Governor, Alhaji Rauf Aregbesola
Although, about 69 people have appeared before the Commission of Inquiry set up by Osun State Governor, Alhaji Rauf Aregbesola, into the N18.38billion bank facility and other major financial transactions carried out by his predecessor, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola; that does not dispel the perception in the state that the former governor is the main target of the probe, writes Yinka Kolawole
The resolve to review activities in the seven-and-a-half years of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) administration in Osun State, led by Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, began on June 18 when the governor, Rauf Aregbesola, inaugurated a six-man commission of inquiry to investigate contracts awarded by the administration and particularly, a controversial N18.3billion loan obtained from United Bank for African (UBA) Plc.
At a press conference, heralding the sitting of the commission in Osogbo, its chairman, Professor Femi Odekunle, noted that the commission had concluded its preliminary work and would begin public sitting from September 3 to September 14 in Osogbo.
He quickly added that the aim of the public sitting was not to persecute any person but to seek further clarifications on how public funds on major contracts within the stipulated period were utilised. Although, he did not hint of the list of those invited to appear before the commission, he said that the list of invitees also included Aregbesola.
Odekunle confirmed that over 30 financial transaction/contracts were involved while another 70 individuals had been formally invited to answer questions before the commission. Other members of the commission are Mr. Kole Adeyemo, Dr. Obi Daramola, Mr. Akin Akintayo, Mr. Soji Olowolafe and Mr. Kelani Olajide Adesina who served as secretary.
Public Hearing Begins
The public hearing commenced with the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Mrs. Olubukola Opakunle, Executive Secretary, Board of Technical Education, Mr. Olakunle Tony Oyebamiji and former Director of Due Process, Mr. Gbenga Abiola appearing before the commission.
The trio testified on the role they played in the execution of N4.1billion contracts for the upgrading of nine technical colleges and procurement of tablet kits for public primary, secondary schools and the two colleges of education in the state.
The commission, however, queried the propriety of allowing a contractor, Skill G, to appear before the tender’s board and why about 70 per cent mobilisation fee was paid before the commencement of the project.
While Oyebamiji was unable to provide satisfactory explanation, Abiola told the commission that the firm got the contract following a presentation and proposal approved by the Oyinlola executive council. He said about 70 percent was paid to the contractor because of the 10 months deadline given to the contractor and the urgency to ensure that youths in the state received technical skills in order to be taken off the streets.
Abiola, who is now Senior Special Adviser to Aregbesola, added that the proposal was submitted to Oyinlola by Professor Olu Aina through the board for technical education which he chaired.
He told the commission that direct procurement tender was adopted in deciding the choice of contractor in view of the short period that the project has to be concluded. He, however, noted that the contract sum was less than N4.1billion because a deduction of about N700million was made as tax and stamp duty.
When his opinion was sought on the state of the contracts, he told the commission that he was unhappy because the projects had been abandoned and that if a memo written to Aregbesola on the situation was acted upon, contractors would have returned to site to finish the job.
On the N18.3 billion loan obtained from UBA, the commission was inundated with conflicting testimonies from those who later appeared before it on the process that eventually culminated in the loan approval. Former Chairman, Osun State House of Assembly Committee on Appropriation, Hon. Femi Farounbi, caused a stir when he told the commission that the House initiated the controversial loan.
He said former Speaker, Hon. Adejare Bello, sold the idea to the Oyinlola administration and that there and then, the process for securing the loan began. He said the matter was debated on the floor of the House and resolution was duly passed by majority of the lawmakers. He said the lawmakers thereafter conducted public hearing on the possibility of seeking the loan before they finally took a decision on it.
"Members of the Assembly were made to believe that the loan, if taken, would be for the overall benefit of the people of the state as at the time the process of the loan was being prepared," he said, adding that the House had included the loan and the various projects in the budget of that year for acceptance.
While denying knowledge of the terms of agreement with the bank, he urged the panel to request for the minutes of the House sitting where the decision to seek for the loan and the process were approved as this would assist the panel in its works.
