A TAX MASTER UNDER PROBE

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ICPC and other crime investigation agencies of the Federal Government intensify investigation and study of a whistle blowers account of how Oseni Yakubu, Executive Chairman of Kogi State Internal Revenue Service and David Edward Onoja, Chief of Staff to Governor of Kogi State allegedly laundered over N3 billion state funds in Kogi state.

Ibrahim Magu, Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC,felt a sense of accomplishment last week when he addressed the press at a forum in Abuja onSeptember 12. He made startling revelations on how the whistle blowing policy of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration is assisting EFCC and other crime fighting agencies to recover stolen  funds. Describing the policy as revolutionary, Magu explained that  “the whistleblowing policy is designed to encourage citizens to volunteer information that could lead to the recovery of stolen funds in return for a token pay out, not more than five per cent of the total recovered sum, as incentive’’.

Magu explained that “at the level of EFCC, the lead anti-corruption agency in Nigeria, funds recovered through information provided by whistle blowers  is as follows: N527, 463, 500; $53, 222, 747; £122, 890 and €547,730.” Figures released later by the former Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun at the event showed that the Federal  Government  has realised more from various efforts of economic crime fighting agencies,as at May this year 2018. The figures were given as‘’ N7.8billion, $278million and £27, 800’’.

Magu assured that in the fight against corruption, the Commission, as a creation of the law, will continue to act within the ambit of the law and that the commission will continue to be politically neutral in its operations. He further hinted about what is to come.‘’We will go after anybody or institution that we sufficiently believe to have a case to answer’’.

The EFCC is not the only crime fighting agency chasing criminals around. The Police and the ICPC are deeply involved also and have indeed been canvasing support of the public through the whistle blowing policy. The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) introduced a mobile application called “wahaladey” that will create a link between the general public and the anti-graft agency in order to enhance whistle blowing in Nigeria. The App is available on windows mobile phones, android mobiles and blackberry devices, and can be downloaded by users at no cost.

“The App (WahalaDey) is in-line with the commission’s drive towards harnessing technological solutions to fighting corruption in Nigeria,” said Ekpo Nta, former chairman of the anti-graft agency.“We champion the provision of technological solutions to corruption, one of which is the recently launched e-portal pssp.gov.ng for greater transparency and accountability in Nigeria’s ports sector.”

According to Nta, the app will aid unknown whistle blowing for corrupt practices happening within government agencies and parastatals, as well as the private sectors. He urged the public to join hands with the commission.

Last year, the Executive Secretary of the Presidential Advisory Council Against Corruption (PACAC) and President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointee as chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Professor Bolaji Owasanye, said that Nigerians have the duty to report crimes and corrupt activities around them, stating that failure to do so would amount to disregard for the law.

The conference, which has facilitators from Kent Law School at the University of Kent, and sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation with the Institute of International Education (IIE), had Mr. Owasanye talking about ‘Law and Practices of the Whistle Blower Policy of Nigeria; Scope of Citizen’s Participation’.

In his address, Owasanye said the citizens have the responsibility to hold the government accountable and to put pressure on government officials so that they will always do the right things. “Citizens have a duty to report crimes. If citizens don’t report crimes, law enforcement agencies cannot do their job very well because they need the information the people have. The duty is both moral and legal. It enhances rule of law. It enhances security,” said Mr. Owasanye.

He went further to state that corruption is the cause of many of the social and economic challenges Nigeria is currently facing. Hence, he opined that the people must join the government in fighting corruption because the government cannot combat the challenge alone.

He said; “The public has a duty to constantly put pressure on the government. Every government all over the word is compromised. If you report someone who is very far to the seat of power, quick action will be taken. If you report someone who is very close to the seat of power, there will be dilatory tactics. It is the public pressure that will make sure that something happens.”

He cited some provisions that empower the people in acting as whistleblowers; “the ICPC Act section 23, Code of Corporate Governance for Banks, Investment and Security Act of 2007 (section 26(3), Terrorism Prevention Act (Section 14 (1), Public Procurement Act 13 (b)(2), Government Regulation 409.”

