Documents obtained by SaharaReporters reveal how Cecilia Udo Essien, the immediate former Head of Civil Service in Akwa Ibom State, corruptly diverted millions of naira of state funds. Our investigation revealed that the stolen funds were supposed to pay the entitlements of indigenes of Akwa Ibom who worked with the Cross River Hotel Tourism Board.
In 1994, indigenes of Akwa Ibom who served in Metro Calabar under the Cross River State Hotel and Tourism Board were asked to return to their state of origin. In the same vein, indigenes of Cross River State who were working in Akwa Ibom were also asked to return to Cross River.
Some of the affected workers from Akwa Ibom told our investigators that their counterparts from Cross River State were reabsorbed into the state’s civil service and duly paid off, but those from Akwa Ibom State were abandoned. “We continue to languish in poverty twenty-four years after,” one of the affected workers told our correspondent.
Several affected workers who hail from Akwa Ibom told our correspondent that, following a series of petitions they wrote to then Governor Godswill Akpabio, the governor in September 2012 ordered that they be screened and paid their full entitlement.
One of the workers stated, “The screening was concluded and the governor directed that the 85 of us be paid. The process of paying us was supposed to be quick. But after waiting one year without our payment, we wrote again, this time to the Head of Service.” Their letter was titled “Rescue and pay us our entitlements: distressed Cross River hotel and tourism staff, Akwa Ibom indigenes.” The Head of Civil Service (HCS) wrote a response signed on her behalf by one Samuel Asuquo. The HCS’s response read, “The Head of Service is in receipt of your letter dated September 10th, 2013 on the subject above, therefore I am directed to inform you that the matter is receiving attention in relevant government quarters.”
But an investigation by SaharaReporters revealed that Mrs. Udo Essien corruptly diverted the funds meant to pay the workers, which was paid in two cheques.
When Mrs. Essien was confronted in November 2015, she completely denied that she had diverted the funds to her personal use, and promised to look into the matter. However, she never addressed the issue until she left office in December 2015.
A senior source in the Akwa Ibom State government told our investigator that Mrs. Udo Essien collaborated with the Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Mr. Nkang Udeh, to embezzle funds meant for the workers. One of the affected workers alleged that the former Commissioner had approached the leadership of their group and urged them to increase the number of affected workers from 85 to 150. “But we refused to do so,” the worker said. He added that, once the commissioner discovered that his corrupt scheme would not sail through, he apparently decided to ensure that the affected workers lost everything.
Our state government source declared that Mr. Udeh and Mrs. Essien illicitly arranged to collect the cheques for the workers’ entitlements. “They shared the money among themselves and a few directors who helped them to cover their tracks,” said the source.
In a surprising development, the current Head of Service, in a letter to representatives of the affected workers, declared that the process of paying them had since been concluded. The letter was dated March 1, 2016 and signed by one Bassey Odungide on behalf of the HCS.
“How can they say the exercise has been concluded when the people involved have not received their money? That is the question they need to answer,” a representative of the disinherited workers asked angrily. He added: “A cheque was signed and released. Some people diverted the funds to God knows where without any of the 85 of us receiving any kobo, and someone in government is saying the exercise has been concluded. How?”