Legal practitioner and Warri Chief, Robinson Ariyo, has appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Malam Abubakar Malami to prevail on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to unravel the mystery behind the missing N300 million from the account of the Itsekiri Regional Development Committee (IRDC).
The Egogo of Warri kingdom who made the appeal on Thursday during a press conference at the Olu of Warri Palace, said he resorted to sending a ‘Save Our Souls’ (SOS) to President Buhari, Governor Okowa and Mallam Malami following the alleged failure of the EFCC, the judiciary, the Force Headquarters, Abuja and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to bring the alleged culprits to book and retrieve the money.
The IRDC is the product of the Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMoU) initiated by Chevron Nigeria Ltd (CNL) to handle its corporate social responsibilities in 23 oil producing and impacted communities affected by its operations in Itsekiri land.
Recall that some social critics, sometime in 2019, had dragged the IRDC to court over N1.2 billion in the account meant for developmental projects making the money inaccessible.
Chief Ariyo said following a complaint from Engr. Tuasor Omatseye, Aginejuone Agbonekuya, Destiny Noritsegho and six others over a missing N300m from the N1.2 billion in Keystone Bank Plc account belonging to IRDC, he had several times approached the courts in Warri, the EFCC in Benin, the CBN and the police with suits and petitions, but was frustrated on frivolous excuses.
“The project account has three principal signatories: representatives of Chevron Nigeria Ltd (CNL), Delta State government, and the leadership of the IRDC.
“CNL is signatory category A; meaning without it, no money can be withdrawn from the account,” he narrated.
He alleged that “at a Warri high court, there was a successful conspiracy to strike out the name of one of our clients – Aginejuone Agbonekuya.
“He then appealed that his name should not be struck out. The case was then transferred from Warri to Effurun.
“A team from the IRDC leadership, from the bank and some of the lawyers involved in the case came together without anyone’s knowledge and planned that N300m should be withdrawn from the account and shared in the name of ‘professional legal fees’ for lawyers.
“To do this, they needed to remove the names of those parties to the case who are claimants and who’ll not co-operate with them.
“So they filed a suit. It was in the morning of October 19, 2020, that they filed a court process to remove the names of two parties : Aginejuone and CNL whom they know would not co-operate with them.
“In the same morning when they filed this, they filed another one termed ‘Terms of Settlement.’ It means as soon as they removed those parties’ names, they filed a Term of Settlement and they adopted as a judgement of court that same day.
“In the Terms of Settlement, they wrote that they’ll take professional fees as ‘frontline charge’ from the account.
“Meanwhile, these cases were still pending in the appeal and Supreme Court. Ordinarily, before a party is removed from a case, the person should have a notice of it. This didn’t happen.
“They filed the Term of Settlement to close the case in the lower court, meanwhile the cases in the appellate courts are still subsisting,” he noted.
According to him, the alleged fraud started when the N300m out of the N2.1 billion in the account was withdrawn as 10 per cent legal fee.
“They claimed that the lawyers charged 10 per cent and I was a lawyer in the case. We never charged such. 10 per cent of what?
“The money we met or the one we went to generate? Let’s even assume that it’s 10 per cent, but we know that N300 million is not 10 per cent of N2.1b. If they said it’s 10 per cent, it means they’ve stolen N90 million,” he alleged.
Chief Ariyo further explained that
“the leadership of the IRDC immediately applied for the order of the judgement of court which the judge, that morning, signed and they went ahead to sign Form 48 of the bank telling the bank that if it didn’t release the money, they’d commit the bank to prison.
“So, they were able to withdraw the money,” he averred.
He, however, exonerated CNL, the category A signatory to the account, saying it did not sign the document.
Displaying some relevant legal documents to back up his claims, the lawyer said the oil giant had deposed to an affidavit to the effect that it did not sign the papers before the withdrawal was made.
“Chevron has no notice of it, neither did it consent to the withdrawal of N300m from the IRDC account with the bank.
