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2 Jul 2016

Suswam must return N107bn alleged stolen dunds – Gov Ortom

Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, has said his administration would not rest until it recovered about N107 billion allegedly looted from the state treasury when Gabriel Suswan was governor.
Ortom, on assumption of office, had constituted the Justice Kpojime Commission of Inquiry which later came out with a report that N107billion was embezzled by 52 persons, including Suswam who was the immediate past governor.
He also said he would not shield the embattled speaker of the state’s House of Assembly, Emmanuel Ayua, from the clutches of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The speaker and several members of the state assembly are currently being investigated for corruption by the EFCC which detained them in Abuja earlier this week.
The governor made his stance known at the Presidential Villa on Thursday in a chat with State House correspondents after he had met President Muhammadu Buhari.
Ortom said his aversion to corruption and waste was accentuated by the fact that his administration was seriously hampered by inadequate funds, and he would not take sides with anyone accused of, or being investigated for, tampering with state funds.
His words: “Yes, some House of Assembly members in Benue are under investigation by the EFCC; it is a good thing.
“From day one, I brought up a slogan that ‘if you chop money, money will chop you’.
“We have to be careful and I have sent signals to all that nobody is above the law.
“If you do things wrong, you will go your own way; as far as I am concerned, they are under investigation, let’s see what the outcome would become.
“As far as I am concerned, my government will not shield anybody who is corrupt, especially those found wanting.
“As governor, myself and other lieutenants under me are open to scrutiny. “There is the Freedom of Information Act whereby people are allowed to get information from these sources.
“I also believe that there is no point telling lies and peddling falsehood against leaders.
“Like I heard somebody alleging that we transferred $2.4billion dollars to an account.
“Which account, where is the money? money that I don’t have to do local government elections, or to pay salaries!”
Governor Suswam continued: “If I have it, won’t I pay them? So it is allowed.
“EFCC is an agency that is charged to investigate, and where somebody is found culpable you prosecute.
“So they are free to do their job in Benue State; I have given them free hand – ICPC, EFCC – and even for me, I am doing independent prosecution of those who are corrupt.
“The Justice Kpojime Commission came out with a report that N107billion should be retrieved from 52 persons, including the former governor, and I am leaving no stones unturned to ensure that we recover this money because we need it for the development of Benue State.
“Already someone who was indicted has already offered to refund N355 million which we gave the approval in council on Wednesday.
“With that we are not interested in prosecution, the exco exonerated him once he pays in the money, he has his clean bill.”
The governor said he was at the State House to meet with Buhari over security challenges in Benue State where Fulani herdsmen had attacked some communities again, despite efforts to end the tragic skirmishes over grazing rights.
According to Ortom, who said he also discussed economic issues with the president, a good number of the federating states are experiencing unprecedented economic meltdown.
He said the development spurred him to declare Fridays between now and end of July, 2016, as work-free days for civil servants.
“Issues of salaries payment is a general problem today in Nigeria; we are all facing economic meltdown and we hope that things will improve, especially as the federal government and state governments are collaborating to ensure that we diversify the economy,” he said, adding, “For us in Benue State, we have gone full bloom, we have even allowed the civil servants to go on vacation on Fridays between now and end of July to have the opportunity to also go into farming.”
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