House probe: A daybreak for Harmony Holdings? By AHMED 'LATEEF

Date: 2017-09-15

With the inauguration of the ad-hoc panel of the Kwara State House of Assembly to probe the alleged misappropriation of the state's assets in the custody of the Harmony Holdings Limited, AHMED 'LATEEF chronicles what elicited the parliament's investigation in view of its constitutional role as the face of the electorate.

The unfavourable economic climate in the country has thrown spanner in the works of all tiers of government to design the best approach to wriggle out of the quagmire. The greatest undoing was the recession that nearly held the country's economy hostage. It was a major battle that government at all levels had to "think outside the box" like President Muhammadu Buhari said sometime ago, to solve.

Unfortunately, the problem appeared to have been compounded by the persistent shortfall in the monthly allocations going to various states of the federation, local government areas inclusive. This was largely precipitated by the crude oil prices that dwindled unabated in the global market.

Although the report trending currently showed that Nigeria was officially out of recession, the position of the National Bureau of Statistics also corroborated this but not without criticism from some quarters.

However, before the effect of the economic downturn began to manifest and its tolls felt, the Kwara State government seemed to have envisaged the impending scene by reviewing its economic policies and assets management.

Confident that the resources are better managed in a privately driven manner, the state government established Harmony Holdings Limited few years ago and entrusted it with some assets and property of the state both within and without the state.

Just like other economically viable states, Kwara was said to have assets and property in places such as Lagos, Kaduna and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. In the bid to ensure efficient and effective management of the assets, the Harmony Holdings Limited, a conglomerate, was asked to takeover the affected assets.

The consortium since its establishment, understandably had been turning in its annual reports on the journey so far and as well as declaration of dividends each year.

With the feat that attracted applause came series of allegations in the past that there were under-hand dealings and shady deals, that some top officials of the firm were trying to conceal from the public attention. The development caught the attention of the state House of Assembly and resolved to launch a probe. The parliament, however, tarried following the decision of the board and management of the conglomerate to handle it internally.

For the period that the hullabaloo that lasted, the company became unsettled. As if the past allegations were not enough, Thursday August 17, 2017 was another day on the floor of the state House of Assembly of the flurry of allegations that characterized the operations of the consortium.

On the fateful day, some Executive Directors and managers of the firm were reported to have allegedly abused their positions by disposing assets belonging to the state without due remittances to the appropriate quarters. It was also alleged that some top officials of the Harmony Holdings distributed among themselves some landed property owned by the state.

Raising a matter of public importance during the House plenary, a member representing Ilorin North West Constituency, Abdulrafiu Abdulrahaman, informed that there was a trending report in some media platforms that property and assets of the state in the custody of Harmony Holdings were being secretly sold and proceeds diverted to private pockets.

He also alleged that some individuals in the firms converted some government property in their care to personal use without recourse to the government.

Insisting that the trend negates the principles that led to the establishment of the conglomerate, the lawmaker urged the House to conduct a thorough probe into the allegations with a view to protecting the image of the state.

"This is House of the people. We are all voted here to represent our people, and we must represent them well. Any property that belongs to government is a property of the general public, but the government is just a custodian of that particular property.

"Misappropriation of such property is misappropriation of public property, and a way of denying the right of individuals not only the electorate, every individual in the state. Part of the medium of information is social network, and at least for today, 90 percent of matured mind rely or read on social media.

"So, if issue should arise and it touches the life of the people and people are raising it, basically, this House has the responsibility to come in, to actually go into the nitty-gritty of it and put the record straight, not just because of the election but because we represent the people and we must represent them well.

"Mr Speaker, the issue in question is the issue of Harmony Holdings. There are allegations that individuals within the circle of Harmony Holdings have taken the advantage of the general public to siphon the property, the assets, the proceeds of the general public in the Harmony Holdings to their own personal use.

"It has been in the media all over, that an individual or some individuals have taken over the right of the general public and they have taken massive sales of the lands belonging to the state through Harmony Holdings. These properties were sold and proceeds accrued to Harmony Holdings diverted to individuals pockets.

"Some of the properties alleged to have been sold at the detriment of the state include acres of land at Galadimawa, Abuja to individuals and the money was actually remitted to individuals' purse not to the purse of Harmony Holdings.

"Mr Speaker, there are also allegations that Shopping Complex in Kulende Estate was sold to individuals at the detriment of the masses. Why I said at the detriment of the masses is that the proceeds, which supposed to accrue to the Harmony Holdings, is now being siphoned by single individual.

"We have to go in-depth to look at the management and ownership of Tourist Kitchen, which used to be government owned property. We have to know who is presently occupying that particular place and what is the proceeds that is accruing to Harmony Holdings or the state as a whole.

