By Sunday Ani
Rights activist, Chief Rita Lori-Ogbebor, has debunked report linking her and others with N300 million Itsekiri Regional Development Committee (IRDC) fund domiciled in one of the new generation banks, describing the report as malicious and an attempt to smear her image.
She said she had nothing to do with the funds, insisting that she is neither a signatory to the account nor a member of the IRDC.
The elder stateswoman said she is only fighting for accountability in IRDC, which made her to seek a court order restraining members of the IRDC from what she called mismanagement of the funds.
Oil giant, Chevron Nigeria Limited (CNL) had dragged Lori- Ogbebor and others to a Delta State High Court sitting in Warri, seeking an order of perpetual injunction restraining them from withdrawing or transferring fund from the IRDC.
The company had alleged that the defendants, relying on a consent judgment in EHC/20/2020, withdrew N300 million from the IRDC’s bank account in breach of GMOU and the mandate and terms of the operation of the IRDC’s bank accounts purportedly as legal fee.
But briefing newsmen yesterday in Lagos, Lori-Ogbebor, who is the Igba of Warri Kingdom, threatened legal action against the oil firm.
She said: “I was surprised to see a report that claimed Chevron had taken me and some persons to court over IRDC funds. First , the report is malicious, ill-intentioned and a calculated attempt to rubbish my hard-earned image. I am not a politician neither am I a contractor to any of the oil companies in the Niger Delta region. I am a businesswoman, who has been a major employer of labour for more than 50 years. I am a woman of integrity, who is only concerned about the underdevelopment, poverty and mismanagement of funds meant for the development of Niger Delta. I fight for the betterment of my people, the Itsekiri, and also the entire Niger Delta. Why would anyone link me with IRDC funds, which I stopped people from mismanaging? I went to court to stop further mismanagement of IRDC funds and the order was granted in 2017.
A Delta State High Court sitting in Warri, subsequently froze six accounts, in Keystone Bank Plc, bearing N2.2 billion of CNL, IRDC fund.
The trial judge granted the order after hearing our prayers in the case.
The court barred CNL from releasing funds to the IRDC pending the determination of the suit. How then would anyone claim that I have access to the account?
“Even when we discovered that despite two court orders freezing seven accounts operated by IRDC, members of the council went further to open new accounts in two different banks. I raised the alarm because that was contempt of court. When I discovered that the sum of N300 million had been withdrawn, I brought it to the notice of the public because the funds are for the development of Itsekiriland and not for self-enrichment. I also reported, through formal petitions, the withdrawal of the N300 million to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA). My advocacy for accountability in the management of community development funds in Itsekiriland is known to everyone. The facts are there in the papers for anyone one to see. I have never taken any contract from anyone, and I am not a signatory to IRDC accounts. Therefore, it is baseless for anyone to accuse me of being among those who withdrew IRDC funds. It is an insult to the sacrifices I have made for my people and all I stood for. I won’t allow malicious people to discredit my hard earned image. Those behind the frivolous report would hear from my lawyers. I am calling on the public to disregard the said report and consider it as an attempt to cover up the atrocities being committed against Itsekiri people.
“It is Chevron that has been dealing with IRDC. And the body, IRDC, is not registered with the CAC. We cried to Chevron to stop dealing with an unregistered body. I went to court to stop Chevron and IRDC from having access to Itsekiri funds. I was approached last year to withdraw the suit from the court, but I refused.
“At this point I want to appeal to the EFCC and the NBA to expedite action on my pending petitions with them in order to bring all those involved with the withdrawal of the N300 million to book,” she said.