Wednesday, 25 September 2013
How They Looted Nigeria Dry And A Litany Of Abandoned EFCC Corruption Cases
By Segun Dada
This expose is a product of many sleepless nights of research which was later abandoned but was rejuvenated as a result of a twitter conversation I had with my good twitter friend Toyin. As much as possible, it is my utmost prayer that this expose touches a nerve or two, engulfs the reader(s) in righteous anger to demand a change in the status quo from a system that not only celebrates corrupt elements but also vigorously protects them.
My first set of concerns arose when I decided to study the law that established the EFCC.
And even though I am not a lawyer or anything, I was shocked to see that it was so badly drafted and it seemed dangerously tilted in the direction where it could be abused. I suggest every well meaning Nigerian takes a closer look at the EFCC Act. It contains provisions that clearly conflict with the Constitution, particularly those provisions that relate to due process.
Also, the Act vested rather sweeping powers on the Commission in the area of law enforcement in general. Also, it was not quite clear how this Commission was going to interact with the office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice. There seemed clearly to be a very poorly designed agency with no clear mandate or institutional structures in place. But at this initial stage, I was not worried too much. I saw some of these problems as the product of the rush and desperation of Government in search of solutions. Also, I paid a rather close attention to the provisions of Section 39 of the EFCC Act, which empowered the Attorney General of the Federation to make rules and regulations for any aspects of the operations of the EFCC. I was of the belief that with such rule-making powers vested in the Attorney General of the Federation, there would be ample opportunity for the Commission to be steered in the right direction and to keep it well situated within the institutional arrangements for law enforcement in the country, of which the office of the Attorney General is the key.
Since its establishment in 2002 and subsequent take off in 2004, the EFCC has taken corruption head-on in its fight against the social menace and has recorded some degree of successes in this respect. For example, Chief Bode George was arraigned by EFCC alongside five other suspects (Aminu Dabo, Olusegun Abidoye, Adullahi Tafida, Zanna Maidaribe, and Sule Aliyu) on a 163-count charge (truncated to 68-count charge) that bordered on an alleged misappropriation of Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) funds to the tune of N85 billion, and inflation of contract costs contrary to Section 22(3) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000. Thief (sorry, Chief) Bode George was however convicted and sentenced to concurrent term of two years imprisonment. For this singular conviction, EFCC has recorded yet another impressive success in its fight against corruption.
The pioneer chairman of the agency (though accused at some point of helping OBJ witch hunt his political enemies) actually took the war against corruption to the doorsteps of perpetrators. He (Ribadu) instituted cases against former governors and public officials. Ribadu prosecuted and secured the conviction of the former Inspector General of Police, Mr Tafa Balogun, who pleaded guilty to eight counts of money laundering charges to the tune of N16 billion in 2005. He was sentenced to six months imprisonment. Same went for Alamieyeseigha for money laundering. He was convicted and released on plea bargain.
After Ribadu’s exit from the EFCC, the zeal to fight corruption went from 100 to zero amid the negatives.
Ever since, the corruption trials have not gone beyond the plea stage, some for as long as six years after first arraignment in court. Many ex-government office holders, who had been accused of corruption, are still walking the land free. Some of them are in the National Assembly making laws for the country.
What do I intend to show with this report? I intend to bring public consciousness to the number of the abandoned cases by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Let’s take a look at some of the top cases that have either been thrown out, a plea bargain reached or literally abandoned by the EFCC:
Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello:
In April 2008, the EFCC began the investigation of Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello for receiving N10 million stolen from the Ministry of Health. The former Minister of Health and the deputy were also on trial for stealing over N30, 000,000 from the Ministry’s unspent funds from the 2007 budget. Although the Minister and his deputy lost their jobs, Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello dramatized her case out of the court and eventually went scot-free. The court has maintained silence on the case. No acquittal, no adjournments.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, on 10 August, 2009, sealed off the premises of Cosmo FM Radio Station, Rainbownet Nigeria Limited and other companies believed to be owned by the ex-governor of Enugu State, who later became a Senator of the federal republic.The properties were seized by the EFCC through a Lagos Federal High Court order in May 2007 following the indictment of Nnamani over alleged corruption and embezzlement of state funds to the tune of N5.3 billion.
After arraigning the ex-governor in court for prosecution, it appears the case had been stepped down because as at 25th September, 2010 there was neither conviction nor an acquittal. Rather, the case is suffering prolonged adjournments and is still pending. He was a member of the Senate between 2007 and 2011.
