Thursday, 23 May 2013
Politicians With Pending Corruption Cases Still At Plea Stages After Five Years
The Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) strongly calls on the Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde and the President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, to review all the pending corruption cases since 2006 and intensify effort at prosecuting them.
Recalling the activities of EFCC under its pioneer Chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, who during his tenure before the present lukewarm attitude of the commission towards corruption crusade, did his best, and for first time in the annals of Nigeria history successfully aided and abetted the prosecution and eventual impeachment of two former governors, Dieprieye Alamieyeseigha and Joshua Dariye of Bayelsa and Plateau States respectively. Equally, in like manner, the former EFFC Chairman prosecuted and secured the conviction of former Inspector General of Police Mr. Tafa Balogun, who pleaded guilty to eight counts of money laundering charges to the tune of N16bn in 2005 and was sentenced to six months imprisonment by Justice Binta Nyako.
After Tafa’s conviction, Ribadu told the National Assembly at a plenary session of the Senate in 2006 that former governor of Abia State Orji Uzor Kalu was number one on EFCC list with one of the biggest established cases of stealing, money laundering, diversion of funds but due to the immunity clause that shields serving governors from prosecution, Uzor Kalu was one of the governors swooped on by the EFCC immediately after he left office in 2007.
Specifically on 27 July 2007, Kalu was arraigned before an Abuja High Court on a 107-count charge of money laundering, official corruption and criminal diversion of public funds in excess of N5billion. The agency accused Kalu of transferring billions of naira belonging to the Abia State government to Slok Airlines, laundered funds over a period of time from the defunct Manny bank (now part of Fidelity bank) to Sloks account in Inland bank and in between 1999-2007, Uzor Kalu moved various sums of government money into Slok investment, Slok Nigerian Limited, Slok incorporated and other companies by him.
However, after Uzor Kalu pleaded not guilty to the charges and his counsel asked the court for bail, the court presided over by Justice Binta Muritala Nyako ordered Kalu detention at Kuje prison in Abuja even as she fixed the date for the argument for bail and he had three of his former colleagues for company and they are: Reverend Jolly Nyame, Joshua Chibi Dariye and Saminu Turaki, former governors of Taraba, Plateau and Jigawa States respectively but Kalu regained his freedom four days later.
During his trial, the EFCC obtained a court order to freeze Kalu’s key assets which would be handed over to Abia State government if he was unable to prove that the funds used to establish his companies were not proceeds of graft but five years after, with the charges still hanging around his neck while the former governor is touting himself as a possible candidate in the reset presidential election in 2015 and more ironically Kalu in an interview sometimes last year announced his plan to establish a – non-governmental organization devoted to the fight against corruption.
Another pending case of a former governor is that of Joshua Chibi Dariye of Plateau State who was arraigned before an Abuja High Court on a 23-count charge involving the sum of N700million but pleaded not guilty to all the charges preferred against him and was subsequent granted bail but later challenged the jurisdiction of the court to try him, contented that the alleged offence committed by him took place on Plateau State and the funds involved belonged to the state thereby argued that his trial ought to take place in the state, not in Abuja while the presiding judge dismissed objections which prompted the former governor to approach the Court of Appeal with the same application but the appellate court threw it out and ordered him to go and face his trial while the case is still pending before the court and has suffered series of adjournments, mostly at the former governor’s instance and despite all the allegations brought against him, Dariye won a senatorial seat in the 2011 polls and now part of the body making laws for the Nigerian masses.
