NIGERIANS WAIT, WHEN WILL EFCC MOVE IN ON ALPHA BETA BILLION NAIRA TAX FRAUD?

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EFCC, Alpha Beta and the Snake in the Monkey’s Shadow

THISDAYLIVE / editor / 55 minutes ago

In the aftermath of Alpha Beta Consulting Ltd’s erstwhile Managing Director, Dapo Apara’s blowing the whistle on the firm, many think the stage is now set and not a few Nigerians are watching if – not when – the Magu-led EFCC will take the bull by the horns and unravel the N100 billion fraud allegedly committed by Alpha Beta in connivance with the Lagos State government, reports Bayo Akinloye

The slight figure lounged in the couch positioned at a corner of the expansive living room. Intermittently, he used his left fingers to scratch his bald head. Then, he beckoned other individuals in the room – about ten – to his side. He pointed at something on the screen of his IPad, as they huddled looking at it they all burst into a rapture of laughter. The excitement was momentary. A tall, slightly built figure briskly walked in – dressed in suit with a pair of glasses perfectly placed on the bridge of his nose. He was bald-headed too with a sombre looks to match.

“His Excellency, sir!” they all chorused – everyone in the room except the man who lounged in the couch. He looked up momentarily to acknowledge his presence, gesturing with his hand, he urged him to sit down. With a slightly hunched back, the man leaned forward pushed a piece of paper towards the newcomer. Without further information or any hesitation, he appended his signature after a cursory look at its content. Immediately, there was a round of applause. The man in the couch flashed a smile.

Outside, the sirens blared like some implacable bleating goats. “He thinks and acts as if he owns Lagos!” as if cursing under his breath, the one addressed as ‘His Excellency’ said in subdued anguish.

The man lounging in the couch described as a political juggernaut the ruling All progressives Congress has (always) been linked with the tax-collecting firm, Alpha Beta Consulting that is currently enmeshed in multibillion-money laundering and tax evasion scandal as exposed by its estranged Managing Director and Chief Executive Office, DapoApara – now a whistle-blower.

Apara had some months ago petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over alleged N100 billion fraud, tax evasion and money laundering by Alpha Beta – a management, information systems and technology consultancy said to be collecting revenues for some state governments, particularly Lagos State. But if that petition tickled the fancy of the anti-graft agency, many believe it has turned a blind eye towards alleged monumental fraud being perpetrated by an agency working in cahoots with Lagos State government and the alpha figure described at the outset.

Not a few are miffed at the sluggishness with which the EFCC is reacting to the petition. The agency’s reactions, public analysts and commentators have said bordered on the sublime to the ridiculous. First, when Apara’s petition went viral, it said it had not received it. After some public opprobrium, the commission announced that it was evaluating the petition – not a few found that curious in view of what many said was a grave, earth-shaking allegations against Alpha Beta and Lagos State government.

Not a few Nigerians have wondered what the EFCC has been doing in unravelling the well-documented scandals brought to their attention by the former helmsman of Alpha beta – not that they have implicit trust in the agency. At least, they feel they have the inalienable right to hope that the EFCC boss and his lieutenants will swoop into action and resolve the Alpha Beta riddle that the public have solved in their hearts. However, it can only take the agency to give an official stamp to solving the scandalous N100 billion-riddle.
A chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, Bode George is one of those hoping.

“Those who called others thieves were the biggest criminals of all time. The chickens have come home to roost. How can someone be raping a state so mercilessly since 1999 and he is still doing it?” George asked. “His time is coming to an end. I hope the EFCC will have the nerve to unravel it. It will be the biggest scandal that Nigeria has ever seen. It is mind-boggling and heart-breaking. How can anyone come from Osun (State) and be raping Lagos like this? The authorities must get to the end of this.”

Does the EFCC, an anti-corruption agency sometimes accused of corruption and witch-hunting, need a moment of redemption? George believed now is the time for it to prove beyond any reasonable doubts that it is not the lapdog of its paymaster – the government at the centre.
“All of them who had shared of the rot must be exposed. It will redeem the credibility of the EFCC. But first, they must shut the place down and a law enacted that no one must collect revenue on behalf of the state again and everyone involved must be exposed,” George suggested.

