Abia SME missing Fund: Advocacy Group, FENRAD seeks transparent probe

By Chijindu Emeruwa

An environmental Right and Democracy Advocacy group, Foundation for Environmental Rights Advocacy and Development,(FENRAD), has expressed concern on the alleged missing of two hundred million naira(N200,000.000.00) from the Abia State Small and Medium Scale Enterprise Microfinance bank fund.

FENRAD urged members of Abia State House of Assembly Anti Corruption committee to make public the hearing of the alleged fraud in the interest of the public and see that no stone is left unturned.

The Democracy Advocate group further called on the Governor of the State, Okezie Ikpeazu to make sure that any Judas within his twelve is exposed so that public trust is not lost on his administration, especially as he embarks on massive road reconstruction.

The call was contained in a release jointly signed by FENRAD Nigeria Executive Director, Comrade Nelson Nnanna Nwafor and Head legal Team, Barrister Olusegun Bamgbose and made available to Akelicious on Friday.

AKELICIOUS gathered that the Abia State House of Assembly had earlier before Christmas recess, received a petition alleging the sudden disappearance of N200 million meant for SME Microfinance Bank establishment in the 17 local government areas of the State and a headquarters.

Speaking while declaring the investigation open, the Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Jerry Uzosike, revealed the strength of the petition and the determination of the State House of Assembly under the leadership of Rt. Hon. Chinedum Orji to see to the end of the matter.

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Uzosike challenged all parties involved to give accurate account as they are under oath.

But, according to FENRAD’s press release which partly stated, on Friday, “We understands that the said racket was linked to “a high profile relative of the governor”, according to sources. Borne out of his burning desire to have in the state a ministry for small and medium scale enterprise, to engender, drive and attain the economic growth in Aba and Abia State, and with a view to ensuring creation of wealth and the class of wealthy through such ministry, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State created an SME ministry whose commissioner, Barr. Gabe Ogbonna, thereupon proposed (via a written proposal) to the governor for establishment of Small and Medium Scale Enterprise Microfinance Bank to assist artisans, micro and small businesses and even sundry non-formal sectors thrive and reach development potential in the state.

“Setting the process in motion, the governor was first to inaugurate a high-powered committee peopled by some higher-ups in key government posts in the state with Dr. Eme Okoro, the former secretary the state government, as implementation committee chairman whereas Barr Gabe Igbokwe, the commissioner for SME acted as the state coordinator alongside other committee members. Thus constituted, the committee applied for operational licence from the Central Bank of Nigeria (whose amount totaled N100, 000, 000. 00 – one hundred million naira), but since the state government could not come up early enough with the needed funds, the operation of the bank was staggered. The helpless committee, FENRAD learned, approached Keystone Bank (a money deposit bank other than the CBN) and was able to secure the sum of 200 million naira, interest of which is not public yet (neither to FENRAD nor to its source).

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“The arrangement hitherto was to have in each local government headquarters an office or branch of the microfinance bank. But sadly after three years, Abians did not see any such offices across the seventeen (17) local government councils barring one office at Number 17B Ngwa Road Aba which the CBN did not acknowledge issuing any licence to operate but was said to have been commissioned by the governor on Monday, December 16, 2019. FENRAD laments that upon assumption of office as commissioner of SME by Mr. Onyema Wachukwu, only 40 million naira was seen in the coffers of the bank! The question, FENRAD raises, is: What happened to the over one hundred and fifty million differential?

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“FENRAD laments that given hardship occasioned by Coronavirus, EndSars, curfew, lockdown and tariff increase, stories like this could be heard. Where are the seventeen offices of this MSE Microfinance Bank located or situated? Who and who accessed their funds among Abians, if any? If none (in dealing with the second and latter question), then who are the committee members of the Bank and can they, to save their image and faces, explain to Abians in whose name the whole thing regarding the loan was accessed, what happened and how the money is becoming a long story now? FENRAD will be willing to hear the very last of this matter, including the answers to questions raised here, as the indigent public should not be made to suffer and pay what they never consumed”.

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