“They said they were not also privy to the ‘out of court’ settlement of the case. That the notice of whithdrawal was done in bad faith to surreptitiously remove the suit from thr court.
“They also removed CNL from the suit knowing they won’t agree with them,” he further alleged.
Narrating where the EFCC erred, the solicitor said the anti-graft agency was petitioned on November 24, 2020 over the infractions.
“We petitioned the EFCC and annexed all the documents to Benin. At the end, the EFCC said we had reported the matter to too many agencies and that there’s a civil matter in the court so they can’t investigate further,” he asserted, saying there’s a court judgement that support that both civil and criminal matters can go together.
While alleging compromise by the EFCC officials, Chief Ariyo said his team wrote the CBN to penalise the erring bank for unprofessional conduct of allowing a withdrawal from a corporate account without the compulsory assent of Signatory A.
“CBN replied saying that since there was a civil matter in court, they can’t look into the case.
“We wrote the police at Zone 5, Benin. They found merit in it. They invited the IRDC leaders, who reluctantly came with govt officials.
“They were let go without any form of documentation. After more pressure, the police issued a second invitation and later a bench warrant.
“As they were about to arrest them, a call came from Abuja saying Force Headquarters had taken over the matter. And that we, the petitioners, were suspect of engaging in a conduct capable of breaching public peace,” he narrated.
He called on President Buhari, Governor Okowa and the Attorney General of the Federation, Malami, Chief Ariyo, he disclosed that he had been offered sumptuous gratification to jettison the case against his conscience and well-being of squalid Itsekiri communities, adding that his team escaped the travesty of justice when he eventually petitioned Buhari and Malami.
“I then petitioned Buhari and Malami which slowed them down. I’ve gone to the executive, it has failed. I’ve gone to the judiciary, it has failed. Where else will I go to for justice except the Fourth Estate of the Realm,” the Egogo of Warri Kingdom queried.
Ariyo, while underscoring the danger in abandoning the case, warned: “this is too dangerous. We live in a society of public private-partnership. I’m under pressure to remove the case from the court.
“But I can’t keep quiet. Having failed in the regular court, I want the court of public opinion. I’m being branded as someone stalling the balance of N1.8 billion in the bank.
“I’m bothered when people do evil and get away with it, it encourages more people to do evil.
“There are primary schools with leaking roofs, no chairs, no books in Itsekiri land and yet the embezzlers are living comfortably. Oil and gas won’t be here forever.”
#EndSARS anniversary: Police Occupy Lekki Toll Gate, Others, Activists Set For Protest [PHOTOS]
There are strong indications that security agents and protesters will clash in many cities across the country today (Wednesday) as activists and youths insist on gathering in public spaces to commemorate the first year anniversary of the #EndSARS protests, which rocked the nation last year.
For instance, heavily armed police personnel, on Tuesday, took over the Lekki tollgate area, which was the hotbed of last year’s protests.
The PUNCH also learnt that some policemen in plain clothes would join the protesters in a bid to monitor them closely.
DPR, PPPRA, PEF Scrapped As FG Sacks CEOs, Inaugurates New Agencies
The Department of Petroleum Resources, the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency and the Petroleum Equalisation Fund are all officially scrapped and do not exist anymore, the Federal Government said on Monday.
It also said while workers of the three agencies would be protected, their chief executives had been relieved of their various appointments.
The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, stated this while speaking on the side-lines of the inauguration of the boards of the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority and the Nigerian Upstream Regulatory Commission in Abuja.
He explained that with the passage of the Petroleum Industry Act, the NPRA and NURC had taken over the functions of the DPR, PPPRA and PEF.
Responding to a question on what would happen to DPR following the inauguration of the board of NURC, Sylva said, “It is now a matter of law.
“The law states that all the assets and even the staff of the DPR are to be invested on the commission and also in the authority. So that means the DPR doesn’t exist anymore.
