By OHIA ISRAEL
When Alhaji Garba Umar took over as the Acting Governor of Taraba State, following the Plane crash that made his boss, Governor Danbaba Suntai, to stay out of office, the Taraba Treasury became a Mecca of sort for him.
It was gathered that from documents obtained there were startling revelations in which over N500 million was shared by the former Acting Governor to lawyers to stop his removal by the Supreme Court.
Also according to documents obtained only about half of the sum was documented as “legal fees” and gifts”. For instance, according to online news which was in custody of the documents, in a particular case Umar approved N19 million as “wedding gift” to the son of the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mariam Mukthar Aloma.
It is not clear what form the gifts took and what became of them, but it was gathered that Umar had passed N1.5 million US dollars through a front to bribe the then CJN, but that “the money ended up in the pockets of those agents.”
A source close to the attempted bribery said the former acting governor was “fooled into parting with such a huge amount of money when everybody knew Justice Aloma as a woman with impeccable moral standards.”
Justice Mukthar retired on November 20, 2014. The following day, the Supreme Court sacked Umar, reinstating Danladi, a man he had spent over half a billion Naira to shut out.
Documents from the Office of the Accountant General, Jalingo, revealed that Umar, who had very little formal education, made several scandalous approvals. Financial experts also disclosed that the nature of approvals made by Umar was capable of sending him to prison.
Taraba is one of the poorest states in Nigeria. Last January, Umar signed into law an N83.33bn Appropriation Bill for 2014, less than 20 percent of what states like Lagos, Akwa Ibom and Rivers budgeted.
However, the bogus approvals made by Umar did very little to show that Taraba was in dire straits.
For instance, early in September, the then acting governor approved the release of over N105 million to Garvey Yawe, Secretary to the State Government (SSG). Yawe had months ago told online news media, Pointblanknews, that he was not required by law to take an oath of office before assuming office as SSG.
The releases were in three tranches of N35,000,000 for “wedding at Jos,” N32,000,000 to buy “Taraba attire”, and N40 million as “special imprest” for the SSG.
As early as September 4, 2014, Umar approved N6,500,000 as “out-of-pocket expenses” for his Attorney-General, Musa Tende. On the same day, Tende paid N7 million in two tranches for “case between Alhaji Sani (Danladi)” and members of Taraba State House of Assembly.
Meanwhile, it was also gathered that Umar also paid N76, 908, 000 to an unnamed lawyer as “legal fees”. No mention was made of the case for which the lawyer was paid the N76 million. However, Pointblanknews.com investigations revealed that the money was paid to stop Danladi from returning as deputy governor.
Umar, on October 28, 2014, was said to have spent another N50 million as “solicitor fees in the case between Sani Danladi and TSHA”. On November 4, 2014, the ousted acting governor spent a whopping N75 million to pay “solicitors for Supreme Court case.”
From the Supreme Court end, Umar, on November 17, 2014, approved the release of N19 million for “gifts for the wedding of the son of Chief Justice of Nigeria.” Another N4,835,000 was released as “DTA for attendance of swearing-in of Chief Justice of Nigeria.”
On the same September 4, 2014, Umar approved the release of N13,370,000 as “logistics for soldiers.” Barely 24 hours after handing the SSG over N105 million for sundry dubious expenses, Acting governor Umar on September 5, 2014 yet approved N32, 239, 059.27 to the same SSG for “fencing and landscaping.” No mention was made of where was fenced and landscaped.
Seven days later, the acting governor approved N24, 250,000 for “deployment of soldiers to Jalingo.” A week after spending N24 million to deploy soldiers, the acting governor approved N18,500,000 as “logistics for police.” Three days later, on September 22, 2014, Umar approved the release of N8,500,000 for “deployment of soldiers.” On the same day, he approved another N8,160,000 for “deployment of soldiers.”
All the monies were channelled through HASS (Home Affairs and Security Services).
The last two approvals were silent on where the soldiers were deployed to. On September 24, Umar approved the release of N130 million for “purchase of assorted materials for Sallah.”
Not done, the acting governor, on the same day approved another N28 million for “purchase of assorted materials.” On October 2, 2014, acting governor Umar released N31 million to members of the state House of Assembly for “Sallah.”
On the same day, he approved N13,270,000 for soldiers in Bartaje, and another N7,320,000 as “logistics for deployment of policemen to crisis areas in southern zone.”
Yet on the same 2nd October, 2014, he approved the release of N30 million for the “installation of additional fire hydrants in Jalingo, Wukari and Gembu. No company was listed as the installer.
