By Emmanuel onwubiko
“Law is order, and good law is good order”. -Aristotle
If there is any knowledge that is so notorious that you do not need commonsense to decipher is the possibility that law enforcement agencies under the command and control of the executive arm of government can be manipulated and deployed as political attack dog against perceived opponents of the president or governor.
This much was made manifest recently when I posted on my social media page an exclusive information a serving federal cabinet member of the President Muhamadu Buhari told me and a few friends about how Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is used to target perceived opponents of the president.
This information elicited identical responses from my audiences who all chorused that it is not a secret that EFCC is the attack dog of the President.
I will discuss in broad details some dramatic scenarios in the past and present times that depict the widespread allegation that the President and his trusted loyalists from the Moslem North are using the EFCC as political attack dog for witch hunt.
I will however mention three instances in which it is now being feared that the EFCC is positioned to stop ambitious and viable Igbo politicians from seeking to succeed President Buhari in 2023.
The clearest evidence that points to the aforementioned plot by EFCC to knock off the South East from the calculations of potential successor of president Buhari is the case of the former governor of Abia State and the current Senate’s Chief whip Senator Orji Uzor Kalu.
This gentleman has been dragged through all the court system in Nigeria by EFCC over allegations suspected to be phantom in which the aim is to get conviction by hook or crook and politically incapacitate one of the most energetic and nationally accepted political tactician of the twenty-first century –senator Orji Uzor Kalu.
This much sought after conviction will automatically bar him from running in 2023 since the constitution bars fraudulent convicts from ever holding public office until ten years or, so after the court’s conviction.
In their very dangerous speed to convict Orji Uzor Kalu and render him politically unuseful especially in the year 2023 presidential election, the EFCC and the then judge of the Federal High Court shot themselves on the leg when the judge who got promoted to the court of Appeal whilst the case of EFCC against Senator was still pending, refuse to assume his proper status as a Court of Appeal’s Justice but chose to obtain a fiat to continue as both Federal High Court judge and a justice of court of Appeal at the same time. This makes the conviction of Orki Uzor Kalu malicious since in logic nothing can be and not be or rather you can’t be a judge in the high court and at the same time a Justice at the Appeal court.
The judge then maliciously convicted Orji Uzor Kalu and had him thrown into prisons for many years, went back to resume at the Appeal Court just as the EFCC fought against every effort Orji Kalu made to obtain bail pending his appeal against his conviction.
The case got to the Supreme Court and as God destined it Senator Orji Uzor Kalu who had spent 6 months in prison, got released when the apex court invalidated his conviction.
To demonstrate that there is a political agendum, the EFCC filed a fresh trial at the Federal High Court.
Sensing a clear manifestation of malicious prosecution which can rightly be termed a persecution, the Federal High Court under another judge with no contradictory status, quashed the trial for the second time over same matter of the Senate’s Chief whip, thus paving the way for his eventual release from 6 months of illegal incarceration.
The action of this latest Federal High Court’s judge who dismissed the retrial of Senator Orji Uzor Kalu perfectly demonstrates what Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) said thus: “If justice be taken away, what are governments but great bands of robbers?”
And so respite came the way of a former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, as the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, barred the Federal Government from retrying him, based on the N7.1billion money laundering charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, earlier preferred against him.
The court, in the judgement that was delivered by trial Justice Inyang Ekwo, relied on a verdict the Supreme Court gave on May 8, 2020, to stop further proceedings in the criminal case the EFCC instituted against Kalu and his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited.
Justice Ekwo stressed that the apex court had in its judgement, expressly ordered the retrial of Kalu’s co-defendant, Mr. Jones Udeogu, who was a former Director of Finance in Abia State.
He noted that while Udeogu was the Appellant in the said appeal that was decided by the Supreme Court, Kalu and his firm, were only cited as Respondents in the matter.
Justice Ekwo held that it would be legally wrong for Kalu and his firm to be subjected to fresh trial, when the apex court did not make such order while deciding Udeogu’s appeal.
He said the evidence before him showed that the Supreme Court only ordered the return of Udeogu’s case-file for retrial, without any mention of either Kalu or his firm.
“Can this court expand the order of the Supreme Court by ordering the retrial of the Defendants in this case”, Justice Ekwo queried, maintaining that inline with judicial hierarchy, it would be legally wrong for his court to exercise jurisdiction not given to it by the Constitution.
Moreso, he held that the Supreme Court could not have ordered Kalu’s retrial, since he never sought such relief.