“And, of course, the law specifically repeals the DPR Act, the Petroleum Inspectorate Act, the Petroleum Equalisation Fund Act and the PPPRA Act. The law specifically repeals them. It is very clear that those agencies do not exist anymore.”
On what would happen to the chief executives and employees of DPR, PEF and PPPRA, the minister replied, “The law also provides for the staff and the jobs in those agencies to be protected.
“But I’m sure that that doesn’t cover, unfortunately, the chief executives, who were on political appointments.”
He stated that the process for aligning the workers of the defunct agencies with the new regulatory bodies had already commenced, as the staff had to be rationalised.
Sylva said, “The authority has its staff coming from the defunct PEF, PPPRA and DPR. The commission has staff coming over from DPR and the process is going on for the next few weeks.”
Sylva stated that the inauguration of the boards on Monday marked the beginning of the successor agencies.
He said, “The PIA provides for the upstream regulatory commission and the establishment of the midstream and downstream authority.
“So far, the chief executives of these agencies have not been in place, but of course, Mr President in his wisdom made the appointment a few weeks ago and they went through a rigorous process of confirmation at the National Assembly.
“The agencies have now taken off because they now have clear leadership and today’s event marks that beginning for the new agencies.”
He further stated that with the passage of the PIA into law, after spending over 20 years in the process, the coast was now clear for investors to fully invest in Nigeria’s oil sector.
“Today, the PIA has clarified the legal framework around the sector and the agencies are now in place. So I don’t see anything now stopping investors from coming,” the minister stated.
He said competent hands were now handling the business, adding, “Nigerians should brace up for exponential growth in the oil and gas sector.”
The Chief Executive, NURC, Gbenga Komolafe, said the commission would deliver on its mandate as captured in the new petroleum Act.
“Nigerians should expect massive deliverables in the sense that the PIA has ended the regime of uncertainty in terms of the governance of the industry,” he said.
He also said the commission would ensure that the country hits its OPEC quota in crude oil production, as the NURC would be an enabler of investments.
EndSARS: Police Warn Against Protest In Oyo
Oyo State Police command, on Tuesday, said that it will not allow anyone to organize any protest in the state.
The police made this disclosure while reacting to a protest, which has been scheduled to hold in commemoration of the anniversary of End SARS protest in the state.
DAILY POST correspondent recalls that the End SARS protest, which was organised by youths in October last year, was held in order to protest against police brutality.
It was gathered that no fewer than five police officers died during the protest in the state last year.
Several properties were also destroyed during the protests.
The state police command has, however, advised youths not to organise any commemorative protest in Oyo State.
Commissioner of Police, Ngozi Onadeko, who spoke on Tuesday, noted that the police in the state has uncovered a plan to organise the maiden anniversary of the protests.
Onadeko in a statement signed by Public Relations Officer of the command, Adewale Onadeko, urged parents and guardians to warn their wards against being used by merchants of anarchy.
He said that the police would use all legal means to prevent such protests.
He maintained that violators would be sanctioned and prosecuted.
“Consequent upon this, the Commissioner of Police, Oyo State Police Command, Ngozi Onadeko fdc, is appealing to individual(s), groups and most importantly architects of these sinister plans, to have a rethink as the Command would not hesitate to use any legitimate means necessary within the ambit of the law to enforce sanity and prevent needless loss of lives and wanton destruction of private and public properties including critical government infrastructures which could emanate from the proposed protests.
“In furtherance to the above, the Commissioner of Police has directed extensive visibility and aggressive patrols by Area commanders and Divisional Police Officers while adequate deployment of operational, intelligence and tactical assets would be strategically positioned across every nook and cranny of the State to compliment and neutralize any threat or act(s) capable of truncating the relative calm enjoyed by the citizenry.
“Furthermore, Parents, guardians and leaders that wield various degrees of influence in religious, educational and traditional capacities are passionately advised to warn their wards and proteges against being used by merchants of anarchy as violators would be thoroughly sanctioned and prosecuted.”