In this report, TOPE FAYEHUN captures the intrigues surrounding the fresh moves by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to try the former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki over allegations of graft.
At a time he should be recuperating from the shock of his failure to return to the Senate, the former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, would be facing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over alleged diversion of N12 billion from the treasury of the Kwara State Government while he was governor of the state between 2003 and 2011.
It would be recalled that for more than two years from 2015, when he emerged the Senate President, Saraki spent the larger part of his tenure standing trials in different courts in a bid to clear himself from allegation of assets declaration and sundry charges instituted against him before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, until July 6, 2018, when the Supreme Court finally laid the case to rest.
However, his trial came with mixed feelings. While some sections described it as shocking, in view of speculations and media trial that heralded the arraignment and prosecution, several others believed the victory clinched by the former Senate President was long predicted.
Also, some pundits believed that Saraki’s trial was a mere political witch-hunt orchestrated by his political opponent, his then political party, All Progressives Congress (APC) before he defected to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and targeted at instilling some political discipline in him for exhibiting uncommon boldness against the movers and shakers of the APC.
Expectedly now, after he had suffered electoral defeat that crumbled his political structure in his home state, and discharged
by the Supreme Court on the related cases, he should have some deep breath and relax to fight another time, peradventure he has the courage.
No doubt about the fact that his long political domination of Kwara state politics drew to an unceremonious close after which he was then referred to as the head of “Kwara political family” lost his re-election bid to the Senate. Not only that, he was also edged out of all political structures in the ‘state of harmony’ to the ruling APC.
Saraki had before now been regarded as a political maestro with a near 100% record in winning elections on any political platform he contested on, was relegated by the electorates in the state due to what they described as his “uncared attitude “to the masses.
When he has undoubtedly been side-kicked and the lessons have surely been learned, the EFCC knocked his doors, inviting him to answer some questions about the money that was allegedly used by him to offset a N1.36 billion bank loan he purportedly used in purchasing homes at 15, 15A, 17, 17A and four flats on Macdonald Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, hence, its decision to seize the properties.
The EFCC had in May marked the said properties placing inscriptions ‘EFCC, Under Investigation’ in red on the walls and the fences of the houses, said the former Senate President purchased them from the Presidential Implementation Committee for the Sale of Government Property through shell companies.
Although, in a counter-affidavit to Saraki’s originating motion with suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/507/2019, the anti-graft agency asked Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, to rescind the ex parte order preventing the commission from investigating and prosecuting him.
In a counter-affidavit deposed to by Ojilibo Stanley on behalf of the EFCC, the agency said it had established a case of money laundering, criminal breach of trust and conspiracy by the immediate past Senate President.
The EFCC said Saraki, through his companies had taken loans worth N1.36 billion from the Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) and Intercontinental Bank (now Access Bank) between 2005 and 2006.
They said the former governor “began to divert N100 million from the coffers of the state monthly”.
The affidavit stated that on February 28, 2005, the Presidential Implementation Committee on the sale of Federal Government Landed Properties wrote a letter to Mr Saraki conveying the approval of the then minister of lands and housing for the sale of properties at 15 and 17 Macdonald Road, Ikoyi.
The EFCC said, the sequel to the letter, Mr. Saraki wrote to GTB on March 8, 2005, requesting N200 million loan to finance the acquisition of the properties and on March 24, 2005, GTB approved the loan to partly finance the purchase of the properties.
The agency said on October 11, 2006, another loan of N380 million was granted to the ex-Senate President by GTB to partly finance the acquisition of properties located at 17 and 17A Macdonald Road, Ikoyi.
And on January 30, 2007, a personal loan of N380 million was again granted to the former governor to partly finance the same properties, it said. According to EFCC, another loan of N400 million was obtained by Mr Saraki to develop the same properties on April 28, 2009.
“The personal loans used to acquire the properties were later liquidated with the proceeds of the applicant’s (Mr Saraki’s) criminal breach of trust or misappropriation of funds of the Kwara State Government. The applicant (Saraki) procured one Abdul Adama, who was his personal member of staff to receive cash from then Controller of Finance and Account of Government House, Kwara State, Mr Isiaka Kareem, on a monthly basis, the sum of N100 million.
“While the applicant was the governor of Kwara State, the total sum of N12 billion was withdrawn in cash from the Kwara State Government House’s account domiciled in Zenith Bank,” the affidavit read.
The EFCC, who, however, denied being controlled by the APC led Federal Government, said the ‘fresh investigation’ was different from the one conducted by the Code of Conduct Bureau, which had once arraigned Saraki.
Meanwhile, in an earlier reaction, the former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki laced the investigation as a political battle between him and the acting EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, who he said was on a revenge mission because of the role he played in blocking his confirmation as EFCC chairman.
Disclosing this in a statement signed by Yusuph Olaniyonu, his special adviser on media and publicity, Saraki averred that the commission’s fight against him is a mere witch-hunt exercise, aimed at settling scores, laced with malicious and partisan motives. He advised the commission to desist from further ‘label to damage’ plots against him.
Saraki said , “Apart from the instigation by my political adversaries, my close contacts have confirmed to me that the 4th respondent (EFCC) renewed its harassment as a way of punishing me for the decision of the Senate not to clear acting chairman of the EFCC, Alhaji Ibrahim Magu, to be appointed as the substantive chairman of the commission.”
