Mr. Askia Ogeah's reportedly owns Whizzy Lounge in Accra, Ghana
By SaharaReporters, New York
Officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and a former local government boss in Delta State have offered conflicting accounts about one of the most high-profile cases of corruption in Delta.
Sources within the EFCC and Delta State told SaharaReporters that Askia Ogieh, a past chairman of the Delta State chapter of Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) and former chairman of Isoko South Council, has gone underground to evade an invitation by the EFCC, Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency.
But Mr. Ogieh insists that he is neither on the run nor afraid of any prosecution.
Several sources in Delta State and within the EFCC told SaharaReporters that the EFCC is seeking to interrogate Mr. Ogieh on allegations that he looted council funds. In addition, Mr. Ogieh is being accused of abandoning projects as well as paying for several contracts that were never executed during his tenure in office from 2008 to 2011.
An EFCC source, while confirming that the agency was looking for Mr. Ogieh, also revealed that the agency quizzed a senior staff of the council last week at the EFCC’s headquarters in Abuja. He stated that the official was released on self-recognition and instructed to return on July 24, 2012 with specified documents relating to contracts awarded by the fleeing former ALGON boss.
“The EFCC is in possession of some payment vouchers made by Mr. Askia Ogieh for the purported supply of tractors and other equipment which were never supplied,” said a source at the EFCC. He added that the agency had also received other documents that appear to establish misappropriation of funds by the former council boss.
Our correspondent learnt that Mr. Ogieh, who once served as national deputy president of ALGON, was aware of the invitation by the commission. “He kept dribbling the commission with failed promises to turn up at the commission’s headquarters in Abuja,” said one source.
A source in the local government council, who said he had been briefed by the senior staff quizzed last week by the commission, told SaharaReporters that the embattled former council boss was investigated and arrested numerous times during his tenure from 2008 to 2011. Even so, several sources disclosed that he never once faced prosecution because of his willingness to bribe officials of the EFCC led by its former chairperson, Farida Waziri.
“Despite the overwhelming evidence against Askia, he was never prosecuted,” said the source. “At times, the commission would come and arrest him. They would take him to their zonal office in Port Harcourt or straight to Abuja. But the more he was arrested and investigated, the more he boasted that, with his money, the commission could not do anything to him. He once boasted to the hearing of people that as long as Mr. Lamorde [current EFCC chair] remained in the EFCC, nothing would happen to him.”
The senior council staff quizzed by EFCC declined to comment for this report, stating that he was barely two months old in the council. Several sources at the council confirmed that he was not part of the council during Mr. Ogieh’s looting bonanza between 2008 and 2011. Among the documents being sought by the commission are those for contracts covering the moribund Uzere cassava plant, Uzere College road project, Olezi road project, and Emuoge road project.
Mr. Ogieh’s tenure was always dogged by controversy. One staffer described him as “the most heartless and troublesome being I have ever met.” Before leaving office in 2011, Mr. Ogieh had a series of cases of misappropriation of public funds dangling over his neck. The cases kept officials of the EFCC and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) busy, even though they curiously never prosecuted Mr. Ogieh.
One of Mr. Ogieh’s most notorious acts was his unlawful sacking of over 450 teaching and non-teaching staff of primary schools. The act provoked irate residents to hurl stones at Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan at Oleh, Isoko South.
Mr. Ogieh’s last days as a council boss were also characterized by tense relations with his councilors over his refusal to give income and expenditure accounts of council expenditures. Disturbed by his consistent failure to render account to the legislative arm, the councilors moved a motion demanding the freezing of the council’s account.
In addition, the councilors decided at an emergency session to suspend Mr. Ogieh for three months. The action triggered a physical face-off in the council’s secretariat. In the ensuing fight, thugs loyal to Mr. Ogieh employed guns, machetes, and cudgels to intimidate those opposed to the rogue council boss.
The letter of suspension was dated January 25, 2011, and addressed to the Speaker of the Delta State House Assembly. The document was signed by Blessing Ese, the then leader of the legislative arm, with sixteen other councilors co-signing. In addition to demanding a three-month suspension for Mr. Ogieh, the signatories asked that the council’s accounts be frozen with immediate effect. They also stipulated that, until the council’s financial position became clear, all dealings with the chairman or his representatives should cease.
The suspension letter was copied to the state Director of State Security Service (SSS), the State Commissioner of Police and the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in Isoko South. It detailed Mr. Ogieh’s failure to render monthly statements of income and expenditure as required by state law as well as his alleged reckless spending of council funds without recourse to budgetary provisions.
Contacted by a reporter, Mr. Ogieh denied receiving an invitation letter from EFCC. “The EFCC cannot ask anybody to furnish it with any records that have to do with his former administration as the former council chairman of Isoko South local government area of Delta State because they have all the records in their possession,” said Mr. Ogieh. He added: “Remember that I was the most investigated local government chairman by EFCC, ICPC, special anti-fraud unit, Lagos, and the police. I have been to the EFCC’s Port Harcourt office, Abuja office, Benin office even as far as Lagos. But in all this, have I been prosecuted by any of all these agencies? The answer is no. So, as I am talking to you now I don’t have any knowledge of any invitation from EFCC.”
The former council chairman stated that, as an agency of the federal government, the EFCC has the power to “to invite anybody following a petition that must have been written against such person or persons.”
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