By Femi Aribisala
It would appear that one of the requirements for the distinction of being a member of the president’s cabinet is to have a case of corrupt enrichment with the EFCC.
APC is a party that claims to be anti-corruption. However, the evidence is now overwhelming that this claim is one big scam. An anti-corruption party cannot, at the same time, be a party that provides refuge for those accused of corruption. How is this for an anti-corruption slogan: APC chairman, Adams Oshiomhole says: “Once you have joined APC all your sins are forgiven.”
This would seem to be the principle employed by President Buhari in choosing his new cabinet. First, the president told Nigerians that, this time, he would not include those he does not know but would only choose those known to him personally. But when he released his nominees it became evident that the “friends” of the president include those under prosecution by the EFCC on corruption charges.
The president named Godwill Akpabio as Minister of Niger Delta. However, Akpabio has major corruption allegations hanging over his head. He is accused of diverting no less than a whopping N100 billion from the coffers of Akwa Ibom to his own personal use while governor from 2007 to 2015.
According to a case lodged at the EFCC, Akpabio transferred N1.4 billion of state funds to a bank for unstated and unknown reasons. In 2013, he is alleged to have given several gifts of N566 million; N441 million and N392 million to a new generation bank. It is also alleged that he awarded bogus contracts to his cronies who used the proceeds to buy mansions in Lagos and Abuja.
These include a multi-billion naira mansion at Plot 5, Ikogosi Spring Close, off Katsina-Ala Crescent, Maitama-Abuja; a multi-billion naira mansion at Plot 28 Colorado Close, Maitama, Abuja; 22 Probyn Road, Ikoyi, Lagos; Plot 23 Olusegun Aina Street, Parkview, Lagos and a multi-billion naira 25-storey building at Akin Adesola Street, Victoria Island, Lagos.
He also stands accused of withdrawing N18 billion from the state’s Federal Accounts Allocation Committee under a number of frivolous guises such as special services and reception of important guests.
However, it now appears all his sins have indeed been forgiven since Akpabio made the smart move of decamping to the APC. Instead of being prosecuted, President Buhari rewarded him with a lucrative ministerial position.
The president has decided to retain Lai Mohammed as Minister of Information and Culture. This is in spite of the fact that Mohammed has been implicated in a N2.5 billion scam pertaining to the Federal Government Digital Switch-Over project.
On investigation, it was discovered by the ICPC that a government White Paper that governs the execution of the project was allegedly flouted by the Ishaq Kawu, the head of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission. The ICPC discovered that the N2.5 billion paid by NBC to Pinnacle Communications Limited and approved by Mohammed was irregular.
As a result, Lai Mohammed has been charged to court for abuse of office and money-laundering. He is scheduled to appear before a federal high court in October, 2019.
Mohammed is also accused of approving a letter from his office requesting the NBC, an agency under his supervision, to advance a loan of N13.1 million to his ministry for a purported official assignment in China. This demand is against budgetary approvals and against the principle of Treasury Single Account, TSA.
However, this cloud hanging over his head has not prevented Lai Mohammed from being included in President Buhari’s cabinet which, in the president’s lofty words, is designed to kill corruption before it kills Nigeria.
Rotimi Amaechi remains Buhari’s choice as super-Minister of Transport, but given his actions during the 2019 elections in Rivers State, it is doubtful whether he would be allowed to enter the United States under the new regulations of the Donald Trump administration.
The Justice Omeregi-led Rivers State Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up by the Rivers State government indicted Amaechi over the fraudulent sale of state assets. It maintained that, under him, a whopping N53 billion disappeared from the Rivers State Reserve Fund. Governor Nyesom Wike also said there are proofs of fraudulent activities by the former governor stressing that Amaechi allegedly admitted he paid $39 million for a fictitious Justice Karibi Whyte Mega Specialist Hospital.
However, the EFCC has not even invited Amaechi for questioning, much less prosecute him. According to the APC mantra, it would appear that all his sins, such there may be, are also forgotten. He is now expected to fight corruption to the ground in the Ministry of Transport.
Like Amaechi, Fashola has been retained as Minister of Works and Housing. He is equally expected to fight corruption, APC-style, in spite of the fact that he was accused of spending N78 millions of Lagos State government money upgrading his personal website when he was the governor of the state.
Among other allegations, he was said to have inflated the cost of the Lekki-Ikoyi link-bridge from N6 billion to N25 billion. However, the EFCC hears no evil and sees no evil in the Fashola case without even investigating it. Instead, Fashola was rewarded and has now been retained as the super-minister in a “juicy” super-ministry.
Timipre Sylva is Buhari’s choice as Minister of State for Petroleum, having reserved the substantive post as minister for himself. It apparently matters little that the EFCC has filed charges of corruption against Sylva for defrauding Bayelsa State of N19 billion between 2009 and 2012.
