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Humanitarian Minister: “We will try bank chiefs’’ – EFCC

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Humanitarian Minister: “We will try bank chiefs’’ - EFCC

…Targets ex-govs, celebs in renewed graft war

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), over the course of last few days, reintroduced vigour to its anti corruption efforts, with high profile individuals, including former governors, former ministers, serving bank chiefs and celebrities, questioned, tried or jailed. But it has not come without criticism from those, who make the point about the commission being selective in its efforts.

The arrest, and subsequent 6-month jail term without option of fine handed to Idris Okuneye, alias, Bobrisky, a controversial crossdresser, for abusing the Naira, by Justice Abimbola Awogboro, on Friday, April 12, had stirred a hot debate, with many alleging that he was targeted on account of his lifestyle.

Many began to circulate videos of prominent individuals, including Umar Bago, Niger State governor; traditional rulers, Folashade Tinubu-Ojo, daughter of President Tinubu, and, indeed, the president himself, spraying naira at social events, the same offence for which the crossdresser was arrested by the commission, and wondering why others were not made to face same music.

The commission, however, in an argument that came across as escapism, denied the accusations against it, noting that its Special Task Force against Naira Abuse and Dollarization of the economy commenced operations on February 7, 2024, but, “going forward, new videos of such infractions will be investigated and prosecuted.”

Dele Oyewale, the commission’s spokesperson, who signed the statement issued on Sunday, April 14, further noted that, “Old videos being exhumed and flying around for the attention of the Commission are noted as the Commission is sensitive to the fact that its Special Task Force against Naira Abuse and Dollarization of the economy commenced operations on February 7, 2024. However, going forward, new videos of such infractions will be investigated and prosecuted.

“At the moment, the Commission is investigating several celebrities involved in Naira abuse. Many of them have made useful statements to the Commission and many more have been invited by investigators working on the matter. The EFCC will not relent in its no-sacred-cow mode of operations and the public should be wary of running afoul of laws against the crime.”

Perhaps as a way of proving that it didn’t target Bobrisky, the EFCC on Wednesday, arraigned socialite, Pascal Okechukwu, popularly known as Cubana Chief Priest, for same naira abuse, but in the process raised more questions regarding its standard procedure.

For instance, while the commission had given the impression that it would only act on incidents that occurred from February 7 when its taskforce commenced operations, the charges it filed against Okechukwu proved otherwise, hence validating the moral questions about selective prosecution.

EFCC had filed a three-count charge against the businessman for allegedly spraying and stamping on the naira at a social event contrary to the provisions of the Central Bank Act of 2007, and he was arraigned on Wednesday, April 17, before Justice Kehinde Ogundare of the Federal High Court, Lagos, where he pleaded not guilty and was granted N10 million bail.

The charge filed on April 4th by EFFC’s prosecutor Rotimi Oyedepo (SAN) alongside seven other lawyers, representing the chairman of the Commission, alleged in count 1, “that you, Okechukwu Pascal on 13th Feb. 2024, at Eko Hotel, within the jurisdiction of the court, while dancing during a social event, tampered with funds in the denomination of N500 issued by CBN by spraying, same for two hours, and you, thereby committed an offence, contrary to and punishable under Section 21(1) of the Central Bank Act 2007”.

In count 2, it was alleged, “that you Okechukwu Pascal sometime in 2020, in Lagos during a social event, tampered with funds in the denomination of N500 issued by CBN by spraying same for two hours, and you, thereby, committed an offence, contrary to and punishable under Section 21(1) of the Central Bank Act 2007”.

In Count 3, it was alleged, “that you Okechukwu Pascal sometime in January 2024, in Lagos during a social event, tampered with funds in the denomination of N500 issued by CBN by spraying same and you thereby committed an offence, contrary to and punishable under Section 21(1) of the Central Bank Act 2007”.

Since his arraignment, many have flooded the social media with videos of other influential individuals committing the same offence, while encouraging the commission to go after them if it wanted to demonstrate seriousness, even as many have suggested that the Idea of going after naira abusers is not within the purview of the commission.

