Nearly four years after the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), commenced probe into what lawyers describe as criminal extortion of hard earned funds belonging to hapless Nigerians, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has stepped in to unravel how a whopping N4.9 billion deal went sour. Following allegations that the ICPC recovered large sums of the money but refused to remit same to owners, MUSA SIMON REEF and CHAMBERLAIN ODEY report on this burning issue that has traumatised depositors, with some of them already gone to their early graves
Many are still in awe, wondering how no less than N4.9 billion deposited by 3,038 Nigerians in a business venture promoted by the Covenant Fadama Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society Ltd based in Jos, Plateau State, has remained trapped, with some of the funds allegedly found in offshore accounts used for drug-related business.
In early 2012, hapless Nigerians, with dreams for improved economic future, were lured into parting with the sum of N50,000 in opening account with the Covenant Fadama Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society for huge sums as return on investment. With the President and General Overseer of Maranatha Covenant Ministry, Jonas Katungs, there was no point denying the brightening prospects of the investments.
Famed for his religious status, the Katungs-led Cooperative Society soon garnered no fewer than 3,038 depositors. The funds, Katungs told the depositors, were for investment in forex, oil and gas, among others. For many depositors, the Eldorado of their dreams was about to manifest as what they needed to do was exercise patience. After waiting for over a year, the patience of the investors gradually frittered, having being told that the cooperative society had no legal basis to manage their funds.
With hope of their improved economic conditions fizzling into the air, the flustered depositors, numbering over 3,000, soon realised that getting the services of lawyer could assist them recover their deposits. A consortium of lawyers based in Jos, led by GM & Kuttu Company, wrote a petition to the ICPC Executive Chairman, Barr Ekpo Nta, on the matter. They pleaded with the ICPC boss to quickly wade into the matter in order to recover their clients’ fortunes amounting to N4.9 billion.
In a letter dated 7th June, 2013, and received by the office of the ICPC Chairman on 10TH June, 2013, the lawyers opened up on the trauma unleashed on their clients by the promoters of the Covenant Fadama Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society Ltd.
“We are solicitors duly retained by our very numerous and innocent clients (who are 3,038 in number) to lodge this criminal complaints against Bishop Jonas Katungs (President and General Overseer of Maranatha Covenant Ministry, whose Headquarters and Mega Church is located along Dadin Kowa (Kufang), Jos, Plateau State and who co-founded the Covenant Fadama Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society, for the offence of Economic and Financial Crimes and Corrupt practices of deposits of innocent Clients and other persons who are victims of the arduous acts of these persons to the total sum of N4,943,861,959,63 (Four Billion, Nine Hundred and Forty Three Million, Eight Hundred and Sixty-One Thousand, Nine Hundred and Fifty-Nine Naira, Sixty Three Kobo) only.
“We have been duly informed by our Clients, information for which we verily believed same to be true that, Bishop Jonas Katungs, Mr Simon Lekom and other Directors of Covenant Fadama Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society, conveyed a clear message that they are men to be trusted to receive and manage deposits of our clients to their benefits. It was also conveyed to our Clients that, the Cooperative Society will run a legitimate, legal, morally upright Ventures with benefits to accrue to our Clients on monthly basis. However, our Clients later discovered to their utmost regrets that, not only did the above referred persons denied and failed to meet their obligations to our Clients to pay their benefits when it became due, but that they lacked in law and legality the capacity to run the Ventures they claimed (such as engaging in Forex, business, Oil and Gas, etc).
“It is consequent upon this sad discovery, our Clients being left in the dark and abandoned to their fate that they collectively approached your good offices through this medium to investigate, arrest and recover all monies from those named herein and connected to this same and release same to our Clients to restore our Clients to restore our Clients to status quo ante bellum.
“We shall assist your office in ensuring a thorough investigation of this unfortunate specie of humans who are out to fraudulently take from innocent Clients such as ours. We have attached a comprehensive and tabulated list, investments sums and interest accruable thereon, for your perusal and indebt (sic) considerations.
“We have great faith (so are our Clients) in you and your good offices to stem the tides of the fraudsters in cushioning the Economic and Financial burden these aforementioned persons have brought to bear on our Clients. We look forward to your timeous response in this regard.
“We remain grateful and please do accept our assurances of highest regard to your offices and appreciate your sacrifice in the discharge of your onerous task.”
In a letter dated May 22, 2013, and signed by F. Popoola on behalf of the Hon. Chairman of ICPC, the anti-graft agency acknowledged receipt of the petition thus: “I am directed to acknowledge the receipt of your petition on the above captioned subject dated 7th June, 2013.
“You will be notified of further developments, if necessary. Quote the reference number above in further correspondence.
“Please accept the assurances of the Hon Chairman’s highest regards
The Waiting Game Begins
After the receipt of the ICPC response, sources within the commission disclosed that efforts were deployed to track down the funds. All accounts of the Cooperative being operated in Nigeria were frozen, just as other funds belonging to the Cooperative were allegedly tracked in some offshore accounts used for drug-related business.
“Within a year, we were informed that the ICPC was almost concluding the recovery of the funds. Certain sources privy to the investigations also informed us that some of the funds were traced in foreign accounts used for drug business. In all this, we were assured that arrangements had been completed to repatriate the funds to Nigeria,” a distraught depositor, who sought anonymity, told Forefront.
