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In Sokoto, ghosts of government’s past return

But it is now largely a failed move. Only the goalpost has shifted. Rather than curbing theft, the joint account has now become a sort…

But it is now largely a failed move. Only the goalpost has shifted. Rather than curbing theft, the joint account has now become a sort of pool from where state governors have money to dispense patronage to their cronies and underlings, fund their political campaigns and that of their party members and provide extra cash for their personal usage that has come to look like their pocket monies. The local governments have been reduced to beggars who must go cap in hand to state governors to access funds which belong to them in the first place.

It used to be that such charges were dismissed as mere allegations, notably by the state governors themselves, but revelations coming from Sokoto State and investigations by Weekly Trust prove the substance of such allegation and probably worse elsewhere in the country.

Sokoto State provides a case study of how within the span of five years, between April 2002 to May 2007, from records available with Weekly Trust, the administration of former governor Attahiru Bafarawa has failed to provide a satisfactory account of how close to six billion naira from the local government joint account has been withdrawn and used for undisclosed purposes. Other records from the state government’s withdrawals from the local government joint accounts clearly showed that the funds were diverted for use by persons and organizations other than those covered by the law setting up the joint account.

At the centre of this scandal is the former Secretary to the State Government during the period under the Bafarawa administration, Alhaji Muhammadu Maigari Dingyadi who records showed collected the sum of N6, 079,982,073.26 from the local government joint account.

A breakdown shows that at the moment N904,165,534.04 could not be properly accounted for out of the money meant for the Sokoto Emirate Council (Sultanate Council) whose funds is administered by the SSG as the custodian of the funds on behalf of the Emirate Council. Instead of N2,419,821,752.35 which is the amount due to the Emirate Council after the 3% deductions from the local government statutory allocation (by state laws) the Emirate Council got N1,515,656,218.31. What has happened to the shortfall has yet to be explained. In addition, in January 2004 the state government withdrew N292, 743,147.56 as stabilization revenue for the 23 local governments of Sokoto State using a UBA cheque no.4278535. The snag though is no reason was given for the withdrawals of such sums neither were records available to show how the money was expended.

Other expenditures were clearly done illegally as when from 2003 to 2007 N806, 607,250.79 was withdrawn from the joint account in the name of the Local Government Service Commission allegedly for staff training. But the joint account law no. 3 of 1999 did not provide for such payment which was basically a 1% consistent withdrawal from the joint account for that purpose. Even here too there are no details showing how the amounts were used.

There are direct payments from the joint account to private beneficiaries as when records show that N461, 628,597.00 was paid to a Special Adviser of Gov. Bafarawa, Alhaji Tukur Alkali for purposes that were not disclosed. This amount represents 10% of what records show were money out of the N4,616,285,970 meant for the construction and rehabilitation of various primary schools in Sokoto State.

It would appear even the bank itself has cases to answer concerning missing monies from the local government joint accounts that was lodged with them. Examination of UBA’s statement of account in respect of the local government joint account 28th June 2002 to 14th February, 2006 shows there was incomplete credit balancing on the account after the debit entries. State officials suggest the anomaly could be deliberate as sometimes the amount in the account is reduced to highly ridiculous figures that could not be attributed to computer error. Estimates suggest that the local government joint account of Sokoto State could have lost the sum of N481, 612,397.22 to the UBA as shown by their bank statement within those periods.

There were other withdrawals made from the bank without supporting payment vouchers, totaling over a billion naira. And even though the bank deducted the sum of N1,207,367,157.45 as money for loan recovery from the state’s joint account it appears there has not been a loan agreement between the ministry for local government and the bank to support the transaction, officials say.

All the transactions, officials say, were made without approval neither was there evidence that the materials were supplied.

Besides this outright misplacement of priorities, other forms of recklessness were perpetrated on the joint account through the hyperinflation of the cost of purchase for drugs and hospital equipment meant for use by the local councils. The state government had made purchases of 23 ultrasound machines to the 23 local governments of Sokoto State putting the cost of each at N5, 000,000.00 with all the purchases totaling N115, 000,000.00. But officials say market survey carried out shows that one complete machine with all its components parts could not exceed N750, 000.00. The cost of the 23 items should then have been N17, 250,000.00 and not the N115, 000,000.00 that was paid, resulting in an overpayment of N97, 750,000.00 from the local government joint account.

