Eniola Akinkuotu, Gbenro Adeoye, and Jesusegun Alagbe
At least eight out of the politicians working for the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari in the February 2019 election have pending corruption cases worth N232bn, checks by Saturday PUNCH have revealed.
The investigation by our correspondents showed that the amount involved in the various graft cases, which are currently pending before security agencies, especially the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, range from N223m to N100bn for each of the politicians.
Some of the eight politicians, who used to be members of the Peoples Democratic Party and other opposition parties, had allegedly defected to the ruling All Progressives Congress to stop the dangling axe of the EFCC and other security agencies from falling on them.
Specifically, the politicians who are currently either under probe or prosecution for allegedly diverting government funds have separately vowed to ensure Buhari remains in power until 2023.
The eight politicians include the senator representing Nasarawa West at the National Assembly, Abdullahi Adamu; the senator representing Sokoto North and former Governor of Sokoto State, Aliyu Wamakko; ex-Senate Minority Leader and former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio, who recently defected from the PDP to the APC; and a former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu.
Others are the immediate past Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal; the former Governor of Rivers State and Director-General of the Buhari Campaign Organisation in 2015, Rotimi Amaechi; the Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari; and former National Chairman of the PDP, Ali Modu Sheriff.
Abdullahi Adamu (N15bn)
For instance, Adamu, a serving senator and former Governor of Nasarawa State, is one of the President’s allies in the Senate. He is also a member of the National Advisory Committee of the Buhari 2019 Presidential Support Committee.
The lawmaker is being prosecuted alongside 18 others for allegedly stealing N15bn from the treasury through contracts awarded when he was governor for eight years.
His son, Nurianu, was also arraigned by the EFCC in January 2018 for alleged N90m fraud. However, the former governor has been one of the fiercest critics of Senate President Bukola Saraki.
According to Saraki, the former governor has been insulting him in order to get a soft landing.
Saraki had said in July, “I have deliberately ignored the antics of Senator Abdullahi Adamu, especially his constant media attacks on me and the Senate since the EFCC dusted his file on the alleged case of corruption and also went ahead to arraign his son in court.”
Aliyu Wamakko (N15bn)
Senator Aliyu Wamakko is in charge of Buhari’s campaign in Sokoto State. A few weeks ago, he held a massive rally on behalf of Buhari in order to prove to the President that Governor Aminu Tambuwal’s defection would be of no effect.
Wamakko, who served as governor from 2007 to 2015, is under investigation over allegations of theft of public funds and money laundering totalling N15bn, an allegation he has vehemently denied.
The spokesperson for the EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren, had confirmed in April that the commission was investigating allegations contained in a petition against Wammako and that he would soon be invited to defend the allegations.
Godswill Akpabio (N100bn)
The former governor of Akwa Ibom State has been under probe by the EFCC for over three years based on allegations that he diverted over N100bn from the coffers of the state between 2007 and 2015.
Akpabio was welcomed into the APC by the President himself.
The former governor, who represents Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District, recently vowed that the APC would take over Akwa Ibom the way Adolph Hitler invaded Poland.
Akpabio, who on Friday travelled to China with the President is arguably the closest defector to Buhari and has vowed to do everything possible to ensure Buhari is re-elected.
Although he has been grilled by the EFCC, he has not been charged.
Orji Uzor Kalu (N3.2bn)
Kalu, who governed Abia State from 1999 to 2007, was one of the most influential politicians in the South-East during his time in government. After leaving the PDP, he formed the Progressive Peoples Alliance from where he contested and lost a senatorial election in 2015.
The following year, he defected to the APC and has paid several visits to the President since then.
Recently, he visited the President in his hometown of Daura, Katsina State, where he was bestowed with the title, ‘Dan Baiwan Hausa’ by the Emir of Daura, Alhaji Umar Farouq.
According to the emir, Kalu was bestowed with the title in appreciation of his “unwavering support for our son, President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR, Bayajida II .”
However, the former governor has been having a running legal battle with the EFCC since leaving office.
The EFCC alleged that Kalu and the others committed fraud between August 2001 and October 2005. It accused Kalu of utilising his company (Slok Nigeria Limited) to retain in the account of First Inland Bank, now First City Monument Bank, the sum of N200m.
