The recent arrests and arraignments of former governors Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State, Aliyu Akwe Doma of Nasarawa State, Otunba Alao-Akala of Oyo State and Danjuma Goje of Gombe State by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) are raising dust. Chuka Odittah examines the challenge before the commission.
On October 8, 2011, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) damned all consequences and declared the immediate past governor of Gombe State, Alhaji Danjuma Goje wanted for financial crimes.
Goje who is now a senator was accused of contract inflation and misappropriation/ embezzlement of N24.18bn of state funds in his days as governor. According to a charge sheet prepared by EFCC lawyer, Wahab Shittu, Goje while serving as governor of Gombe state authorized contract for the procurement of dictionaries for the sum of N1.4bn. He was also alleged to have conspired with food suppliers to conceal another N1.92b of Gombe State funds.
The lawmaker is alleged to have connived with some government officials to convert N830million UBEC money to personal use.
Goje quickly issued a statement declaring that he was not in hiding and would appear at the commission’s headquarters in Abuja to prove his innocence.
True to his words, he appeared in the early hours of October 10 but failed to impress the operatives of the EFCC with his ‘clean hands vibes.’ Straight from custody of the EFCC, he was arraigned in a Gombe High Court to begin a legal journey which may be tortuous! Though he is on bail now.
Shortly before then, the anti graft agency effected the arrest of former governor of Nasarawa State, Akwe Doma, his Ogun State counterpart, Gbenga Daniel ,and the former governor of Oyo state, Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala.
They were subsequently arraigned in courts in their home states.
Last week, Gbenga Daniel was arraigned by the EFCC at a Federal High Court in Abeokuta, capital of Ogun State for alleged misappropriation of N58b public funds. He pleaded not guilty to the charge and was later granted bail by Justice Olanrewaju Mabekoje in the sum of N500m and with two sureties in like sum.
Alao- Akala and Akwe Doma were equally docked for alleged financial crimes totaling N25b and N18b respectively. On Tuesday 11, 2011, EFCC arraigned Alao-Akala and two others before the Justice Moshood Abass High Court in Oyo State.
The other two charged with him are Senator Hosea Ayoola Agboola, Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters during Akala’s tenure and one Mr. Olufemi Ademola Babalola, a private business man believed to have connived with them to launder state funds.
The three were accused of conspiracy to defraud the state of its resources, in addition to obtaining property under false pretence in contravention of section 8 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act 2000.
A copy of the charge sheet on Alao-Akala revealed that the ex- governor conceded the genuine ownership of two houses in London, an offence punishable under the Public Service Act.
The three accused persons who pleaded not guilty to the corruption charges were equally alleged to have awarded contracts without budget provisions. This was an offence punishable under Section 22(4) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000.
In the same vein, Doma was said to have been involved in financial crime totaling N6b.
According to the agency, the former governor illegally converted N5billion state fund to personal use, in addition to illegally withdrawing N600m, and another N1.5billion while he was governor.
The wind of arrests and prosecutions in courts it would appear signal a fresh onslaught against corruption.
Some observers are however skeptical that the agency under the chairmanship of Mrs Farida Waziri may be unsuccessful in prosecuting the charges preferred against the governors due to intense lobbying by interested parties. Some pundits fear that both the presidency and the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice are currently under pressure to wade in and terminate further prosecution of the ex-governors.
The consensus among Nigerians however is the trial of the four governors must be allowed to run its full course without undue application of court processes or technicalities just to the justice.
This has raised the question of far can the EFCC go in prosecuting the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole and his Deputy, Usman Nafada. On October 17, the duo was arraigned at High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) over N40billion loan scam.
LEADERSHIP gathered that the current Speaker of House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and his deputy, Hon Emeka Ihedioha were to be charged to court along side Bankole and Nafada for the same offence but the presidency forced Waziri to drop their names for ‘‘national interest.’’
