The judicial commission of inquiry set up by Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, to probe the sale of valued assets of the state and select projects under former Governor Chibuike Amaechi, yesterday commenced public sitting in Port Harcourt with a revelation that the last administration diverted about N3 billion Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) agriculture loan to fund elections, This Day reports.
The Chairman of the commission, Justice George Omereji, at the inaugural sitting, said the commission would be fair to all and allayed fears that it was on a witch-hunt.
He also said the commission would stick to its terms of reference.
While interrogating officials of the ministries of agriculture, and commerce and industry based on the memos they submitted to the commission, the counsel to the commission, Dr. Zaccheus Adangor, said the N4billion CBN loan meant to help develop agriculture in the state was shared among 380 mother cooperatives.
The cooperatives had chairmen of the various local government councils as their presidents.
Adangor said Amaechi on January 25, 2015, approved that N3 billion of the CBN loans be converted to grants and disbursed based on a memorandum mounted to the governor by then Commissioner for Agriculture, Emma Chinda.
He disclosed that though 38 of the cooperatives did not have official documentation with the state ministry of commerce and industry, they benefitted from the loans which was converted to grants and disbursed without supervision.
According to him, the grants were disbursed to the local government council chairmen to prosecute the 2015 presidential election and not for the development of agriculture as stipulated by the CBN.
Adangor stated that the memo submitted to the commission by the permanent secretaries revealed that Asari Toru cooperative society which has former Asari Toru council chairman, Mr. Flag Ojukaye Amachree, as its president was given N54.85 million as grant, while the Chairman of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni council, Augustine Ahiamadu, on behalf of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni cooperatives received N64.3 million.
Others, according to him, include the Port Harcourt cooperative society which had the former Port Harcourt city local government chairman, Nnamdi Uche, as its president, received N134.625 million and Omuda Integrated fishing cooperatives, whose president was identified as the then chairman of Ogu/Bolo, Mr. Mina Tende, received N32.175 million.
Former Khana Chairman, Mr. Derick Mene, on behalf of Meni cooperative society, received N70.373 million, while Ahoada cooperative society, with former Ahoada East Local Government Council Chairman, Mr. Cassidy Ikegbidi, as its president, received N39.325 million.
Addressing the commission, the permanent secretary in the ministry of agriculture, Mrs. Tari Okoye, said she did not visit any of the beneficiaries to ascertain if the funds were deployed for the purpose and intent of the scheme because the commissioner had authorised a committee presided over by a director in the ministry, Mr. Grant Amadi, to oversee the disbursement.
She also said the remaining N1 billion is meant for fish farms in Ubima, Andoni and Opobo.
Testifying before the Commission, the Director of Planning, Research and Statistics in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mr. Grant Amadi, who served as the chairman of the Agriculture Credit Committee, said the committee had no terms of reference and all decisions of those who benefitted from the disbursement were taken by the former state Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr. Emma Chinda.
Amadi said Chinda merely sent him the list of beneficiaries with the specific directive to instruct the banks to pay expeditiously to the benefiting cooperative societies.
He said no due diligence was carried out to ascertain those behind the cooperatives, claiming that he was hearing for the first time that the key beneficiaries of the grants were top politicians.
Asked if he ever made any attempt to verify if the grants were used for the purpose for which they were released, Amadi noted that he was directed not to venture into such endeavour.
He added that even if he wanted to do so, the state Ministry of Agriculture had no functional vehicle under Amaechi to carry out monitoring.
The permanent secretary in the ministry of commerce and industry, Mrs. Cordilia Peterside, explained that she discovered that 38 out of the 380 cooperatives did not have any form of documentation with her ministry.
She also told the commission that she was surprised that the loan was disbursed to serving politicians at that time.
The former Commissioner for Agriculture, Emma Chinda, did not attend the sitting. The counsel to the commission, Adangor, said Chinda was properly invited to appear before the commission monday.
He said another invitation had been extended to the former agriculture commissioner to appear today. He warned that the commission would invoke its inherent powers in the state commission of Inquiry law to compel him to appear before it if he failed to honour the invitation already sent to him.
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