“The court cannot grant relief to a party who did not seek same before it. The 1st Defendant (Kalu) neither sought nor applied for retrial. No such order was made.
“A court of law should stop where the statute stopped in the exercise of its jurisdiction. This court, by the pronouncement of the Supreme Court, is duty bound to proceed with retrial of the 2nd Respondent (Udeogu).
“The court is not a proper place for issue of sentiment, but the law”, Justice Ekwo added.
He held that there was merit in the suit Kalu filed to challenge the legal propriety of his planned re-arraignment by the EFCC.
Besides, Justice Ekwo dismissed EFCC’s counter-affidavit EFCC against Kalu’s suit on the premise that it was “pre-emptive, speculative, opinionated”, and against section 115 (1) and (2) of Evidence Act, 2011.
He held that Kalu’s case was founded on the legal principle of “autrefois convict”, which prohibits his retrial for the same offence he was previously tried for and convicted.
“The case of the Appellant must succeed on its merit and has so succeeded. The judgement of the Supreme Court is final and cannot be relitigated”, Justice Ekwo added.
He held that allowing EFCC to retry Kalu and his firm would amount to violation of section 36(9) and (10) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, as well as section 283 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015.
Specifically, the court issued an order, “prohibiting the Federal Republic of Nigeria through the EFCC, her agents, officers, servants, privies and any other person or bodies deriving authority from the Federal Republic of Nigeria from retrying the Applicant on Charge No. FHC/ABJ/CR/56/07 F. R. N. VS. Orji Uzor Kalu & 2 Ors. or any other charge based on the same facts-the said Applicant having been tried, convicted and sentenced by the Judgement or this Honourable Court dated the 5th day of December, 2019, under the hand of Hon. Justice M. B. Idris, JCA.
As well as, “An order prohibiting the Federal Republic of Nigeria through the EFCC, her agents, her officers, servants, privies and any other person or bodies deriving authority from the Federal Republic of Nigeria from retrying the Applicant on charge No. FHC/ABJ/CR/56/07 F. R. N. VS. Orji Uzor Kalu & 2 Ors. or any other charge based on the same facts de novo, there being no extant Judgement or Ruling of a competent court in Nigeria mandating same”.
The court however fixed January 11, 12 and 13 for retrial of Kalu’s co-defendant, Udeogu.
Meanwhile, EFCC, through lawyer, Mr. Oluwaleke Atolagbe, vowed to appeal the judgement which it described as a miscarriage of justice.
EFCC proceeded to appeal the dismissal of its witch hunt plot against one of the South East’s most reputable prospective presidential candidates in 2023-Senator Orji Uzor Kalu.
Now let us look at the two other laughable actions of the EFCC which are likely to be associated with a formidably planned political campaign to deny the South East of the prospect of becoming the successor to president Buhari next year.
The first is the case of the former governor of Imo State Mr. Rochas Okorocha who left office over half a decade ago but EFCC did not file or formulate charges against him until the same day that this man declared his intention to contest for the office of president in 2023 twenty hours ago.
The question to ask is why will the EFCC wait until Rochas Okorocha declared to run to succeed Muhammadu Buhari before it struck by filing charges before the Federal High Court?
There was an attempt to use the media by the EFCC’S propaganda machine to politically destroy Senator Anyim Pius Anyim who is one of the only Nigerian alive to have held two key federal positions as Senate president at a time and at another epoch, he became the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
But the attempt to use the media against Senator Anyim failed flat on its face because as it is said, a clear conscience fears no allegation. Chief Anyim Pius Anyim who is also a versatile practicing lawyer and politician, took his time to offer ground breaking explanation on why he visited the EFCC when words filtered into his ears that someone mentioned his name in a matter which he went to the anti-graft commission to clarify.
But the recent arrest of one of the most vocal campaigners for South East presidency of Nigeria in 2023 chief Osita Okechukwu is another pointer to the alleged plot by EFCC to stop the South East from clinching the office of Nigeria president next year May 29th 2023.
Already, information has linked Okechukwu’s arrest to amongst others his political differences with the information minister Lai Mohammed the political boy of Bola Ahmed Tinubu who nurses ambition to succeed Buhari.
Fresh facts have emerged from a poorly hatched propaganda machine of may be the minister of information on why the Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), Osita Okechukwu, landed in the net of one of the anti-graft agencies in the country, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Okechukwu, a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and an ally of President Muhammadu Buhari since the days of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), was detained by the EFCC on Saturday.