Apara’s petition read in part: “Over the years the company has been protected and shielded by some powerful politicians and people in the society which made them to always boast of being untouchable, but our client, feeling the need not to keep quiet again and strengthened by his belief in the fact that the government of President MuhammaduBuhari is keen on fighting corruption, which has been the bane of our country, is of the firm belief that it’s time to expose and open the can of worms called Alpha Beta Consulting.”
Thus, in a series of tweets, Apara had called on the EFCC to carry out an investigation, saying: “The EFCC investigation should be simple and straight forward. Not rocket science. Alpha Beta has been IGR consultants to the Lagos State Government since 2002, earning about 10 per cent and has generated IGR of about N1.5tn (yes trillion), excluding FAAC and loans.”

If it wants to, some political observers have noted, the EFCC can be “a lean, mean fighting machine” with ruthless efficiency and spirited speed to swoop on anybody. They illustrated this with the speed with which the agency froze the accounts of Rivers, Benue and AkwaIbom states on mere allegations of financial frauds as regards state funds. George is wondering why the EFCC has not frozen the account of Alpha Beta.

It is the same angst expressed by a former spokesman for the ruling APC, Timi Frank.
“The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission does not deem it fit to commence investigation into the activities of the company (Alpha Beta) simply because an APC chieftain would be put in the eye of the storm,” Frank said with disdain.
The estranged APC spokesman further echoed the frustration of many with the EFCC: “The Governor of Rivers State, NyesomWike, has severally petitioned the EFCC with a call on the anti-graft body to investigate corruption allegations against the immediate past Governor of Rivers State, RotimiAmaechi, the Minister of Transportation under the Buhari’s administration, yet apart from acknowledging that it indeed received the said petitions, the EFCC has since turned a blind eye to the allegations.”

EFCC is generally considered as an anti-graft watchdog that neither barks nor bites its backers – the President and his allies. If it barks at all, critics claim it does so reluctantly in a monosyllabic moan as depicted in its response to Apara, former Alpha Beta’s petition. On the other hand, they say EFCC can be a ferocious beast when unleashed on a premeditated mission against the government of the day’s enemies – whether political, social or economic foes.

A month ago, no sooner had the hitherto embattled Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, defected from the APC to the PDP than the EFCC swooped on his government’s coffers freezing the state’s bank accounts with claims that the commission had linked the governor to an alleged N22 billion fraud. According to the corruption watchdog, between June 30, 2015 and March 2018, Ortom ordered the withdrawal of N21.3 billion from four government’s accounts in Guaranty Trust Bank, First Bank of Nigeria and the United Bank for Africa. The Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, TerverAkase, did not mince words when he described the EFCC’s action as a nosey-parker approach, saying: “It is part of the political witch-hunt against Governor Ortom. The question we are asking is: why did EFCC not investigate the governor’s security votes when he was still a member of APC? Why start the investigation now?”
The EFCC was similarly swift in freezing the bank account of AkwaIbom State.

Standing up for his colleagues, the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) and Governor of Zamfara State, AbdulazizYari, slammed the EFCC for its gangster, unconstitutional approach. “The freezing of any account of the state government whether Benue or anywhere is unconstitutional and is not right,” Yari had stated.

In the past, the EFCC was seen as a vicious tool in the hands of the PDP. Today, many groups and individuals see it as a vengeful weapon in the iron-clad hands of the APC. Meanwhile, a pressure group, Benue Liberation Front (BLF) has called on the EFCC to stop its alleged persecution of the Governor Ortom following his defection from the ruling APC to the PDP.

The Coordinator of Benue Liberation Front (BLF), YunumTyosor, last August had harsh words for the Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu: “The EFCC has lately conducted itself in a very low esteem that makes mockery of its anti-corruption fight and indeed cannot absolve itself from the several corruption allegations that have dogged it under Mr. Ibrahim Magu, whom a DSS report has indicted as not fit for the coveted office he occupies, which is why the Senate has declined to confirm his nomination as the EFCC chairman.”