When former Governor of Taraba State, Reverend Jolly Nyame was docked on a 41-court charge in July 2007, he was alleged to have embezzled the sum of N1.3billion and at his trial, a graphic illustration was given by one Mr. Dennis Orkama Nev, a permanent security at the Taraba State government house of how the former governor pillaged the state. The witness told the court how Nyame directed him to raise the sum of N100million being an amount proposed for the preparations of the visit of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to the state in 2006 and narrating all the events and transactions, Orkuma told the court how he used discretion and raised three different memos for the former governor in which he requested for N323million, N27million and N42milllion respectively listing vehicle maintenance, overhaul of power generating sets, security arrangements, general facelift of the capital city (Jalingo), sanitation, civil works, souvenirs and honorarium as the purposes for which the money was to be used. Nev also told the court that upon the receipt of the three memos, Nyame approved release of the funds and ordered him to bring the monies to him in his office, an order he complied with and added that the funds were never used for the purposes for which they were approved. More so, part of the allegations against Nyame was that he collected N180million from USAB International Nigeria Limited, a kick back money from a N250million contract awarded to the company for the supply of stationeries to the state government between January and February 2005, while Nyame in response to the allegation of bribe via his statement said he approved the said contract and promised to refund whatever bribe given to him which in itself was an admission that the allegation against him were not entirely false and should normally have led to a faster trial of the case.
In his own case, Saminu Turaki, former governor of Jigawa State was docked on a 32-count charge on allegations that he stole about N36billion from the treasury over an eight- year period. Charged along with three companies accused of using to siphon the funds as accomplices are INC National Resources Limited, Arkel Construction Nigeria Limited and Wildcat Construction Limited with another accomplices who was at Lagos. After a brief detention, Turaki was granted bail in the sum of N100million on July 27, 2007 by Justice Binta Muritala Nyako and his bail was vigorously contested by the EFCC which accused the former governor of possessing multiple nationality and capable of jumping bail if granted, but the convict noted that the crimes were bailable offences and ordered Turaki to swear to an affidavit concerning all the countries which citizenship he held and soon after securing his bail, Turaki who was a senator between 2007 and 2011, successfully secured the transfer of his trial to his home state and the case is domiciled in a Federal High court now sitting in Jigawa State.
Former Enugu State Governor, Chimaroke Nnamani who spent four years in the senate after leaving office in 2007 was also arraigned before a Federal High court sitting in Lagos on a 105-count charge for allegedly stealing the sum of N5.3billion but pleaded not guilty to the charges and was subsequently granted bail with the case still pending while Abubakar Audu, former governor of Kogi State from 1999-2003 was originally arraigned on 30 November 2006 on an 80-count charge of fraud and embezzlement of over N4billion. The charge suffered several setbacks as he had thrice approached the Supreme Court and returned to the Kogi State High court where his trial is going on before Justice Saidu Tanko Hussani.
In the same fashion, Boni Haruna, former governor of Adamawa state was arraigned before a Federal High court sitting in Abuja on an amended 28-count charge of embezzling the sum of N16million and pleaded not guilty to the alleged crimes, secured bail from the court and soon after applied for the release of his travel documents to enable him travel to honour a medical appointment in the US and the court granted his request while he made the trip and upon his return to Nigeria, Haruna gave back his travel document to the court and has been attending his trial but the case is still going on.
Meanwhile. Dimeji Bankole, former speaker, House of Representatives was on 8 June 2011 docked by EFCC over a 16-count charge relating to contract inflation and on June 13, 2011. The EFCC dragged him and Usman Bayero Nafada, his deputy to court over a 17-count charge alleged misappropriation of a N10 billion loan borrowed while they were in office but the case was thrown out on 31 January 2012. However the N9 billion contract scam hanging on his neck is still ongoing at the Federal High Court, Abuja. More so, former Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Iyabo Obasanjo- Bello, daughter of former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was dragged to court by the EFCC on a 56-count charge of N10million unspent budget of the Federal Ministry of Health but the court threw the case out while Ndudi Elemelu, a member of the House of Representatives from Delta state and former Chairman of the House committee on Power was docked at the Federal High court sitting in Abuja over N5.2billion fraud charges brought against him by EFCC but the presiding Judge, Justice Garba Umar ruled that he had no case to answer but the same case is still pending at the FCT High court before Justice Adebukola Bolajoko.
Another instance of corrupt enrichment is the case of former governor of Nassarawa State, Abdullahi Adamu who was arraigned in court on 3 March 2010 alongside 18 others on a 149-count charge of fraud involving over N15 billion. Adamu’s case suffered delay right from the beginning with the transfer of the presiding judge of Federal High Court, Asaba Division, the notorious Justice Marcel Awokuleyin who handled former Governor of Delta State, James Onanefe Ibori’s case who is currently serving a 13 years prison term in London to take over Adamu’s case but Awokuleyin on 27 April 2010 voluntarily withdrawn from the case citing personal reasons and in his words “in conformity with his conscience”. The former governor case suffered four adjournments between 24 May and 28 September 2011 while the case against him and his co-accusers is now at the Makurdi Division of the Court of Appeal where it has suffered similar four adjournments as well.
Ironically, the upper legislative chamber of the National Assembly is replete with many people who have stood or still standing corruption trials. The Senate had two of its member tried for corruption by the EFCC; Senator Hosea Ayoola Agboola and former governor of Benue state, George Akume who is now the Senate Minority Leader. Agboola, who has been facing trial at the Oyo State High court, was charged alongside former Oyo State governor, Adebayo Alao-Akala. Likewise, three former governors still standing trial on various charges of corruption, Abdullahi Adamu, Danjuma Goje and George Akume are also serving Senators of the Federal Republic.
So far so good, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, former governor of Edo state is the only former governor that has paid back part of the money he stole into state coffers through a plea bargain. In 2008, Igbinedion was arraigned by the anti-graft agency before the Federal High Court, Enugu on a 191-count charge of corruption, money laundering and embezzlement of N2.9 billion and in a plea bargain arrangement, the EFCC through its counsel Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, reduced the 191 count charge to 1-count charge of neglect to make declaration of his interest in account N0 41240113983110 with GTBank in the declaration of assets from the EFCC an offence committed and punishable under section 27(3) of the EFCC act 2004. Interestingly, part of the terms of the plea bargain was that Lucky Igbinedion would refund N3.5m, three properties and plead guilty to the 1-count charge which he agreed to, paid up the amount and subsequently let off the hook by the court but last February, the EFCC appealed the judgment and asked for stiffer sanctions which will make Igbinedion face a N25 billion fraud trial at the Federal High Court in Benin.
Nevertheless, since the exit of Nuhu Ribadu, former EFCC Chairman, the nation had experienced a situation whereby corruption trials do not go beyond the plea stage, some for as long as six years after first arraignment in court and the reasons are be far-fetched as the EFCC’s shoddy investigation of cases it filed for trial and the anti-graft agency penchant to repeatedly file for amendment of charges against accused persons after their arraignment. Also, the lawyers to the accused persons always seize the opportunity of the demand for the amendments of the charges to ask for adjournments to enable them study and respond to the new charges.
Moreover, unending demands for adjournments and amendments of corruption charges by lawyers engaged by EFCC have contributed to the setbacks experienced in prosecuting its cases and suspicions that many of the lawyers hired by EFCC for prosecution of cases may be conniving with the defence team for elongation of cases, especially those involving highly placed persons for their mutual benefit. Also, former governors on trial followed a familiar pattern and adopted it which became a trend by challenging the jurisdiction of courts trying them.
Similarly, the serious issue of funding in respect of EFCC complaints of not getting enough funds to embark on investigations of its cases and prosecute indicted corrupt persons shows a clear demonstration of the government near-nil support for the war against corruption by President Goodluck Jonathan as the commission revealed that the United Kingdom Metropolitan Police spent more money to successfully prosecute Ibori than the amount allocated to the agency for a whole year which is a clear indications of the averse nature and posture of the Federal Government towards the fight against corruption.
Therefore, CACOL as a challenge, urges President Goodluck Jonathan to show serious commitment, zeal and determination in the war against corruption by fully supporting Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) morally, financially and technically to prosecute accused former governors and other indicted public officials including serving ministers in his cabinet who have been trailed by various allegations of corruptions.
CACOL maintains that the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Minister of Justice, Mr Mohammed Bello Adoke is a clog in the wheel of progress of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), therefore the anti-graft agencies in the country should be given autonomy from the influence of the AGF if corruption must be reduced in the civil and public service.
This is also to put the EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde and his team on their toes for a renewed and rejuvenated cause in the annals of anti-graft crusade of Nigeria history, which will serve as deterrent to others and put a check on the wanton impunity at which the corrupt elements in our society loot our collective patrimony and commonwealth.
Executive Chairman, CACOL