"Mr Speaker, there is also an allegation on issuance of ownership certificate on Catchment Road, GRA (Ilorin) to private individual, who is not a civil servant nor a public servant. This land runs into millions of naira at the detriment of the general public.

"While we look at this allegation and some others, it is on this note that I request members to look at it critically and I make my own prayer that this House do look into the whole activities of Harmony Holdings as a matter of urgent public importance in order to save the name of not just the House of Assembly but the state".

Other members of the House also called for the probe, which prompted the House to constitute a seven-man ad-hoc committee.

The panel was to investigate what was titled "Allegation of Misappropriation relating to Government Assets under Harmony Holdings" with basic five terms of reference to include:

*Verify, which fund, property and other assets were taken over by Harmony Holdings and what dividends they have paid so far

*Investigate all the account books and all the activities of the company till date

*To verify whether Harmony Holdings had sufficiently justified its establishment as a commercial entity for the state

*To Identify any success story, if any, recorded by Harmony Holdings since its inception.

*To investigate the allegations relating to misappropriation of assets and funds relating to Harmony Holdings in line with section 128 of Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

However, in making good its vow to conduct a thorough probe into the allegations, the House of Assembly in Ilorin on Wednesday formally inaugurated the ad-hoc committee chaired by Hassan Oyeleke of Essa/Shawo/Igboidun Constituency of Offa Local Government Area of the state.

The speaker, Dr Ali Ahmad, who inaugurated the ad-hoc committee, disclosed that the House resolved to investigate the firm having been flooded with several stories, petitions and reports of mismanagement and alleged fraud.

He said the allegations against the consortium were strong enough that they could not be swept under the carpet.

Ahmad, who clarified that the probe was not aimed at witch-hunt, said it was meant to set the record straight and urged the ad-hoc panel not to allow compromise or threat while carrying out the assignment.

Recalling what informed the choice of the firm, the Speaker said, "The history of the Harmony Holdings Limited began when the administration of Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed was busy thinking about how best to diversify Kwara economy. He had the foresight of reinventing and redirecting all potential income-yielding and revenue-generating agencies and parastatalss of government.

"This was at a time when many other governors were oblivious of the then impending dwindling federal allocation and looming recession. His vision gave birth to incorporation of Harmony Holdings Limited, a conglomerate or holding company that oversees other smaller and industry-specific entities.

"The hope of Kwarans, no doubt, was that this set of entities and their Holding company would be better managed, reducing cost of operation and increasing profits due to lack of government interference or other bureaucratic drawbacks.

"However, the House has long been inundated with several stories, petitions and reports of mismanagement and alleged fraud. The allegations are weighty: that the company, its subsidiary or some of its staff converted or sold choice properties to themselves or their acquaintances and allegedly failed to show evidence of payment of commercially competitive prices into appropriate company accounts, that directors' breach of fiduciary duties to the company has been widespread, and other sundry allegations inconsistent with running of a purely commercial, profit-driven conglomerate.

"I do implore all Kwarans to give everyone, both the Committee and the Holdings, the benefit of the doubt. The purpose of this exercise is to establish facts, proffer recommendations and ensure that Harmony Holdings Limited, the repository of our collective wealth, is salvaged and returned back to the path of profitability. What you are expected to do is follow and trace properties, funds and assets sitting elsewhere that should belong to Kwarans. Do not allow yourselves to be compromised or threatened.

"However, do not victimise or witch hunt.

I should also mention that an indication that this House is not out to witch hunt anyone can be seen in an earlier inquiry of activities of Harmony Holdings. It would be recalled that 17th March, 2016, the House mandated its Committees on Public Account to investigate affairs of Harmony Holdings.

"However, shortly after the Resolution was adopted, the management, directorate and board of the company swung into action and the House resolved to defer to existing internal mechanism of the corporation to resolve all issues and put the company in the path of probity and profitability.

"Let me appeal to everyone with useful information not to hesitate to share with the Committee. I also implore those that will appear before the Committee to endeavor to present only the truth and nothing but the truth.

"Almighty Allah is watching on all of us, you should ensure you discharge this responsibility honoruably in accordance with the salient provisions of Section 128 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria".

Responding, the Chairman of the ad-hoc committee, Oyeleke, who assured that the panel was not out to witch-hunt or victimize anyone, vowed that it would unveil mystery surrounding the allegations of misappropriation against Harmony Holdings.

He reiterated the readiness of the committee to be fair to all concerned, just as he added that it would not succumb to pressure from any quarters.

Other members of the committee included Adamu Usman (Okuta/Yashikira), Abdulrasheed Taiwo Abdullahi (Owode/Onire), Mashood Olanrewaju Bakare (Omupo), Kamal Oyekunle Fagbemi (Oke-Ogun), Segilola Abdulkadir (Ilorin Central) and Funsho Abodunrin of Isin Constituencies.

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