The former Chairman Interim Management Committee of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), Felix Akhabue, and Secretary, Chikwe Udensi, have been accused of stealing N2.5 billion out of the N3.8 billion released to the association by the federal government.
The money was said to have been released by the government for the construction of a “five star” hospital in Abuja and rehabilitation of primary healthcare centres in all the 776 local government areas.
In a petition by some concerned ALGON members, Akhabue and Udensi were alleged to have opened an “illegal” bank account without the knowledge and approval of the entire IMC board.
They were said to have “diverted” the N3.8 billion and thereafter paid out N2.5 billion to “dubious” consultants whom they claimed facilitated the release of the N3.8 billion.
But both Akhabue and Udensi denied there was misappropriation of any ALGON money, saying the allegation had no basis.
The duo said the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the National Security Adviser to the President had all investigated the allegation without finding anything against them.
The petitioners alleged that Udensi, without the knowledge and approval of the ALGON IMC, “nefariously in an unauthorised letter to the AGF substituted the unauthorised bank account for the ALGON bank account in which lodgement from source is normally made.”
According to the petitioners, “Akhabue and Udensi subsequently, without the approval of the ALGON IMC, transferred N2.5 billion on July 15, 2001 to the consultant – Impecca Services Limited”- a firm alleged to be fronting for Akhabue and Udensi.
The petitioners alleged: “This is in contravention of a Federal High Court order that constituted the Interim Management Committee of ALGON. The court order clearly stipulated that all decisions of ALGON should be made by the ALGON (10-man) IMC with at least two-third majority. This account was opened and operated in violation of the constitution of ALGON, which clearly stipulates that the Treasurer and Secretary shall be the co-signatories with the President as supervising signatory to all ALGON bank accounts.”
The accused officers were alleged to have rapidly disbursed the N2.5 billion within one week from Impecca Services’ account “in favour of the personal assistant to Udensi, John Okoro (N65 million), Chief Udensi and possibly numerous fictitious characters for the purchase of foreign currencies.”
They noted further that the disbursements were made hours before the ALGON IMC members met in Abuja on July 15, 2011 to discuss the issue of payments to consultants.
At that meeting, they alleged that Akhabue and Udensi did not disclose to the ALGON IMC board that N2.5 billion had already been paid to Impecca Services.
Besides, they alleged further that the IMC board did not authorise the appointment of Impecca Services as consultant to ALGON.
In a telephone interview with THISDAY, Udensi said: “We had been to the EFCC, ICPC and the police with the guy from America Hospital. There was even a special committee set up by the NSA to investigate the matter. Each time an investigation is concluded and we are not found guilty, this same man will start running around to another place.”
On the genesis of the so-called misappropriation, Udensi said on resumption of office, the IMC discovered, through an auditing firm that ALGON had a tax burden of N38 billion.
He said, “We then wrote to the President seeking a waiver so that we can invest the waiver in primary healthcare education, training of doctors and allied health workers. The federal government approved and gave us the waiver. The first tranche given to us was N3.8 billion and the auditors insisted we must pay them from the waiver received since they were instrumental to our getting the money. They went to court and got judgment to that effect. We approached the Attorney General who advised us to obey the court order. So we had to pay the auditors.
“In the meantime, the American Hospital, Abuja had proposed to us that we invest in the hospital and we agreed to their proposal. We then gave N1.3 billion with them. But rather than use the N1.3 billion for the purpose for which it was meant, the hospital went and used it to buy a house. We said No, you cannot use the money meant for training to buy a house. And they started writing petitions, that after all, we paid N2.5 billion to the auditors and we said the N2.5 billion is not meant for you, it was for the auditors.”
Akhabue also denied the allegation that the consultants were his fronts and that he and Udensi were merely using the company to siphon ALGON funds to private accounts.
He said, “The consultants had been working for ALGON since the past 10 years when I had never even dreamt of becoming a local government chairman. So, to say the company is a front for me is most ridiculous.”
Akhabue, who was Chairman of Esan West Local Government Council of Edo State, said the allegation was “to divert people’s attention from the N1.3 billion we gave to the American Hospital, which we do not know what they have used it for.”
He said ALGON had given the Hospital management an ultimatum of last February to show concrete evidence of what they have used the money for or be prepared to make refunds.
He hinted that ALGON might withdraw its equity participation in the hospital project and take the American Hospital to court to recover the N1.3 billion so far invested in the project.
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