“EFCC’s jurisdiction, as outlined in its establishing law, pertains to non-violent criminal and illicit activity committed with the objectives of earning wealth illegally,” noted human rights lawyer and former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, who argued that naira abuse, such as spraying money, falls outside the commission’s prosecutorial scope.

“The law that establishes the EFCC defines ‘economic and financial crimes’ to mean illicit activities violating existing legislation governing the economic activities of government and its administration. This suggests that the EFCC should primarily focus on crimes directly linked to economic sabotage and financial malpractice.”

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Trial of political figures

 

The commission had its job cut out for it as the administration assumed office with the scandal at the Humanitarian and Poverty Alleviation ministry involving Dr. Betta Edu, which led to the arrest and investigation of the previous minister and her officials, hit headlines. EFCC sources hinted that the probe has opened a new vista in public sector corruption and the role of bank chiefs in plundering the treasury, and vowed to bring them to book.

According to them, banks have been discovered to be the conduit pipe through which public funds are siphoned. “Our probe has revealed the active accomplices of bank chiefs in perpetrating corruption in government. They are as culpable as the public officers we are investigating. Unlikely before, we are determined to ensure that anybody involved in one way or the other in corruption is brought to book,” the official, who pleaded anonymity, said.

A number of public figures, including Willie Obiano, former governor of Anambra State, who is facing alleged N4bn fraud; Olu Agunloye, former Minister of Power and Steel being facing tried for alleged $6bn fraud; Sadiya Farouk, former minister of Humanitarian Affairs, who is accused of embezzling N37bn, and Betta Edu, her recently suspended successor, are some of high profile individuals in EFCC’s net, but Yahaya Bello, former Kogi State governor, who is long wanted by the commission over an alleged N80.2bn fraud, dominated the headlines last week.

Few have sympathy for Bello, who as a relatively young man, emerged governor under fortuitous circumstances in 2016, but was quick to dash the hopes of many who hoped that he would be a good ambassador for the youths, who have been making a push for political inclusion, and with his performance in office, make this case more eloquently.

“He began his tenure as governor as the symbol of hope for youth inclusion in governance. But he soon became a byword for recklessness, malfeasance, ineptitude, incivility, violence, and the greatest betrayer of the youth constituency. He shouldn’t have been governor—or, for that matter, anything in politics,” noted Farouq Kperogi, U.S based professor of journalism and public affairs commentator, in a piece on Saturday.

“Most people see his fate as a richly deserved karmic retribution for his eight years of incompetent, anger-arousing, profligate, and terroristic governance in Kogi State, the consequences of which transcended the bounds of Kogi State,”

Bello’s unenviable track record as governor generally includes introduction of rascality in governance. He is alleged to have paid workers half salaries, humiliated traditional rulers, who dared to stand up to him, destroyed roundabouts in Lokoja allegedly because he felt they contained fetish items, crudely destroyed access roads leading to the constituency of Senator Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan, his political rival to prevent election materials getting to the area in the last election; used violence and intimidation to secure victory during elections, and ultimately, as the EFCC has alleged, looted public funds to the tune of N80.2bn.

An attempt by the commission to arrest Bello at his Abuja home on Wednesday, was ultimately thwarted by his successor, Usman Ododo, who stormed the building with his security detail and took him away. But the commission, whose new chairman, Olanipekun Olukoyede, evidently wants to make a point, has since declared him wanted after warning the ‘public’ against obstruction of its officers from carrying out their lawful duties.

Consequently, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, on Thursday in a statement, asked Bello, who is believed to be hiding in Kogi government house, to surrender himself to EFCC. Thus far, the Immigration Service has also placed him on its watchlist to prevent him from leaving the country, while on Friday, his female aide-de-camp (ADC), alongside other police officers attached to him were arrested by the police force, which had earlier withdrawn all officers attached to the embattled former governor.

Bello, whose trial was scheduled to commence on Thursday, but he failed to appear in court, it would seem, has little room to manoeuvre, and there appears to be general consensus among Nigerians that his trial is very much a welcome development.

But in a country where politics trumps all else, skeptics have also alleged that his travails, however, justified, could be tied to his ‘falling out with President Bola Tinubu,’ whom he had contested the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) ticket against. Videos of the former governor seemingly mocking Tinubu during the electioneering campaigns have also resurfaced.

Thus, some have accused the commission of only playing to the gallery, pointing out that while Bello is being hounded for his alleged crimes, other past governors, who have been accused of corruption, but are unflinchingly loyal to the president, are walking freely.

“All the noise from the EFCC and the police about looking for Yahaya Bello is quite unserious and unconvincing, even to regime sympathizers. That tells you all you need to know,” said Odinkalu, whose views were shared by Mahdi Shehu, a public affairs commentator and member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

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“EFCC is only playing to the gallery,” argued Shehu. “Not even the DSS, combined with the NIA, backed by the DMI, supported by police Mobile strike force, with drones above the sky can arrest Matawalle for now because he is the civilian defence minister, Tinubu calls him my son, and he calls Tinubu daddy, Remi Tinubu calls him my son, and he calls her mummy. He is a home boy and untouchable.”

Beyond Matawalle, the EFCC has also been called out for ignoring Abdullahi Ganduje, the immediate past governor of Kano State and current national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who was seen in video released by an online platform, Daily Nigerian, allegedly collecting bribes in dollars from a contractor.

The present Kano government, led by Abba Kabir Yusuf, a political opponent of Ganduje, had last year filed an eight-count charge against him for allegedly collecting $200,000 from the said contractor in the said video.

The state’s Anti-corruption and Public Complaints Commission has also charged Ganduje, alleging the diversion of local government funds amounting to N51.3 billion, among others. But the EFCC has thus far shown no interest.

“I’ll never understand why Yahaya Bello is wanted by the EFCC for the same crime for which Abdullahi Ganduje was rewarded with an APC chairman position,” wondered Sarki, @Waspapping, a controversial social media commentator.

 

Bank chiefs caught in Humanitarian Affairs Ministry heist

 

Created in 2019 by former President Muhammadu Buhari to cater to the emergent humanitarian crisis in the country, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, quickly became, allegedly, an avenue for looting public funds, and some bank chiefs have been caught in the web.

The ministry, which was first headed by Sadiya Umar Farouq, oversaw the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP), which was created earlier in 2015, and within it were such programmes as the N-Power Program, the National Home-Grown School Feeding Program (NHGSFP), the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program, and the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Program (GEEP), which is made up of the MarketMoni, FarmerMoni, and TraderMoni schemes.

The programmes, in many people’s assessment, became conduit pipes for siphoning public funds. Both Farouq, who was minister under Buhari, and Betta Edu, who was appointed by Bola Tinubu but currently suspended, including Halima Shehu, who headed NSIP, the main cash cow of the ministry, are presently facing EFCC probe, with the Commission alleging that some bank CEOs involvement.

“At the outset of investigations, past and suspended officials of the Humanitarian Ministry were invited by the Commission and investigations into the alleged fraud involving them have yielded the recovery of N32.7billion and $445,000 so far,” the Commission said in a statement titled, ‘Setting the Records Straight on Investigations of Humanitarian Ministry,’ issued by Oyewale last week.

“Discreet investigations by the EFCC have opened other fraudulent dealings involving Covid -19 funds, the World Bank loan, Abacha recovered loot released to the Ministry by the Federal Government to execute its poverty alleviation mandate. Investigations have also linked several interdicted and suspended officials of the Ministry to the alleged financial malfeasance.

“It is instructive to stress that the Commission’s investigations are not about individuals. The EFCC is investigating a system and intricate web of fraudulent practices. Banks involved in the alleged fraud are being investigated. Managing Directors of the indicted banks have made useful statements to investigators digging into the infractions. Those found wanting will be prosecuted accordingly. Additionally, the EFCC has not cleared anyone allegedly involved in the fraud. Investigations are ongoing and advancing steadily. The public is enjoined to ignore any claim to the contrary.”

Business Hallmark had gathered earlier in January that the CEOs of Providus, Jaiz and few other banks were grilled by the Commission over their dealings with Farouq and Edu. The Commission has yet to make its findings public, but sources from the Commission confirmed to our correspondent that some of the bank chiefs caught in the web may be facing trial soon.

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