In a related development, 46 cooling systems were bought for the 23 local governments in the state at N5, 000,000.00 each, totaling N230, 000,000.00 by Multi Trade Global Business Concept. But the market price of each item was N50,000.00 and not N5,000,000.00, thus resulting into a N227,700,000.00 overpayment from the local government joint account.

The Chief Engineer of the Department for Local Government, one Wadata Abdulrahman records also show was paid N8,223,622.65 from the local government joint account for the alleged purchase of iron sheets even though he was not a contractor but a staff of the department. Payments were made to him, officials say, without supporting documents. Also, the Sokoto State Director of Press, Mustapha Shehu was paid N6,969,000.00 from the local government joint account on cheque no.7065741 for alleged payments to some national dailies used by the 23 local governments of Sokoto State to congratulate Gov. Bafarawa for his clearance by the EFCC and to congratulate him on his 52 birthday. This was clearly personal expenditures for the governor with no relation to the purpose of setting up the joint account for the local councils. In addition, officials say, no receipts were attached to the payment vouchers to prove that the funds were actually used for the said purposes. Another payment of N22,260,000.00 was made to one Champion Multimedia Company Ltd on 31st July 2006 with payment voucher no. MLG/CD/S/2006 vides cheque no.8080196 to highlight the activities of the 23 local councils. But officials say that till date the Ministry for Local Government could not produce the receipt showing that the said media coverage ever took place.

There were equally strings of controversial withdrawals from the joint account by one Senator Salihu Bakwai who was the chairman of the Education Resuscitation Committee, a committee with the mandate to revive the collapsing education infrastructures in the local councils. Bank statements show he made a N25, 000,000.00 withdrawals from the committees account no. 002-900700-00271 at the UBA without payment vouchers and specifying the purpose for the withdrawals. The same person alleged he paid one Madarasatul Adiya Al-Islamiyya school the sum of N19, 000,000.00 on payment voucher no. S&LGERC/COMM/OC//2006 of 30th May, 2006. But there was neither approval to him for the payments; neither were there receipts to show that the school actually received the said amount. The same Senator Bakwai, records show, made a withdrawal of N29, 200,000.00 from the account of the Education Resuscitation Committee for the purchase of vehicles. Even though records show he got the approval of the governor, payment was done to him on 2nd March, 2007 while the approval came five days later on 7th March, 2007. In addition, the evidence from cheques shows that payment was made in his name (Senator Salihu Bakwai). Also on 11th April, 2007 another sum of N89, 000,000.00 was paid to Senator Bakwai with payment voucher No. S/&LGERC/COMM/OC//2007 for purposes that were not specified. While the withdrawal from the account was made on 4th of April, 2007 vide cheque no.12632969, the approval from Gov. Bafarawa came on the 11th of the same month, seven days after the money was withdrawn from the account, clearly flouting financial regulation. Another N29, 005,000.00 was made from the education committee’s account no. 0029007000027-1 without payment vouchers to specify what the monies were meant for.

It was not only the local councils’ education sector that was pillaged. The health sector, apart from the hyperinflation of the money used to buy the ultrasound machines was ripped off through the monies meant for the purchase of drugs for hospitals and clinics. Records show that the sum of N248,605,850.00 was paid to Munasal Ltd of No. 10, Hong Avenue, Off Governor’s Road, Kaduna on payment voucher No. DLGA/CD/S/026 on the 8th of March, 2004 vide cheque No.428780 and on payment voucher No. MLG/CD/CA/S/091/2004 vide cheque No.06222825 for the supply of essential drugs to the 23 local councils in the Sokoto State. Gov. Bafarawa’s approval was granted on 5th March, 2004 on memo no. MLGCD/2/IND/2/C4/RPS. Market survey by state officials put the cost of the drugs at N177, 265,950.00 and not the amount paid to the company. Another company, Sassmo Global Resources Ltd located at No. 225 Victoria Island Lagos was paid N460,000,000.00 also for the purchase of drugs(Payment voucher MLG/CD/S/06 and MLG/CD/S/17; cheque No.8080143 and 8080170) on 2nd March, 2006 that officials say was inflated by N263,365,148.00. Gov. Bafarawa granted approval for the purchase on the 26th of April, 2006 on memo No. MLGDC/1no/204.

Basically, the local government funds were abused. Sokoto’s case might not necessarily be the worse. Who knows what other Pandora’s Box – and where – is waiting to be opened?