Bankole who was earlier granted bail with stringent condition by Justice Suleiman Belgore in June 16, 2011, had however challenged the propriety of the EFCC to try him over how he spent money sourced or disbursed as speaker of the house.
Bankole insisted that the EFCC has no powers to prosecute him because it did not get a fiat from the AGF before prosecuting him. The ex-speaker had on this ground boasted that the EFCC would fail in its bid to nail him.
Established by an Act of the National Assembly (as amended in 2004), the pioneer chairman of the EFCC Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, championed what was then a new dimension to the anti-corruption crusade in the country.
Until his arrival, corrupt Nigerians especially the political elite were not interrogated, let alone charged to court. Some of those who were caught in the web of Ribadu’s net however cried foul. Many of them alleged that they were victims of politically orchestrated arrests. They accused Ribadu of being used by former President Olusegun Obasanjo as his attck dog.
In other words, many of the ex-governors who were docked for corruption charges blamed Obasanjo for their woes. They were quick to allege that Obasanjo had not only stage managed their exits from offices but also was behind the allegations of corruption leveled against them.
At the end, a scenario of confusion dogged the anti-corruption crusade at the time. Till date, many rightly or wrongly still consider Ribadu as Obasanjo’s pun. It is common belief that Obasanjo used him to rein in perceived enemies. This perhaps explains the credibility challenge Ribadu faced when he embarked on the “war against corruption”.
For instance, former Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose, openly blamed his political downfall on the Ota Chicken farmer. Fayose’s opposition to Obasanjo’s tenure elongation drew the battle line between him and Obasanjo fondly called ‘Baba Iyabo’.
Fayose was hounded by Ribadu and put behind bars for alleged mis-management of N1.2b public funds. He has since been granted bail in 2007.
Other ex-governors charged to court included, Joshua Dariye, former governor of Plateau State.
He was docked for N700million graft and arraigned on 23 count charge. Saminu Turaki, former governor of Jigawa State was held on a 23 count charge for diverting N36billion state money while Orji Uzor Kalu, former governor of Abia State was arraigned on 107 count charge of N5billion sleaze. Chief James Ibori, former governor of Delta State who was arraigned on 170 count charge is being held for stealing N9.2billion.
Others were, Jolly Nyame, former governor of Taraba State charged with 41 count charge; mis-managing N180m State funds; Chimaroke Nnamani, former governor of Enugu State accused of stealing N5.3billion and charged with 105 count charge. Lucky Igbinedion, former governor of Edo State had his own share of the look as the EFCC convicted him after being charged for stealing N4.3billion as contained in a 191 count charge slammed against him. Former governor of Bayelsa State, DSP Alamiesiegha was tried and convicted for stashing away public funds.
His trial started in London but was convicted in Nigeria.
Except in the case of Igbinedion and Alamiesiegha, many of the above mentioned cases are still pending in courts. Analysts lambasted the commission for bowing to Aso Rock’s interference, a development they argued culminated in a hurried plea bargain without conviction for some politicians. Even the plea bargain was criticized by observers but Waziri said it was better to enter into plea bargain with corrupt people than to leave them go free or arraign them in courts where they would use their ill-gotten wealth to hire good lawyers to defend their evils. Contentious and logical as this may sound, the truth is that there are interferences that tie the hands of the anti-graft operatives
Waziri was alluding to this interference when she declared at a forum in Abuja that if it were entirely left to her, all corrupt public office holders would be in jail.
Although President Goodluck Jonathan absolved the EFCC of delay in prosecuting cases of corruption he didn’t absolve the presidency of undue interference. Jonathan blamed the delay in prosecuting corruption matters on the door steps of the judiciary which he averred was slow in the dispensation of justice in the country.
Beyond singing praises of Waziri and the commission Jonathan should not shield the “politically connected” from being brought to book should the need arise! Until this is done, the touted fight against corruption would amount to a sheer waste of State resources and deceit to the Nigerian people.
But can the EFCC be blind to political interest? The consensus among Nigerians is that Waziri’ EFCC like his predecessor doesn’t look it.