Chief Onyema Ugochukwu;
The EFCC charged the former People’s Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate for Abia State in the April 2007 general elections, and former Chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Chief Onyema Ugochukwu before a Federal High Court, Abuja for corrupt practices. Chief Ugochukwu was accused of corrupt handling of about N10.2 billion while serving as the Chairman of the NDDC. The report reveals that the charges were prepared by the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation. The charges accused Chief Ugochukwu of inflating contract value and making false statement in respect of N9.3 billion allegedly trapped in the distressed Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria; inflating of a contract value for the construction of a 15 kilometre road in Obehi-Mkpologwu from N250,260 million to N880,000 million; while the second count accused him of inflating contracts value for the construction of a road in Umuahia from N180 million to N462 million.
In the third count, Chief Ugochukwu was accused of furnishing of false statement in respect of N9.3 billion claimed to have been trapped in Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria, but which sum was said to have been disbursed by the former Chairman of NDDC while in office. The EFCC seems to be handicapped in prosecuting these criminal cases that have been investigated. There is seemingly an expression of reluctance in prosecuting the cases cited above. This strengthens the speculation that the anti-graft agency is selective in its operations.
Saminu Turaki, former governor of Jigawa State was alleged to have misappropriated the sum of N36 billion from the State funds. Turaki was also alleged to have laundered public funds of various values, an offence the Legal and Prosecution Unit of the EFCC states is punishable under section 14(1) (b) of the money laundering (Prohibition) Act 2004. Aminu Turaki argued that a substantial sum out of the N36 billion allegedly siphoned, was invested into the People’s Democratic Party third term project (Ploughing the seed of corruption back into party project depicts that government encouraged politicians to misappropriate public funds for personal interests).
His case with the EFCC is undecided till date. His bail was contested by the EFCC on the grounds that the former governor possessed multiple nationalities and could jump bail, if granted. Turaki had meanwhile secured the transfer of his trial to his home state. While the argument over his bail was on, Turaki won a seat in the Senate. He was in the National Assembly between 2007 and 2011.
EFCC had arraigned Alao-Akala; a former Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters and incumbent senator, Hosea Agboola; and a businessman, Femi Babalola, over alleged misappropriation of N11.5 billion. The EFCC had accused the trio of conspiracy, illegal award of contracts, obtaining money by false pretence and acquiring property with money derived from illegal act as well as concealing the ownership of such property. One of Alao Akala’s co-conspirators is a serving senator of the federal republic of Nigeria.
Orji Uzor Kalu:
Former Abia State Governor Orji Uzor Kalu was arraigned on July 27, 2007 before an Abuja High Court on a 107 count charge of money laundering, official corruption and criminal diversion of public funds in excess of N5 billion. He approached the Court of Appeal to set aside the ruling of the Federal High Court that he had a case to answer. The appellate court dismissed the appeal for lack of merit and gave the anti-graft agency the nod to prosecute him. With the charges still hanging on his neck, the former governor is touting himself as a possible presidential candidate in 2015. He still strolls around till date not only as a free man, but as a self-acclaimed spokesperson for the igbo people.
Another pending case is that of former Governor Dariye of Plateau State, who was arraigned by the EFCC before an Abuja High Court on a 23-count charge involving the sum of N700million. He was granted bail, but he later challenged the jurisdiction of the court to try him. He argued that the alleged offence committed by him took place in Plateau State and the funds involved belonged to the state, and argued that his trial ought to take place in the state, not in Abuja. The judge dismissed Dariye’s objection, which prompted him to approach the Court of Appeal, which also threw out the application and ordered him to go and face his trial. While the case is still pending before the court, Dariye won a senatorial seat in the 2011 polls.
Former Governor Jolly Nyame of Taraba State was docked on 41-count charge in July 2007. He was alleged to have embezzled N1.3billion and collected N180million from a contractor as a kick-back from a N250 million contract awarded to the company for the supply of stationery to the state government. His case is still undecided six years later.
Dimeji Bankole and Usman Nafada
The alleged contract inflation by the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole. He was arraigned on June 8, 2011 over a 16- count charge. Bankole and his deputy, Usman Nafada, were dragged to court over a 17-count charge alleged misappropriation of a N10 billion loan. However, the case was thrown out on January 31, 2012.
Former Chairman of House Committee on Power, Ndudi Elemelu, was docked over a N5.2billion fraud charge brought against him by the EFCC . Justice Garba Umar ruled that he had no case to answer, but the case is still pending at the Abuja High Court before Justice Adebukola Bolajoko.