He said the EFCC was also pained because he was in charge of the Senate when the legislative arm of government ensured the creation of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit “to Magu’s annoyance”.
He had also alleged that he was being witch-hunted by the anti-graft body because he emerged as the Senate President against the wishes of certain elements in the APC in 2015.
According to him, the allegations leveled against him were not new as he had been charged before the CCT and emerged victoriously. He said the aggrieved elements in the APC were using the EFCC agency to harass him.
Recently, Saraki further alleged that the acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, visited him in 2016 and begged him to ensure that he was confirmed by the Senate.
Saraki added that he explained to Magu that the Department of State Services had written a letter to the upper chamber of the National Assembly accusing the EFCC boss of corruption and being unfit to hold the office and thus should not be confirmed.
The former Senate President made the allegation in a letter addressed to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Adamu Abdu-Kafarati, in response to a previous letter written by the EFCC to the chief judge.
The EFCC in a letter sent to Abdu-Kafarati, on May 21, accused Justice Taiwo Taiwo of being biased against it.
In a bid to seek protection from prosecution, Saraki had earlier filed a fundamental human rights suit before Justice Taiwo who in turn granted an ex parte order restraining the commission and five other agencies of the Federal Government from continuing its investigations of certain corruption allegations against him.
However, in a protest letter signed by Magu, the EFCC requested the re-assignment of the two ex-governors’ cases and all other ones involving it in the judge’s docket to another judge of the court.
In his own letter, however, Saraki said the EFCC was after him because Magu believed he had a hand in his confirmation.
According to Saraki in the letter, “Your Lordship, Mr. Magu after his nomination, came to see me pleading that I should do my best to help him during the screening process. During that meeting, I made it clear that I had no objection to his nomination and revealed to him, in confidence that he needed to go and clear himself with the DSS because the report on him was unfavorable.
“In fact, I bent backward to let him read the content of the indicating security report submitted on him.
Also, I decided to delay the screening to give him ample time to get the DSS to change the report. As it eventually turned out, he was unable to get the adverse DSS report reversed.”
Saraki who said the acting EFCC boss had since been hounding him, noted that the DSS actually sent two reports against Magu and it was the belief of the agency that confirming the nomination of such a man would be inimical to the war against corruption.
The former Senate President wrote, “My Lord, Mr. Magu is after me because he feels that as the President of the 8th Senate, I was responsible for the non-confirmation of his appointment, whereas the reason his appointment was not confirmed is all too familiar: an agency of the executive, which nominated him, the DSS, sent two reports to the Senate in which it categorically stated that Magu failed the integrity test, that his confirmation would shackle the EFCC from effectively tackling corruption in the country and hampering the anti-corruption drive of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.”
He said it was in a bid to ensure transparency that the Senate allowed Magu’s screening to be aired live on television.
He, however, urged the CJ to ignore the EFCC’s request even as he added that all the allegations leveled against him were not different from the charges filed before the Code of Conduct Tribunal which was quashed by the Supreme Court.
The former Senate President said it was funny that of all the agencies which were restrained by the court, it was only the EFCC that was attacking a judicial officer for doing his job among the six defendants goes to show that the commission and its leadership are “unnecessarily mischievous, pugnacious and overzealous.”
He, therefore, asked the CJ to ignore the EFCC’s petition.
In a swift response, the EFCC, said no amount of media campaign against its Chairman, Ibrahim Magu will stop the prosecution of the former President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki.
Speaking through its spokesman, Mr. Tony Orilade, in a statement issued in Abuja, the Commission said is attention has been drawn to the false claim made by Saraki, who is facing investigation here in Nigeria.
Orilade said, “He seems to have chosen outside the shores of Nigeria as the launch pad of his campaign of calumny against the EFCC and its leadership. We wish to state without any contradiction that the ongoing investigation against the former Senate president and other Politically-exposed Persons (PeP) are on course, while Saraki and his co-travelers will surely have their day in court shortly.
Orilade further said that incidentally, the EFCC had filed a detailed response against the judge’s restraining order and took up issues over the controversial interim order.
While waiting for the careful response of the CJ over the commission’s request, we wish to advise ex-president of the Senate to carry his cross and allow the judiciary to perform its constitutional role,” he added.
The spokesman said it was absurd for Saraki to be raising issues on what transpired during the confirmation of EFCC boss in 2016 when he was no longer in charge of the Senate in 2019.
“It is too late for him in the day, to be claiming innocence over the confirmation saga when every Nigerian knew what transpired under his watch. The Commission under Magu has moved on and will not be distracted over mundane issues.
“Let it be stated in unequivocal terms that the investigation of Saraki’s stewardship, whether as a former president of the Senate or as a former governor of Kwara, has absolutely nothing to do with the non-confirmation of Mr Ibrahim Magu as the substantive Chairman of the EFCC.
“While the EFCC will not allow itself to be drawn by Saraki to take up issues with him on the pages of newspapers, it is pertinent to once again state in clear terms that the probes being carried out by the EFCC are nothing personal.
“They are all about enthroning probity in governance and letting leaders know that even out of office, they will be held accountable for their stewardship. Again, it is worth reminding Saraki that he has no need to be scared of the EFCC and its leadership as long as he believes he has a clear conscience,” he said.
However, some analysts posited that apart from politicking, the issue of corruption should be addressed headlong if the country would make any progress. Some of them averred that the kind of investigation being carried out by the EFCC should be extended to other former governors.