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Alleged missing N70bn: Masari, Shema feud degenerates

The recent constitution and inauguration of a Judicial Commission of Enquiry by Katsina State governor Aminu Masari to investigate the alleged missing 70 billion naira…

The recent constitution and inauguration of a Judicial Commission of Enquiry by Katsina State governor Aminu Masari to investigate the alleged missing 70 billion naira in the last three years of the administration of the immediate-past government of Ibrahim Shema was viewed by the former Peoples Democratic Party-led government as just another exercise in futility.
Masari had mandated the eleven-man commission under Justice Muhammadu Ibrahim Siraj to investigate and determine the extent of loss suffered by government through public officers in the state from 2011 to 2015.  This is after other commissions have already indicted top government officials of the past administration of financial misdemeanour amounting to billions of naira. Even before his swearing in, Masari had vowed to probe the Shema administration and recover all the alleged stolen funds. The rift between the two is worsening, becoming a chasm, given the doggedness the present government is showing on the issue.
The APC transition committee had earlier uncovered 42 billion naira purportedly missing which led to the setting up of a committee under Tukur Jikamshi that also indicted the past government of financial recklessness. Yet another white paper-drafting committee was set up when the state executive council was constituted under the state’s commissioner of Justice, Barrister Ahmed El-Marzuq, which reviewed and set modalities for the commission of enquiry.
El-Marzuq told newsmen after one of their meetings that government has resolved to constitute a commission of inquiry with the mandate to recover alleged  funds. He listed the monies to include  N33.3 billion to be recovered, just as  N999 million  will also be returned to the state treasury by officials of the State Primary Education Board that served between 2011 and 2015.
When last week Masari was inaugurating the commission he made it clear that his  decision to set up it was informed by the alarming denial on the part of the former government of any wrongdoing. “It is not our intension to set up the commission but the previous administration refused to give us explanations on the missing funds. We are not investigating on how contracts were awarded but how the money was removed from government treasury illegally,” he said.
According to Masari, there are some mistakes that can be forgiven, “but N70 billion is a huge amount of money that we cannot overlook.”
However, the state Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party Salisu Majigiri described the Masari’s recent action as ‘diversionary tactics’ from real issues on the part of the ruling APC government in the state, as the immediate-past PDP administration followed due processes in all its financial transactions. According to him, there is no truth in the allegations, saying that the only missing money withdrawn cash from the treasury were under the eyes of the incumbent governor Aminu Masari. He listed the alleged withdrawals to include 589 million naira for last Ramadan feeding, 500 million naira in the name of security, the 11.8 billion naira bailout for pension gratuity, out of which only 800 million was believed to have been expended, he said.
“It will be of great service to the people of Katsina if the commission can find out the whereabouts of over 100 billion naira received from federation account by the Masari administration, with no project on ground to show for it,” Majigiri said.
For other stakeholders, the ongoing probe is unnecessarily dragging on. The state chairman of National Conscience Party (NCP) Abdulmumin Sani believes that if Masari is serious about the recovery, by now with over nine months gone, something tangible ought to have been recovered. He advised the governor to stop wasting state funds on unwanted committees that are duplications, and should hand over all the petitions to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to facilitate recovery.
“Government-constituted, official channels are there, and can do all this work with no cost to the state, but all those serving in the committees are to be paid allowances and so on,” Sani said, adding that it is a waste of taxpayers’ money and time.
Sani added: “This year the state budgeted about 110 billion and then we are now hearing that about 70 billion was siphoned. If we can have a commission that can help us get back the money, then that is good.” According to him: “We need it because it shows transparency and all those involved are brought to book, and curtail future occurrences of similar things.”
Although the chairman of the commission, Justice Muhammadu Siraj, had promised to be fair and just to all parties, many believe that his mission will fail, given the penchant of those affected of approaching courts of law to frustrate the process.
Shema – and the PDP – through a lawyer, Wole Olanipekun (SAN), had in the past requested the intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari to caution the Katsina State Government over the allegations of financial impropriety.  
 Olanipekun’s complaint in the letter to the president stated that the allegations of misappropriation were calculated to tarnish his achievements, which were “locally and globally applauded during his tenure as governor of Katsina State.” He explained that the Katsina State government under Shema was the only state in Nigeria that paid workers salaries up to May, 2015 when it handed over, adding that the government left excess of four billion naira in its coffers.
Now that the commission is about to begin proceedings, with three months to submit a report, already a counsel of Liman Liman has been drafted in to see to the anticipated litigation that may arise in the discharge of their work. Unfolding events point to the fact that there may not be an end to the Masari-Shema feud anytime soon.
 

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