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On Ex-governmens’ corruption cases and EFCC’s strange styles

By Leo Sobechi (Assistant Politics Editor)
16 February 2020   |   2:41 am
Despite the ease with which they retreated to the Red Chamber of Nigeria’s National Assembly, which is the Senate, the trail of graft of some state governors has continued to wave the red flag against them.

Despite the ease with which they retreated to the Red Chamber of Nigeria’s National Assembly, which is the Senate, the trail of graft of some state governors has continued to wave the red flag against them. Prominent among these ‘distinguished’ Senators are Magatakarda Wamakko (Sokoto North), Gabriel Suswam (Benue North East) and Theodore Orji (Abia Central).

Apart from Orji and Suswam, who belong to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), only Wamakko belongs to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), which has been described as a safe haven for politicians facing corruption cases with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

The claim of political undertone has always trailed EFCC’s attempt to bring public officials to account for certain financial misdeeds during their stints in office. However the anti-graft body has not helped matters because in most circumstances it becomes very difficult to align its methods with laid down procedures, given its tendency to cite ‘orders from above’.

Such huddles in addition to political expediency could be seen at play in the cases involving some state governors, particularly those that found their way to the upper federal legislature, the Senate. For instance, the Senator representing Sokoto North, Wamakko, is yet to find his days in court after almost 13 years.

Senator Wamakko
The first hint of graft allegation against Wamakko happened in 2007 after he was elected governor of Sokoto State. Having served as deputy to Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa for eight years, at the tail end of his tenure the state Assembly set up the machinery to impeach the then deputy governor for allegedly misappropriating N2.9billion.

But after defecting to PDP from the All People’s Party, APP, and winning the governorship in 2007, Wamakko put up a commission of inquiry to investigate his predecessor on the alleged misappropriation of N2.9billion.However, when Bafarawa in a statement explained how his former deputy, Wamakko, was to be impeached by the Sokoto State House of Assembly for corruption and advised the commission to invite Wamakko to testify on the alleged missing N2.9billion, the case was swept under the carpet.

After his eight years in office as governor, Wamakko was elected into the Senate. In its fact sheet released in 2018, the EFCC disclosed that it had traced at least N1.7billion to Senator Wamakko’s personal account.

The commission also revealed that it received many petitions, which alleged the theft and laundering of N15billion from the treasury of Sokoto State by the former governor. One of the petitions was dated August 10, 2015 and signed by the chairman of Movement for the Liberation and Emancipation of Sokoto State, Alhaji M. D. Sirajo and its secretary, Umar Alhassan.

Although EFCC disclosed that some of the petitioners were suspected to be staff of Sokoto State Government House, whom it could not trace, it was able to verify some facts and trace N1.5billion to Wamakko’s personal account after spending three years to look into the petitions.

But despite his N15billion fraud case, Wamakko was appointed as vice chairman of Senate Committee on anti-graft agencies in the Ninth Senate. Sources disclosed that although Wamakko wanted to return to PDP alongside Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal in 2018, he changed his mind when the EFCC showed signs of activating his prosecution.

Having stayed back in APC, the Senator led the electioneering efforts for President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election as well as his second term berth in the Senate. Whether he negotiated his freedom from prosecution like his Gombe State counterpart, Senator Danjuma Goje, could not be ascertained.

Senator Theodore Orji
SENATOR Orji served Abia State as governor from 2007 through 2015, after which he found himself in the Red Chamber to represent Abia Central Senatorial District. Recently the EFCC revealed how the Senator and his eldest son, Chinedum Orji, nearly left Abia State in red by sweeping away more than N550billion from the state’s coffers within the eight years of his stay at the Government House.

It could not be ascertained how far political influence and bribery has delayed the prosecution of Senator Orji, but sources at the Fomella Street office of the anti-graft agency disclosed that the facts of the eight years of sleaze in Abia came to light after some highly placed operatives were transferred out of the head office.

It was also gathered that the conviction and incarceration of Orji’s godfather and benefactor, Orji Uzor Kalu, quickened the processes leading to the possible prosecution of the Senator representing Abia Central and his son, Chinedum, who is also not only a legislator, but also Speaker of Abia State House of Assembly.

While those in the know allege that Senator Orji had delayed his days in court by a combination of political intrigues, including electoral horse-trading and possible defection to APC, it was also gathered that some N300million ‘good gestures’ to some big men through Fomella Street that could not digest properly led to the posting of some operatives.

And as new brooms sweep cleaner, the EFCC released the mindboggling details of how Senator Orji’s Speaker-son used more than 95 bank accounts as conduit to siphon Abia State’s funds.As a career civil servant, Orji used his office as Administrative Director of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to smoothen Orji Uzor Kalu’s defeat of Prince Vincent Eze Ogbulafor of the then All Peoples Party (APP) in the 1999 gubernatorial election of the state.

To reciprocate his assistance, Kalu appointed him the Chief of Staff immediately after the inauguration of the democratic administration on May 29, 1999. No sooner had the facts of the Father and son’s sleaze became public knowledge than some indigenes of Abia State mobilised for street protests.

