Iyobosa Uwugiaren in Abuja and George Okoh in Makurdi
Just days after freezing and unfreezing the accounts of the Benue State government, in an act widely condemned as illegal, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has been accused of engaging in other “shameful” activities on purpose to cripple governance in the state. Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom made the allegation saturday in a statement by his spokesman, Terver Akasa. The statement released in Makurdi said such acts included the bandying of figures in the media by the commission and claiming such to be transactions in accounts owned by the state government. It alleged that EFCC was turning into a strike force and trial court for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) against the opposition.
This was as Ortom threatened to bring a N10 billion defamation suit against the national chairman of APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomole. In a letter to the APC chairman through the governor’s lawyers, which was made available to THISDAY in Makurdi, Ortom referred to various interviews and media briefings where Oshiomhole allegedly defamed, maligned, and demeaned his personality.
Ortom defected from APC to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on July 25, a day after the ruling party lost about 13 senators and 37 members of the House of Representatives to the opposition party. And he has since been involved in a series of running battles with the federal government’s anti-graft agency, which are generally believed to be set off by his defection.
Ortom’s spokesman said EFCC had claimed in newspaper reports saturday that a staff of the Benue State government, whose name it gave as Agbo Amada, had been sacked “to avoid making him available for interrogation”.
The statement said, “The commission could not disclose where the said government staff worked before he was sacked obviously because such a person does not exist.”
It added, “It released figures allegedly withdrawn from the Benue State Government accounts without disclosing the dates of the withdrawals and the period during which they were made.
“The commission has also not been able to state accounts into which such monies withdrawn were paid to prove that the funds had been diverted. EFCC is contented with publishing the figures without stating how impropriety has been established.”
The governor said EFCC was simply out to tarnish the image of his administration without cause.
Ortom stated, “On this score, it is clear that the EFCC has now become both a strike squad of the APC for torment, and their law court for the trial and conviction of political opponents.
“Only an agency which has the mandate of ruining the reputation of persons perceived to be political opponents of the ruling party would descend to the low level the EFCC is currently heading to, by circulating figures in the conduct of a media trial of Governor Ortom.”
The statement also said, “EFCC should be ashamed to have lied to Nigerians that it began investigation of the present administration in Benue State two years ago. The evidence is that the commission commenced the witch-hunt when it became clear that Governor Ortom was on his way out of the ruling APC.
“Since then, no day passes without the commission harassing officials of the state government. Some of the affected officials are threatened and manhandled once they are taken into custody at the EFCC headquarters, Abuja.
“But certain things remain clear. One of them is that Nigerians are wise enough to read in between the lines to know where the smear campaign has originated and to dismiss it accordingly.”
The governor said he was not distracted by the EFCC persecution and will not reconsider his exit from APC.
He alleged that the latest acts of the EFCC were prompted by the recent failure of a minority group of eight legislators, sponsored by the same forces, to impeach him. “We alerted Nigerians about the organised smear campaign against the governor by enemies of Benue State who are using a minority group of lawmakers in the state House of Assembly to remove the governor,” the statement said.
Ortom’s lawyers stated in their letter to Oshiomhole, “Recall that on Friday, July 27th, 2018, you did cause a sponsored press conference to be aired on multiple television and radio stations which was also widely circulated in the print and social media.
“In the said sponsored press conference which was entirely centred on the person of Governor Samuel Ortom, you made very astonishing, unsubstantiated, wild and wide allegations against our client relating to the issue of allocation and payment of salaries, security votes expenditure and the insecurity in Benue State.
“It is the aggregate of your allegations that our client has confessed to sharing Benue State money with party leaders and that despite collection of bail out and Paris Club refund monies, ‘Gov. Ortom has not and is not paying salaries… the vicious circle of poverty in Benue State has been deepened under Gov. Ortom’.
“By deducible analysis, it is also your allegation that our client is responsible for the killings in Benue State specifically the unfortunate killing of two Catholic priests and their parishioners in Mbalom community which sad event occurred on the morning of 24th April, 2018.
“It is noteworthy that in the entire web of false accusations that you weaved against our client, you could not bring yourself to mention a single Benue person or any other person for that matter from whom you sourced your false narratives. For the records, the principles of law grounding liability for defamation and libel do not exculpate tale bearers from liability for the reason that the tales they bear are not original to them.
“There is also no gainsaying the fact that the false allegations you have levelled against our client are weighty and same would have demanded a greater degree of circumspection, sobriety and deep reflection from you before rushing to the public domain.
“For one who is purportedly schooled, it is taken for granted that you are fully abreast of the legal obligation cum implication that he who asserts has a corresponding burden to prove. Regrettably, in your case you spoke not to records but to base political sentiments.
“Therefore, the only inference to draw is that your unproven allegation was informed by a dangerously cultivated, albeit unwarranted malice against our client. In the circumstance, we have our client’s instruction to place before you the following demands:
“A letter of retraction/apology addressed to our client in respect of the false, defamatory and libellous statement made against him in the sponsored press conference herein complained of.
“That the said retraction/apology be simultaneously published in the Sunday edition of 10 National Dailies circulating within Benue State as well as a paid advertorial to the same effect on the prime time beats of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Channels Tv, TVC News, African Independent Television (AIT), Independent Television (ITV) Benin, Radio Nigeria, Radio Benue and Harvest FM, Makurdi.
“An undertaking not to indulge in any such false publication against our client in future.
“Payment of N10,000,000,000. (Ten Billion Naira) only to our client as punitive, general, exemplary and aggravated damages
“We have our client’s express instruction that the terms above be met within 7 days of receipt of this letter. It is the further instruction of our client that in the event of any failure, refusal or neglect to conform to the terms set out above, he would be left with no option than to commence appropriate legal proceedings against you in the law Court.”
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