BY PETER DURU, MAKURDI
Last weekend, a story broke that a mysterious snake had swallowed over N36million belonging to the Benue State office of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) in Makurdi.
While many pondered the veracity of the tale, some believed it was aimed at creating a diversion to shield a fraud.
Meanwhile, Sunday Vanguard investigations have revealed that the tale may have been designed to cover up a fraud in the Board after the immediate past Registrar, Professor Dibu Ojerinde, launched a probe into the finances of JAMB across the 36 states of the federation.
“The missing money was not swallowed by a snake contrary to the story making the rounds in the traditional and social media”, an official in the Makurdi office of JAMB, who chose to remain anonymous, said.
“I can take you round our premises and even the toilets to see if there is anything like a snake here. It was a dummy sold to the public by those responsible for what is at best a tale by moonlight.
“The truth of the matter is that we had a case of a female accounts officer who was accused of diverting M36million belonging to the Board to her personal use and tried rather ridiculously to claim that a snake swallowed the money in this office.
“I know for sure that an audit of the finances of JAMB was initiated by the immediate past Registrar, Professor Dibu Ojerinde, about two years ago and, in the course of that audit, some issues were raised concerning the funds of the Board in the state.
“When the new Registrar, Prof. Is-haq Oloyede, took over sometime in 2016, he continued with the probe and that was what led to the discovery of the disappearance of the N36million.
“I must state that what we are hearing today did not just happen; it took place before the exit of the last Registrar and it happened over a period of time.
“It took place when we were still selling scratch cards to enable prospective candidates buy our forms.
“The official at the centre of it all has been transferred to Abuja. She was moved when the discovery was made last year and she is believed to be helping in the investigation. “So it is not that a snake swallowed any money here. That tale was cooked by whoever did maybe to sell a dummy or to divert attention.
“The fraud was said to have been executed with the connivance of some cafe operators and other JAMB officials.
“But the claim that some cafe operators had been arrested for questioning over the matter is something I cannot confirm.
“And nobody can draw any conclusions until investigation is completed”.
Saying the system of buying scratch card to procure JAMB forms by candidates has since been replaced, another official at the Makurdi office said, “What we now do is to sell what we call pins in designated banks, post offices and cafés and to those who prefer to use credit card with which prospective candidates are able to access our Direct Entry and Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, UTME, forms for registration.”
Asked if the accounts officer fingered in the scam had any records of fraud, the senior official said, “I cannot really say but I can say that she was diligent in discharging her responsibilities and nothing whatsoever gave her away as a fraudulent person until this story broke out”.
When Sunday Vanguard visited a cyber cafe in Makurdi metropolis whose owner was said to have been arrested in connection with the fraud, a man, who claimed to be the manager and gave his name as Izuchkwu, confirmed that his boss was invited for questioning in Abuja about two weeks ago and was yet to return.
“I do not want to speak on the matter again because we had talked about it earlier in the week, but I learnt that my boss has been arrested over an issue that has to do with fraud in the Makurdi office of JAMB”, he said.
“But I know that he is innocent because we usually sell scratch cards and pins for JAMB and if anything went wrong in the course of the business, it will certainly not be from a cafe operator but from officials of the Board.
“We are however waiting for his return to have a clearer picture of what happened and the true position of things and why he was arrested”.
When contacted, Benue State Police Public Relations Officer, Assistant Superintendent of Police Moses Yamu, said the matter was not reported at the state Command.