Owasanye reiterated that any citizen that shields wrongdoings and criminal activities is breaking the law and obstructing law enforcement agencies from carrying out their responsibilities. Adding that without the whistle blower policy, Nigerians have the statutory responsibility to report crimes.

Since the whistle blowing policy came into force, the ICPC has been on the loose, peeping into finances and accounts of Federaland state agencies. Attention and discrete investigation by the agency has also been targeted at government employees suspected to be involved in fraud, mismanagement of public funds and other forms of corrupt practices.

In the count down to 2019 general election, crime fighting agencies are also beaming searchlight on emerging billionaires who, after serving government within short periods suddenly jump to contest elections with looted funds. This realisation and strong suspicion appears to have been the key reason why officials of the ICPC are looking into the financial books of the kogi state Internal Revenue Service(KSIRS),an agency that claims to be generating over N1 billion monthly income for the state government.

There are strong indications that the ICPC will soon come up with shocking revelations. The commission is receiving regular information support from Nusa Suleiman, Managing Director/CEO of Sumotech Global Resources Limited. Suleiman is also an apostle of the whistle blowing policy of the Federal Government.

For the on-going investigation inKogi state, the biggest targets are two key officials of the state government.   They are: Oseni Yakubu, Executive Chairman of kogi state Internal Revenue Service(KSIRS) and David Edward Onoja, Chief of Staff to Governor Bello of Kogi state. The two are among personalities currently facing investigation on account of a petition from Suleiman, the whistle blower. Yakubu is into active politics now and has joined the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress,APC. Widely regarded as the governors preferred candidate for Kogi Central Senatorial election, Yakubu who described himself arrogantly at a press forum in Lokoja recently, as ‘not a poor man’, currently moves around in fleet of cars during campaigns to pick the ticket of the party for the election.

Verbatim learnt that the investigations in Kogi started since 2017.Presently it is believed to have expanded to include focus on not only other officials of the Kogi state government but also their perceived collaborators and fronts in Banks and contract executing companies.

The ICPC which is one of the lead agencies carrying out the investigation in Kogi state at present is immensely being aided by information supplied by Nusa Suleiman, Managing Director/CEO of Sumotech Global Resources Limited. The company, whose head office is in Abuja, also has an office in Lokoja, the Kogi State Capital.

In a letter which he submitted  at the office of the Acting Chairman of ICPC on August 27, 2018,last month, Suleiman revealed that he has earlier been invited by the Financial Investigation Unit (FIU) of the ICPC  to make submissions.  Suleiman made grave allegations against Yakubu and Onoja.

Among the allegations by Suleiman is that the two key officials of the Kogi state government, have in the course of their duties, laundered “the sum of Three Billion Naira(N3,000,000,000.00) being tax audit liability(haulage fees on cement production) paid by Dangote cement to Kogi state IGR Special Revenue Account” in Skye Bank.

Suleiman also alleged that the account in Skye bank was provided byKogi State Internal Revenue Service as contained in a letter dated 6th December, 2016. The said account was also alleged tohave been forwarded to Dangote cement in a letter with Ref: KGS/IRS/PIT/VOL.1/706 dated 21st of December, 2016 for payment of haulage fees tax liability.

Suleiman told the ICPC that the money was indeed paid by Dangote Cement but that “Unfortunately the above mention Three Billion Naira (N3, 000,000,000.00) was diverted by Alh. Oseni Yakubu into Nine (9) different accounts’’. The banks were listed as First City monument Bank with account number 0431486029, Eco Bank Plc, with account number 0057904831, First Bank Plc with account number 2017770110 and Union Bank Plc with account number 0025013646.

The other banks were also named toinclude United Bank of Africa, with account number1015503782, two Zenith Bank Plc accounts, with account numbers, 1130071472 and 4030014272 as well as Unity Bank Plc with account number 0018496916 and Access Bank Plc with account number 0709993397

Suleiman, the whistle blower further told the ICPC investigating agents that“funds  were also laundered from Eco bank Plc Account-2882050558, Zenith Bank Plc Account-1012670779 and 1130020035, Kogi savings and loans account-1751069541, 1751069383 and Skye bank Account-1751069280 respectively’’.

