The current efforts being made by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to tackle corruption in the country is generating controversy that the President Muhammadu Buhari appears to be using the agency to haunt opposition members
| By Olu Ojewale | Nov 2, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |
ALLEGED corrupt former and serving public officials now have good reasons to fear. In the past few weeks, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, seems to have been energised to quiz alleged corrupt persons and put on trial, those suspected to have enriched themselves with public funds. The number of those who have been interrogated by the commission in recent times and the number of cases taken to court lend credit to this. But the anti-graft agency is also accused of being selective in its war against corruption. From the cases it has pursued so far, it appears to be targeting only members of the opposition party. The EFCC has also failed to arrest members of the ruling All Progressives Congresses, APC, who have been equally accused of corruption thereby lending credence to the allegation that it is being used by the ruling party to hound members of the opposition party especially those belonging to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
For instance, there is the high profiled case of Godswill Akpabio, former governor of Akwa Ibom State and current minority Senate leader. Akpabio was quizzed for several hours on Friday, October 16 and 17, over alleged fraud of N108 billion of Akwa Ibom State funds. According to Akpabio, the case which is being investigated is politically motivated.
Apart from Akpabio, the EFCC raised another dust in the camp of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, following the quizzing of Saidu Dakingari, former governor of Kebbi State, on Monday, October 19. Dakingari was similarly interrogated by a crack team of detectives of the EFCC for alleged abuse of office, misappropriation of funds and money laundering-related offences.
Prior to his invitation, the commission had earlier invited Zainab Dakingari, his wife and daughter of the late former President Umaru Yar’Adua, for interrogation over an alleged N2billion fraud on July 22, 2015. The alleged offence was said to have been committed under Dakingari’s tenure as governor of Kebbi State.
Although the former Kebbi governor’s wife honoured the invitation for a rescheduled interrogation on July 28, the operatives could not make her to go through the rigorous process on health grounds.
On Tuesday, October 20, it was the turn of Abba Moro, immediate past interior minister, to be to the guest of the EFCC. Moro was questioned by the anti-graft agency for about seven hours over alleged complicity in the March 2014 recruitment exercise for the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS. Eighteen job seekers were killed during stampedes at venues of the recruitment exercise.
Moro was also questioned for the N520 million compulsory levy collected from the 520,000 candidates that applied for the 5,000 slots at the NIS.
Similarly, David Parradang, former comptroller-general of the NIS, was earlier interrogated over the matter in September, about a month after his dismissal as the NIS boss by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The anti-graft agency has not only been inviting suspected corrupt persons, it is has shown that those already being found to have soiled hands with the public funds should have their time in the court. On Tuesday, October 21, the commission started the prosecution of Sule Lamido, former Jigawa governor, Aminu and Mustapha, his two sons and two others at the Federal High Court in Abuja. They are all facing a 27-count charge before Justice Adeniyi Ademola. This case is, however, a carry over case from the time former ex-Preisdent Jonathan ruled the country.
Nevertheless, at the hearing, the EFCC presented four witnesses. The initial hearing was on some of the transitions purportedly made by some of the characters involved to defraud Jigawa State. In the end, Justice Ademola adjourned the case to November 24 and 25, for further hearing. Lamido and his co-accusers are facing trial over alleged fraud involving more than N1.3 billion.
Some of the allegations against Lamido is that he abused his position as governor between 2007 and 2015 by awarding contracts to companies where he had interest, using his two sons as front. The former governor was equally alleged to have collected kickbacks from contractors in the state, with the funds allegedly paid into accounts that were managed by his sons.
On Tuesday, Ikedi Ohakim, former governor of Imo State, appeared before a federal high court in Abuja, to answer charges of fraud made against him. According to the case brought against him by the EFCC, Ohakim allegedly paid $2,900,000 (equivalent of N270 million) in one day for the property which he now lives in Asokoro District in Abuja.
The anti-graft agency made the revelation at the resumption of proceedings of his trial also before Justice Ademola.
At the hearing, Ishaya Dauda, a senior detective superintendent at the EFCC, and prosecution witness, gave a detail account of how the former governor made a cash payment for a piece of land at Plot No. 1098 Cadastral Zone A04, Asokoro District, otherwise known as No.60, Kwame Nkrumah Street, Asokoro, Abuja. The commission similarly tendered statements already volunteered by the suspects in the matter.
Led in evidence by Festus Keyamo, prosecution counsel, Dauda further said that Ohakim made copious statements regarding the said property. He said: “Working on the intelligence reports at our disposal, after the accused person had declared his assets, it was discovered that there was no banking transaction for the purchase of the property. We found out that only cash payment was made in respect of the property. So, we took the accused person to the property. When we brought him back to our office, we asked him who owns the property and he said he rented the property through one Abu Sule, managing director, Tweeenex Consociate H.D. Limited.”
