By Anthony Ojelimafe
If anybody is in doubt as to the overt and covert reasons why the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and by extension, the Executive Chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa came under heavy attack and like his predecessors, is facing so much heat at this political transition period, then such a person is a poor student of history.
Last week, the outgoing governor of Zamfara State, Bello Mohammed Matawalle, stirred the hornet’s nest when he made the headlines for the wrong reasons. He threw caution to the wind as he brazenly accused the EFCC Boss of witch-hunt. Among other things, Matawalle attempted to cast aspersion on the integrity of the EFCC’s fight against corruption by making farcical allegations of corruption in assets disposal and plea bargain procedure, among others. He went ahead to warn the chairman of the Commission, Bawa, to stop castigating governors and rather beam his searchlight on the Presidency and members of the Federal Executive Council, FEC.
Matawalle is the least to espouse the functions of the EFCC. What he seems to have forgotten, and very quickly too, is the fact that many actors in the executive arm of government are on the radar of the anti-crime agency, as they have always been. Constitutionally, the only persons who have immunity from criminal prosecution are: the President, Vice President, Governors and their Deputies. However, these set of public officers are not immuned from investigation. It was on the strength of this constitutional provision that the Commission, acting on intelligence, commenced investigation into the finances of Zamfara State which is currently under the management of outgoing governor Matawalle.
The question that readily comes to mind at this juncture is: could it be for loss of memory or share mischief that Matawalle forgot to acknowledge that a former Accountant General of the Federation was in 2022 arrested for over 100 billion Naira fraud? The case is now in court for diligent prosecution, as a result, the details may not be appropriately discussed through this medium.
Someone needs to also remind the outgoing governor that a former minister of Power, Sale Mamman, (from the executive) has also been arrested by the EFCC and is still in the Commission’s detention facility in connection with an alleged N22billion fraud. From the body language of the Commission, a lot is going on discreetly in terms of the investigation activities which cut across the three arms of government. It may seem slow, but assuredly, result is guaranteed in due course, going by the zeal and zest with which the Bawa administration is tackling the issue of the fight against economic and financial crimes.
While I belong to the school of thought that finds hole in the Bawa-Must-Go campaign, the avalanche of achievements in his just two years as the Chairman of the Commission remains the foundation for this argument. In just two years (2021 and 2022), the Bawa led EFCC secured about 6, 000 (Six Thousand Convictions) and recovered several monies running to billions of Naira.
For the record, the kernel of the “rift” between the outgoing Governor Matawalle of Zamfara State and the EFCC is the fact that he represents the face of the gang of alleged corrupt governors who are on their way out by May 29, 2023. As the spokesperson of the group, the strategy is ostensibly to engage in a war of attrition and drag the leadership of the Commission in the mud by painting the Commission black. The goal is simple: Distract the Commission. Simply put, corruption is fighting back.
Expectedly, Osita Nwajah, Director Public Affairs of the Commission offered a measured response when he said it had become imperative to expose Matawalle’s outburst for what it is, “a hollow gambit to deflect attention from the real issue”. He explained that the outburst was tantamount to corruption fighting back. “The governor is under investigation for alleged corruption that bordered on contract fraud and diversion of funds meant for the execution of projects in the local government areas to the tune of N70billion”, he explained.
He said further, “what is at play here is a pure case of corruption fighting back. Matawalle’s outburst is a product of paranoia- an uncomfortable exertion arising from the heat of EFCC’s lawful activities. The Commission would like to put the nation on notice to expect more of the kind of wild allegations made by Matawalle as those at the receiving end of EFCC’s investigations, fight viciously back”.
It is, therefore, clear that the issue has nothing to do with the transparency of EFCC’s asset recovery and disposal process. Contrary to the claims by Matawalle, Nwajah said the Commission supervised an asset disposal exercise that was widely acclaimed as the most transparent in the country’s history. Proceeds of the open and transparent exercise have since been remitted into the coffers of the Federal Government and are being deployed in the provision of infrastructure for Nigerians.