Making further revelations, Suleiman said: ‘’I have also discovered a multi-billion Naira property purchased by the chairman of Kogi State Internal Revenue Service (Alh. Oseni Yakubu)’’. He alleged that the said house which he described as a palatial edifice is located at No.1MagajiMuazu Crescent, off Patrick Yakowa Road, Katampe Abuja. He attached a photograph of the said property,in his letter to the ICPC.

In his conclusion, Suleiman asked for payment of what he considered as his due for the whistle blowing job. ‘’It is hoped that the discoveries will immensely assist and ease your investigation to enable me earn my 25% commission agreed with the Kogi State Government during my engagement as the consultant on solid mineral Revenue generation which resulted in the payment of Three Billion Naira (N3, 000,000,000.00) and other sum of revenue generated into the State Government coffers from Mining Companies in the State within the period of our engagement” he said.

The Kogi Stage Internal Revenue Services, KGIRS, has however debunked the allegation that the Chairman and the organization diverted N3billion meant to be remitted to the coffers of the state government. Describing the allegation as baseless, misleading and lacking in substance, Hassanat Salihu, Head of Administration and Corporate Services, said in a statement that the monthly IGRof the state has never exceeded N1billion at any point in time and wondered how the agency head oranybody can now divert N3 billion.

She described the reportas politically motivated, coming at a time the chairman of the board indicated interest to contest for the Senate seat of Kogi Central District.

In a further attempt to debunk the allegation, she said:  “Our task in this organization is just to collect andcollate the revenue of the state via the banks. We operate cashlesspolicy. The chairman of the agency accused to have issued directivefor the said cash diversion is not even signatory to the accounts.Money paid into this accounts are channelled through E- transactbefore hitting the state government account. Only the state government are signatory to the accounts’’.

She stated thatwhat accrues to the organization is merely a 10 percent commission of total monthly collections and that the commission is used to pay staff salaries and other overhead costs.

Soon after the official reaction from the KSIRS, Oseni Yakubu, the Executive Chairman, also took time to respond to the allegation. Speaking on “Kogi Peace Talk” personality programme of the Confluence Radio in Lokoja, Yakubudismissed the allegation that he diverted state’sfunds to acquire property in a highbrow area of Abuja.

He described the allegation that he embezzled state’s funds as unfounded, adding  that the allegations  are being made up bymischief makers who are intimidated by his rising profile.He called on the good people of Kogi State to disregard the allegation as rumourmaking the rounds that he siphoned revenue from Dangote Group of Companies to his personal account.

Yakubu stated that it was currently impossible forany individual to siphon money from any organization in the midst ofthe economic crisis ravaging all the sectors of the country’s economy.He said: “Our detractors are in anguish because we have excelled wherethey could not make headway. The board under their party, the Peoples’Democratic Party (PDP) could only generate N300m to the State coffers.But today we have overhauled and sanitized the board and we can nowremit over N1bn to the government’’. His admission that the agency remits over N1billion to the state contradicts earlier statement by the spokesperson, that the agency has never realised above N1 billion before.

Speaking further, he said: “Mischief is expected. When there was excess flow of cash from crudeoil proceeds to states, they misappropriated it and left the state inpenury. They thought it is the same thing with this administration.How could huge amount be stolen when the state is surviving with leanresources?”

He further added that no knowledgeable individual would even believesuch allegations that a company as big as Dangote will not pay taxinto government accounts, saying necessary tax documentations bymulti-national companies are difficult to manipulate.”I didn’t assume this office as a poor man. I want to believe thatthose peddling this kind of rumour are idle people who want to rubbishmy image and good works. I advise them to get busy with their lives and stop making mischief.

Intelligent people will never believe cheaplies. The New Direction Government has done quite much through theBoard of Internal Revenue Service.

By press time last week, Verbatim editors who travelled to Lokoja with a view to further obtain clarification on Yakubu and Chief of Staff to the State Governor, were unsuccessful. Both officials were said to have travelled out of the state and will not be willing to engage in interviews on the subject.

 

 

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