The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has reportedly frozen the bank accounts of the Benue State government domiciled in three banks as part of its investigation into Governor Samuel Ortom.
The anti-graft agency has been investigating Ortom over how he has spent on Benue's security since 2015, alleging that he diverted billions of naira with security votes.
The governor's chief press secretary, Terver Akase, told Pulse on Wednesday, August 8, 2018, that the freezing of the accounts is part of a large-scale harassment campaign of the governor by the EFCC.
He described the investigation as a witchhunt of the governor because he dumped the ruling All Progressives' Congress (APC) for the People's Democratic Party (PDP) last month.
He said, "How we see it is rather unfortunate. EFCC is allowing itself to be used as a political tool for witchhunting instead of being the professional commission for fighting crimes.
"We're wondering why they didn't do all of this when Governor Ortom was still in the APC. The government of Benue is probably the only state where security votes are being investigated by the EFCC."
He further explained that the state government has been doing everything within its power to solve the insecurity crisis in the state, efforts he said could be hampered by the EFCC's latest action.
He said, "Benue has been in crisis. Fulani herdsmen have been attacking Benue since January and you expect the state government to just sit there and not do anything? The same people will come and say that Governor Ortom has not done anything to fight insecurity.
"And now that the government has been doing all it can to help security agencies to combat this problem - the major part of the logistic and other funding is coming from the state government - you want to probe the government of security votes.
"We're not afraid of investigation but we see this one as witchhunting because it is not justifiable."
Akase also revealed that since Ortom is currently covered by immunity from prosecution, the EFCC has resorted to harassing government officials who are close to the governor.
"They have been harassing officials of the state government for some days now. The governor is under immunity but if they're harassing your officials, it's as good as they're harassing you.
"Some of the people they've taken have no votes at all or have any interest whatever in their offices. They've just been picking everybody that is close to the governor," Akase disclosed to Pulse
Efforts to reach the EFCC for comments were unsuccessful as the anti-graft agency's spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, failed to answer several phone calls made to his contact number..
Ortom's alleged mismanagement of N21.3 billion
The investigation into the governor's handling of N21.3 billion started in 2016, but wasn't made public until Monday, July 30, 2018, barely a week after Ortom dumped the APC for the PDP.
According to the EFCC's report, Ortom ordered the withdrawal of N21.3bn from four government accounts between June 30, 2015 and March 2018. Even though about N19 billion was earmarked to be paid to six security agencies that had been deployed to address the incessant clashes between herdsmen and farmers in the state, the EFCC disclosed that only N3 billion was paid with the rest unaccounted for.
The EFCC investigation also revealed that Governor Ortom failed to pay salaries despite withdrawing the sum of N1.3 billion for that purpose from the Joint State Local Government Account.