The Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, has acknowledged the receipt of the sum of N19, 333,333,333.36 (Nineteen Billion, Three Hundred and Thirty-three Million, Three Hundred and Thirty-three Thousand, Three Hundred and Thirty-three Naira, Thirty-six Kobo) recovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from the Kogi State Salary Bail-out account domiciled in Sterling Bank Plc., the commission said in a statement on Friday.
Early this month, The Kogi Commissioner For Finance, Budget and Economic Planning, Asiwaju Idris Asiru, had alleged that Sterling Bank opened the controversial fixed deposit account in the name of the state government without the knowledge or directive of the state government.
He made the disclosure when he, alongside the state Accountant General, Jibril Momoh and Auditor General, Yakubu Okala, appeared before the state House of Assembly lawmakers at plenary, in Lokoja.
But the EFCC in Abuja insisted, in a statement by its spokesman, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, that the money was retrieved from the government’s account with Sterling Bank. “This effectively puts to rest the campaign of misinformation and unconscionable denials by the Kogi State Government that no fund was recovered from its bail out account'” the EFCC said.
It adds, “The apex bank in a letter referenced, DFD/DIR/CON/EXT/01/099 and dated 9th November, 2021 informed the Executive Chairman, EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa that it has received the money.
“The letter reads in part: “We refer to your letter dated November 5, 2021 with Ref. No: CR:3000/EFCC/LS/CMU/REC-STE/VOL.4/047 on the above subject and wish to confirm the details of the receipt of the amount as stated below: Bank: Sterling Bank Plc; Amount: N19, 333, 333,333.36; Date of receipt: 04 November, 2021”
“The return of the money to the apex bank is in compliance with the October 15, 2021 Order of a Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi Lagos directing the unfreezing of the Kogi State Salary Bail-out account to enable Sterling Bank to remit the balance in the account to the Central Ban of Nigeria. Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke gave the Order pursuant to an application filed by the EFCC.
“The Commission had told the court that the management of Sterling Bank Plc, where the account was domiciled had acknowledged the existence of the said account with the staggering sum of N19, 333,333,333.36 in its books.
“The Commission further brought to the attention of the court that “The sum of N19, 333,333,333.36 is still standing in the credit of the account frozen”, adding that “the management of Sterling Bank PIc, has, pursuant to a letter dated 15 September, 2021, signed by its Managing Director, indicated intention to return the total sum of N19, 333,333,333.36 back to the Central Bank of Nigeria.”
“The EFCC prayed the court that it “is expedient for the instant suit to be discontinued and the account unfrozen to enable the management of Sterling Bank PIc effect the transfer/ return of the sum of the sum of N19, 333, 333, 333.36 back to the coffer of the Central Bank of Nigeria , where the said bailout funds was disbursed.”
“The transfer has put paid to any further controversy regarding source and ownership of the funds and most importantly, aborted the funds dissipation.
“On August 31, 2021, Justice Tijani Garba Ringim, a vacation Judge, had ordered the freezing of the account, following an ex-parte application filed by the EFCC.
“The EFCC, in a 13-paragraph affidavit in support of the ex-parte application, had stated that it received a credible and direct intelligence, which led to the tracing of the funds reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities in account No. 0073572696 domiciled in Sterling Bank, Plc with the name Kogi State Salary Bailout Account.
“After listening to the EFCC application, Justice Ringim on August 31, 2021, ordered the freezing of the account and directed the publication of the order in a national newspaper by the EFCC.”
Recall that Kogi State State government official were summoned by the House of Assembly to answer questions on the controversial fund which they did on Monday, November 2, 2021.
The Commissioner explained that the state government was taken aback when it received the news that the bailout money meant to offset arrears of workers salaries was domiciled in a Fixed Deposit Account with the Sterling Bank, to yield interests.
He said that when the state government wrote to Sterling Bank to ascertain the authenticity of the news and true position, the bank responded that the government had no such account with it.
Fielding questions from the legislators, Asiru said that the so called Mirror Account was returned to the CBN as Liability Account by the bank adding that the government also wrote to the bank on the issue.
“No fixed account was ever opened or authorised by anyone, neither was there any N 20 billion kept anywhere.
“The facility in that sum collected from the bank via the approval of CBN in 2019 has since been used for the purpose intended. Salary payment and other overheads.
“Kogi is paying N89 million on monthly basis to settle the bailout loan.
”As a state, we are known for transparency, accountability and efficiency in funds management as it has become a culture under Governor Yahaya Bello.
“That can not be rubbed in the mud easily. As a Government, Gov. Bello remains upright and our books are there to be checked.
”Kogi state is in the good books of the World Bank and other international partners for openness, transparency and accountability, therefore, no amount of misinformation and mischievous assault can fault the records”, Asiru said.
In their submissions, both the Accountant General and the Auditor General of the state held that the bailout fund was judiciously utilised for the purpose it was meant.
On whether Kogi State Government would sue Sterling Bank for damages and if the money returned to CBN belonged to the state, the Finance Commissioner said the questions would be answered after the on-going investigations into the matter.