The former governor had already been given bail on Thursday, July 9, following his arraignment on Wednesday, July 8, 2015, by the EFCC on a three-count charge bordering on money laundering. Further hearing and cross examination in the case were fixed by Justice Ademola for November 12 and 13, 2015.
As already stated, all these cases involve members of the opposition PDP. This, perhaps, informed the outcry by the party that the EFCC has become a tool in the hand of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, to haunt the opposition.
This has brought exchange of words between the two parties. Olisa Metuh, national publicity secretary of the PDP, while addressing a press conference in Abuja, on Sunday, October 19, called the EFCC interrogation of Akpabio a selective, dictatorial action by the APC-led government meant to deplete the strength of his party ahead of the 2019 election.
“The APC and its government have been busy denigrating the PDP and trying to appropriate our achievements, while at the same time blackmailing, hounding and harassing our elected members with the aim to cow and force them to leave the PDP and join their party,” Metuh said.
He said that the party had verifiable reports from its key members that agents of the APC had been approaching them to join the APC with threats to use the EFCC to victimise them should they refuse. He said that explained why the so-called fight against corruption had been selective and focused against PDP members, despite counsels by stakeholders that it should be holistic and in accordance with the due process of the law.
He pointed out the curious nature of the war against corruption was the fact that former PDP governors and ministers were being hounded and arrested over apparently orchestrated petitions, while their APC counterparts, who had more damaging petitions were being nominated for ministerial positions.
In response, Femi Adesina, special adviser to the president on media and publicity, accused Metuh of sounding like a broken record. “It’s the same thing that he says all the time. But let me assure Nigerians that the president has always maintained that even when it affects APC members, the person concerned must go and defend himself. I think what is of interest to Nigerians is ‘did this people commit the crime?’ not whether it is one-sided,” Adesina said.
Nevertheless, Metuh, perhaps, has a point there. It is common knowledge that Chibuike Amaechi and Babatunde Fashola, former governors of Rivers and Lagos states, both APC chieftains have corruption petitions written against them ahead of their ministerial screening by the Senate.
According a white paper issued by the current administration in the Rivers State, Amaechi is indicted for an alleged missing N52 billion belonging to the state. After much acrimony over the issue, the Senate eventually screened the former governor for his ministerial appointment on Thursday, October 22. He told the Senate that the commission of inquiry didi not indict him for any corrupt offence. Besides, Amaechi told the Senate that he was not corrupt, adding: “I have never taken bribe in my life.”
Facing a similar charge like that of Amaechi, Fashola, who was screened and confirmed by the Senate much earlier, similarly denied corruption charges levelled against him. He said he never single-handedly gave out any contract and that throughout his tenure, he never signed any government cheque for payment of contracts and that none of his commissioners ever did.
The Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, CACOL, in a petition to the Senate, had accused Fashola of constructing his personal website with government fund of N78.3 million, whereas every IT person CACOL contacted put the estimate of the cost of the website at about N6 million. But the former governor said all contract transactions under his administration were transparent and followed due process.
In any case, despite the uproar in the media over the alleged corruption allegations against the two former governors, who albeit, played very significant roles in the election of Buhari as president, there is no record that any of them was invited by the EFCC for interrogation at any time.
Wilson Uwujaren, spokesman of the commission, could not be reached on why this has been so.
Nevertheless, prominent Nigerians have been voicing their opinions on the modus operandi of the EFFC in the fight against corruption in the country. Those in favour or against depends very much on the political divide one is although some who belong to no political party also kick against the one-sided corruption war.
Sarah Jibril, a PDP leader and former first female presidential candidate, said the fight against corruption should not be left in the hands of anti-graft agencies alone. “It is a worthy fight, a good fight on behalf of all of us. However, it is a continuous fight because even the previous administration talked about zero tolerance for corruption, that was what the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was talking about. The fight this time is coined as fighting corruption for change,” Jibril said.
She noted that the previous administration used its transformation agenda to fight corruption as well. That notwithstanding, Jibril said the fight against corruption must be holistic and should not be selective as being perceived now. She also enjoined the government and stakeholders to partner with the private sector, the family and the institutions to fight the menace.
Onyekachi Ubani, lawyer and human rights activist, said he was not bothered if the fight looked selective at the moment. “What is important is that all corrupt officials should have at the back of their minds that there would be a day of reckoning for them to come and account for whatever they must have stolen from the public,” he said. The lawyer advised the EFCC to stay clear of politics so that Nigerians could take them serious and not be viewed as being used for political vendetta.
But whether Buhari or the APC, is, indeed, using the anti-graft agency to haunt members of the opposition leaves room for further debate. In the meantime, Nigerians, indeed, the world is waiting for such a time that a close associate or some members of the APC will be guests of the EFCC or be charged to court for corrupt practices.