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Stakeholders hail EFCC for grilling ex-NAHCON boss Zikirullah over alleged hajj fraud

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By Kayode Sanni-Arewa

Hajj stakeholders in Nigeria have commended the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for grilling the immediate past Chairman and CEO of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Zikirullah Kunle Hassan over alleged multibillion naira fraud.

The anti-graft agency on Monday quizzed Zikirullah for hours at its head office in Abuja over various allegations of corruption and mismanagement of public funds during his four-year stint at the hajj commission.

Officials at the headquarters of the anti-graft agency in Abuja said Mr Zikirullah was grilled by a crack investigators of the EFCC over alleged fraud running into billions of naira.

A source who spoke under the condition of anonymity said, “Mr Zikirullah was with our detectives today (Monday) for hours. But he was later released on bail. He would return to us on Wednesday.”

Further findings revealed that Mr Zikirullah was being investigated for alleged 92 million Saudi Riyal fraud. “When he came on board in January 2020, he met 92 million Saudi Riyal on the Saudi Arabia NAHCON account, which is royalty funds left intact by two successive administrations of the board. But he depleted the account to 37 million Saudi Riyal as of 2022, after conducting one hajj operation, an official in the agency said.

The former chairman, the insider said, is also being investigated for allegedly squandering N3.2 billion hajj development levy fund; about N2.5 billion meant for renovation and furnishing of NAHCON headquarters (Hajj House) and also construction of Hajj Institute at CBD in Abuja.

Other issues are pilgrims’ hajj refunds; procurement fraud; concession of public lands without due process; illegal payment to family members from official purse, among others.

Other areas under investigation, according to the anti-corruption agency’s insiders, include the introduction of three new fraudulent budget lines in 2022 and 2023 budgets, passed under President Buhari. He was said to have allegedly defrauded the government of N600 million in connivance with some lawmakers. The three budget lines were, however, removed under President Bola Tinubu.

EFCC is also probing Mr Zikirullah’s introduction of 5% percent additional charges on accommodations, feeding, Mu’assasah services in Masha’er, among others.

Mr Zikirullah’s interrogation comes just a week after The Companion, an umbrella body for Muslims in business and professionals in the Southwest, organized a phantom event to celebrate his stint at NAHCON.

Alleging that the event was bankrolled by Mr Zikirullah, the executive secretaries of the six Southwest states and other members of the hajj family boycotted the event which took place in Lagos a week ago.

The Southwest secretaries have accused Zikirullah in a petition of withholding their 2022 hajj refunds for poor services and those services that were not rendered.

In a petition, the executive secretaries of Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Ekiti and Ondo states, categorically accused Mr Zikirullah of “unjustifiably” excluding them from the 2022 hajj refunds for services not rendered or rendered unsatisfactory to their pilgrims.

The pilgrims’ administrators expressed astonishment as to why Mr Zikirullah would be honoured or celebrated for conducting the worst hajj operations in NAHCON’s history and withholding their refunds.

However, this newspaper reports that the event was attended by some top Southwest politicians who are known political enemies of President Bola Tinubu.

They include Mr Rauf Aregbesola — Mr Zikirullah’s godfather, a two-term former Governor of Osun and Minister of Interior — who parted ways with Mr Tinubu; and Mr Muiz Banire, a former national legal adviser to the APC and AMCON chairman, and erstwhile associate of the president.

The hajj stakeholders said EFCC’s quizzing Zikirullah will spur confidence in the sector, reiterating that the anti-corruption agency would do a diligent investigation to recover public funds and make the culprits face the full wrath of the law.

“It is a good omen for the Hajj industry in Nigeria. The investigations would serve as a deterrent to hajj officials at the federal and state levels,” one of the officials said.

A chief executive of one of the states pilgrims boards, who declined being named, said the introduction of 5% was “contradictory at a time he was busy saying he would reduce hajj cost.

It was on record that the administrations before him conducted hajj operations with zero government funding and without introducing additional deductions of 5%.”

The pilgrims administrator said by introducing the 5% revenue, “it means every pilgrim paid additional N200,000. He increased the pilgrims burden, instead of lessening them.”

On the purported celebration of Zikirulah’s achievements, a catering service provider said the so-called celebration was unfortunate. “He superintended a regime that was [allegedly] collecting bribes for every contract. What is there to celebrate?,” the service provider, who requested anonymity said.

Another pilgrims official said the former NAHCON chief “performed two hajj operations that failed to airlift 6,000 pilgrims in 2022; and the worse one since 1980s that left thousands pilgrims stranded in Muna in 2023. That is his scorecard.”

Speaking on hajj saving scheme and hajj institute, another stakeholder said the institute was not in tandem with original concept. “He was left with money, land and local and foreign universities partners for curriculum development. But he ended up doing a shoddy job. It was same sad story on the hajj saving scheme. He operated it without recourse to the extant law, making the senate to declare it illegal.”

This newspaper gathered that the EFCC was working in dozen petitions and documents supplied by whistleblowers and other insiders from the commission.

