Stories by Louis Ibah
The popular axiom: “that every day is for the thief, but one day belongs to the owner of the goods” found expression about a fortnight ago, when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) stormed the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and arrested a level six officer at the Accounts Department, Ms. Christy Olabode, alleged to have stolen over N70 million belonging to the agency.
Since her arrest, there have been queries from some stakeholders on the efficiency, if any of the checks and balances said to exist not just in FAAN, but indeed in all the aviation sector parastatals which observers allege are stinking with corruption and graft. It could be recalled that in January this year, four top officials of the Nigerian Air Space Management Agency (NAMA) another aviation parastatal were apprehended and are now being prosecuted by the EFCC over a N6billion fraud. Among them was the NAMA Managing Director, Mr. Ibrahim Abdulsalam. Only last week, the EFCC again arrested some senior officials of the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) on allegations of misappropriating about N1billion belonging to shareholders of the company. Those who allege the prevalence of a high level of fraud in Nigeria’s aviation sector have always pointed at the various poorly executed and abandoned projects in the sector, the bulk of which the Federal Government had made available the requisite funds for the take-off and completion.
Managing Director/CEO of Finum Aviation Services, Mr. Sheri Kyari, who spoke on the latest fraud in FAAN, said “corruption has been instituted in the country and it will take time to fizzle out.”
“The implication of what has happened in FAAN is that there are still some desperate people who think they can make money and run away with it,” he said.
“And also they are telling Nigerians that either the aviation industry in the country has been very dirty or there is so much money in the sector and the implications therefore can be positive or negative. Positive, because it will show investors that there are lots of investment opportunities or money in the sector to be made,” Kyari added.
The rot in aviation
Apart from the fact that mid-way into the execution of former president Jonathan’s aviation projects, the government ran out of cash following the slide in earnings from crude oil, the other major factor that appeared to have really affected the growth and development of the industry,including the airlines and perishable cargo terminal projects was corruption.
“The problem of Nigeria is also part of the problem we are having in the Nigerian aviation industry,” said Noggie Meggission, President of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON).
“What that means is that the same issue of corruption, insincerity, nepotism, pride, leadership problems, to mention but a few of the problems plaguing the Nigerian state, are also working against aviation,” Meggisson added.
Daily Sun learnt that there have been a high level of graft in the form of misapplication and misappropriation of funds for some of the projects by relevant government officials. Some top officials of the parastatals and ministry became so rich overnight that stories started flying about the industry on who was richer among some of the staff.
One official told Daily Sun, how the unions in the industry wrote petitions to anti-graft agencies like the EFCC and ICPC to audit the accounts of parastatals in the industry. The official also said on several occasions attempts by the Senate and House of Representatives Committee on Aviation to call for the accountability of voted sums for project was thwarted by the affected officials in the aviation ministry as well as the parastatals.
The Olabode fraud
Two things make Olabode’s case most intriguing: The first, was her mode of operation where she is alleged to have diverted the amount (between 2013 – 2016) into secret accounts under various pseudo-names. The second is Olabode’s status as a very young officer. She’s just a level six officer. This means she has very many superiors in her department to report to, except she also enjoyed the cooperation of those superiors who are supposed to have acted as checks and balances on her job. How did a junior staff of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) embezzle about N70million steadily in three years without being detected?
Many industry stakeholders have pointed at the failure or absence of internal controls and institutions of checks and balances on Olabode as enough evidence to validate claims of high level of graft in FAAN. Everybody was stealing and so nobody bothered to monitor a junior who stole only N70 million.
In the last six years, the agency has been involved in the remodeling and rehabilitation of about 22 airports scattered across the country on behalf of the Nigerian government.
“An estimated $2.2billion must have been attracted and spent in the remodeling of the airports and these funds came from both public and private sectors,” said an analyst who wouldn’t want to be named.
“The most pronounced which we all know being the $500million loan secured from the Chinese Exim Bank for the construction of four new International airport terminals in Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt and Kano,” he added.
Indeed, Daily Sun learnt that following the arrest of Olabode, an air of anxiety and apprehension had descended on other staff of the agency, especially those working in the accounts, procurements, and commercial departments where large sums of monies (running into millions of naira) is believed to be changing hands on daily basis.
What went wrong?
It all happened earlier in July this year, when a young man working on a computer in the ICT Department of FAAN and dealing with data collation noticed abnormalities in figures posted from the Accounts Department. The ICT officer then reported the discrepancies to the management of FAAN which issued a query to Olabode.
It was learnt that Olabode upon receipt of the query opted not to answer, but instead sought refuge in some superior officers who promised to shield her from further probe. Some of the monies she misappropriated were meant for the purchase of office furniture for staff. And with no serious action taken to sanction her or recover the money, some concerned staff then petitioned the EFCC seeking an urgent probe of the fraud. The superior officers who she had thought could protect her from being probed, sanctioned or even sacked, it was learnt had abandoned her to her fate once the EFCC stepped into the case.
Part of the details revealed the following shoddy deals by Olabode. Olabode was alleged to have in August 2013 diverted funds the sum of N2,719,699.92,which was lodged into Eco Bank Account Number 2501016701, with the name of Paul Amaechi Ihedinihu, a level 14 officer. Still in December of 2013, Olabode also made a deposit of N2, 719,699.92 into account number, 0059963039, with the name of Bright E. Ogbonna at Access Bank. While N2, 719,699.92 was allegedly deposited in the name of Yahyah A. Sadiq in Guaranty Trust Bank Account Number 0035237900. Other deposits made by the suspect with names include: N1, 493,903.52 into another Guaranty Trust Bank account; 0113269817, in the name of Yunus Olaniyan Agboola. Ms. Olabode also funneled N2, 184,168.96 into a Diamond Bank account, 0031963629, in the name of Adamu Sanusi. Other names used in the extensive scam included Hurso Muhammed Hurso, Nnamdi T. Onuchukwu, Haruna Umar, John Uwabuafia Ofodu, Godday Otunaya, Isaac Joel Okwodu, Blessing Inye Pepple, Habibu Abubakar Adamu, and Emmanual Gloria Ewoh. Illegal deposits were made at Oceanic Bank, Fidelity Bank, First City Monument Bank and First Bank. It was not until the EFCC stepped in to arrest Olabode that FAAN followed it up by suspending her.
FAAN in a statement following the arrest of Olabode said it had suspended the effected staff.
Part of the statement read, “The accused were said to have diverted the agency’s funds into different accounts of staff and others over certain period of time until they were discovered by the management. Upon discovery, the management set up a committee, which investigated the major suspect who promptly named others involved in the fraud and they were swiftly suspended.
“It was when the committee drilled the main suspect who confessed that some of the monies were sent to her brother’s accounts, that prompted the management to further invite more suspects who were subsequently suspended. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) operatives who got wind of the matter decided to investigate it and have detained the prime suspects.
“FAAN has also concluded plans to set up audit team to further investigate financial transaction in the department. The objective of the audit is to carry out investigation on the activities of the personnel in the accounts and commercial departments, to close all loopholes on the sources of revenues and to ensure that all revenues are captured and accounted for.”
“After the audit FAAN would further modernise its accounting system, explore new ways to boost revenues and also to continuously monitor activities of its personnel involved in revenue generation and accounting,” the statement added.
It expressed the hope that EFCC would unravel the details of the fraud, punish those involved and also work with management to forestall such from happening again. After the audit, FAAN said it would adopt a policy of rotating its personnel in the accounts and commercial departments every two years so that no person would stay in one unit for more than that period of time, noting that people think of perpetrating fraud and all kinds of malfeasance when they stay too long in one post.