Wednesday, April 21, 2021

EXCLUSIVE: Bank documents expose how Governor Umahi transferred billions to his company from Ebonyi treasury

David Umahi was given a chance to govern the poorest state in southern Nigeria. But expanding his own pocket has been his priority from day one.

• January 29, 2021
David Umahi (Credit: BBC)
David Umahi (Credit: BBC)

Governor David Umahi has clutched onto his vast business interests just as firmly as his grip on political power, Peoples Gazette can report, in sheer disdain for extant code of conduct regulations precluding senior public officials from conducting private businesses, except subsistence agriculture, while in office.

Bank records of Ebonyi State’s, recently obtained by the Gazette, showed a sustained trend of illicit financial flows from the state’s purse to Brass Engineering & Construction Nig. Ltd., which CAC filings showed belonged to Mr. Umahi, 57.

Between 2011 and 2019, Brass Engineering, which Mr. Umahi founded and chaired since 1993, has received more than N3.6 billion, records show. Mr. Umahi started transferring state funds into Brass Engineering shortly after becoming deputy governor to Martin Elechi in 2011. When he assumed governor himself in 2015, he continued the suspicious transaction with his firm, despite claiming to have recused himself from the firm’s management in 2011.

The transactions, totalling N3,623,496,247, constitute available records of several tranches of disbursements made from state bank accounts to Brass Engineering, for shoddy government contracts commandeered by Mr. Umahi for his private firm.

The Gazette also uncovered how state officials erased suspicious payment records between Ebonyi and Brass Engineering, said to be managed by Mr. Umahi’s younger brother Austin.

Bank records seen by the Gazette showed that a string of twelve transactions totalling N1,263,550,513 was paid to Brass Engineering since 2011. The money was transferred from Ebonyi StateExpenditure Accounts 1001158077 and 1015339019 with UBA.

Date of the transactions was, however, erased from the bank records.

On May 17, 2012, Brass Engineering received N29,840,214 four times and N526,062,249 twice on the same day from the state’s expenditure account with UBA. The same account also transferred N215,791,478 on April 2, N29,971,717 on October 23, N56,637,703 on November 1, N178,000,000 on December 3, N56,637,703 on December 14 and N149,543,855 on December 24, to Brass Engineering.

The six transactions — all paid in 2012 totalled N1,858,067,810.

Further analysis of Ebonyi’s finances showed that in 2013, the state government’s account did not show any transaction details, in an apparently dubious move to circumvent accountability.

Kpirikpiri Market, Ebonyi State

The Gazette, however, obtained the account record of Brass Engineering Ltd., which uncovered payments made to the firm’s Fidelity Bank account 4010650023 in 2013.

Payments traced to Brass’ Fidelity Bank account from the state government included N35,059,617 on April 8, N71,134,890 on May 13 and N71,134,890 on June 11 — totalling N177,329,397.

Sustained corruption

In 2014 and 2015 when Mr. Umahi took over the saddle as governor of Ebonyi State, massive withdrawals were made from state accounts favouring Brass Engineering, even though records were expunged.

On February 29, 2016, Brass Nig. Ltd. received N10,000,000 from Ebonyi State Ministry of Power’s Zenith Bank account 1014500654. The same account made payment of N10,000,000 to Brass on April 5.

On September 7 of the same year, Brass Engineering received payment of N6,640,597 from Ebonyi Government House Pay Office’s account 2009181900 with First Bank, bringing the total sum in 2016 to N26,640,597.

The Zenith Bank account 1010679606 of the Ebonyi State Government House Pay Office made transfers of N13,744,617 and N10,041,376 to Brass on January 24 and February 28, 2018, respectively.

The state’s ministry of power’s Zenith account 1014500654 paid Brass N35,338,250 on September 14, N34,276,519 on October 10 and N32,081,528 on November 5.

On the same year, Governor Umahi’s firm received N30,652,372 from Ebonyi state’s Expenditure Account 0043921084 with GTB on February 28, while also receiving payment of N27,164,929 from the state’s Expenditure Account 2009608623 with First Bank on January 24 — totalling N183,299,591 received in 2018.

The Ebonyi State Ministry of Power’s Zenith Bank account 1014500654 made double payments of N39,604,798 to Brass Engineering on March 26, 2019, and N35,398,743 on May 14. The transactions totalled N114,608,339 in 2019 and a grand total of N3,623,496,247.

Heavy curses

Ebonyi State has been the poorest in southern Nigeria for decades, despite huge resources being directed to the state by the federal government and international development organisations. The state has consistently ranked the worst in education, health and other critical development indicators.

Afikpo Town in Ebonyi State

Yet, Zenith, UBA and Fidelity did not return requests for comments from the Gazette about their involvement with Mr. Umahi’s alleged plunder and how it has left the state in perpetual deprivation.

In messages to the Gazette, Mr. Umahi declined to contest the accuracy of our findings. Instead, he sent a barrage of insults and threatened legal consequences.

“What is ur f**kin business about who transacts govt business?” the governor said in a message to the Gazette. “Go to hell and die.”

Presidential ambition

Mr Umahi’s recent defection from the PDP has fuelled speculations that his controversial move to the ruling APC might be connected to his widely presumed presidential ambition.

His political entanglement with President Muhammadu Buhari and growing calls for the president’s successor to be handpicked from the Southeast have been perceived as a competitive edge that places Mr. Umahi in great shape for a presidential run.

Nonetheless, Mr. Umahi”s presidential ambition could hit roadblocks given the depth of financial impropriety that has characterised his decade-long political trajectory.

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