Ongoing probe of the administration of former Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi by the State Judicial Commission of Inquiry has revealed how the sum of N53.930 billion was withdrawn out of the total N55 billion saved in the state reserved fund, originally meant to serve as a bail-out for the state in the case of emergency.
A Third Witness in the matter and representative of the First Bank of Nigeria, FBN Limited, which happens to be the trustees of the funds, Mr. Olufemi Okin, yesterday in Port Harcourt, gave evidence regarding the FBN Trustees relationship to the reserved funds.
Testifying before the Justice Omereji G.O. Omereji-led Judicial Commission of Inquiry at the Chief Justice Ceremonial Court, Rivers State High Court, Port Harcourt, the FBN Trustees’ representative stated that his organisation was appointed by the state government, under the former governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi administration to oversee the management of the funds, besides coordinating other activities of the professional parties appointed on the funds.
He listed those regarded as professional parties to include Skye Financial Services, as custodian of the Rivers State Reserved Funds, keeping custody of the assets of the funds, Stambic IBTC Assets Management Limited, acting as funds manager in charge of investment activities.
Also, the witness listed Assets and Resource Management Limited, as another funds manager.
On the benefits which accrued from investment of the funds from its inception till 6 July, 2015, the FBN Trustees’ representative said that the reserve rose from the initial total contribution of N38.5billion to N55 billion.
Concerning withdrawals said to have been made by the former governor, Olufemi, who works as a trust officer in the organisation, acknowledged the withdrawals and put the cumulative withdrawal from the funds from February 2014 to January 2015 at N53,930.000.000, explaining: “What is currently left in the Rivers State Reserved Funds is roughly about N1.24 billion.’’
Not satisfied with the word ‘roughly’, counsel to the Commission, Dr. Zacchaeus Adango, demanded to know the accurate figure to which the witness responded: “The reserved funds is continuing because the interest continues to rise. The counsel, who cross-examined the witness, also sought to know if the witness was aware that the funds could only be accessed in situation of emergency, the witness responded that it was the situation before the reserved fund amendment law was made.
The witness told the Commission about four different resolutions of the State Assembly, which culminated in the withdrawals made.
According to him, the first resolution was made in 13 February, 2014, followed by the second and third resolutions which took place on 25 February, 2014 and 20 October, 2014 while the fourth and last resolution was made on18 May, 2015 prior to the handover of the former governor.
Based on the resolutions passed, the witness stated that Amaechi withdrew N30 billion, N19 billion, and N5 billion, apart from the fourth request of N1billion, which he recollected though was granted, but could not be withdrawn by the governor based on the protest by the funds trustees
via the e-mail that, no list of expenditure was attached, to know what the projects would be executed for.
He said the e-mail was copied to the then state commissioner for finance, Chamberlain Peterside and the chairman, Rivers State Investment Committee, Abinye Amachree, whom he noted replied to the organization in writing.
At this point, the Commission demanded the submission of the e-mail message that indicated a protest by the trustees as to why it would not disburse the N1 billion requested by Amaechi.
The FBN representative later agreed to send the copy of the protest e-mail vial the commission e-mail by Wednesday to authenticate the claims made by the trustees.
The counsel to the Commission had earlier alleged that no items were attached to the expenditure as to justify the actual projects funds collected would be used for. In reaction to this, the witness stated that, part of the reasons given by government included the need to be able to complete ongoing projects then.
But the witness caused a stir in the court room where the Commission sat, when he stated that, part of the money requested by the governor was to enable the former governor address the security issue in the office of the Secretary to the State Government, SSG, with N4 billion, apart from N2billion said to have gone into the settlement of scholarship and pending arrears.
Others included payment of N488 million to contractors in January, 2014, another N488 million in February 2014, while N24 million was said to have been paid to the state environmental sanitation authority and another N1 billion for the dualisation of the Airport /Elele road, among others.
When asked if familiar with the overriding objective of the reserved funds, Olufemi, who serves as analyst and trust officer under the FBN trustees, explained that, “it is to accrue funds in the reserved account opened by the custodians on behalf of the state for the purposes stated in state reserved funds law.’’