By Simon Ebegbulem
BENIN—Edo State Government has uncovered $31 million allegedly siphoned from the coffers of the state during the administration of a former governor of the state and directed the Attorney-General to commence legal processes to recover same.
This was part of the decision reached at the end of the State Executive Council, SEC, meeting held in the state capital, yesterday.
Briefing the press at the end of the meeting, Commissioner for Information, Mr Louis Odion said: “There is the issue of a fraud that was discovered while turning our books. We found that the $31 million was fraudulently taken from state coffers under a past administration in state. The governor has directed the Attorney-General to commence legal action in that direction. So, in the coming days, the state government will take legal action to ensure that what was stolen from Edo State Government is recovered. When you convert $31 million to naira, it fetches you a whopping N7 billion. You can imagine what N7 billion will do in improving the human condition in Edo State.”
The commissioner, who praised some landlords and companies in the state on the level of their compliance with the land use charge, said Governor Oshiomhole asked him to convey his appreciation and gratitude to the people of Edo State as well as members of the private sector for their voluntary compliance with the Land Use Charge.
“He has asked me to single out Coca-Cola Bottling Company for voluntary compliance. I think we need to put this in context. Our challenge as a government is mounting. Every day, our citizens want government to intervene, they want schools to be built, they want roads reconstructed but the truth is that our revenue is dwindling and without deepening the tax base, we won’t be able to deliver. So, when we find corporate bodies and citizens who voluntarily comply by paying their taxes, we view them as partners in progress.
“We have also been directed to put on notice the chief executive officers, CEOs, of some companies, notably banks who have refused to remit what is due to the government. I am speaking specifically with regards to some banks that have failed to remit withholding tax to the state government,” he said.
Oroh throws light
Throwing light on the $31m fraud, Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Abdul Oroh said, “The $31 million which was stolen from the people of Edo State for the transaction was designed clearly for criminal purposes. This project was called Avrant Cement Company situated at Ekpe, near Ikpeshi in Akoko Edo Local Government Area. The company was supposed to produce cement to take advantage of the large scale deposit of limestone in that part of the state. The company was registered as Abat Cement Company Ltd and this company had three shareholders. The Abat Cement Company had 75% shares, Edo State Government had 15% shares and 10% shares were reserved for ‘other Nigerians’.
“Although Edo State Government was given only 15% share, 100% of the revenue invested in the company, $31 million, was taken from the account of Edo State Government. This money was withdrawn from the account of Edo State Government in defunct Afribank. As the money was withdrawn, construction of the company started and all the major structures were in place, 90% completed. Machines were installed but there was no other contribution from any other source for the construction and procurement of these equipments. So everything invested in that company came from Edo State Government.
“It is on record according to the shareholders agreement, those who claim to be first share holders, Abat Holdings were given 75 million shares, representing 75%. The second share holders were given 10 % and the third share holder, the Edo State Government was given 15 million shares representing 15%. The agreement was signed and a former governor signed on behalf of the shareholders. The fruit juice processing company in Ehor was established by the same administration. The cost of establishing that company was N368, 458,195 and was invested in this company by the Edo State Government. The company was owned 100% by the Edo State Government. The materials for the company were imported from England from a company at £310,000.
“The company was now sold, including the land and the three hectares pineapple farm which was also developed by the Ministry of Agriculture for N283.8 million. The company was completed and there was a test run. There was no reason to privatise it and it was sold out at a give-away price which only could have been influenced by criminal intentions. There is also the one at Ikpeshi, the Solid Mineral Processing Industry. This company which was also owned 100% by Edo State Government was established by the administration at N85 million. This company was sold to a company called Copex Solid Mineral Processing Company owned by the then Deputy Governor for N56 million.”