Saturday, 7 December 2013
Another Pension Fund Thief, Uzoma Attang, Desperately Moves To Avert Justice
A serving Director of Finance and Accounts at Nigeria's Ministry of the Interior, Mrs. Uzoma Cyril Attang, has landed her in court amongst her peers who allegedly looted over N39 billion from the Police Pension Office, Abuja.
The unprecedented development followed consistent pressure on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).
But there seems to be no certainty justice will ever be done.
Mrs. Attang was an Assistant Director at the Police Pension Office between 2005 and 2008 but was removed from that office in late 2008 while Esai Dangabar and Atiku Abubakar Kigo were posted to that office.
In March 2012, the first 16-count charge was filed by the EFCC against officials of the Police Pension Office in which the commission alleged that the officials looted about N39 billion from the pension fund, but Mrs. Attang was conspicuously missing from the line-up of persons accused of the rime.
Before that March 2012 charge was filed, Mrs. Attang had been having a running battle with a whistleblower, Mr. Chukwuemeka Aniagor, with whom she was reported to have enjoyed a previous business relationship. He, however, blew the whistle on her numerous properties acquired while in Police Pensions. Both parties then resorted to the courts where they traded blames and claims.
Soon after the bubble burst at Police Pensions, Mr. Aniagor approached investigators with records of properties owned by Mrs. Attang in Abuja and Lekki, a high brow area in Lagos state.
Mr. Aniagor's efforts towards getting Mr.. Attang to give account of her service while in Police Pensions suffered a series of setbacks as he was subsequently arrested and dragged before an Abuja Area Court on the strength of a petition authored by Mrs.. Attang. In it, she claimed that Mr. Aniagor duped her of some money which she had given him to set up for her a company called Royal Diadem Business Logistics Limited.
The move was to keep the whistle blower out of circulation and stem the myriads of information he was divulging to investigators of the pension fraud.
That move however failed when Mr. Aniagor and his lawyer, Mr. Alex Oketa, took the case to an Abuja High Court which offered Mr. Aniagor a breather in his quest to bring Mrs. Attang to justice.
As the investigators of the pension fraud at the EFCC kept putting off the arrest of Mrs. Attang, the whistleblower filed a complaint the CCB. He led officials of the Code of Conduct Bureau to Lagos to identify the properties owned by Mrs. Attang in Lagos and Abuja, as well as some bank accounts being maintained by the director in some commercial banks.
On the strength of those discoveries, the CCB invited Mrs. Attang and slammed her with a five-count charge.
On July 3, 2012, the Bureau, through its Legal Adviser and Prosecutor, Mr. Simon Egede, filed an application to commence the trial of Mrs. Attang before the Code of Conduct Tribunal pursuant to section 24 of the Bureau's Act.
The top civil servant was accused of engaging and participating in the management and running of private companies engaged in business and trade, in contravention of section 6 (b) of the Code of Conduct and Bureau Act.
The charge, alongside the Application to Commence Trial filed by Mr. Simon Egede, alleged that Mrs. Attang, in 2007, registered and participated as Director in the running of a private business concern known as Royal Diadem Business Logistics Limited, while in full time employment as a public officer in the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation.
Other companies linked to the Director of Accounts are Status Symbol Rentals Limited and Amazing Grace Property Development Company Limited. The companies operate and maintain accounts in many commercial banks with amounts running into hundreds of millions of Naira in their credits.
Count 5 of the charge specifically accused Mrs. Attang of owning some 48,500,000 shares worth over a 100 million Naira in these companies, which income is not fairly attributable to her salaries and allowances as a public officer in the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, a crime, according to the charge, that is contrary to section 15 (3) of the Act.
At that time, the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Justice Danladi Yakubu Umar, upon the receipt of the Application to commence trial of Mrs. Attang, fixed her trial to commence on September 13, 2012.
Curiously, on that date, the trial failed to commence, and investigations revealed that the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Bureau, Mr. Sam Saba, had personally withdrawn the case file from the Tribunal without any explanation to Justice Umar.
In response to an email inquiry, Mr. Egede stated that the charge he filed had not been withdrawn by him and that as far as he was concerned, the matter was still pending before the Tribunal.
