In August this year, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said it discovered about N19.3 billion belonging to the Kogi State Government in a fixed deposit account with Sterling Bank.
The money, according to the commission, was to be a bailout fund meant for the payment of workers’ salaries and arrears.
Later, the EFCC said it got an order from the Federal High Court, Lagos, to freeze the account. Shortly after, the commission went back to the court to say it would like to discontinue the case because the bank had returned the said N19.3 billion to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
In a statement by the commission’s spokesperson, Mr Wilson Uwajaren,EFCC said the refund aborts dissipation of the funds and puts an end to further controversies relating to the source and ownership of the funds.
However, the EFCC is yet to made public it’s investigations on the controversial money as of the time of this report.
But the Kogi State government, through the commissioner for Information, Kingsley Fanwo, denied any knowledge of the money, saying the state does not have any account bearing such amount of money with the said bank. The bank also released a statement, saying the Kogi government had no such account with it.
Later, the Kogi State government, challenged the anti-graft agency to publish its findings on the money.
Pundits have wondered that since the bank said, on September 1, 2021, that it never warehoused any money belonging to Kogi State in its treasury nor opened a fixed deposit account yielding interest on behalf of Kogi State Government but that it only opened a mirror account only for administrative purposes, the EFCC is yet to comment on the matter.
President Olusegun Obasanjo signed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Establishment bill 2002 in 2004.
The Act mandates the EFCC to combat financial and economic crimes. The commission is empowered to prevent, investigate, prosecute and penalise economic and financial crimes and is charged with the responsibility of enforcing the provisions of other laws and regulations relating to economic and financial crimes, including:
Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Establishment Act (2004); The Money Laundering Act 1995; The Money Laundering (Prohibition) act 2004; The Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act 1995; the Failed Banks (Recovery of Debts) and Financial Malpractices in Banks Act 1994; the Banks and other Financial Institutions Act 1991; and Miscellaneous Offences Act.
However, as sensitive as the commission is, it has been operating within the ambiance of controversy. And for pundits, like Gbenga Adebanjo, a rights activist, it is not unusual, what with “the intense and complicated climate of corruption the commission has to function in vis-a-vis the expectation that the anti-graft agency will function above parochial and partisan political interests.”
However, the impasse between Kogi State and the EFCC is a recent case in point.
Miffed by the situation, speaker of the Kogi State House of Assembly, Mathew Kolawole, threatened to issue a warrant of arrest against the managing director of the new generation bank if he fails to appear before them concerning the N19.3billion which the EFCC has been making an issue about.
According to the lawmakers, the story of the N19.3 billion was a concoction of lies and undignifying of the status of the anti-graft agency.
Still, the questions some pundits ask are: What kind of investigation the EFCC has carried out in the raging bailout controversy; and what prosecution it intends to pursue?
Already there are insinuations, by other pundits that the commission might be influenced from certain quarters to serve as a spoiler to the presidential ambition of the Kogi State governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello.
“If you discover a fraud has been committed, then the onus is on you to prosecute whoever is behind the fraudulent scheme,” said an analyst, Zabrang Simon.
He said the actions of the EFCC in the controversy so far further lend credence to the insinuations by some Nigerians that the commission could be used for personal vendetta and to take out or gag politically exposed persons who have political ambitions some are not comfortable with.
“And there is no overemphasising the fact that once the public loses confidence in the impartiality of the anti-graft agency based on its meddlesomeness in the activities of political operators that have nothing to do with financial or economic crimes, the anti-corruptioncrusade of President Muhammadu Buhari, which is a cardinal focus of his administration, will lose steam and that will be a great dent on the President’s reputation as an avowed graft fighter,” another commentator, Alex Kwasu, told LEADERSHIP.
On his part, Haruna Bala said, “Kogi State Government said it received a budget facility of N19 billion from the CBN in 2019 for the payment of workers salaries and arrears, which the government had since used for the purpose it was intended as of October 2019. On this loan facility alone, information in the public shows that the government pays a certain interest on it running into millions of naira monthly to the creditor.”
According to him, “If the EFCC keeps insisting the controversial
account – 0073572696 – belongs to the Kogi State government, then it is safe to ask the anti-graft agency to furnish the public to establish the truth who gave the mandate to the bank to open the account, the account package, the phone number and Bank VerificationNumber of those who allegedly opened and operated the Kogi State Salary Bailout Fixed Deposit Account.
“These are not too much to ask, for ultimately, unraveling the truth, based on the answers EFCC will provide to the questions asked, will put pay to the issue being dished out daily.”
Supporters of Governor Yahaya Bello (who has already declared his interest to contest for the 2023 presidential election) believe that the controversy is aimed at tarnishing the reputation of their candidate.
Although the Kogi State government has threatened legal action against the commission over the matter, some Nigerians believe that the ball is in the court of the EFCC to prove it’s case. Even though the state is demanding an apology from the EFCC, thcommission is yet to make public its findings.
“We just want the EFCC Chairman, Abdurasheed Bawa to learn from the mistakes of his predecessors in office. History is there to guide him so that he does not end up the way others before him have gone. There are political operators who can’t compete on a level-playing field and will always want to use the backdoor through underhand dealings to get an undue advantage over their competitors. They would not mind going to any length to achieve that, including desecrating a place that’s supposed to be a haven for fighting corruption,” a political commentator, Bashir Umar said while reacting to the issue.
With Governor Bello’s 2023 presidential ambition already at the center of the matter, the spotlight will remain on the EFCC as to how it manages the situation without appearing partisan.
For an agency that has repeatedly been accused of embarking more on media trails, the task before the EFCC will be to ensure robust and proper investigation into petitions submitted to it before they go to the media.