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 has 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.
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.
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 N4 billion CBN loan meant to help develop agriculture in the state was shared among 380 mother cooperatives. Those 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 loan 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 benefited from the loans which was converted to grants and disbursed without supervision.
Adangor, therefore, alleged that 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.
He 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 authorized a committee presided over by a director in the ministry, Mr. Grant Amadi, to oversee the disbursement.
Amadi did not deny the allegations but said that the Agriculture Credit Committee which he chaired, had no terms of reference and all decisions of those who benefited 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. As such, 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.