The EFCC case did not prevent Sylva from securing APC nomination as its governorship candidate for Bayelsa in 2016. And it has not prevented his elevation now to a ministerial portfolio.
Sylva, along with Francis Okonkwo, Gbenga Balogun, and Samuel Ogbuku, are alleged to have used three companies: Marlin Maritime Limited, Eat Catering Services Limited, and Halloween-Blue Construction and Logistics Limited to defraud Bayelsa State of no less than N19.2 billion between 2009 and 2012. The money was withdrawn under the cover of using it to augment the salaries of the state government workers.
The EFCC filed a six-count charge against Sylva, accusing him, among other things, of money-laundering and advance-fee fraud, including the conversion of properties and resources worth N2 billion belonging to Bayelsa State government to illegal use.
Nevertheless, Timipre Sylva has been given pride of place in President Buhari’s new-fangled anti-corruption cabinet.
George Akume now has the distinction of being President Buhari’s new Minister of Special Duties. He belongs to the category of politicians whose sins were quickly forgiven and forgotten once they jumped ship to APC. As governor of Benue State between 1999 to 2007, Akume was accused of beating EFCC operatives at the office of a former Commissioner for Police and allegedly destroying documents capable of implicating him in a corruption case.
Akume even went to court in 2006 to ask that EFCC be declared an illegal body. Said Governor Samuel Ortom, current governor of Benue State: “Akume, who was governor for eight years, you would recall, took N2 billion from the state coffers before leaving the office. Up till today, the case is still with EFCC. It’s just that he is in APC so, nobody is concerned about prosecuting him, but he should be prosecuted.”
Ortom himself is actually a member of the APC. But instead of being prosecuted, Akume has been rewarded with a ministerial portfolio. And this was done by a president who claims to be anti-corruption.
Rauf Aregbesola was former governor of Osun State. He has now resurfaced as President Buhari’s Minister of Interior. Aregbesola stands accused of the illegal diversion of the monthly allocations of 30 local governments in Osun State. The National Publicity Secretary of the Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, has submitted documents of corruption allegations against Aregbesola to the EFCC on behalf of a group called Osun Stakeholders.
The petition accuses Aregbesola of financial recklessness, corruption, money laundering and the fraudulent application of Osun State’s scarce resources. It states that, thanks to Aregbesola, Osun is: “littered with abandoned projects even though loans were secured by this administration to execute them. Today, our dear state has become the embodiment of lack, poverty, purposelessness, wickedness and insensitivity of political leaders of the highest order in the country.”
“We write to remind your good office of our petition letter dated 4th April, 2016 on the above subject matter and also received by the National Headquarters of the Commission on 8th April, 2016, where the outgoing Osun State Governor, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola and few of his aides were fingered in the alleged illegal Local Government funds diversion to the tune of N205 billion between November 2010 to August 2015.”
It is this same Aregbesola that has been elevated to ministerial status by President Buhari, all in the highfalutin name of anti-corruption.
Chris Ngige has been returned as Minister of Labour and Productivity. However, as in other examples highlighted here, it would appear that one of the requirements for this distinction is to have a case of corrupt enrichment with the EFCC.
An ex-Governor of Anambra State from May 2003 to March 2006, Ngige was accused of purchasing $922,600 worth of property in the United States allegedly bought with state funds. The Advocates for Peace and Effective Justice Development Initiative (APEJDI), a non-profit organization, were detailed and specific in their allegations against the honorable minister. They claimed he purchased the house located at 13910, Crest Hill Lane, Crest Hills Acres, Silver Spring, Montgomery County, Maryland, US on March 8, 2008.
This is something that can be easily investigated by the EFCC. But the matter has effectively been buried. Meanwhile, Ngige has joined the president’s anti-corruption team in the new cabinet.
The allegations of corruption do not stop with Buhari’s new ministers; they go right to the top of the APC echelon. A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has ordered the investigation of the chairman of the APC and former Governor of Edo state, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, by the EFCC.
Bishop Osadolor Ochei, successfully obtained an order of mandamus compelling the EFCC to arrest and commence criminal proceedings against Oshiomhole over allegations of financial fraud. The bishop presented the court with 86 exhibits filed in support of the application and added that there are documents and electronic pictures of palatial houses of the former governor, which could not have been obtained by his legitimate earnings.
Needless to say, it is not likely that this case will be pursued by the EFCC.
Femi Gbajabiamila, the new APC Speaker of the House of Representatives, was convicted for professional misconduct by the Supreme Court of Georgia, U.S.A. for defrauding a client. Ovie Omo Agege, newly-elected as APC’s Deputy Senate President, was also convicted of a felony while practicing law in the United States.
So much for APC’s much-vaunted anti-corruption policy.