By Emmanuel Ugwu in Umuahia
Abia State government yesterday welcomed the ongoing probe of some accounts officers by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over alleged fraudulent practices, saying that the affected civil servants would answer for their deeds.
No fewer than five accounts officers of the ministry of finance were arrested by EFCC operatives last week and taken to Port Harcourt where they were quizzed over fraudulent practices in the ministry.
The commissioner for finance, Mr. Obinna Oriaku, who was invited by the anti-graft agency “to shed light on some of the issues raised by the petitioner”, has returned along with three of the arrested civil servants while two suspects are still being held by the EFCC.
Commissioner for information, Mr. John Okiyi Kalu, confirmed at a joint news conference with his finance counterpart, Mr. Obinna Oriaku, in Umuahia that the affected civil servants were indeed being probed by the EFCC based on a petition written by a commissioner in the state Civil service Commission, Mr. Guy Chigoziri Okite.
He said that the state government was not going to interfere with the investigation of the fraudulent activities in the finance ministry because “the administration of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu has zero tolerance for corruption and has long been adjudged the most transparent in the country”
The government spokesman further said that government was indeed open to further “scrutiny by relevant (relevant) agencies of the state into our transactions, within the ambit of the law”.
“Governor Ikpeazu expects all employees of the government to carry out their official functions with the highest level of transparency, professionalism and also be prepared to give account to relevant institutions and the people of the state upon demand,” he said.
However, the information commissioner said that while government was favourably disposed to the EFCC investigations “we expect officials of EFCC to conduct their investigation professionally, in line with their constitutional mandate and those found culpable punished according to the law”.
Oriaku said that the petition was prompted by a “contentious allowance” claimed by the petitioner and “because we were not on the same page with him and when the allowance was not forthcoming” Okite petitioned the EFCC.
He stated that some of the issues raised in the petition were based on the misunderstanding of the report of the 2017 audit team and have since been sorted out. Nonetheless the finance commissioner noted that “in the course of the EFCC investigation we discovered some things that are unethical”, citing cases of double payments of salaries by accounts officers as well as leakages in tax payments.
“We encourage EFCC and want more collaboration with them”, he said, adding that the probe by the anti-graft agency “will enforce our transparency”.
Okite, who is a legal practitioner, centred his petition on alleged “reckless financial activities” of a staff of the audit department, Mrs. Charity Ukonu and her “cronies and co-conspirators” who earn salaries from different ministries and agencies.
He was thorough in his petition citing relevant bank account numbers, the amount of money paid into the accounts and the dates the transactions took place, adding that the amount of money involved was “questionable” given the officer involved is on salary grade level 14 but has become a multi-millionaire.
According to the information commissioner, the action of the accused civil servants “is deliberate fraud” and they would be made to face the full weight of the law if found guilty.
“If you do anything wrong government will not protect you,” he said, adding that “at the end of the day Abia will be better off” without corrupt civil servants.