On the contrary, the real issue with Matawalle, the Spokesperson of the gang of outgoing governors, is that he is being investigated by the EFCC, over allegation of monumental corruption, award of phantom contracts and diversion of over N70billion, yes, Seventy Billion Naira. Yes, 70 billion Naira!
Investigation has it that the money which was sourced as loan from an old generation bank purportedly for the execution of projects across the local government areas of the state, was allegedly diverted by the governor through proxies and contractors who received payment for contracts that were not executed.
The Commission’s investigations, according to available information, so far revealed that more than 100 companies have received payments from the funds, with no evidence of service rendered to the state. Some of the contractors who had been invited and quizzed by the Commission, made startling revelations on how they were allegedly compelled by the governor to return the funds received from the state coffers back to him through his aides after converting the same to United States Dollars.
The contractors confirmed that they did not render any service to Zamfara State but were allegedly directed to convert the monies paid to them into United States Dollar and return to the State governor through some of his commissioners, notably the Commissioners in charge of Finance and Local Government Affairs.
Further investigation revealed that one of the contractors, a popular Abuja property developer, collected N6billion on a N10billion contract without rendering any service to Zamfara state. Another contractor collected over N3 billion for a contract for the supply of medical equipment, but the Commission traced a payment of N400million from his account to a Bureau de Change operator. The contractor confessed the payment was to procure the dollar equivalent allegedly for the state governor.
As part of the extensive investigation of contracts awarded by the Matawalle administration, especially for phantom projects in the local government areas, the Commission has recovered a sum of N300million from a company, Fezel Nigeria Limited. The funds were traced to the Zamfara Investment Company.
Matawalle no doubt, represents the face of the concerted attack by the gang of outgoing governors on the Commission.
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The other cheerleader is the outgoing Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello whose properties suspected to be acquired with taxpayers’ money and spread all over the world, is a subject of litigation by the EFCC.
The Commission has filed an appeal, challenging the ruling of April 26, 2023, where Justice Nicholas Oweibo of the Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos struck out a suit seeking the forfeiture of 14 properties as well as the sum of N400 million linked to the Kogi State Governor Bello. The properties, according to court documents include: “Hotel Apartment Community, Burj Khalifa is located at Plot 160 Municipality NO 345-7562; Sky View Building, No 1; Property No 401, Floor 4, Dubai U.A.E.”, were reasonably suspected to have been derived from unlawful activity. Is it too much to ask a public officers like outgoing governor Bello to account for his 8 years stewardship?
If you think you have heard enough, wait for another shocker! The Commission, on Wednesday, February 8, 2023, arraigned one Ali Bello, a nephew of Governor Bello, before Justice Obiora Egwuatu of a Federal High Court Abuja. Bello was docked alongside Abba Adauda, Yakubu Siyaka Adabenege, Iyada Sadat, Rashida Bello (at large) on 18 count charge bordering on criminal misappropriation and money laundering to the tune of N3,081,804,654.00 (Three Billion, Eighty-One Million, Eight Hundred and Four Thousand, Six Hundred and Fifty-Four Naira).
From the foregoing, it is clear to even doubting Thomases that the EFCC investigation is the source of anxiety in Government Houses at Gusau, Lokoja and many others. The simple question is this: Shouldn’t Matawalle be asked to answer questions concerning the 70 billion fraud hanging on his neck like a sword of Damocles? Shouldn’t Governor Yahaya Bello be made to give account of his 8years stewardship?
Evidently, the theory of the Big Lie as postulated by Josef Goebbel is what is at play here. The theory says tell the lie boldly and repeatedly, and the masses will believe it to be the truth. That is the strategy of the outgoing governors; unknown to them, however, Nigerians and the general public at large are not unmindful of the raid of their state’s treasuries. Yet, they want the EFCC to look away and not ask questions. That is why they must fight Bawa. The EFCC need the support of all to rid the country of economic and financial crimes for a better Nigeria.
Ojelimafe writes from Abuja, Nigeria