More so this paper learnt that on 3rd October, N40 million was released to the SSG as “special imprest for October.” On the same day, another N35 million was released to the Ministry of Social Welfare, Youths and Sports to buy “sports kit for Taraba FC.”
Five days later, Umar approved N39 million and N35 million in two tranches for his “trip to Abuja.” Both approvals left a financial expert wondering why N39 million and N35 million was approved simultaneously for the same trip.
On the same day, he approved the release of N5 million for the “renovation of Mambilla Hotel, Abuja.” On October 8, 2014, Umar approved N22, 520,000 as his “DTA for trip to Abuja,” and another N13, 562,890 for the “supply of electronics”. On 9th October, the acting governor approved the release of N45 million for “IPSAS training of accountants and auditors.”
A day later, just as the rainy season was tailing out, he approved the release of N47,250,000 and N7 million for “purchase of 15 trucks of NPK fertilizer” and “enhancement support programmes” respectively. On the same day, Umar approved the release of N26,750,000 for “data capturing (sic) of civil servants.”
Not done, Umar, on the same day approved the release of N13,629,954 for “installation of TVs, ACs at Liaison office, Abuja.” A week later, on 15th October, 2014, Umar approved the release of N6,840,000 for the “deployment of 24 soldiers to Karim Lamido LGA.”
The following week, on October 22, 2014, Umar approved the release of N19,130,000 for the “deployment of 63 additional mobile policemen to Wukari for peace-keeping.”
On the same October 22, 2014 Umar approved N45 million “to provide logistics support for continuous voter registration exercise,” and another N21 million for “continuous voter registration and distribution of voters cards.”
It was not clear if the money was handed to officials of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). On yet the same day, Umar approved N21 million as “financial assistance to some cattle breeders whose cows were stolen in Ibi and Donga LGAs.”
On October 28, 2014 the acting governor approved the release of N50 million as “solicitor fees in the case between Sani Danladi and TSHA.” He also approved N8,500,000 and another N3,800,000 for “logistics” for the deployment of soldiers to Bali, Damper and Ibi, and to Tsokundi and Gindin Waya.
On October 29, 2014, Umar approved N47 million for the purchase of two units of 250 kVa Perkins sound-proof generator. Moreover, it was gathered that barely 24 hours after inflating the cost of the generating sets by over N30 million, the acting governor approved the release of N29 million as “logistics for deployment of security operatives for the PDP ward and LGA congresses,” and another N27 million to 75 soldiers for peace keeping operations in Gindin Dorowa.
On October 30, 2014, he approved the payment of N27 million as “logistics for some internally displaced persons to participate in distributing voters cards.”
On the same day, Umar spent N36 million on “logistics for political office holders to sensitize people for the PDP ward delegates’ election.”
Still on the same day, the acting governor approved N10 million as financial assistance to “Al-Mustapha Peace and Unity Initiative.” The following day, he approved N36 million for the “construction of public convenience (toilets), installation of tower air-conditions (sic). No mention was made of the location of the public toilets.
On the same October 31, 2014, the acting governor approved the release of N32, 893,968 for “furnishing (ground floor) of Liaison office at Yawuri (sic) Crescent, Garki II, Abuja” as also according to the documents, in October 2014, the acting governor spent over N170 million on local trips.
November saw Umar launching overboard with local trips. On November 3, 2014, he approved N31,778,000 and N3,246,000 as DTA for himself and his wife respectively. Between November 3 and November 18, 2014, local trips by Umar and his wife had cost Taraba taxpayers about N134 million.
On November 21, 2014, Umar traveled to Abuja. The one-day trip cost Taraba taxpayers N27,515,000. Upon returning to Jalingo the following day, he spent N4,679,000 to “publicise the return.”
As a youth-friendly acting governor, Umar was very considerate on matters concerning the youth. To this end, on November 14, 2014 he approved the release of N8,750,000 as “fuel for youth to attend President Goodluck Jonathan’s declaration.”
For the same purpose, he approved N38,720,000 to mobilise “political office holders”.
He paid N14,865.000 for “regular intakes into the Nigerian Army”. On November 14, 2014 Umar approved N280 million for the purchase of fertilizer. Interestingly, no official of the state Ministry of Agriculture has set eyes on the fertilizers on which Umar claimed to have spent over N400 million.
Not minding the lean purse of the state government, Umar on November 4 approved the release of N35 million as “assistance to security agencies. “On November 18, he approved the release of N27 million as “financial assistance to out-going security chiefs.”