Former Head of Service (HOS), Mr. Segun Akinwusi, told the panel that he knew nothing about the loan and maintained that his office was not carry along by the Ministry of Finance and office of the Director General on Due Process when the preparation for the loan was being done.
He said he was personally opposed to the loan and that it was at the point of approval at the executive council meeting that he knew about it.
“I had no specific role to play in the procurement of the loan because my office has no role to play in the award of contract or sourcing for the loan. I was not carried along at all. It was when the loan was to be approved at the executive council meeting that I was aware of it. It was mentioned in passing to my hearing and as a public servant, I just believed that I should not make bloody noise about it. They didn’t seek my advice on the loan because it appeared as a done deal,” he said.
The UBA Management, which also appeared before the commission, said the loan was sought for by the state government through the office of Accountant-General and passed through due process. The UBA team led by Mr. Samuel Adikankwu, accompanied by Femi Ajibade, the regional manager and Segun Olarewaju, the Osogbo branch manager, said the conditions and terms were agreed upon by the parties involved.
How Oyinlola Conceived the Idea
Abiola, while appearing before the commission, said the Oyinlola administration took the loan based on the expectations that it would be able to repay it if it gets the over N70 billion debt being owed the state by the Federal Government. He said the N70 billion was the state’s share from excess crude oil allocation from the Federation Account.
Abiola said the need to take the loan arose because the level of budget performance at the time was low hence the House of Assembly ratified the loan once the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development applied for it on behalf of the state government.
“This huge amount gave Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola the courage to take the loan because he felt he could take N20 billion out of the N70 billion if paid to the government to repay back the loan.”
Asked whether the administration of Oyinlola acted well in the procurement of the loan, Abiola said: “I cannot be part of government and said what that government has done is bad.”
Accountant-General of the state, Mr. Akintayo Kolawole, who also denied knowledge of the loan, said he did not partake in the exercise even though he was aware that government sought the loan. He said looking at the state, the timing for the loan was inappropriate because of its low revenue profile. He said some government officials were critical about the loan but because they were civil servants, there was nothing they could do.
Kolawole who was then Director, Pension and Services, said at the time, all the meetings and policies for taking the loan were out of the briefs of his office because he was not the accountant general then.
On his part, the group head, Public Sector of First Bank, Ibadan region, Mr. Timothy Arowoogun, said First Bank came in to rescue the state with N25billion loan to pay up whatever it owed UBA and used the rest for the development of the state. He said First Bank took over the loan from UBA because of the belief in the present administration of Aregbesola who has been their customer and the need to bail out his administration from financial stress.
Issue over Documentation
Whilst the propriety of the loan constituted concern for the commission, there was another issue of whether or not there were documents to prove that certain contracts were awarded. This included the contract allegedly awarded one Alhaji Khamis Badmus to supply 300 tractors and other agricultural input worth N1.3billion.
Badmus is the Asiwaju of Osogbo and a chieftain of PDP in the state when he was awarded the contract in 2003. The commission’s chairman, however, noted that it was difficult for the commission to assess the job done by the contractor because there was no document.
Lawyer to the contractor, O. K. Salau, said since there was no dispute over the contract between the state government and the contractor, his client should not have been brought before the commission of enquiry but taken through an alternative dispute resolution.
He, however, claimed that 95 per cent of the job had been done and part of the entire contractual sum covering the job left undone had been returned to the coffers of the state government. He also told the commission that 275 tractors had been supplied to the state government and that his client had done what was expected of him as far as the contract was concerned.
After taking testimonies on another contract for the supply of printing press to the state government, Odekunle lambasted civil servants for allegedly conniving with politicians to defraud the state. He blasted them while speaking on the contract awarded for the government printing press worth N179,467,535.00 which was said to have been done abruptly.
"The civil servants that are supposed to be the soul of the state are not living up to their responsibility in this case. Political appointees are like soldiers who come and go, but civil servants remain. But due to their negligence of duties, they failed to perform their statutory functions in this particular case."