Last week Friday concerned Nigerians and followers of the controversial N20 billion Kogi workers’ bailout fund were told that the fund has been returned to the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Many have spoken on the implication of returning money that would have alleviated the plight of workers in Kogi State.
Majority have tagged the government narrative a ‘cock and bull’ story spanning the period of seven months.
The mystery behind the Kogi State workers’ N20 billion has continued to shock analysts given the circumstances under which such a humongous amount of money was hidden in a Sterling bank account amid state workers’ misery, poverty and anguish.
Recall that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), one of Nigeria’s anti-graft agencies blew the lid open that the sum of N20 billion workers’ bailout fund, released to the Kogi State government by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was kept in an interest yielding account number 0073772696 domiciled in a Sterling Bank.
The revelation led to denials and media theatrics and claims of the non-existence of such funds by those involved.
The EFCC in a 13-paragraph affidavit earlier deposed to by a member of the team of investigators had through relevant provisions in the Act that establishes it approached Justice Tijani Garba Ringim to freeze the account since the funds were not used for the purpose they were disbursed.
Now, after seven months of legal battle, the EFCC has secured a return of N19.33 billion Kogi State Salary bailout funds.
The development was confirmed by the Spokesperson of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr Wilson Uwujaren in a statement.
Part of the statement said: “The EFCC had earlier withdrawn its suit seeking the forfeiture of the N20 billion bailout funds granted to Kogi State government by Sterling Bank.
“The return of the money to CBN would effectively put to rest the campaign of misinformation and unconscionable denials by Kogi State government that no funds were recovered from its bailout account.”
But speaking on Tuesday, the Executive Director of a popular Kogi based non-governmental organization, Initiative for Grassroot Advancement (INGRA), Comrade Hamza Aliyu said the kind of government in place in Kogi State since 2016 cannot be trusted.
He said the state workers’ audit which was carried out between 2016 and 2017 was targeted at sacking workers who would have benefitted from the bailout funds of N50.8 billion approved by the Central Bank of Nigeria for State and Local government employees during the previous administration of Idris Wada before Yahaya Bello inherited the funds.
Aliyu maintained that three institutions cannot be wrong even as the Kogi State government has continued to deny the existence of such funds domiciled in Sterling Bank.
He said: “Kogi State cannot be trusted. The audit which was carried out in 2016 and 2017 was meant to deny workers of bailout funds which has been approved before the administration of Yahaya Bello.
“Three institutions, that’s the EFCC, Court and the Central Bank of Nigeria cannot be wrong in the circumstances. My people said, in every smoke, there is a fire.
“The amount of money Kogi State government was accused of was weighty and instead of Kogi which claimed that such did not exist to go to Court, they were busy ranting on pages of newspapers.
“The EFCC is an investigative institution, and I believe it would not have approached the Court without evidence and since April till date, Kogi hasn’t proven the anti-graft agency wrong. Kogi State government is not only guilty and liable but corrupt and irresponsible.”
Meanwhile, a letter dated November 9, by the Central Bank of Nigeria which was addressed to the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, confirmed that the sum of N19,333,333,333.36 has been returned to its vault by Sterling Bank PLC as proceeds in the name of Kogi State Workers’ Salary account number, 0073772696.
The CBN’s confirmation letter was in response to EFCC’s letter of inquiry dated November 5, 2021, Ref. No. CR:3000/EFCC/LS/CMU/REC-STE/VOL.4/047 asking the anti-graft agency to furnish it with details of the funds in compliance with the October 15,.2021 order of a Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos.
As anger continues to trail the return of the bailout funds, a female teacher in one of Kogi State-owned Secondary Schools in Ogaminana in the Central Senatorial district who pleaded anonymity lamented the plight of workers.
She spoke that she is on level 12 step 6 and gets between N17,600 and sometimes N16,000 as monthly salary.
According to her, no teacher was a happy person at the state and Local Governments’ level, stressing that when the controversial workers’ N20 billion bailout fund was made public in the press, they recalled how workers expected the intervention without any news at that time.
Also, a social critic, Comrade Austin Usman Okai lamented that the development has deepened Kogi workers’ woes, recalling that the funds were originally meant for payment of arrears of State and Local Government workers.
He said, former governor Idris Wada’s administration worked out the funds to the tune of N50.8 billion with State workers having 40%, while LG workers have 60%, adding that the CBN approved the amount, but delayed releasing it for political reasons.
He explained that the denial of the returned funds by agents of Yahaya Bello administration was criminal, particularly that every Kogite knew the history of that money, that it was part of the N50.8 billion bailout fund meant to offset workers’ salaries which to a large extent, the previous administration which applied for the funds had collated particulars of the workers before it abruptly left office.
Okai described Yahaya Bello as ‘Lord of the manor’, who cannot be questioned, a situation he said has brought governance in the State, “next to nothing”.
In his words: “Teachers on level 9 to 10 get N3,000 to N9000 monthly, depending on the mood of the governor in that month.
“The Nigeria Labour Congress cannot talk, nobody can question Bello.
“Even the Central Bank of Nigeria knew that they can’t prosecute Bello for now for not utilising the funds that were released to him.
“As we speak, Kogi State House of Assembly are on, doing the hatchet job and so Kogi State is in mess for now.
Speaking on the way forward, he said they were engaging the EFCC to investigate the State further as he believes the bailout scandal was the ‘tip of the iceberg.’
He further appealed to workers to be patient, given that they were on the losing side of life for now, but expressed hope that there was always another day for them to be wriggled out of the logjam they have found themselves.