The commission said that the sum formed part of funds illegally derived from the coffers of the Abia State government. The EFCC also said that the accused retained, in different bank accounts, about N2.5bn belonging to the state government, adding that he diverted about N3.2bn from the coffers of the same government.
Regardless of his travails, the former governor has insisted that he will do all within his power to ensure that Buhari is re-elected.
Babachir Lawal (N223m)
The immediate past Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, was accused by the Senate ad hoc Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North-East, led by Senator Shehu Sani, of awarding a N223m consultancy contract for the removal of invasive plant species in Komadugu, Yobe Water Channels to his company, Rholavision Engineering in contravention of Section 43(iii) and (iv) of the Public Procurement Act 2007.
A committee headed by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo subsequently investigated Lawal and recommended his dismissal in October 2017, a year after he was indicted by the Senate.
Although he is under probe by the EFCC, Babachir is among the key figures running Buhari’s re-election campaign in Adamawa State. He also revealed during a recent interview on Channels Television that he still had direct access to the President.
The former SGF has been having a leadership tussle with Governor Jibrilla Bindow over who should lead Buhari’s campaign in the state.
Rotimi Amaechi (N97bn)
Amaechi, who was the Director-General of the Buhari Campaign Organisation in 2015, has been charged with the task of ensuring that Buhari is elected a second time.
The Minister of Transport, who is the face of the Buhari campaign, was indicted by the Justice George Omeregi-led Rivers State Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate the sale of state assets.
He and others were accused of allegedly misappropriating N97bn through the sale of the state valued assets.
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, had alleged that $150m (N30bn at the time) was spent on Buhari’s campaign in 2015.
Amaechi challenged his indictment but lost at the Appeal Court. Although anti-graft agencies have refused to state if he is under investigation or not, he has yet to clear his name and is still under investigation by the state government.
The Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Emma Okah, insisted that Amaechi was not cleared by the panel that indicted him on the sale of some assets belonging to the state.
Also, a top official at the Government House in Port Harcourt pointed out that at the last count on the matter, the former governor had gone to the Supreme Court.
An appeal filed by Amaechi against the Justice George Omereji-led panel was in May 2017 dismissed by the Appeal Court in Port Harcourt.
The Appeal Court had said that the refusal of Amaechi to appear before the panel amounted to self-denial.
But Okah said that the matter was currently at the Supreme Court.
“He (Amaechi) went to court against the panel and the matter is still in the Supreme Court. The state government has not cleared him on the matter concerning the sale of valued assets belonging to the state,” he said.
Amaechi could not be reached for comments, as he did not answer calls to his mobile phone.
A text message sent to him on the matter did not get any reply.
However, a senior official of the Federal Ministry of Transportation told our correspondent that the minister was out of the country.
The official, who also works directly with the minister, stated he (the official) was not aware of the said allegations against Amaechi.
“I have not seen it (the report) and can’t speak on it. However, the minister is in China right now,” the official, who pleaded to be anonymous, said.
Abdul’aziz Yari (N680m)
Yari has been engaged in a fierce battle with the EFCC for over a year following allegations that he diverted nearly N700m which formed part of the Paris Club refund due to his state.
In July last year, a Federal High Court in Abuja ordered an interim forfeiture of the sums of N500m and $500,000 (N180m) said to have been looted from the Paris Club refunds made by the Federal Government in favour of the 36 states of the federation.
The sums of money said to have been recovered from two firms, First Generation Mortgage Bank Limited, and Gosh Projects Limited were allegedly linked to the governor.
The EFCC also alleged, in an affidavit filed in support of its ex parte application seeking the interim forfeiture of the sums of money, that the N500m was diverted to offset Yari’s personal loan obtained from the First Generation Mortgage Bank Limited.
In July, the Presidential Support Committee of Buhari 2019 appointed Sheriff as the director-general.
The National Secretary of the group, Kassim Kassim, said in a statement that the conglomerate of about 300 Buhari supporters’ groups unanimously endorsed Sheriff to lead the Presidential Support Committee, Buhari 2019 and not the Buhari’s Campaign Organisation for the 2019 election.
He said groups that made up the Presidential Support Committee were all registered with the office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Political Matters.
