By Inibehe Effiong,
The ongoing efforts of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to rid our country of the destructive menace of corruption will remain a mirage until corruption mascots like the former governor of Akwa Ibom State and Senate Minority Leader, Sen. Godswill Obot Akpabio, are thoroughly and dispassionately investigated, prosecuted and hopefully convicted.
In recent days, the peace of Nigerians have been rudely disrupted by baseless, wild and premeditated utterances made by Godswill Akpabio accusing president Muhammadu Buhari of partisanship and selectivity in his ongoing fight against corruption which prompted an official response by the president through his media office. Leading other senators elected on the platform of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Akpabio in a desperate attempt to blackmail the president accused Buhari of targeting only opposition figures.
However, the truth of the matter is that the blackmail of the president is part of a well funded and coordinated strategy by Akpabio to evade justice and shift attention from the chains of corruption allegations hanging on his neck. Between May 29, 2007 to May 29, 2015 when Akpabio was on the saddle as the governor of Akwa Ibom State, the slogan was: “what money cannot do more money can do”. No politician of that era was as profligate as Akpabio in the dissipation of public funds.
While Akpabio is busy accusing the president of partisanship, a close examination of the situation on ground evinces the opposite. Few examples will suffice. Mr. Timipre Sylva, a former governor of Bayelsa State and chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) who played an active role in the electioneering campaign of president Buhari is standing trial on corruption charges instituted under the present administration.
Rear Admiral Murtala Nyako, a former Adamawa State governor and chieftain of the APC who had fled the country shortly before his impeachment in 2014 returned to the country on Saturday May 30, 2015, 24 hours after the swearing in of president Buhari, possibly hoping for some solace only to be arrested and charged to court. Recently, it was reported in the media that the police has reopened a forgery case involving the National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Oyegun. The wife of the Senate President, Mrs. Toyin Saraki, has been grilled by the EFCC for corruption. Several other high profile members of the ruling party are currently being investigated by anti-graft agencies for corruption. Where then is the partisanship and justification for the cries of selective fight against corruption?
Series of petitions detailing how Godswill Akpabio mindlessly looted Akwa Ibom State resources during his inglorious reign as governor has been submitted to the EFCC. Of particular note are the three petitions by an Abuja based legal practitioner and an indigene of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Leo Ekpenyong, dated 8th and 22nd June and August 3, 2015 respectively. Mr. Ekpenyong chronicles serial embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds by Akpabio and even supplied particulars; dates, conduits and details of bank transactions. The petitioner went further to itemise several properties acquired by Akpabio worth billions of naira with locations and history.
For instance, in the second petition dated June 22, 2015, Mr. Ekpenyong detailed how a total sum of N40.1 billion in multiples of mostly N10m each were fraudulently withdrawn by the Offices of the Permanent Secretary, Governor’s Office and the Permanent Secretary, Special Services Department in 2014 which were never spent on any project. The total amount of monies stolen by Godswill Akpabio in just one year is equal to the annual budget of some states in Nigeria put together, according to the petition.
“It is worthy of note that Akpabio owns a total of 27 estates apart from the ones mentioned in our earlier petitions. Some of the housing estates have between 25 and 75 premium units. These estates are located in the Lekki area of Lagos; Lekki Phase 1, near the Pan African University, off Chevron roundabout. Others are located at Banana Island in Ikoyi, Gbagada on the Lagos mainland as well as Ogunlana Drive in Surulere, Lagos.” Mr. Ekpenyong stated in his latest petition dated August 3, 2015.
Official figures released by the Federal Ministry of Finance shows that between 2011 to 2014 alone, Akwa Ibom State received a whopping sum of N265 billion as its share of the Excess Crude Fund, the highest in the country. Between January – June 2014 alone, a period of six months, Akwa Ibom State received N135.84 billion from the Federation Account based on official report by the Finance Ministry, again the highest in the country.
Despite the unprecedented allocations that accrued to the state from 2007 to 2015, Akpabio left behind a worrisome debt running into several billions of naira. A recent publication by Diamond Bank Plc, one of banks that the Akpabio regime borrowed money from, shows that Akwa Ibom State owes the bank N5.8 billion. Several contractors, including Julius Berger Plc, that Akpabio contracted with are being owed billions of naira. Civil servants, including lecturers of the state government owned university, are being owed salaries.
Shockingly, there is at present no visible indication of action by the Ibrahim Lamorde-led EFCC on these petitions. The popular insinuation today is that Akpabio, a man with an unparalleled record of throwing money around, may have penetrated the leadership of the Commission with his filthy lucre. It is now widely believed that Larmode has been compromised by the apostle of “what money cannot do, more money can do”.
