WEDNESDAY- 1st September, 2021: A federal high court sitting in Lagos has frozen a Kogi state salary bailout account domiciled in Sterling Bank Plc, over a N20 billion loan obtained from the bank.
Tijjani Ringim, presiding judge, granted the order following an ex parte application brought by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), pending the conclusion of the investigation or possible prosecution.
The application was brought pursuant to section 44 (2) of the Constitution and section 34(1) of the EFCC Act.
Abass Muhammed, counsel to the EFCC, told the court that the order was necessary so as to preserve the ‘res’ (the fund in question) and abate further dissipation of the funds in the account.
In his submission, Muhammed informed the court that the N20 billion loan meant to augment salary payment and running cost of the Kogi state government was kept in an interest-yielding fixed deposit account with Sterling Bank.
The EFCC counsel said Sterling Bank Plc is yet to present any credible evidence to show that the facility is well secured.
In his ruling granting the application, the judge directed the EFCC to publish the court order in a national newspaper.
The judge also asked the commission to make a quarterly report to the court on the progress of its investigation, and adjourned the matter till December 1, for the report of investigation.
The commission, in a 13-paragraph affidavit in support of the motion, said it received credible and direct intelligence which led to the tracing of funds suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities deposited in account No. 0073572696 domiciled in Sterling Bank Plc, with the name ‘Kogi State Salary Bailout Account’.
The commission said it discovered that on April 1, 2019, the management of Sterling Bank Plc approved an offer of N20 billion bailout loan facility for the Kogi state government.
According to the deponent — a member of a team of investigators attached to the Lagos monitoring unit of the EFCC whose name wasn’t given in the affidavit — in the June 19, 2019 fiscal year, the state government, ministry of finance and economic development, office of the honourable commissioner, applied for a credit facility of N20 billion with an interest rate of nine percent for a tenure of 240 months from Sterling Bank Plc.
The deponent stated that prior to the said application for the loan, the state government had also on June 19, 2019, via a letter to the manager of Sterling Bank Plc, Lokoja, applied to open an account in the bank with the name ‘Kogi State Salary Bailout Account’, with Momoh Jubril, accountant-general of the state, and Elijah Evinemi, acting director of treasury, as signatories to the said account.
The fund was said to be to augment salary payment and running cost of the state government.
The EFCC investigating officer stated further that on June 26, 2019, the credit facility offer was secured by the state through a memorandum of acceptance signed by Yahaya Bello, Kogi governor; Asiwaju Asiru Idris, commissioner for finance, and Jibrin, the accountant-general.
“That upon the opening of the said account with No. 0072969301, Sterling bank Plc disbursed salary intervention loan to the tune of N20,000,000,000.00 to the account,” the affidavit reads.
“That rather than use the intervention funds for the purpose for which it was granted, the state government proceeded to open a fixed deposit account No. 0073572696.
“That on the 25 day of July 2019, Sterling Bank Plc acting on the instruction of the Kogi state government transferred the money from the loan account and placed same on the aforementioned fixed deposit account.
“That the said Account sought to be frozen received the Sum of Twenty Billion Naira, (N20,000,000,000) on 25th July, 2019.
“That as at 1st day of April, 2021, the balance standing to the credit of the said fixed deposit account was N19,333,333,333.36.”
The EFCC added that it is “still tracing the sum of N666,666,666.64”, as the missing amount was allegedly not used for payment of salaries.