Repeated inquiries at the Tribunal to ascertain the fresh trial date slated for the top civil servant's trial were futile as the Assistant Chief Registrar of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Mr. Abdulmalik Shaibu, confirmed his earlier stance that the case file was no longer with the Tribunal, as they had been withdrawn by the Bureau.
Further investigations revealed that indeed, the Bureau's chairman, Mr. Sam Saba, had authored and signed a letter to the Tribunal for the withdrawal of Mrs. Attang's case file to thwart her scheduled trial at the Tribunal.
Mr. Aniagor thereafter dragged the CCB and the EFCC before Justice A. R Mohammed of the Federal High Court in Abuja asking the court to compel the anti-corruption agencies to do their job by prosecuting Mrs. Attang alongside her colleagues who were standing trial for embezzling funds from Police Pensions.
With the court minded to grant the orders sought by Mr. Aniagor through his lawyer, Mr. Oketa, the EFCC finally succumbed and amended the pension looters charge to accommodate Mrs. Attang and her former assistant while at the pension office, Mr. Christian Madubuike, a Grade Level 5 officer who also bought properties in Maitama district of Abuja, a place where his entire salary as well gratuity cannot pay for even one property.
Despite her inclusion in the charge, the powerful and influential director did not show up for her arraignment alongside those colleagues, including Mr. John Yahaya Yusufu, who pleaded guilty and got last week’s slap on the wrist which enraged the entire nation. In that trial, Justice Talba Mohammed sentenced Mr. Yusufu, who was standing trial on charges of stealing N32.8billion in the Police Pension scam, to two years on each of three charges, and then gave him the option of paying $1,500 and going home.
In a manner supportive of ongoing insinuations that the serving director has powerful backers quartered within Nigeria's seat of power, the EFCC's lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Jacob, made an application for the name of the director to be temporary suspended from the charge to enable the others, Esai Dangabar, Atiku Abubakar Kigo, Ahmed Inuwa Wada, Mrs.. Veronica Ulonma Onyegbula, Sani Habila Zira, Christian Madubuike and John Yahaya Yusufu, to make their pleas.
It becomes obvious that the inclusion of this director in the charge and not having her show up for her arraignment is a calculated attempt by the EFCC to subvert the case instituted by the whistle blower to compel the agency to arraign Mrs. Attang. No information was also given by the agency as to when Mrs. Attang will, if ever, be arraigned for her own plea.
In count one of the amended charge, Mrs.. Uzoma Cyril Attang is alleged to have, alongside others, committed a criminal breach of trust in respect of N20.155 billion belonging to the Police Pension Office.
In count 3 of the charge, she is also alleged to have conspired, with Esai Dangabar and Mrs. Veronica Ulonma Onyegbula, to embezzle another N14.197 billion, while count 6 accused her of conspiring with her aide, Mr. Christian Madubuike and Mrs. Veronica Ulonma Onyegbula, to embezzle N1.141 billion.
Count 16 also accused the threesome of conspiring and stealing another N1.140 billion from the pension office.
Another ominous point in the matter is that despite these counts which affect Mrs.. Attang directly, she has not been arrested by the EFCC and she still goes to work as if nothing is amiss.
Mrs. Attang, who is also the founder of Royal Harvest Assembly Ministry in Lagos, was initially arrested by the (EFCC), but was allowed her back at her duty post before her latest inclusion in the pension looters case.
Documents submitted to the CCB by Mr. Anagor include copies of Mrs. Attang's application for purchase of shops at the Area 11 Modern Shopping Mall dated 15th August, 2008, in which she listed her occupation as "Business"and giving her office as Royal Diadem Business Logistics Limited.
Receipts issued to her for the payment of shops number 16, 17, 18, 19, 22 and 42 (6 units) at the total sum of N45 million were also attached.
He pointed out that the Chairman of the Bureau, Mr. Sam Saba, detailed his Personal Assistant to go to Lagos with him during the investigation of Mrs. Attang where investigators saw the buildings purchased by Mrs. Attang in highbrow areas of the state.
The resounding question is why, in the face of glaring evidence, the anti-graft agencies are hesitant to bring Mrs. Attang to book in a country where people are routinely sent to jail for minor financial offences and where the current administration brags that it is combating corruption.