The VON boss, who was still with the anti-graft agency when filing this report, is being quizzed by the crack detectives of the commission over a case of conspiracy, abuse of office, and misappropriation of public funds to the tune of N1.3billion.
VON, one of the federal agencies under the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, was primarily established with the mandate of broadcasting Nigeria’s viewpoints, and to project Nigeria’s positive image to the international community as well as making the country’s voice heard on the African continent.
Shortly after President Buhari’s emergence in 2015, Okechukwu, a prominent politician and one of the stakeholders of APC from the South East region of the country, was appointed to man the agency.
His appointment was described as a reward for his steadfastness, courage and loyalty to Buhari and the CPC, which later merged with APC in 2014.
Specifically, Okechukwu was appointed on May 24, 2016, and he has been managing the affairs of the agency till today. He was, however, invited by the EFCC to answer some questions regarding the finances of the agency.
According to a petition obtained by Daily Trust, some of the sins allegedly committed by Okechukwu, who arrived at the headquarters of the anti-graft agency in Abuja at about 1.32 pm on Saturday to honour the invitation extended to him and to respond to some of the allegations against him are captured below:
Disregard for information minister: there is a reported cold war between the minister of information and culture, Lai Mohammed, and the VON boss over the award of some contracts in the agency he superintends.
It was said that the embattled federal agency boss regarded himself as Buhari’s man who will always have his way as far as the award of contracts in the agency was concerned.
He was alleged to have formed the habit of bypassing the minister on the issues that relate to his agency.
Breach of Procurement Act-Okechukwu was alleged to have breached the Procurement Act by awarding some contracts to his relations without due recourse to the law.
Specifically, he was said to have awarded a contract for the construction of an ICT data centre at the newly acquired VON office to his nephew, Emeka, of ECR Technology Service Limited at the sum of N47 million.
Apart from that, the job was not completed despite being paid fully but was certified completed by the agency. The contract was awarded on the 2nd of May, 2017 even before the EFCC handed over the newly acquired property to the agency.
N1bn ICT infrastructure fund ‘squandered’- It was also alleged that about N1 billion set aside as a fund for Information, Communication, and Technology (ICT) for the agency, was expended without the board’s approval and it was allegedly squandered under Okechukwu’s leadership between 2017 and 2020.
“The amount of money spent on ICT in VON, if it was judiciously used, could have turned VON into a world-class ICT centre in Nigeria,” the petition partly read.
The website of the agency, which is expected to publish in at least eight languages in order to reach its target audience, was said to have limited itself to broadcasting or publishing in English Language only.
Another politically manufactured allegation is Contract splitting in which two different contracts amounting to N15 million and N43 million respectively were awarded to the same company, ECR Technology Service Limited for the supply of 50 and 150 digital audio recorders in alleged case of contract splitting.
In the same vein, a contract on the supply of software for the agency worth N21 million was awarded to Okechukwu’s nephew’s friend who owns Eppin Forest Engineering Limited, but allegedly supplied software for less than N5 million.
Anofher ridiculous charge is bypassing FEC for approval of OB Van replacement in which it is alleged that Outside Broadcast van worth N150 million was to go to the Federal Executive Council for approval but it was said that that was not done, rather he went ahead to the Bureau of Public Procurement for approval to buy CODEX machines for the same purpose that costs N50 million.
It was said (who said?) that the remaining N100 million could not be accounted for.
The tissue of propaganda in Daily Trust reports that the tenure of the embattled VON DG ended in May last year and he allegedly maneuvered and obtained a renewal for another term of five years without the knowledge of the information minister.
Consequently, the minister has refused to issue a statement on his renewal to date, with Okechukwu staying foot in the agency.
Following this development, concerned staff of the Voice of Nigeria (VON) have been calling on Minister Mohammed to prevent the imminent breakdown of law and order in the organisation following a vacuum created after the expiration of the tenure of Mr. Osita Okechikwu on the 23rd May 2021.
On Monday, May 24, 2021, Osita was confronted by staff to present a letter of reappointment, which he did not on that day before leaving the office.
Last year, the concerned staff requested the information minister to intervene and give a speedy direction for piloting the affairs of VON pending approval of substantive DG while asking Mr. Osita to steer stay clear of VON to avoid any embarrassment from an already tensed staff of the Corporation.
These staff revolt may likely to be instigated by the man who does not want anything to empower someone like Osita Okechukwu who is campaigning for Igbo presidency.
It is obvious that EFCC for a long time has been used by the president to go after his opponents and it is rumoured that members of the presidential cabal who are mostly those pulling the strings in EFCC do not want the South East as the president in 2023 for whatever reason.
