New Telegraph

EFCC vs Matawalle: Battle over graft rages

EFCC vs Matawalle

Since the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) announced that it will begin investigations into activities of some outgoing governors, it has come un- der intense attack by Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State, who accused the commission of consistently castigating governors. The governor, who queried the basis for re- stricting the investigation to governors, wondered why the anti-graft agency has not extended the same probe to public servants at the federal level. Matawalle insisted that EFCC’s approach is counterproductive to the anti-corruption cru- sade, saying that the recent invitations and pronouncement are imbalance, incomplete, hypo- critical and unnecessarily skewed. He also said that before any probe by the EFCC can be mean- ingful, the EFCC Chairman should step aside.

He said: “To engender a broad-based investigation and an enlargement of the fight against corruption, I will also demand that Abdulrasheed Bawa excuse himself and surrender himself for investigation. Importantly, he needs to come clean with Nigerians on the way and manner he has prosecuted the anti-corruption fight. He needs to explain among others how seized assets by the EFCC are being sold without adherence to due process. He should explain, for instance, how he has assumed the role of the plaintiff, prosecu- tor and jury and how he has executed his brand of plea bargaining with suspected criminals and saboteurs of the Nigerian economy and agenda who instead of being put on trial, are walking freely all over Nigeria. “It is when the EFCC chair does this and becomes open, non-selective and all-embracing with his invitation, that will we take him seriously. It is only then will serious-minded officers who have served the people selflessly and meri- toriously and are not opposed to an examination of their books, and indeed Nigerians generally take him seriously. Without this, it is just a case of another person in government who has some explaining to do himself over allegations of corruption, high-handedness and abuse of office now asking others to account, by so doing, mere- ly giving Nigerians a comic relief from the pres- ent challenging times they are experiencing.”

In response to Governor Matawalle’s reac- tion, EFCC revealed that the governor stole N70 billion from the Zamfara State treasury. The com- mission in a statement by its Director of Public Affairs, Osita Nwajah, said the governor is under investigation that bordered on contract fraud and diversion of funds meant for the execution of projects in the local government areas of the state to the tune of N70 billion. Nwajah said Matawalle’s outburst is a prod- uct of paranoia – an uncomfortable exertion arising from the heat of EFCC’s lawful activities. The anti-graft agency gave a detailed account of how the governor siphoned state funds through 100 companies using non-existing contracts. The EFCC said: “Matawalle is being investigated by the EFCC, over allegations of monumental cor- ruption, award of phantom contracts and diver- sion of over N70 billion.

“The money which was sourced as a loan from an old generation bank purportedly for the execution of projects across the local govern- ment 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 so far reveal 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 com- mission 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. “They confirmed that they did not render any service to Zamafara State but were allegedly directed to convert the monies paid to them into United States Dollars and return to the State governor through some of his commissioners, notably the Commissioners in charge of Finance and Local Government Affairs.

“One of the contractors, a popu- lar Abuja property developer, collect- ed N6 billion on N10 billion contract without rendering any service to Zamfara State. Another contractor collected over N3 billion for a con- tract for the supply of medical equip- ment but the commission traced a payment of N400 million from his account to a Bureau de Change op- erator. The contractor confessed the payment was to procure the dollar equivalent allegedly for the state governor. “As part of the extensive investi- gation of contracts awarded by the Matawalle administration, especial- ly for phantom projects in the local government areas, the Commission has recovered a sum of N300 mil- lion from a company, Fezel Nigeria Limited. The funds were traced to the Zamafara Investment Company.

“The EFCC investigation is the source of anxiety in Government House, Gusau, with the governor in mortal dread of his fate once he steps down as governor on May 29. In Nigeria, state governors and their deputies enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution while in office, a reason the EFCC has yet to arrest Governor Matawalle.” But Governor Matawalle quickly reacted to EFCC’s allegation of corrup- tion, accusing the chairman of EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa, of demanding a $2 million bribe from him. However, Matawalle, in an interview with BBC Hausa, said he has evidence against Bawa, stressing that the EFCC boss is not an honest person.

The governor said: “It is not just to always blame governors. It is not only governors who have treasury, the Feder- al Government also has. What does the EFCC boss do to them? As he is claiming he has evidence on governors, let him show the world evidence of those at the federal level. “If he exits office, people will surely know he is not an honest person. I have evidence against him. Let him vacate the office, I am telling you within 10 seconds probably more than 200 people will bring evidence of the bribe he collected from them. He knows what he requested from me but I declined. He requested a bribe of $2 million from me and I have evidence of this. He knows the house we met, he invit- ed me and told me the conditions. He told me governors were going to his office but I did not. If I don’t have evidence, I won’t say this.” Following the allegation of a $2 million bribe by Matawalle, Bawa has asked the governor to provide concrete evidence that he demanded the bribe from him.

