Govs’ forum tackles EFCC over frozen Benue accounts

The Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, Abdulaziz Yari, on Wednesday, said it was unconstitutional for the EFCC to freeze the account of any state government.

Yari, who is also the Zamfara State Governor, said this in an interview with State House correspondents at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

He was reacting to the decision of the EFCC to freeze the accounts of the Benue State Government.

The governor said it was unfair to hinder a state like Benue that is facing security challenges from getting access to money.

He said although he was not privy to the reason behind the anti-graft body’s position, the decision was wrong.

The governor expressed the belief that the Federal Government would take a position on it, the same way it quickly addressed the invasion of the National Assembly by security agents.

Yari said, “The freezing of accounts of any state government, whether Benue or anywhere, is unconstitutional and is not right. That is shutting down the government.

“The government must spend, most especially Benue that is facing insecurity challenges.”

The NGF chairman said he did not know why the EFCC froze the accounts of the Benue State government but vowed that if it was discovered that the commission acted illegally, the leadership would be disciplined like that of the Department of State Services.

Yari added, “Well, we don’t know why the EFCC took the action. But if indeed EFCC did so, from my point of view, it is wrong.

“This government will not sit down and oversee unlawful operation from security agencies. From what happened yesterday, (Daura’s sacking), everyone can understand that this government is following due process and the laws of Nigeria.

“For one to just send security agencies to shut down the National Assembly, and the action that followed, that is what gave credit to this government by the local and international communities.

“A similar thing had happened in 2011 and 2014 respectively, but nothing was done about it. This time round, the government said enough is enough

“The government of Muhammadu Buhari is following due process and will never oversee an unlawful activity by any security agency. So in the case of Benue, I believe something must be done.”

The Benue State Government has also accused the commission of freezing five bank accounts.

The action was a sequel to a report by the EFCC accusing the governor of diverting N22bn from the state’s accounts between 2015 and 2018.

The Benue State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mike Gusa, when contacted on the phone, confirmed the freezing of the state accounts but said the state government had gone ahead to challenge the case in court.

“Yes, I am aware of the development but right now I am in Abuja but let me tell you that we have gone to court to challenge it.”

In a statement issued by the Chief Press Secretary to Benue State Governor, Mr Terver Akase, the government confirmed the freezing of the accounts, describing the action as a political witch-hunt.

He said, “Yes, it is true that accounts of the Benue State Government have been frozen by the EFCC. It is part of the political witch-hunt against Governor Samuel Ortom. The action of the EFCC is already having a negative impact on the running of government in Benue State.

“It is a move that will affect salaries, pensions and other sundry payments.

“The question we are asking is; why did the EFCC not investigate the governor’s security votes when he was still a member of the APC? Why start the investigation now?

“The EFCC should not allow itself to be used as an attack dog unleashed against perceived political opponents.

“Benue has suffered heavy attacks by Fulani herdsmen since the beginning of the year. Within the period, the state government has spent a lot to legitimately support security agencies to protect the people of the state. Governor Ortom has not diverted funds. He runs a transparent administration.”

In its reaction, the Peoples Democratic Party asked Buhari to immediately order the unfreezing of the official accounts of Benue State.

It said that the action was a direct attack on innocent Nigerians in the state.

The PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity, Mr kola Ologbondiyan, in Abuja on Tuesday, described the freezing as illegal, unconstitutional, overtly wicked and that it could not be justified under any guise within the clear dictates and contemplation of the nation’s laws and practice as a nation.

He said, “The PDP rejects the action of the Federal Government and counsels the Buhari Presidency not to hide under the EFCC to unleash punishment and hardship on the people in states perceived to be averse to his 2019 re-election bid.

“In illegally blocking the flow of funds to these states, the All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government has ostensibly commenced a reprehensible design of using economic deprivation as a political tool to arm-twist governors and states to support President Buhari’s re-election in 2019.

“The APC has been seeking ways to subjugate Nigerians, for which it has now resorted to subjecting millions of compatriots already impoverished by the misrule of the Buhari administration, to face more hardship by seizing funds legally belonging to them.”

He said that apart from its state Assembly, no other government body or institution had the powers of appropriation or restrictions on any funds belonging to the state.

Ologbondiyan urged Nigerians to stand up and resist what he called a dangerous trend introduced by what he described as the desperate APC to subjugate Nigerians, for which he said Benue state “is now being used to test the will of the people in this direction.

Efforts to speak with the spokesman for the EFCC, Mr Wilson Uwujaren, on Wednesday, proved abortive as his telephone indicated that it was switched off for several hours.

However, a source at the commission denied the allegation, accusing the state governments of lying.

He said, “We did not freeze any account. It is true that we are probing the two states but we haven’t frozen their accounts. They are just trying to attract public sympathy in order to intimidate us but we will not be deterred.”

Meanwhile, 22 members of the Benue State House of Assembly on Wednesday took over the assembly complex.

The move was a sequel to the withdrawal of policemen from the assembly complex.

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