By Ugochukwu Ugwuanyi
BEVERLY HILLS, May 21, (THEWILL) – The Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF, Abdulaziz Yari, says those behind allegations of embezzlement of the Paris-London Club refunds were actually targeting President Muhammadu Buhari and other All Progressives Congress, APC, chieftains who worked for the victory of the party’s candidate in the Ondo State governorship election.
The Zamfara state governor stated this in Abuja while briefing newsmen at the weekend, declaring that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has been hijacked by the unnamed forces, who he said are bigwigs of the ruling APC.
THEWILL recalls that Yari was recently reported as being in the radar of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, 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.
The news report has it that aside the $3 million, Yari also diverted N500 million from the Paris Club refund to Zamfara to pay off a mortgage, adding 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”.
Dismissing the allegations, Yari stated that the target of the EFCC probe of the Paris Club refund was Buhari, explaining that the motive behind the accusation was to rubbish the President’s anti-corruption campaign by making him to appear corrupt.
He accused the EFCC of playing to the gallery, claiming that the entire plot was hatched by some politicians within the ruling APC who were dissatisfied with the President’s role in last November’s governorship election in Ondo, which the party won.
His words, “The Paris Club refund came on the verge of doing an election and some of the politicians that were not happy with the outcome of the election thought that the Governors’ Forum fund was used to win the election.
“So they are not happy with the outcome and unfortunately it isn’t the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), it is APC.
“The target isn’t Yari; the target is President Muhammadu Buhari because some people want to hold him and say ‘where did you get the money to do the election?’”
The governor maintained that the mastermind of the attack on him were working hard to make the anti-corruption war to look selective, using the ongoing trial of the former National Security Adviser, NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd) as an example.
According to him, “They are trying to paint a picture of a government holding people like Dasuki for using public funds for the 2015 elections, attempting to accuse the same government of using the Paris Club refund for election in Ondo State.
“So the target is the president, which to me they didn’t know how this thing (election funding) happened. But they are hammering on Yari, but it isn’t me they are after, it is the president. And the EFCC played to the gallery.
“Let me tell you that there is no connection in the N19 billion and that election. But some politicians are looking at it and they want to hammer from there. And to our dismay, the EFCC is dancing to the tune of these people,” Yari said. But the EFCC denied the allegation.
“The commission does not need to be prodded by any forces to do its work and will not be drawn into any debate regarding its investigation,” Wilson Uwajare, the commission’s spokesman told New Telegraph last night. The governor said he had received over N300 billion for the state since he became governor six years ago, but did not steal $3 million or N2.2 billion from such huge funds in his charge.
“In the last tenure, both the monies from the local government and state government was over N300 billion and the dollar was N156. “Am I hungry and looking for $3 million when I have the state funds under my charge? So I am waiting for them to tell you where the hotel is located, where the plot is and how they came about it.
“Above all, I am preparing my lawyers and we are heading to court,” the governor stated. The NGF chairman, however, said he was using the bailout money given to the states by the Federal Government to offset salaries and allowances of workers in the state, in line with the directive given by President Buhari.”
The governor explained that Zamfara had borrowed money from some banks to meet obligations to the workers and to fund some state projects before the money was released by the Federal Government.
He clarified that the state could not honour its loan obligation to the banks in 2015 because of the drastic reduction in revenue allocation to states from the Federation Accounts in the last quarter of 2014, which was caused by a fall in oil prices.
Yari further disclosed that the N500 million loan repayment, which the EFCC claimed was his personal loan, was indeed state loan, which he said he was forced to negotiate with the banks to avoid owing salaries.
He said, “If I did not negotiate with the banks very well, I would have fallen into the category of those states that couldn’t pay workers’ salaries. “So, up till 2015 we had been paying salaries, but through accounts and structures, which we did gradually. We restructured under seven months and the bailout came in about N7 billion.
“Immediately we collected it, we settled the banks and the local governments had about two months outstanding, which came up to about N10 – 15 million.
“We settled each and every bank that had outstanding and that is what happened to the bailout in Zamfara State. I am keeping a clean slate and anyone who will take over from me wouldn’t say I left a huge debt for him to settle.”
The governor attributed the present cordial relationship between the Governors’ Forum and the Presidency to mutual understanding between the governors and President Buhari.
“The president has his own problems; we too have our own problems. He came to our rescue, so we can’t make trouble in anyway. In any case, Buhari isn’t looking for trouble.
“He is trying to fix the economy, security. He said politics is over and we are now in governance. So President Buhari isn’t interested in causing any ‘wahala’ and we are working in harmony within the NGF as colleagues, as brothers.”