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Power Sector: FG To Establish 3 Gigawatts Of Solar Energy in 25 States – Minister

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Power Sector: FG To Establish 3 Gigawatts Of Solar Energy in 25 States – Minister
…say poor funding, insufficient gas supply responsible for power deficit
By Gloria Ikibah
Nigeria’s Minister of Power, Adebayo Adelabu, had said that the federal government is working towards the establishment of three gigawatts of solar energy sources across the 25 states in Northern and South Western parts of the country.
According to him, this is a novel approach that will go a long way to solve the power problems, even as he called on state governments to invest in power generation in their states.
The minister stated this at a two-day Power Sector Stakeholders Interactive Dialogue/Workshop organized by the House of Representatives Committee on Power with the theme “Confronting Nigeria’s Power Challenge as the Nation Migrates to a Multi-tier Electricity Market: A Legislative Intervention” on Tuesday in Abuja.
Adelabu who said that hydro energy would be deployed for the coastal cities, also lamented that the country has witnessed incessant collapse of transmission which is caused by lack of adequate infrastructure.
He admitted that most of the infrastructure in the power dates back to the 1960s, with no single backup for the national grid, and called for alternative sources in the situation where there is a collapse of the grid.
The Minister also disclosed that the major factors responsible for the power deficit currently faced by the country is as a result of inadequate financing and insufficient gas supply.
Adelabu who lamented the current state of power supply across the country, however, assured Nigerians of the determination of the President Bola Tinubu-led administration to address the challenges and make Nigeria a suitable place for business.
He said “No sector can function optimally without the power sector. Over the years, poor financing, and inadequate gas supply have been responsible for the energy deficit we have in the country. But a lot of work is going on to address these challenges.”
Earlier in his welcome address, the
Chairman, House Committee on Power, Rep. Victor Nwokolo explained that the purpose of the interactive dialogue/workshop was to provide a dynamic platform for stakeholders to evaluate the progress so far in the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI) development.
He revealed that discussions will centre around the seamless transition to a Multi-Tier Electricity Market, as outlined in the Electricity Act of 2023.
According to him, “his transition, holds immense potential to enhance competition, efficiency, and reliability within the electricity market, ultimately benefitting consumers and driving economic growth”.
He said: “Through collaborative brainstorming and analysis, we aim to chart a clear roadmap for this transition, ensuring that it is smooth, inclusive, and conducive to sustainable development.
“Furthermore, this workshop will serve as a platform for stakeholders to explore innovative solutions to the persistent challenges plaguing the power sector. From infrastructure development and financing to regulatory frameworks and consumer engagement, we will examine a wide array of issues and propose actionable strategies for improvement.
“In addition to these objectives, we aspire for this workshop to foster enhanced collaboration and partnership among stakeholders. By bringing together legislators, representatives from government agencies, regulatory bodies, industry players, academia, and civil society, we aim to cultivate a culture of cooperation and collective action towards our shared goal of a vibrant and resilient power sector”.
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How Yahaya Bello withdrew $720,000 from Kogi account to pay child’s school fees -EFCC Chairman

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By Francesca Hangeior

The Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ola Olukoyede, has revealed that a former governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, transferred $720,000 from the government’s coffers to a bureau de change before leaving office to pay in advance for his child’s school fee.

Olukoyede revealed this during an interview with journalists on Tuesday in Abuja.

He said, “A sitting governor, because he knows he is going, moved money directly from government to bureau de change, used it to pay the child’s school fee in advance, $720,000 in advance, in anticipation that he was going to leave the Government House.

“In a poor state like Kogi, and you want me to close my eyes to that under the guise of ‘I’m being used.’ Being used by who at this stage of my life?”

Olukoyede further stated that he personally reached out to Bello, offering him a chance to clarify the situation in a respectful setting within the EFCC office but the ex-governor reportedly declined to cooperate, citing fears of harassment from an unnamed woman.

The EFCC boss added, “I didn’t initiate the case; I inherited the case file. I called for the file, and I said there are issues here.

“On my own, I called him, which I am not supposed to do, just to honour him as an immediate past governor. ‘Sir, there are issues. I’ve seen this case file. Can you just come let us clarify these issues?’

“He said, ‘Ha! Thank you, my brother. I know, but I can’t come. There’s one lady that has surrounded EFCC with over 100 people to come and embarrass me and intimitade me.’

Bello was said to have suggested that the EFCC come to his village rather than conduct an investigation at the agency’s quarters.

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Yahaya Bello Withdrew $720,000 From Kogi Account To Pay Child’s School Fees -EFCC Chairman

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By Kayode Sanni-Arewa

The Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ola Olukoyede, has revealed that a former governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, transferred $720,000 from the government’s coffers to a bureau de change before leaving office to pay in advance for his child’s school fee.

Olukoyede revealed this during an interview with journalists on Tuesday in Abuja.

He said, “A sitting governor, because he knows he is going, moved money directly from government to bureau de change, used it to pay the child’s school fee in advance, $720,000 in advance, in anticipation that he was going to leave the Government House.

“In a poor state like Kogi, and you want me to close my eyes to that under the guise of ‘I’m being used.’ Being used by who at this stage of my life?”

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