EFCC began moves to swoop on Rivers state officials in late 2006 when it issued a report of investigation into the state’s finances in which it said over N100 billion was diverted during Odili’s two terms.
The report contained allegations of large-scale fraud, conspiracy, conversion of public funds, foreign exchange malpractice, money laundering, stealing and abuse of oath of office against the former governor.
To stave off impeding prosecution of officials, the then Rivers state attorney general went to court and got a perpetual injunction in March 2007 restraining EFCC from investigating the state government.
A year later, months after he had left office in May 2007, Odili himself went to court and asked to be made to benefit from the injunction and the court granted his prayers, making him perpetually immune from arrest, investigation or prosecution.
In October 2008, EFCC challenged the perpetual injunction at the Court of Appeal, but no judgement has yet been given nearly four years after, because of what a source close to the matter said was lack of diligent prosecution and official interference.
In the meantime, the commission had built a case against Odili and other officials, hoping to move in to file charges as soon as the injunction was lifted, sources familiar with the matter said.
But about two years ago, the commission dropped further action against Odili, and retrieved the case file from the lawyer handling the matter, because of what a source said were “orders from above.”
On December 12, 2007, Ibori was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at the Kwara State Lodge in Asokoro, Abuja. The charges he faced included theft of public funds, abuse of office, and money laundering. These corruption charges brought against Ibori by the government of former President Obasanjo are among many begun by anticorruption czar Nuhu Ribadu against former officials of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party PDP.
Ribadu additionally alleged that Ibori attempted to bribe him to drop the charges with a cash gift of $15 million, which Ribadu immediately lodged in the Central Bank of Nigeria CBN. The cash remains in the CBN as an exhibit.
On December 17, 2009, A Federal High Court sitting in Asaba, Delta State, discharged and acquitted Ibori of all 170 charges of corruption brought against him by EFCC. The EFCC filed a notice of appeal against the December 17, 2009 judgment, and had begun a new round of investigations on the former governor following a petition by members of the Delta State Elders, Leaders and Stakeholders Forum, which was made available to the public in March 2010.
In April 2010, about three months after the takeover of government by Goodluck Jonathan, Ibori’s case file was reopened. A new allegation that he embezzled N40 billion ($266 million) was pressed against him. Attempts to arrest him were unsuccessful. It was reported that he fled from Abuja to Lagos and then to the creeks of Oghara, his homeland in the Niger Delta. It was reported that he has been guarded by armed militias and they once had a shootout with government security forces. He claimed that the charges were frivolous and that he was a victim of political persecution.
In April 2010, Ibori fled Nigeria, prompting the EFCC to request the assistance of Interpol. On 12 July 2010 the Governor of the CBN, Malam Sanusi Lamido revealed that Ibori had used Delta State as collateral for N40 billion loan when he was governor. He was later arrested in Dubai and extradited to the UK where he is currently serving jail terms for money laundering.
In January 2008, Lucky Igbinedion, a former Governor of Edo State, was declared wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on 142 counts of financial fraud. This concerns allegations that he embezzled $24 million (£12m) using front companies.
The former governor’s overseas properties are valued conservatively at about N6 billion. Some of the identified overseas properties include: Mansion in Cape Town, South Africa, numerous houses in Johannesburg, South Africa. The famous Kenwood mansion in United Kingdom (UK), valued at £3.3m and paid for in one day. Igbinedion did not only embark on a shopping spree, he also set up a vast business empire. His younger brother, Bright, is allegedly the overseer of his estimated N7 billion business in South Africa. It includes the five-star Hotel Constantia along Airport Road in Benin Benin-City, managed by his wife, Eki Igbinedion. The hotel is valued at about N4 billion.
Chief Lucky Nosakhare Igbinedion was arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) before the Federal High Court, Enugu in charge No FHC/EN/6C/2008 on a 191- count charge of corruption, money laundering and embezzlement of N2.9b. In a plea bargain arrangement, the EFCC through its counsel Mr. Rotimi Jacob reduced the 191- count charge to one – count charge. The single charge read:
“That you, Lucky Igbinedion (former Governor of Edo State) on or about January 21, 2008 within the Jurisdiction of this honourable court neglected to make a declaration of your interest in account No. 41240113983110 with GTB in the declaration of assets form of the EFCC and you thereby committed an offence punishable under section 27 (3) of the EFCC Act 2004”.
The terms of the plea bargain were that the prosecutor would reduce the 191 – count charge to one – count charge and in return, Lucky Igbinedion will refund N500m, 3 properties and plead guilty to the one – count charge.