While some of the citizens compared the level of infrastructure development in the state to that of neighbouring Ebonyi State, others maintained that N550billion could have transformed the state to an enviable height. But as #Bring Back Abia Billions# trended on the cyberspace, those planning #SayNoToFotoGovernance protest were stopped by the government, which issued a statement threatening to deal with “those trying to destabilize the state.”

In a statement signed by the Commissioner for Homeland Security, Prince Dan Okoli, the Abia State Government said it “has uncovered plots by some unscrupulous politicians, who are still sore from their electoral defeats to destabilize the state by funding protests at Aba and Umuahia, and wish to warn those involved to desist from such evil plots or face the full wrath of the law.”

The government alleged that various sums of money and other “logistic support from the serial election losers in the state” have been released to a protest merchant “to recruit innocent women to stage protests over a matter that is not even in court.”

The statement advised parents and guardians to ensure that their children/wards are not used as political pawns by desperate and blood thirsty politicians to foment trouble in the state. It is obvious that the revelation that the matter has not yet been taken to court must have dampened the spirit of civil protests in the state.

However, the quizzing of Senator Orji and his son, over the alleged diversion of huge sums from the state to their personal use, seems to have removed the dust on the three-year old petition filed by Fight Corruption: Save Nigeria group in March 2017.

Two questions that have continued to trail the Orji and son graft case are: would it ever get to the court and why did it take this long to receive attention? EFCC’s spokesman, Mr. Tony Orilade, explained that the seeming delay of investigations into the petition was occasioned by procedure, pointing out that the commission’s practice does not entail commencing investigations immediately petitions are received.

In the petition, Save Nigeria accused Senator Orji of diverting the following sums of money: N383billion from the Federation Account, N55billion being Excess Crude revenue, N2.3billion being Sure-P accrual to the state, N1.8billion ecological funds due to Abia State, N12billion being Paris Club refund and N2billion agricultural loan; among others.

Senator Gabriel Suswam
THERE are more questions than answers in the N3.1billion corruption allegation against the Senator representing Benue North East in the Red chamber. Unlike other former governors, Suswam is being charged alongside his former Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Omadachi Oklobia, for allegedly diverting N3.1billion being the proceeds of some shares belonging to Benue State in a company.

The question as to whether Senator Suswam’s trial was politically motivated resurfaced recently when EFCC’s star witness told the court that he had been receiving many telephone calls from different persons in the state urging him to alter the initial statement he made to the commission.

Justice Okon Abang is the second Judge to seat in trial of the two accused persons after Justice A. R. Mohammed was elevated to the Court of Appeal. A Bureau De Change operator, Mallam Abubakar Umar, who was the prosecution witness, while rendering his evidence disclosed that he handed the dollar equivalent of N413million that was transferred to his Zenith Bank account of Fanffash Resources from Elixir Investment to the former governor.

But while records showed that the prosecution witness told A. R. Mohammed’s court that he delivered the monies to Suswan at the Government House, he denied before Justice Abang that he had never visited Benue State nor knows the Government House. When confronted with the discrepancy, the star witness said he did not mention Makurdi, but just Government House, explaining that he usually calls the former governor before bringing along the dollar equivalents of naira transfers to Fanffash account.

Another twist played out in the court last week when Justice Abang urged the security agencies to investigate the source of an online report by Igberetvnews, which claimed that he (Justice Abang) was planning to jail the former Benue State governor.

The report was said to have also indicated that Justice Abang had prior contact with the EFCC prosecution team and some chieftains of APC to slant the case. Shortly after hearing arguments from lawyers in the trial, Justice Abang ordered the investigation into the allegations contained in the online publication, saying it is a “serious issue of national importance.”He gave 21 days for the report of the investigation by the Inspector-General of Police, Department of State Services (DSS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Although the EFCC lawyer, Rotimi Jacobs, who had informed the court of the publication, described it as ‘scandalous,’ counsel to Senator Suswam and Okloba, Chinelo Ogboozor and Paul Erokoro respectively condemned the publication.However, Igberetv disclosed that it copied the report from another reputable online platform, NationalConcord, stressing that even as it gave credits to the site, the digital footprints are there to buttress its assertion.

Meanwhile, reprieve came the way of former Niger State governor, Alhaji Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, when a Minna High Court in the state discharged him, alongside two others, for allegedly diverting the state’s ecological fund amounting to N2billion.For the three years that the trial of the three PDP stalwarts lingered, three separate Judges heard their case, which some petitioners claimed that the governorship candidate and former Chief of Staff, Government House, Alhaji Umar Nasko and the state party chairman, Mr. Tanko Beji, ploughed into the electioneering in 2015.

In a curious anti-climax, counsel to the plaintiffs, Niger State Government and EFCC, said they were withdrawing from further prosecuting the case before the court, even as counsel to the accused persons maintained that the prosecution should announce their withdrawal from the case before the court.  Consequently, the court discharged the accused persons for lack of diligent prosecution.

As Nigerians await the outcomes of other corruption cases involving former state governors, questions would continue to crop up for EFCC: Is the commission biting more than it can chew? Does the agency work with a single standard procedure or picking and choosing what methodology to adopt for different cases?

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