The Benue State authorities said Wednesday that funds meant to pay the salaries of workers and pensioners have been frozen in commercial bank accounts, accusing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of being responsible.
“Accounts of the Benue State Government have been frozen by EFCC,” Terver Akase, a spokesperson for Governor Samuel Ortom, said in a statement to PREMIUM TIMES.
“It is part of the political witch-hunt against Governor Samuel Ortom. The action of EFCC is already having negative impact on the running of government in Benue State. It is a move that will affect salaries, pensions and other sundry payments,” Mr Akase said.
His confirmation came a day after the Vanguard reported that at least three bank accounts which the state held with GTBank, First Bank and Fidelity Bank had been blocked by the anti-graft office as part of a corruption probe.
Several reports last week said the EFCC was investigating Mr Ortom for up to N22 billion in security funds allegedly feared plundered under his supervision.
The governor has denied the allegations, saying they were amongst a desperate plot to oust him as governor. He said the plot was bu to his recent defection from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party.
Mr Ortom is also facing a battle with some APC lawmakers in the state who are scheming to remove him from office. Initial attempts by eight lawmakers to serve the governor a notice of impeachment were rebuffed by his loyalists and condemned across the country, including by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Mr Akase emphasised the political undertone of the EFCC’s action in his statement Wednesday, warning the agency not to allow itself be used by political players.
“The question we are asking is; why did EFCC not investigate the Governor’s security votes when he was still a member of APC? Why start the investigation now?
“EFCC should not allow itself to be used as an attack dog unleashed against perceived political opponents'” Mr Akase said.
The reported freezing comes days after the APC accused Mr Ortom of squandering security votes and politicising the deaths of his state residents. Mr Ortom strongly denied the allegations.
“Let the Federal Government tell us how much it has spent on prosecuting the fight against Boko Haram and how much it spent on the other operations such as Python Dance, Crocodile Smile and Whirl Stroke.
“Benue has suffered heavy attacks by Fulani herdsmen since the beginning of the year. Within the period, the State Government has spent a lot to legitimately support security agencies to protect the people of the state. Governor Ortom has not diverted funds. He runs a transparent administration.
“We welcome the investigation, but as I said earlier, it should start from the presidency and go across the 36 states. Benue should not be singled out for victimisation, intimidation and harassment as the federal government with its agencies is currently doing,” Mr Akase said.
The state has endured deadly aggression by suspected herdsmen for the most part of the year, leaving over a thousand dead and over 200 thousand agrarian settlers displaced from their villages.
PREMIUM TIMES has not been able to independently confirm details of the freeze, or whether a court order was procured. A spokesperson for the EFCC did not return requests for comments.