The discovery of alleged secret spending of a hidden N4.3b in the account of Ondo State Government has further exposed the faceoff between Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu and the Deputy Governor, Ajayi Agboola, reports Osagie Otabor in Akure
FOR the past few months, lawmakers in Ondo State House of Assembly have been having a cold war with Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu. It was a war that refused to blow in the open because the Assembly is dominated by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Moreover, many of the lawmakers loyal to the Deputy Governor, Hon Ajayi Agboola, are not happy about the situation.
Agboola and Akeredolu are currently not on the same page politically. But the sudden appearance of Agboola at a public event last Monday after being absent for many weeks sent tongues wagging on whether the Deputy Governor has abandoned his followers. The public show of the Deputy Governor at an event where the Governor was giving update on the fight against COVID-19 happened three days after the lawmakers vowed to commence probe into how N4.3bn kept in a Zenith Bank account for over 10 years was expended without their knowledge.
It was gathered that the lawmakers became aware of the hidden N4.3bn when the Accountant-General of the state, Mr. Laolu Akindolire, submitted the 2019 audit report to the House Committee on Public Accounts. It was contained under item 4.0 titled, “Revenue Recovery from Zenith Bank.”
However, it was when the Ondo Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Wale Akinterinwa, appeared before the lawmakers to brief them on how the N30bn bond approved by the House was accessed and spent by the executive arm that they raised the issue of recovery fund from Zenith Bank as contained in the audit report.
The lawmakers has said that the money was lodged in the bank without due process and resolved to probe the financial transaction by asking Akinterinwa to furnish the Public Accounts Committee of the House with all necessary documents. They vowed to invoke their constitutional power to unravel the circumstances of keeping the money secretly in the bank for over 10 years as well as withdrawal and spending of the money by Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu administration without being appropriated for.
Chairman, House Committee on Finance and Appropriation, Sunday Olajide, said it was not meant to witch-hunt anybody but entrench transparency and accountability into government business.
House Committee Chairman on Public Accounts, Ademola Edamisan, told newsmen the House would get to the root of the matter
Edamisan noted that since the N4.3billion has been in a fixed account for over 10 years, the House was interested in the interests that the money must have been generated for over 10 years.
He said, “They (executive) claimed they have recovered N4.3 billion from the money but the committee is keenly interested in the actual interest generated for over 10 years and we requested for a comprehensive details of the account.
“The committee is interested in full details on how the account is being operated over the years, who authorised the opening of the account, who are the signatories and when was the account opened?
“We hope the commissioner and the Accountant-General will come out with the comprehensive details of the account, so we will be able to calculate the cost running interest so far in the account.
“The committee discovered after a thorough investigation that the said money has been transferred from the initial account in Zenith Bank to another six different state government bank accounts in less than five months from period of February to June 2018.”
Investigation has revealed that the N4.3bn was monthly allocation meant for the 18 local government councils during the administration of late Olusegun Agagu. The money was said to be an initial deposit of N2.9bn that was left there until it was found in 2018 by Akinterinwa.
Sources said the money was first injected in the 2018 supplementary budget and later rolled over to the 2019 budget under cash reserve/roll over fund which was passed into law by the 8th Assembly.
It was learnt that five lawmakers loyal to the Deputy Governor were fingered to be the arrow head behind pushing for further probe of the fund. The push to probe the fund by the lawmakers was seen by Akeredolu’s men as the handiwork of the Deputy Governor.
But a lawmaker who pleaded anonymity said it was a way for them to get back at Akeredolu for not giving them official vehicles more than 10 months after they were sworn in. The lawmaker said they have abandoned their hallow chamber for many months because it needs renovation which made them to observe plenary at the Assembly library. Akeredolu was also accused of not taking care of the lawmakers.
Some government officials however said the governor would not succumb to any blackmail by the lawmakers over the N4.3bn even as they fingered the Deputy Governor as backing the five lawmakers to push for further probe.
According to the source, the lawmakers failed to check properly to see that the money has been appropriated since 2019.
“The governor is not bothered at all. The money was properly appropriated for. I know the lawmakers cannot use it to blackmail the governor or bring the issue of official vehicles. It will not work.
“We know who is behind all this. The deputy governor has been meeting with some of the lawmakers and they are five of them. It was first a snake saga at the hallow chamber which turned out to be a hoax
“This N4.3b was another false alarm to blackmail the governor to buy them cars. They are the cause why they have not gotten official vehicles. The governor wanted to buy 2019 Toyota Camry or Kia but they insisted on SUV. Even when the governor agreed, they brought inflated invoices. You can see that the Speaker’s revelation of an unnamed third force means they are pliable”.
It was gathered that the leadership of the Ondo APC waded into the matter to avoid further faceoff between the Executive and Legislature so that it would not affect the party’s chances at the governorship election.
In a statement, Akinterinwa insisted that the money was appropriated for in the 2019 budget, stating that there was nothing to hide about the fund even as he maintained that no consultant was hired in the course of retrieving the fund as being speculated, hence payment of any amount of money as consultancy charge does not arise.
Chairman, House Committee on Information, Hon. Olugbenga Omole, in a press statement, denied speculations that the Assembly has commenced impeachment proceedings against Governor Akeredolu over the N4.3b secret cash. Omole said they have robust relationship with the Executive arm of government and that the speculation was to cause disaffection between the two arms of government.
Some political analysts have predicted that it would not take long before the lawmakers and Akeredolu engage in open fracas. In his usual style, the Deputy Governor could not be reached for comments.