Or what other explanation can be proffered for the conspiratorial silence and wilful inaction of the EFCC? Is it that the mind blowing evidence and facts presented to the EFCC so far are not sufficient to warrant the preferment of criminal charges against Akpabio? What evidence is the EFCC looking for that they haven’t received so far? If they are still investigating, are we suppose to wait till eternity for it to be concluded? Something is wrong somewhere and Mr. Lamorde owes the Nigerian public an explanation.
This is a case where there is an incontrovertible evidence of CASH withdrawal of a whooping sum of N22 billion from Akwa Ibom State Government Account No. 1010375881 with Zenith Bank between January to December 2014. Another N18 billion was withdrawn, also in CASH, from Akwa Ibom State Government Account with the United Bank of Africa (UBA) for the same period. A total of N40 billion was illegally withdrawn in CASH in multiples of N10 million each in just one year for personal use. Yet, we haven’t seen an interim report by the EFCC. For God sake it shouldn’t take more than 48 hours for any serious investigator to ascertain whether indeed these withdrawals were actually made, more so when the bank accounts and other details were provided.
An independent investigation carried out by our organization on the withdrawals has not only confirmed the facts contained in the petition to be true. We further discovered that apart from the two banks mentioned in the petition, two additional banks including Skye Bank where a separate sum of about N5 billion was withdrawn, are involved in the shady withdrawals. It was also discovered that certain individuals with links to Akpabio were the ones who ultimately received the withdrawals on behalf of Akpabio. They are: Prince Ukpong Akpabio, a cousin and former aide of Akpabio, Mr. Emmanuel Inyang Eto, another cousin of Akpabio and one Mrs. Mary Ekpenyong.
Our private investigation also confirms that officials of the banks involved have made useful statements to the EFCC. The banks are trying to wash their hands off the illicit withdrawals. If the withdrawals were for lawful purposes it would have been effected through the Office of the Accountant General. The withdrawals were deliberately made in multiples of N10m as a disguise to prevent easy traces and questions. The Office of the state Accountant General has not denied that the accounts belong to the state government.
Legally, the EFCC does not even need to receive a petition before investigating persons for corruption. Section 7 (1) (a) & (b) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act 2004 gives the Commission special powers to cause investigation to be conducted as to whether any person, corporate body or organization has committed an offence under the Act or other law relating to economic and financial crimes. The provision goes further to empower the Commission to cause investigation to be conducted into the properties of any person if it appears to the Commission that the person’s life style and extent of the properties are not justified by his source of income.
Therefore, the EFCC merely on the strength of the multi billion naira properties acquired by Akpabio, his family members – most of whom have become overnight billionaires and his allies can lawfully launch an investigation. How come that with all the information currently available to the Commission on funds withdrawn and properties acquired by Akpabio nothing serious has been done? Is the EFCC not aware that Akpabio no longer enjoys the protection afforded him by the immunity clause in Section 308 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) when he was a governor?
During an interview on the African Independent Television (AIT) programme, Focus Nigeria, on Tuesday August 12, 2015Akpabio made certain deceitful and mendacious statements to portray himself as a saint who should be venerated by all for his so called “uncommon transformation” of Akwa Ibom State. Akpabio stated inter alia, that he maintained a budget of 20% recurrent and 80% capital expenditure as governor. As expected, Akpabio failed to disclose in figures the sum total of the said 20% recurrent expenditure. He didn’t whisper how much the percentage amounted to in monetary terms and how same was expended.
What could be more insulting than hearing Akpabio making statements and allusions suggestive of his readiness to “advice”, “support” and “direct” the president Buhari’s led government on good governance practices. The same Buhari that Akpabio openly castigated and denigrated. The same Buhari that Akpabio accused of ethnic jingoism. The same Buhari that Akpabio sponsored his lieutenants and praise singers to label an “illiterate”. Today, he wants to eat his cake and have it. God forbid.
Surprisingly, president Buhari hasn’t deemed it pertinent to fire Ibrahim Lamorde and replace him with someone that has the courage, independence and antecedents to fight corruption without fear or favour. That Lamorde is still the Chairman of EFCC two months after assumption of office by president Buhari is not only unbelievable but embarrassing. If the foundation is faulty, what can the righteous do? Lamorde is just too exposed to the era of corruption, he is too immersed in the sea of compromise to fight corruption. Whatever he seems to be doing today is mere cosmetics and window dressing.
People like Godswill Akpabio seek to rape our sanity and memory because Lamorde is still the Chairman of EFCC. President Buhari should do the needful. We cannot continue to tolerate arrogant utterances and postures by people who ordinarily should be in the dock defending corruption charges. The change we all earnestly seek cannot thrive when certain individuals are made to believe that they are indispensable and untouchable. The impression we’re getting is that even under president Buhari, people can steal with impunity.
The time to act is now.
Inibehe Effiong is the Convener, Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (COHRD).
Email: [email protected]