By Olawale Olaleye and Jaiyeola Andrews

 


The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is set to widen the scope of its investigations into the tenure of the immediate past Bayelsa State governor, Chief Timipreye Sylva, who is currently facing a six-count criminal charge of money laundering and advance fee fraud, totalling N6.5 billion.

Timipre-Sylva

Former Bayelsa State governor, Chief Timipreye Sylva

The move, THISDAY gathered Saturday, followed the submission of the report of an 11-man Bayelsa State Financial Mana-gement Review Committee to the anti-graft agency by the state government.

The committee, headed by former presidential adviser on the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme, Mr. Timi Alaibe, had indicted Sylva of mismanaging about N660.45 billion his administration received from the Federation Account from 2007 to 2011.

A source confirmed that Sylva’s successor, Hon. Seriake Dickson, has forwarded the Alaibe report to the EFCC to assist it in getting to the root of the allegations of looting and mismanagement of public funds during his predecessor’s tenure.
Dickson, in Lagos yesterday, however, denied that he was on a vendetta against Sylva saga, just as he canvassed the devolution of powers by the federal government to other tiers of government.

He said that by decentralising power, it will pave the out of the brewing crisis over plans to remove the immunity clause from the constitution through the ongoing amendment process.

The Alaibe report, submitted to Dickson on April 2,  noted that the Sylva administration spent public funds without supporting documents, adding that ‘Security’ and ‘Government House Emergency Expenses’ sub-heads were used to siphon money from the treasury.

According to the report, the Sylva administration allegedly spent N3.3 billion in 2010; N10.3 billion in 2011 and N3.87 billion in two months (January and February 2012) on security in a “state where there is no war.”

The source said based on the findings contained in the report, the present state government was able to bring down its wage bill from N6 billion to N3 billion a month.

Already, Dickson has ordered the arrest of government officials involved in the ghost workers’ syndrome, which was responsible for the state’s over-bloated wage bill in the previous administration, the source revealed.

The governor, he added, would order more arrests of indicted officials after he returns from a trip to South Africa this week.

The source further disclosed that owing to the noose tightening around Sylva’s neck, the former governor had reached out to some of his former colleagues, particularly those from the south-south, to intercede on his behalf to stave further investigations into his tenure.

He said the former governor had urged his former colleagues to plead with President Goodluck Jonathan, who is regarded as Dickson’s political godfather, to prevail on the Bayelsa governor not to release damaging information on his (Sylva) stewardship.

The EFCC on February 24 had filed a six-count criminal charge of money laundering and advance fee fraud against Sylva before the Federal High Court, Abuja.

In the suit filed by the EFCC counsel, Mr. Festus Keyamo, the commission accused the former governor of conspiring to convert property and resources amounting to N2 billion, belonging to the state to personal use.

He was also accused of fraudulently inducing Union Bank of Nigeria Plc to deliver N2 billion to the state government under the pretext that the money would be used to augment salaries of government workers.

Following his non-appearance in court to face trial, the EFCC on April 2, approached the court for an order of substituted service. Based on the request, the court ordered the EFCC to serve the charge and other processes on Sylva by pasting all the documents relating to the charge at his Abuja residence.

Calls to the phones of EFCC spokesman, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren and Sylva’s media aide, Doife Ola, did not go through. Neither of them also replied the text messages sent to them on the matter.

Dickson, at an interactive session with reporters in Lagos, dismissed insinuations that he was persecuting Sylva, stating that his major preoccupation now was “how to prepare Bayelsa State for life without oil.”

Doing so, he said, has spurred his administration to make investment in critical sectors of the economy such as education, health and agriculture.

The governor, who said he had reduced government’s huge bills, starting with his office, added that one of the reasons there seemed to be prevalent insecurity in the country was because successive governments had failed to invest in human capital development, a key administrative policy he claimed to have begun to implement since he assumed office three months ago.

“We have challenges of human capacity. We won’t be talking about militants or Boko Haram today if we had sufficiently invested in education, for instance. We are promoting entrepreneurship, agriculture and teaching people how to ‘fish’.

“We’re freeing up funds for deployment to development. We are cutting down on high bills and clamping down on corruption.

“A lot of investigations are ongoing now and many people will be prosecuted. Bayelsa is a very difficult terrain. It takes courage and fiscal discipline to operate effectively,” he said.

On 2015, Dickson urged northern governors to be cautious in regionalising national politics, to avoid dividing the country.

“Let me also express my displeasure at comments credited to the northern governors concerning the 2015 general elections. I want to say that it is an attempt at regionalising presidential politics.

“It is the same thing that happened prior to the 2011 general elections which largely divided this country along ethnic and religious lines.

“Also, secondly, it is premature for governors, opinion and political leaders,  however eminent, to make an issue of the 2015 presidential election which is almost three years or more away,” he said.

 

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