It is however not today that EFCC has been called out to stop been used for campaign of witch hunt.
Last year former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, admonished the new Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (INEC), Abdulrasheed Bawa not to succumb to pressure to use the anti-graft agency to witch-hunt opposition politicians so as not to cast doubt on its credibility.
His assertion came in the wake of the Court of Appeal’s acquittal of High Chief Raymond Dokpesi, the founder of Ray Power and AIT over money laundering charges.
Atiku expressed his “joy and solidarity” with the PDP chieftain over the Court’s decision in connection with the alleged N2.1 billion money laundering charges brought against him by EFCC related to the arms contracts under former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki.
A statement from the former Vice President’s media office on Friday signed by Paul Ibe said he was elated with the outcome of the trial because it revealed the truth about the lopsided nature of the anti-corruption policy of the Buhari administration.
According to Atiku, “the entire anti-corruption trials appear to be focused on opposition politicians, thereby casting doubts on the credibility of the anti-graft agency.”
The former Vice President recalled that during the 2019 presidential election, the EFCC focused its time and resources on harassing and arraigning aides of opposition politicians, while it was indifferent to how members of the ruling party were financing their campaigns.
The former presidential candidate of the PDP noted that even members of the international community are now coming to terms with the reality that the anti-corruption crusade is not impartial, and that the government is now using the anti-corruption policy to contrive charges against those they want to use to advance certain political objectives.
Atiku said he was impressed with the appointment of Abdul Rasheed Bawa as EFCC chairman, but advised him to learn from the mistakes of his predecessors.
The Wazirin Adamawa reminded Bawa that his success will inevitably be determined by Nigerians and not by the government of the day and the ruling party.
“As a young man of great intellect and confidence, I’m confident that you are up to the task. You must be ready to restore the glory of the EFCC by changing its public perception as a political tool of the government in power. Let your conscience and history judge you. But you can only do so if you resist external manipulation. May Allah guide you aright,” Atiku further told Bawa.
The Benue State governor Samuel Ortom who is not particularly liked by President Buhari because of his outspokenness on the incessant armed Fulani terrorism, had accused EFCC of being used.
For instance, on August 7, 2018, two weeks after defecting from the APC to the Peoples Democratic Party, Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom accused the EFCC of freezing the state’s bank accounts.
Prior to this development, barely five days after his defection, the anti-graft agency had accused the governor of fraud to the tune of N22bn.
The EFCC stated that the governor, between June 2015 and March 2018, ordered the withdrawal of N21.3bn from four of the state’s bank accounts.
Out of the sum, about N19bn was said to be meant for the payment of six security agencies that had been deployed in the state to address the incessant clashes between herdsmen and farmers.
However, the EFCC claimed that less than N3bn of the money was paid to the security agencies, while the remainder could not be accounted for.
Responding, Ortom had asked a series of questions, “Why am I being investigated by the EFCC? My records are there. But so far, I am the only governor in Nigeria whose security vote is being investigated by the EFCC.
“How could you single me out of 36 (governors) for investigation? It (security vote) is not something that any government will begin to disclose. Why should Benue State’s case be different – if not persecution?
EFCC has continued to deny this allegation but keeps doing things that open them up to accusations of political witch hunt. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in 2018, explained that it is an establishment mandated to fight corruption in the country and never a tool used for witch-hunt as speculated by some people.
The zonal Head of the Commission in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Abdulkarim Chukkol, said this in Uyo while reacting to allegation that the agency was being used by the All Progressives Congress, APC, to witch-hunt rival parties in the state.
He said the agency worked with facts saying since its offices were opened in the state, it has secured eight convictions and over 256 others across the country over the years.
“We have been in the state for about a year and four months now. A lot of activities have gone on in the state and we secured eight convictions from Akwa Ibom State and 256 across the country.
“We have many cases that are lining up for investigation before we go to court. I can assure you in the coming years we are going to secure more convictions,” Chukkol said.
The zonal head said that corruption war should not be left for the commission and government alone, stressing that the war must be fought by all Nigerians.
According to him, “Combating corruption is the duty of all us. The purpose of this day is to create awareness on the dangers of corruption. All Nigerians must ready, each and everyone has a role to play.”
He said EFCC would continue to work with NGOs and CSOs to create awareness and eliminate corruption from our country.
The facts of EFCC’S witch-hunt against Igbo politicians is disturbing and this must be stopped by all means legal.
Emmanuel Onwubiko, a political and media strategist was National commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria.