The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has geared up the investigation of three incumbent governors and eight others who have completed their tenures.
This comes after the conviction of the former Governor of Abia State,Senator Orji Uzur Kalu.
Senator Kalu was convicted after found guilty of N7.65billion ($19.6m) fraud and was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment.
Leadership gathers that sitting governors under investigation by the EFCC, are Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom, his Bauchi State counterpart, Bala Mohammed, and Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi.
Before he assumed office as governor, Bala Mohammed was first arrested by the EFCC in October 2016. In May 2017, he was arraigned before Justice Abubakar Talba of the FCT High Court on a six-count charge.
He was briefly remanded at the Kuje prison before being granted bail in the sum of N500million with two sureties in like sum.
The governor has been under the EFCC‘s probe since 2016 over the alleged mismanagement of $4.44 billion (N1.6 trillion) in suspicious land allocations in Abuja while serving as the minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) from 2010 to 2015.
He was subsequently accused of additional fraud, this time to the tune of $2.4 million. He was arraigned in May 2017 but was out on bail while his trial drags in court.
The governor has consistently asserted that the charges against him are politically-motivated. A source at the EFCC said that Bala Mohammed’s case was not closed even though he currently enjoys immunity from prosecution.
Ortom was being probed by the EFCC for alleged N21.3 billion fraud.
His investigation reportedly started in 2016, but was not made public until Monday, July 30, 2018, barely a week after Ortom dumped the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) for the opposition People‘s Democratic Party (PDP) .
The EFCC claimed that Ortom ordered the withdrawal of N21.3billion from four government accounts between June 30, 2015 and March 2018. Even though about N19 billion was earmarked to be paid to six security agencies that had been deployed to address the incessant clashes between herdsmen and farmers in the state, the EFCC claimed that only N3 billion was paid with the balance unaccounted for.
In the case of Umahi, the EFCC said that it began investigation into his activities in November 2016 when the commission marked some properties belonging to him.
The EFCC linked Umahi with an alleged diversion of N400 million through arms deal into private pockets during the 2015 presidential election.
The governor’s property sealed by the anti-graft ant-graft agency are a five-star hotel, Orsbon La Palm Hotel located at Mile 50, Abakaliki; Brass Filling Station, Abakaliki, Brass Petrol Station, Ogoja Road, and Brass Petrol Station, Afikpo Road.
Umahi was named alongside former governor of Enugu State, Sullivan Chime, among those who benefited from the alleged diversion of N400 million arms purchase funds from the office of the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), who has been in detention since 2015.
One of the former governors being investigated by the commission is Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State, who left office on May 29, 2019.
There are other serving governors with corrupt cases but the commission said that it is keeping their files until the expiration of their tenure in office.
Section 308 of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution states that “no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against a person to whom this section applies during his period of office,” referring to the president, vice president, governors or deputy governors. Also, these officials cannot be arrested, imprisoned or compelled to appear in court during their stay in office.
While the EFCC did not state the identities of other former governors that are currently under investigation since they left office and lost their immunity, records showed that they included former governor of Gombe State and incumbent Senator Danjuma Goje, who was arraigned in 2011 shortly after the end of his eight-year tenure.
He was accused of N5 billion fraud and the EFCC prosecuted the case from 2011 to 2019 until he allegedly struck a deal with the APC-led federal government not to contest the Senate presidency.
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Goje and four other accused persons were being prosecuted before Justice Babatunde Quadri of a Federal High Court in Jos, Plateau State before it was discontinued.
They were arraigned on charges of conspiracy, money laundering and embezzlement of funds belonging to the state government.
Goje was specifically accused of diverting the N5 billion from the treasury under the guise of contracts for the supply of dictionaries and food items.
On March 22, 2019, the court ruled that he had a case to answer and should proceed with his defence.
However, in May 2019, after stepping down from the Senate presidency race, his case was taken over from the EFCC by the attorney-general of the federation and subsequently dropped.
This sparked outrage as the case was withdrawn. It was gathered that since he was not cleared by any court of the offence, Goje is still subject to prosecution and may be prosecuted at the appropriate time.
Another past governor of interest is the current minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio. He has been under probe by the EFCC since his eight-year tenure ended in 2015. Akpabio was accused of mismanaging N108 billion belonging to Akwa Ibom State and was quizzed on October 16, 2015.
The EFCC wrote letters to Zenith Bank, Keystone Bank, First City Monument Bank, Skye Bank (now Polaris Bank), and United Bank for Africa (UBA) demanding information on the state’s accounts.
The anti -graft agency also extended its investigation to the accountant-general, the auditor general, the speaker and the clerk of the House of Assembly.
Following the allegations, the state government refused to cooperate with the EFCC and took the commission to court and obtained an interim injunction, restraining the anti-graft agency and other federal government organisations from probing its finances.
Akpabio later defected to the APC in August 2018 at a welcome rally and claimed that the EFCC had cleared him of all corruption charges.
“Those petitions to the EFCC have been sorted out. As I stand today, I have not been charged to court because nothing was found against me,” Akpabio had said.
But the EFCC spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren, said that the cases against Akpabio are still opened.
He said: “The EFCC has not closed the cases or gave clearance to anybody. However, till now, no charges have been filed against him and he is a minister in the current government.”