Sheriff and others are under investigation for allegedly receiving N450m out of the N23bn ($115m) bribe allegedly disbursed by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, during the build-up to the 2015 elections.
He has been grilled several times by the EFCC but was never charged. His private jet was also impounded by the commission but later released to him.
Sagay, EFCC react
Speaking with our correspondent, the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), said joining the President’s camp would not save any politician from probe or prosecution.
He said those whose cases had already been taken to court would continue to face prosecution.
Sagay, however, said there was room for a plea bargain, an option he said stubborn people would never use.
He said, “I know Akpabio is still under probe and if he is found culpable, he would be invited and prosecuted. For me, the only import of him joining the President’s campaign is that he can be persuaded to make a plea bargain quickly, which everyone is entitled to, but the stubborn ones will not take that option
“As for allegations against Amaechi, he was indicted by a fake and useless judicial panel set up by Wike, who is himself under investigation for corruption. He set up a kangaroo panel, which Amaechi refused to answer to.”
When asked about the Appeal Court ruling which ordered Amaechi to answer to the panel, Sagay added, “he doesn’t have to answer to rubbish. Judges who allow themselves to engage in injustice deserve to be disregarded. Amaechi is innocent. All the charges were trumped up.”
Also speaking with our correspondent, the EFCC Spokesperson, Mr Wilson Uwujaren, said joining the President’s camp would not translate to immunity from prosecution.
Uwujaren said, “The EFCC neither closes cases nor clears people. Also, being in the President’s party does not give anyone immunity from prosecution.”
Buhari, who later won the presidential election on the platform of the All Progressives Congress had consistently accused the then ruling party, the PDP of engaging in mind-boggling corrupt practices.
“If Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria,” Buhari had said repeatedly during the build-up to the 2015 general elections.
However, no sooner had he been declared winner than some politicians from the same corrupt party began defecting to the President’s own party.
While some of the allegedly corrupt persons were kept at arm’s length, others became very close to the President, constantly appearing in pictures with the professed anti-corruption champion and sending mixed signals to Nigerians.
SERAP, CACOL react
The Executive Director of Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Adetokunbo Mumuni, however, said it would be wrong to condemn the President for being supported by people alleged to be corrupt if there was no proof that he had prevented anti-corruption agencies from prosecuting such people.
He said, “Unless you want to tell me that the anti-corruption agencies will not do anything unless they are prompted or unless somebody says they should do it, I don’t want to believe rumours. Allegations must be backed by concrete evidence for it to be substantiated. I don’t want to think that somebody with convincing evidence against him will be prevented from facing the music simply because he supports the President. For example, Kalu still has his case in court.”
Similarly, the Executive Chairman, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Mr Debo Adeniran, said it would be wrong to presume people guilty because they have corruption allegations against them and that the President could not have stopped anyone from supporting him, in any case.
He said, “You can’t prevent sinners from going to a religious place, what you don’t have to allow is for them to take over the pulpit to preach the doctrine of the crimes that they have been committing. From our recent experience, defecting to the ruling party has not, in practical terms, stopped the trial of some of the politicians. For instance, Kalu’s case is still in court.
“And as of now, Akpabio has yet to be convicted and until someone is convicted, you cannot say they have committed a crime. Even Kalu, whose case is in court, cannot be said to be guilty of the offence until he is convicted. So, it is a moral question and the moral suasion has its limit.”
But a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Onueze Okocha, said President Buhari was sending a dangerous and negative signal to Nigerians by allowing people with pending corruption cases to work for his re-election.
He said, “The whole thing sends a dangerous and unhappy signal to all of us that the so-called anti-corruption war is not whole. We can all see that only those in the opposition are mainly those investigated of corruption while those in the ruling party are regarded as sacred cows.
“It’s what we’ve always known; there is no effectiveness in the anti-corruption war. Look at Akpabio, for instance, shortly after he was elected to the Senate, the EFCC raided his house and found lots of cash. Now that he has defected to the APC, what happens to him?
“Babachir Lawal, though has been sacked, is still free to walk around. Look at the issue of fake National Youth Service Corps certificate held by Mrs Kemi Adeosun, all these tell us there are sacred cows in the anti-corruption war.” (Punch)