Tyosor, thus, added: “We join other well-meaning Nigerians to condemn in strong terms this attack dog role of the EFCC as it offends our democracy and global best practice. Magu has also clearly taken sides, compromised his office in the discharge of his duty, which is against the oath he took, except of course, he is taking orders from the Presidency to torment Ortom for daring to defect from APC.”
To admirers of the anti-corruption agency, it is hard to imagine that the EFCC will be chasing some shadows in the case of Alpha Beta. Yet, a review of the history of the revenue-collecting company and EFCC’s involvement may signpost what may become of Apara’s petition and the continued stranglehold Alpha Beta and its grandmaster have over Lagos State.

In 2012, peeved by the opacity involved in the contract signed between Lagos State government and Alpha Beta, one Dr. Adegbola Dominic (of Santa Maria Hospital, Igando, Lagos), wrote to Lagos State Ministry of Finance; the Board of Lagos State Internal Revenue Service; the Office of the State Auditor-General; the Special Adviser, Taxation and Revenue Office of the Governor); and the Attorney General of Lagos State requesting to “know how the taxes, revenue, finances of the state accrue, are managed, disbursed” etc., in Lagos State.

In a response dated November 5, 2012, OlanrewajuAkinsola, then-Special Senior Assistant to the Governor (Justice Sector Reforms) in the Office of the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, declined to release the information arguing that the FOI invoked by Dominic was a federal legislation not binding on the states. Yet, in December 2017, a Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja ruled in an unrelated case that the FOI Act is applicable to the Lagos State and does not require domestication to have an effect. The state government had in 1999 entered into a contractual agreement with Alpha Beta mandating it to collect on behalf of the government all the taxes and Internally Generated Revenue which have accrued and been paid to the state. In that contract, the company is entitled to be paid 15 per cent commission.

Ahead of the 2015 elections, then-governorship candidate of the PDP, Jimi Agbaje, had criticised the role played by Alpha Beta in revenue collection in Lagos.
“We can’t have consultants forever. A model is needed that even when we use consultants, they transfer skills and leave,” Agbaje had reportedly pointed out.

Befuddled by Alpha Beta’s contentious link to state’s fortunes, a public commentator said: “What is the role of the Lagos State Internal Revenue Service if its statutory function has been ceded to Alpha Beta? One might have justified the need for a tax consultant in 1999 when civilians took over the government from the military, to put in place an efficient tax administration system. A three-year contract would suffice. As it is today, Alpha Beta is merely a rent collector. It is amazing that such a blatant rape of the state’s resources is being done with the support of the legislature.
“How can anyone rationalise the bare-faced corruption manifest in paying out tax revenues to an agent connected to a former governor of the state? I am in no doubt that, some day, relevant officials of the Lagos State government would be called to account for the monies now being gleefully received by Alpha Beta. It’s only a matter of time.

Currently, on the website of Alpha Beta are the names of these characters: Doherty Akin, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer; Bode Oluyemi, Deputy Managing Director; FolashadeMoronkeji, Head, Administration and Corporate Services; AkinsolaFolarin, Deputy Head, Administration and Corporate Services; MufutauKayode, Ottun, Head, Revenue Monitoring and Enumeration; AfolabiAremu, Head of Account; Esonu Kingsley, Head of Operation, E-Revenue Gateway; Lanre, Bamikole, Head, Transaction Monitoring and Research; OpeyemiOgunbo, Head, Offshore Business (OB); and Lazarus Attagai, Head, Billings and New Projects (BNP), among others.

In September 2006, then-Commissioner for Finance in Lagos State, Doherty, was quizzed by the EFCC in connection with an investigation into financial dealings involving Alpha Beta – today, that man sits atop the billion-naira firm. According to political watchers, the stage is set and not a few Nigerians are watching if – not when – the Magu-led EFCC will take the bull by the horns and unravel the alleged decades-old billion-naira fraud going on in Lagos State in connivance with Alpha Beta.

The post EFCC, Alpha Beta and the Snake in the Monkey’s Shadow appeared first on THISDAYLIVE.

 

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