Raphael Ede, Enugu
The row between the Federal Government and family of the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme over the non-refund of 200,000 British Pounds London medical bill of the late former Vice President is deepening, Saturday Sun has learnt.
Saturday Sun had reported last week that despite the Federal Government’s claim of footing the bills for the burial of former Vice President Ekwueme, his family is yet to get a refund of 200,000 Pounds incurred as medical bill six months after.
Although the Federal Government was said to have paid the money directly to the London hospital which treated Dr Ekwueme, it was learnt that the clinic returned the money to government coffers because the ex-VP’s family had already settled the bill before help came from Abuja. Six months after the transaction, the family has waited in vain to get the refund. This has raised concerns as no one can say precisely who has custody of the fund, which had already been signed off from government treasury.
Archbishop of Enugu Ecclesiastical Provence, Anglican Communion, Dr. Emmanuel Chukwuma, who is a known counselor to the Ekwueme family had accused government of covering up fraud over the London medical bill. The second republic Vice President died in a London hospital, on November 19, 2017 at the age 85 and was buried in his hometown, Oko, Anambra state on February 2, 2018.
However, Minister of Labour, Dr Chris Ngige who was the deputy chairman of the Ekwueme burial committee set up by the federal government faulted the allegation. In a text message response to our enquiry, Ngige had said, “No truth in that at all.” Minutes after, the Minister sent another message saying, “The bill was not up to that but FG picked the entire bill and other ancillary bills like air ambulance, casket, etc. I’m deputy chair of FG burial committee hence in a position to know.”
After that report, Saturday Sun reliably gathered that federal government contacted the family and informed them that the fund has been located in Central Bank of Nigeria. The fresh controversy now is how the family would be paid.
While the family is insisting on getting the money back in British Pounds they paid the London clinic, the federal government is insisting on refunding in naira.
Confirming the new twist, Archbishop Chukwuma told Saturday Sun that he confronted the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige on the payment of the medical bill and that the Minister had confessed that government was indeed yet to refund the family.
“He (Ngige) said that he never knew that this is the situation when he was interviewed, that he got to know that it was true that the money was remitted back from London clinic to the CBN”.
Chukwuma said though, the Minister believes that the money should be refunded to the family but, “the federal government will refund the money in naira” and “the question is why should they refund the money in naira when the family paid in Pounds to the London clinic?
“So Ngige is now confessing and saying that he never knew that this was the situation and has agreed that what I said is true.
“Money was paid to the London Hospital in pounds. So the money the hospital refunded should be paid back to the family in pounds. That is why I asked, ‘why should they pay the money in naira when the money was paid in hard currency’, so something is wrong somewhere. So we should be sincere in what we do in this country and this is why I am crying out to say people in the helm of affairs should be sincere to Nigerians and not be deceitful. This thing is not a matter of bargaining, it is the truth I am speaking and I stand by the truth”.
While calling on President Buhari to intervene, Chukwuma said it is regrettable that despite the claims of the federal government that it had spent a billion naira on the burial of the late former Vice President, eight months after, his medical bill is still unresolved. Also, elder brother to late Ekwueme, Prof. Lazarus Ekwueme confirmed to Saturday Sun that the family is yet to receive the refund of the medical bill from the federal government, while insisting that the family should be paid in pounds.