Another former governor, whose case is still opened, is Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa State, who was governor between 2008 and 2012.
The EFCC had noted that the former governor alongside one Francis Okonkwo, Gbenga Balogun, and Samuel Ogbuku, allegedly conspired and used three companies – Marlin Maritime Limited, Eat Catering Services Limited, and Halloween-Blue Construction and Logistics Limited – to launder about N19.2 billion.
Sylva is the incumbent minister of State for petroleum resources. The money was allegedly diverted from the coffers of the state between 2009 and 2012 under the pretext of using it to augment the salaries of civil servants.
The trial of Sylva commenced in 2012 when the EFCC sought for an interim order for the forfeiture of 48 houses allegedly belonging to him, which was granted by Justice Mohammed.
However, the inability of the EFCC to serve Sylva’s co -defendants had caused a setback in upturning the 2015 judgment as shown in case documents with number CA/A /808C/2015, that the case has been pending before the appellate court since December 22, 2015 .
From the North, former governor Ali Modu Sheriff of Borno State is mentioned among former governors with pending corruption cases.
He was arrested in June 2015 for alleged embezzlement of public funds during his eight years as governor of Borno but was granted bail.
His government was said to have received over N300 billion from the Federation Account between 2003 and 2011, an amount alleged to have been mismanaged by Sheriff.
The case is still on and he can be called upon anytime to answer the charges, LEADERSHIP learnt.
Former governor Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano State has also been under probe by the EFCC in the last couple of years.
EFCC document stated that petitions alleged that Kwankwaso diverted state funds to his personal use.
The EFCC fact sheet revealed that Kwankwaso was to account for how the 44 local government areas in Kano were allegedly forced to contribute the N3.08 billion to his presidential campaign in 2014.
The LGAs allegedly paid N70 million each to Kwankwaso’s campaign during the APC presidential primaries, which he lost.
Former Sokoto State governor, Senator Aliyu Wammako, who was governor from 2007 to 2015 has also made the list. He has since 2015 been under probe by the EFCC for alleged N 15billion fraud.
In an EFCC factsheet obtained by LEADERSHIP, the commission said that at least N1.7 billion had been traced to the personal account of the ex-governor.
However, he is yet to be charged to court and the commission has not dropped the case against him. No reason was however given for his non-arraignment in court.
The case of former governor Peter Odili of Rivers State is also of interest here.
Odili, who was governor of Rivers State from 1999 to 2007, first came under probe towards the end of his administration in March 2007.
The interim report of the EFCC had stated that over N100 billion of Rivers’ funds was diverted by Odili and contained serious allegations of fraud, conversion of public funds, and money laundering, among others.
As a sitting governor, he had approached the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt in February 2007 for an order preventing any law enforcement agency from arresting, harassing and prosecuting him for fraud.
On March 23, 2007, Justice Ibrahim Buba granted Odili ’s prayers, including a declaration that the EFCC investigations were invalid, unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void.
He also granted an injunction restraining the EFCC and the other defendants from publicising the report of the investigation and an injunction restraining the commission from any further action in relation to the alleged economic and financial crimes.
The EFCC has been unable to vacate the court order in the last 12 years but with the conclusion of Orji Uzor Kalu‘s case, there are indication that anti-graft agency may revisit the trial of Odili.
Former governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State is also on the list.
Chime was governor of the state from 2007 to 2015. He was accused of mismanaging the resources of the state and also receiving part of the N23 billion allegedly shared by a former minister of petroleum resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke during the 2015 presidential election.
The former governor later defected from the PDP to the APC.
Conviction Should Not Be Given Political Interpretation – ACF
Relatedly, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) have taken opposing stance on the conviction of Kalu.
While NEF says that the same treatment should be applied to Goje, who has a similar case with the EFCC case, the ACF warns that the matter should not be given political interpretation.
The chairman of the NEF, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, told LEADERSHIP that „between now and 2023, there will be numerous legal issues that will affect current and prospective politicians, but each case should be taken, discussed and analysed on the basis of the case itself.
He said: “When you are discussing matters like the conviction of Orji Kalu, you are bound to run into difficulty of comparative cases. There is no doubt that Kalu is convicted by normal procedures of our laws and found guilty and issued punishment within the law, that is fine but we should also consider that Nigerians are watching.
“There is a similar case of the EFCC in the court of law with the former governor of Gombe State, Senator Danjuma Goje, I don‘t have personal issues with him though, his case maybe not of equal amount but important enough.
“His case was withdrawn by the attorney-general of the federation, this may not be unconnected with the fact that he wanted to contest for the Senate president and was persuaded to withdraw by his party, the All Progressives Congress.
“Recall that the national chairman of his party Adams Oshiomhole said that any person who commits any crime particularly financial crime and decides to join their party, their sins will be forgiven.
“So, to me, this is multiple standard of application of justice,“ he said.
But the secretary-general of ACF, Mr Anthony N.Z. Sani, said: “Reading political undertones to convictions by the courts which followed due processes for a long time cannot help the cause of fighting corruption.
I tend not to like the tendency of some Nigerians who are obsessed with giving ethnic, religious, regional or political coloration to all actions of governments. Such tendency undermines the fight against corruption as well as against fair and objective evaluation of government policies and programmes for performance”.