The EFCC chairman, in a statement issued by the spokesperson of the anti-graft agency, Wilson Uwu- jaren, said Matawalle should go beyond the accusation by providing concrete evidence as proof of his allegations. Uwujaren said: “Matawalle’s re- course to mudslinging is symptomatic of a drowning man clutching at straws. But despite the irritation of his phan- tom claims, the commission will not be drawn into a mud fight with a suspect under its investigation for corruption and unconscionable pillage of the re- sources of his state. If Matawalle will be taken seriously, he should go beyond sabre-rattling by spilling the beans – provide concrete evidence as proof of his allegations. “Again, the commission wishes to alert the public about plans by some of the alleged corrupt politically exposed persons to flee the country ahead of May 29. The Commission is working in close col- laboration with its international partners to frustrate these escape plans and bring those involved to justice.” Despite the claims and counter-claims between EFCC and Governor Matawalle, anti-corruption crusaders in Nigeria, num- bering over 150, said Bawa can no longer continue to stay in office as the chair- man of the commission.

Leaders of the organisations, who said they had refused to be cowed into shelving their agitation for a genuine fight against corruption in Nigeria, said, while it is indisputable that elected officials must account for their ac- tions in office, they share Matawalle’s view that the investigations must not be selective but all-embracing. According to the activists, the EFCC is an important agency in Nigeria, estab- lished to rid the society of corruption with impunity, it was not conceived as an agency meant for settling scores for political godfa- thers. Led by the Chairman of the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, CACOL, Debo Adeniran, the activists said, at a press conference in Lagos, that it was the standard practice all over the world for officials who have been accused of gross misconduct to step aside while investigations are conducted to ascertain the veracity of the allegations. Against this backdrop, they called for a full probe into the activities of the EFCC under Bawa, saying: “His predecessor, Ibrahim Magu, was not only told to step aside when Bawa’s godfather wanted him out at all costs but he was also humiliated out of the office and up till tomorrow, no one knows the exact outcome of the probe against him.” According to them, from the interaction of Journalists and CSOs with ordinary Ni- gerians who had been invited for one rea- son or the other at the Commission, “there have been several allegations to the effect that about 80 per cent of cases under EFCC investigation are not taken to court. EFCC offices now literally serve as courtrooms.

“There are damning allegations that some of the Commission’s officials simply negotiate with suspects, get assets and cash retrieved and do plea bargains. This opens limitless opportunities for corrupt bargain- ing and self-enrichment by the operatives of EFCC under Mr Bawa’s watch. This needs to be thoroughly investigated by a techni- cal Commission of Inquiry to dig into the modus operandi of EFCC investigations in the last three years by thoroughly analysing records of arrests, investigations, outcomes and final closure of each incident and indi- vidual suspects and how the matters were eventually dispensed with,” they demanded. In a speech delivered on behalf of the CSOs, their spokesperson, Olufemi Lawson, said: “Allegations of sharp practices with confiscated assets by the Commission have refused to go away. To this end, all seized assets need to be forensically audited with a view to recovering all assets re-looted or auctioned in suspicious circumstances.

“The chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Abdulrasheed Bawa, has been convicted for contempt over his failure to comply with an earlier order of the court. As we speak, the Inspector-General of Police has not com- plied with a court order to commit Bawa to Kuje prison while Bawa has not deemed it fit to purge himself of contempt.” The activists said claims by Bawa that the EFCC had secured 98.93 per cent of convictions in 2022, losing only 1.07 per cent, were spurious, noting that a large chunk of the convictions were online fraudsters, while favoured political office holders were left untouched. Lawson said: “We are also aware that in December 2022, the Bawa-led EFCC an- nounced its plan to sell forfeited properties. It also announced later in January that about 12 bids were made for those proper- ties and, later, that six of those bids were successful. No details of this were made public, either to know successful bids or rejected ones. This was a ploy, in our opin- ion, to make the processes less transparent and, therefore, facilitate corrupt misman- agement of the proceeds or ensure that only their corrupt allies got the opportunity to purchase the assets at giveaway prices. The processes were rendered opaque and that’s very suspicious. “The EFCC has done a selective invita- tion to outgoing governors in Nigeria, re- portedly exempting other government of- ficials who have loads of petitions against them, even by governors. If a government agency expected to fight crime is found going about its business in a manner that mimics witch-hunt and selective justice while also being unable to deal with the corruption going on within its own work- force, the Coalition of Anti-Corruption Organisations, COACOs, is afraid that the Nation may slide into some real crisis of confidence in our systems, which is bound to provoke a defunding of the EFCC by lo- cal and international donor organisations.”

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