-Deploys agency’s staff to Ministry of finance

-Engages non-career staff to cover alleged fraud

By Martin Opara

Things are no longer the same at the Imo State Board of Internal Revenue (BIR), Owerri as the establishment has been hit by monumental fraud, allegedly perpetrated by the chairman, Justice Okoye, the eight colleagues he came along with on secondment from the Federal Inland Revenue service (FIRS), and their agents who are said to be grossly involved in collecting, diverting and sharing huge sum of money that should go into coffers of the state government among themselves.

It was gathered from a reliable source that Okoye, who was a grade level 8 officer at the time of his appointment in Imo was a confidant of Dr Babatunde Fowler, former Chairman of FIRS who is currently facing criminal charges with EFCC.He had assured Governor Uzodinma that he will raise the State’s Internally Generated Revenue monthly profile which then ranged between N1.5 and N1.8bilion to N10billion , monthly.

“The assurance of enhanced IGR collection convinced the governor and facilitated Okoye’s appointment as chairman, contrary to the law establishing the Board of Internal Revenue, as stipulated in section 4, sub section 1b of law No 23 of 2019, captioned, Imo state Revenue Administration Law No 23 of 2019 (L.23 2019).

According to the Law, the Director or Head of Department to be appointed from each of the following ministries at the recommendation of the commissioner in charge of the under listed ministries, Finance, Budget and Planning, Lands, Commerce and Transport.

This, by implication means that each of these ministries is supposed to have experienced and knowledgeable representatives as members of the Board of Internal Revenue. But this is not the case.

Continuing, the source said, “Unfortunately, because of the ulterior motive and exploitative interests of some people, in siphoning the IGR of the state, what they did was to appoint Justice Okoye, who was then, a grade level 8 staff of FIRS and errand boy to Babatunde as chairman. Then, Okoye on his part, fully aware of the script he was coming to act, brought his eight other colleagues from the FIRS. Some of the people he brought along, include Okechukwu Hart Ibe, son of the popular Sunny Hart Ibe, one Mr Osuji, son of Prof Osuji and others who are also bonafide staff of the Federal inland Revenue Service.

“Whereas section 11 of the aforementioned law says that, the Board when properly constituted, shall be responsible for formulating policies. But, in the absence of a properly constituted board, like it is now, Justice Okoye is  operating a one-man show with the boys he brought from Lagos to the extent that monies realized from some high paying establishments are allegedly diverted and shared among themselves and other stakeholders”.

“Prior to this time, Okoye in a smart and clandestine move to clear the coast and have his way, redeployed all staff of the BIR, to the ministry of Finance where they are virtually redundant and replaced them with his friends and loyalists. He also disengaged all consultants, including Gilead group, a firm hired by Governor Uzodinma and Biteword Group, a firm hired by Ihedioha, while in office.”

The BIR chairman, who spent many years in Lagos and is said to be a confident of another powerful Lagos politician, is working very hard to ensure that he engages the company of the strong man in Lagos to manage the IGR of Imo state.

Our source also revealed that sequel to the disengagement of the consultants who operated automated system of vehicle registration, licensing and other transactions which checked fraud, and enhanced IGR collection, Imo state now operates the analogue manual system whereby receipts and other revenue documents are indiscriminatingly issued. ”The state is as a result of this, presently losing huge sum of money, monthly. Besides, this poses great danger as there are likely to be more fake documents in circulation.”

“Another serious unethical conduct that questions Justice Okoye’s integrity is the fact that he engaged his mistress as Head of human resources in the Board”

A cross section of Imo people who spoke to this reporter on condition of anonymity said, “the fact remains that Justice Okoye is not qualified to be a Director, what more being chairman of the Board of Internal Revenue”.

They called on Governor Uzodinma to, as a matter of urgency and in the overall interest of the state, relieve him of the job.

This, they said “is very necessary, because aside the alleged diversion of revenue, and other irregularities, he has not delivered on his promise and assurance to enhance the state’s revenue base. And if he has done so, it has not reflected anywhere and in anything as the state government is still finding it difficult to pay salaries and pensions of civil servants and retirees.”

Effort to reach Mr Okoye for reaction proved abortive as he did not take his calls or return same.