• Insists he was misquoted on meningitis outbreak, 300 have died from disease in Zamfara
By Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The governor of Zamfara State, Abdulazizi Yari has accused those behind the allegations of embezzlement of the Paris-London Club refunds of actually targeting President Muhammadu Buhari and chieftains of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) who worked for the victory of the party’s candidate in the Ondo State governorship election.
He said some aggrieved politicians in the APC who were not happy with the outcome of the Ondo election, believed that Buhari and the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), which Yari also chairs, had used the consulting fees paid for the London-Paris Club refunds to fund the election.
A news report had alleged that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was on the trail of Yari over links to the ownership of a $3 million hotel in Lagos allegedly being built with monies stolen from the Paris-London Club refunds to states in the country.
Apart from the $3 million, the report alleged that Yari also diverted N500 million from the Paris Club refund to his state to pay off a mortgage, attributing its sources to the EFCC.
It had said that EFCC officials in Lagos revealed that “overall the governor embezzled the sum of N2.2 billion from the N19 billion which he allegedly set aside illegally on behalf of the NGF to pay consultants”.
However, Yari has debunked the allegations, saying that certain APC politicians were after Buhari over the Ondo election, which the party won. But he failed to name the politicians.
Speaking to journalists at the weekend, Yari alleged that some aggrieved APC politicians who were not happy with the outcome of the election thought that he was prevailed upon to use the NGF consulting fees to bankroll the Ondo governorship election.
“The issue of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum and the London-Paris Club refund has nothing to do with the real matter; it is full of politics. The money (refund) was released on the verge of the Ondo election and some politicians that were not happy with the outcome of the election thought that the NGF had used the consulting fees to win the Ondo election.
“Unfortunately, it is not the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) fighting us, it is APC versus APC. So the target of the $3 million allegation is not Yari, the target is the president because some people want to challenge him on where he got the money to fund the Ondo election,” he said.
The governor said he was ready to go to court to prove his innocence and challenged those behind the false allegations to provide evidence on the ownership of the said plot of land and hotel in Lagos.
Yari further alleged that an unnamed APC politician had as a result his displeasure over the outcome of the Ondo election, been looking for ways to embarrass the president.
“So the target is not me, the target is the president, which to me they didn’t know how this thing happened, but they are hammering on Yari. Maybe Yari has other things to say, but no, it is not me. It is the president they are after.
“They are saying where did you get the money to fund the Ondo election? Yet, you (EFCC) are saying you are fighting corruption and then you are holding some other people because they used other monies to contest elections, people like Dasuki.
“That is the real matter because the EFCC is playing to the gallery. All these things they are saying, there is nothing like that.
“So let me tell you that the issue of the N19 billion and the issue of Yari and the issue of the Ondo election, there is no connection.
“But some politicians are looking at it because they want to hammer me from there, and to our dismay, the EFCC is dancing to the tune of those people.
“So to us in the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, we are very clear that all the allegations raised by any other person is rubbish because it has no basis.
“For one, if you say $3 million (was diverted to build a hotel), in Zamfara State for six years I have only collected over N300 billion naira (from FAAC), so I cannot divert $3 million if I needed that kind of money, and at a time the dollar was N156.
“During my first term, the monies collected by both the local and state government put together were over N300 billion and the dollar was N156.
“So, if I am looking for money or I am hungry for money to build a hotel, if I am looking for $3 million, is it the NGF that I will go to with the state’s funds under my charge?
“So I am waiting for them to tell me where the plot is, where the hotel is and how they came about it. Above all, I am preparing with my lawyers to go to court to prove my innocence,” he said.
The NGF had issued a statement denying the misapplication of funds by the leadership of the forum.
It said all of the allegations in the report were “wrong, harmful, libelous and misleading disclosures”.
It also debunked the allegation that Yari was building a hotel in Lagos.
On how Zamfara State utilised the N7 billion bailout given to it by the federal government, Yari said the money was used to settle the salary arrears and allowance of workers in the state.
He explained that the state had borrowed money from some banks to meet its obligations to workers and to fund some ongoing projects before the release of the bailout money.
According to him, when the bailout money came, the state government used part of it to offset its loan commitments.
“If we did not negotiate with the banks, we would have fallen into the category of those states that could not pay its workers. Up till 2015, we had been paying salaries but through bank loans which we restructured.
“So immediately we collected the N7 billion, we settled the banks and the local governments which had two months outstanding salaries that came up to N10 million-N15 million.
“We settled each and every bank; that was what happened to the bailout funds in Zamfara State,” he said.
Speaking on his tenure as the chairman of NGF, Yari said that there is a cordial relationship between the governors, irrespective of their political parties, adding that Buhari has ensured that a mutual understanding exists between himself (Yari) and the governors.
He blamed the crisis witnessed in the NGF under former President Goodluck Jonathan on the antics of some PDP governors who were seeking undue influence.
“Some governors were going to tell the former president all sorts of things, lies and what have you, thereby making him angry with some other governors.
“But it is not like that today. That is why things are going on smoothly and the president is always ready to attend to any case. President Buhari is not looking for trouble,” he said.
The governor also spoke on the controversial statement made by him regarding the outbreak of meningitis in Zamfara State, describing it as fictitious.
Last month, Yari had blamed the outbreak of meningitis in Zamfara, which was the worst hit state in the North, to “God’s punishment” on citizens for their sins.
However, Yari, during the interview, blamed the reporter who wrote the story for misquoting him, alleging he said he did not understand the Hausa language.
He added that his administration has since responded speedily to the disease.
The governor, however, confirmed that about 300 lives had been lost due to the outbreak of meningitis this year, which according to him was a different strain of the disease previously unknown to health officials in the state.
He maintained that the situation has been arrested by the state government through the intervention of an inter-agency committee which worked in collaboration with officials of the Federal Ministry of Health and UNICEF.