Lawyers Write ICPC For Update
After nearly a year of reporting the matter to the Commission, the lawyers made efforts to remind the anti-graft agency on the need to recover the outstanding funds and returned same to agitated depositors. Regrettably, frightening uncertainties became the lots of the flustered depositors as several phone calls to the ICPC Chairman on the matter by lawyers for updates on the recovery efforts proved fruitless.
With mounting pressure from depositors; lack of information and update on the funds’ recovery efforts, the lawyers on June 22, 2014 resorted in writing yet another letter to the ICPC Chairman in which they pleaded with him for an update on the level of investigations as well as the sums of money so far recovered.
The letter signed by U. G. Matta (Esq) on behalf of GM Kuttu & Company, stated thus: “We write on behalf of our clients with respect to the investigations carried out by your office and the need to for the recovery of the sum of N,943,861,959,63 (Four Billion, Nine Hundred and Fifty (sic) Three Million, Eight Hundred and Sixty One Thousand, Nine Hundred and Fifty Nine Naira, Sixty Three Kobo) only from the Directors of Covenant Fadama Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society Limited, Jos.
“In light of the above, we met with the Secretary, Head of Operations and the Head of Prosecution from your office on 1st April, 2014. On that day, we requested to know the outcome of the investigations carried out and to be availed with the sum recovered by your office to enable us pay same to our clients.
“We were promised at the meeting by the Secretary that you will be briefed and a comprehensive report submitted to us. But this was not to be in spite of the time given, which is well now over four months. We were at your office again on the 16th of July, 2014, but were attended to by some of your directors. Our chief G.M. Kuttu spoke with your good self on phone on 22nd of July, 2014 and was assured that something positive will be done in that respect.
“Sir, since then we have heard nothing concerning the report of the completed investigations carried out by your officers nor the monies recovered on behalf of the clients as a result. We have no positive information to give our clients who are distressed and eager to receive their hard earned money which your good offices faithfully recovered on their behalf.
“We implore your good office to kindly fast track the completion and delivery of investigations and the sums so far recovered against Covenant Fadama Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society Limited in order to enable us disburse the sums accordingly to our clients as soon as possible to assuage their trauma.
“On behalf of our clients, we use this medium to thank your office for all its efforts in handling this matter and we believe that you will go even further in your efforts to release the monies so far recovered into our custody for onward disbursement to our clients.”
New Twist From ICPC
Efforts by the depositors’ legal representatives to meet with ICPC officials over updates on investigations on the matter, according to findings by Forefront, have proved fruitless. According to a source knowledgeable on the matter, “The preparation for the 2015 polls did not help matters, as the then Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led Federal Government was only concerned with fighting for re-election bid. There was a complete breakdown of communication between the anti-graft agency and the legal representatives of the depositors.”
With the defeat of President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 presidential poll, according to a lawyer involved in the case, the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari as president gave hope for the resuscitation of the case.
On 7th August 2015, less than three months into office, the lawyers representing the depositors wrote a passionate letter, signed by GM Kuttu, to President Buhari through the Plateau Sate Governor, Hon. Simon Lalong, with the caption, ‘Need for Mr President’s Intervention On ICPC’s Criminal Investigation Against Covenant Fadama-Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society, Jos To Deliver On Investigation And Sums So Far Recovered Pursuant To Our Letter Of Criminal Complaint Received By ICPC Variously On 10th June, 2013 and 9th August, 2014 respectively.’
Recalling their ordeal in the hands of ICPC, the lawyers recalled, “Mr President Sir, since our last letter received by ICPC on the 9th of August, 2014, the issue under investigation took a new twist that is stranger than fiction in that, ICPC kept us in the dark. This ugly twist has informed the inaction, wilful delay and breakdown of communication with the ICPC as the Commission officials ceased to either pick or return our calls, visits, emails, etc, on the matter since then. Sectional heads of the ICPC that we had hitherto interacted with on the matter simply refer us to see the Chairman as they can’t explain the twist or delay. The chairman despite several attempts has craftily refused to grant us audience.
“At this point Mr President Sir, suffice us to Solicit the intervention of your exalted office and pursuant to the constitutional powers vested on you with regards to the welfare and Economic wellbeing of the good citizens of Nigeria, to intervene with a view to ameliorating the suffering, hardship and pains that the highly traumatised innocent and unsuspecting depositors of the Covenant Fadama Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society have had to go through even in the trusted hands of the investigating agency, the ICPC.
“Permit us as Solicitors to these teeming depositors to repose explicit confidence in Mr President whose integrity and commitment in handling such issues is unwavering, unflinching and shall so remain, to the glory of God and joy of Nigerians until this matter is finally resolved. May God Almighty who has ordained Mr President, endow him with wisdom, guide and protect him in the discharge of his duties to the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Sagay-led PACAC Steps In
Forefront was reliably informed by a credible source in the presidency that President Buhari had referred the letter to the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Professor Itse Sagay.
After careful review of the matter, according to our findings, the Sagay-led Committee directed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to dig into the matter and come up with the real situation of the case.
When approached for their reaction and side of the story, the Head of Public Enlightenment, Mrs Rasheedat A. Okoduwa, said she was not abreast with the issues at stake. Insisting that she cannot comment on the subject matter, Mrs Okoduwa requested this magazine to write a formal letter to the ICPC Chairman requesting for update and clarification on the various issues raised by lawyers representing the complainants. However, as at the time of going to press, our letter to the Chairman, whose receipt was duly acknowledged by his registry, did not receive any response from the Commission.