On November 3, 2014, the acting governor approved the release of N45 million for “purchase of 5 vehicles” for the Ministry of Finance. No mention was made of the make and model of the vehicles. On the same day, Umar approved for the same Ministry N16, 900,000 for “purchase of 2 Nos Toyota Hilux” trucks.
On November 6, the acting governor approved the release of N8,500,000 for “deployment of securities (sic) during LG congress.” On November 10, he approved the release of another N8,500,000 for “deployment of securities (sic) to Wukari.
On the same day, the acting governor approved the release of N13,285,000 for “deployment of soldiers to Karim Lamido LGA. A few days later, on November 18, he approved the release of N19 million for “deployment of security (sic) in Jalingo.”
Umar is a member of the influential Islamic sect known as the Izala group. The movement was reportedly founded in 1978 by Sheikh Ismaila Idris in Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria. A top official of the movement described Umar as a “huge disgrace” to the movement.
“He is a complete anti-thesis to everything the Izala represent. His looting spree in Taraba has caused us great embarrassment. Umar should stop claiming to be a Muslim. He is worse than an infidel,” submitted the official. Prior to his nomination as deputy governor, Umar, who spots a grey goatee, was a Jos-based dealer in second-hand cars.
He served as a storekeeper with the United Trading Company (UTC) a feat which earned him the alias UTC. He was appointed deputy governor in early October 2012 following Danladi’s impeachment by the State House of Assembly.
Three weeks after Umar’s nomination, Governor Danbaba Suntai escaped death when his aircraft crashed near Yola airport. Suntai suffered serious brain injuries requiring his evacuation to Europe and the United States.
The governor’s long absence prompted Umar to nudge the lawmakers to proclaim him “acting governor.” Umar had even made spirited efforts to get the legislators impeach Suntai so he might become “full” governor. Last month, the Supreme Court reinstated Danladi as deputy governor dashing Umar’s hopes of becoming governor without standing for an election.
Last week, a group Taraba Rescue Group asked anti-graft agencies to compel Umar to return N14.9 billion he allegedly stole as acting governor. “We are honestly surprised at the decision by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to field the sacked acting governor. Garba Umar, as senatorial candidate for the good people of Northern Taraba,” the group said. Yusuf, whom Umar appointed Director-General of his now rested governorship campaign organisation, had reportedly lined his pocket with hundreds of millions of Naira fronting for the ousted acting governor.
Meanwhile, it will be recalled that a former Secretary to the Taraba State Government, Amb. Emmanuel Njiwah, before the removal of the former Acting Governor Umar by the Supreme Court stated that he was removed by the former acting governor because he refused to support the acting governor, whom he said is desperate to become the substantive governor.
Njiwah said they have sued Umar over the sack. “The deputy governor was the chairman of the committee,” he added, alleging that Umar masterminded the ongoing political impasse in the state in order to plunder the state’s treasury.
He said: “Umar has betrayed the governor by scheming to take over power from him at all cost. He has become the number one enemy of Governor Danbaba Suntai because he is trying to unseat him. No one would have looted the state more than this junta. Go and see the mess going on in the Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs. The looting is unquantifiable.
“Garba Umar is looting heavily because he is over ambitious to be the substantive governor. He bribes anyone who is ready to listen to his tales. I am an insider and I know what is going on. Take the SURE-P funds, for instance; the money has all gone. Where are the savings he claims to be protecting? Njiwah said he has advised the financial crimes agencies to look at the Taraba state treasury because Umar is looting the state dry”.
Meanwhile, the current acting governor of the state has recently in a broadcast vowed to recover all funds allegedly stolen from the state government. “We will recover all monies and properties taken away illegally, we would ensure that stability and accountability return to government processes and ensure that all projects, including hospitals and schools abandoned from the time Governor Danbaba Suntai was involved in the plane accident are resuscitated forthwith.”
He informed people of the state that the State Government’s main account with a local bank that was in good shape as of last month now stood at an overdraft of about N7.7 billion. He said November salaries were yet to be paid while term loans stood at about N7.2 Billion. “This brings the State’s indebtedness to about N14.9 billion,” Abubakar said.
Abubakar added that the State-Local Government Joint Account was in no better position as it was overdrawn by about N700 million monthly. “We are already carrying a thorough review of the state of our finances and will quickly work out schemes with our bankers to ensure that civil servants are paid their salaries. Prudent financial management shall be the watchword.”
He promised to restore sanity to the state civil service and ensure that Local Governments, which had been left without finances, were functional again.