stating that funds standing to the credit of local governments from the Federation Account should be paid directly to the local governments rather than through the state governments.

The justice minister also prayed for “an order of injunction restraining the governors, their agents and privies from receiving, spending or tampering with funds released from the Federation Account for the benefits of local governments when no democratically elected local government system is put in place in the states.”

The Federal Government further sought “an order stopping governors from constituting caretaker committees to run the affairs of local governments as against the Constitutionally recognised and guaranteed democratically system.”

The originating summons was backed by a 13-paragraph affidavit deposed to by one Kelechi Ohaeri of the Federal Ministry of Justice.

Ohaeri, in the affidavit, averred that the AGF instituted the suit against the governors under the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court on behalf of the Federal Government.

He said,“The Constitution of Nigeria recognises federal, states and local governments as three tiers of government and the three recognised tiers of government draw funds for their operation and functioning from the Federation Account created by the Constitution.

“By the provisions of the Constitution, there must be a democratically elected local government system and the Constitution has not made provisions for any other systems of governance at the local government level other than a democratically elected local government system.

“In the face of the clear provisions of the Constitution, the governors have failed and refused to put in place a democratically elected local government system even where no state of emergency has been declared to warrant the suspension of democratic institutions in the state.

“The failure of the governors to put democratically elected local government system in place is a deliberate subversion of the 1999 Constitution which they and the President have sworn to uphold.

“All efforts to make the governors comply with the dictates of the 1999 Constitution in terms of putting in place a democratically elected local government system has not yielded any result and to continue to disburse funds from the Federation Account to governors for non-existing democratically elected local government is to undermine the sanctity of the 1999 Constitution.

“In the face of the violations of the 1999 Constitution, the Federal Government is not obligated under Section 162 of the Constitution to pay any state, funds standing to the credit of local governments where no democratically elected local government is in place.”

The AGF, therefore, urged the apex court to invoke sections 1, 4, 5, 7 and 14 of the Constitution to declare that the state governors and state Houses of Assembly are under obligation to ensure a democratic system at the third tier of government in Nigeria and to also invoke the same sections to hold that the governors cannot lawfully dissolve democratically elected local government councils.

Furthermore, he urged to invoke sections 1, 4, 5, 7 and 14 of the Constitution to declare that “the dissolution of democratically elected local government councils by the governors or anyone using the state powers derivable from laws enacted by the state Houses of Assembly or any Executive Order is unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void.”

The apex court has fixed Thursday, May 30 for hearing.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Union of Local Government Employees hailed the move by the Federal Government, saying it would join the lawsuit as a concerned party.

 

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JUST IN: Tribunal affirms Diri as Bayelsa governor

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The Bayelsa State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja, on Monday, upheld the election that produced Governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa State.

A three-man panel led by Justice Adekunle Adeleye dismissed the petition filed by the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Timipre Sylva, and the party for lacking in merit.

In a unanimous decision, the tribunal held that the petitioners failed to prove any credible evidence to back up any of the allegations they raised against the re-election victory of Diri.

Details shortly…

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