‘Africa needs strong institutions, not strong men’ – Former US President Barrack Obama speaking in Ghana in July 2009
On his first official trip to Africa, immediate past US President, Barrack Obama, said the above mortal words to applause from Ghana MPs when he addressed them in July 2009. Sadly, exactly nine years after he made the statement, his words are still very much relevant, although from all indications they have not been taken to heart by the ruling class in Nigeria as recent events have revealed. Just a fortnight ago we did not know anything about an alleged N22billion fraud involving Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State. But days after he jumps ship from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), then suddenly the Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) recovered from their amnesia and remembered that the Benue State number one citizen has a pending fraud case before them. Hmmm. Coincidence? I doubt it. Sadly, it has only once again re-enforced the need for the continent to embrace Obama’s statement, and do away with weak systems!
A week before Ortom’s case, the same body had proceeded to surround the homes of the nation’s number three citizen, Senate President, Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu on the grounds that they also had pending corruption cases to answer. While the former Kwara State governor has been interrogated in his office by the Commission, his deputy went on Tuesday morning to the EFCC office to explain how he came to allegedly own 22 properties in Nigeria, the United States, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates.
The Federal Government had in March sought an interim order of the Federal High Court, Abuja, to temporarily seize 22 prime properties/assets of Ekweremadu located in London, Dubai, Florida, and Abuja, that were not declared before the CCB. The motion ex-parte filed by Festus Keyamo (SAN) on behalf of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property was brought before the court pursuant to Section 330 of The Administration Of Criminal Justice Act, 2015; Section 8 Of The Recovery Of Public Property (Special Provisions) Act and Section 44 (2)(K) of the 1999 Constitution. In an affidavit deposed to in support of the motion ex-parte by Yohanna Shankuk, a litigation clerk in Festus Keyamo Chambers, he stated that from 1999 till date, Ekweremadu had been a public officer and had not earned anything outside his salaries and allowances as a public officer. He, therefore, wondered where the lawmaker got the money to acquire such properties.
The undeclared assets were identified as: 11 Evans Enwerem Street, Apo Legislative Quarters, Apo, Abuja; Plot 2633 Kyami, Abuja; Housing Estate; Plot 1106 CRD, Cadastral Zone 07-07, Lugbe, Abuja; Plot 2782, Asokoro Extension, Abuja; houses at Citi Park Estate, Gwagwalada, Abuja and Plot 1474, Cadastral Zone BD6, Mabushi, Abuja. Other properties allegedly undeclared by the senator include Congress Court, Abuja; Flat 1, Block D25, Athletics Street, (24th Street), Games Village, Abuja; and Plot 66, 64 Crescent, Gwarimpa Estate, Abuja. Properties allegedly owned by Ekweremadu abroad include: Flat 4, Varsity Court, Harmer Street, WIH 4NW, London; 52, Ayleston Avenue, NW6 7AB, London; Room 1903,
The Address Hotel, Downtown Dubai; The Address Boulevard, 3901, Dubai; two Flats of Burij Side Boulevard (the signature), Dubai and Emirate Gardens Apartment No. EGG1/1/114, Dubai. Others are Emirate Gardens Apartment No. EGG1/115, Dubai; apartment DFB/12/B 1204, Park Towers, Dubai; Flat 3604, MAG214, Dubai; Villa No 148, Maeen 1, The Lakes Emirates Hills, Dubai; 4507 Stella Street, Bellavida Estate Kissime, Florida, United States; 2747 Club Cortile Circle, Kissime, Florida, US and 2763 Club Cortile Circle, Kissime, Florida, US. No doubt if the allegations are true, then he has some explaining to do, but the million naira question is Is Ekweremadu the only government official who owns properties both in and outside the country? And the resounding answer must be “no”.
We can all recall that a still serving high ranking military official was accused of allegedly having two houses in the same Dubai in 2016. While he never denied the report he merely told the BBC last year that the substantial property was just an investment of his family members who do their private business. He said they should be able to afford such property in Dubai, but that he only invested in a property as far back as 2013. And that was the end of the mater as the same EFCC or any anti-graft agency like the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) never for once saw it fit to invite him to explain how he or his family came across such money to “invest” in properties in the Middle East.
Or have we forgotten how the case of the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal was handled? Appointed on August 27, 2015 by President Muhammadu Buhari, he was only suspended by the President on April 19, 2017, and was officially relieved of all duties on October 30, 2017, weeks after the news broke that his company benefitted from grass-cutting contract in the North- East ravaged by Boko Haram.
Till date, the anti-graft bodies never attempted to investigate or prosecute him, just as the case of the former Director- General of National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ambassador Ayodele Oke, who was removed after $43.5 million was found in a private apartment in Ikoyi, Lagos last year. Or is it the matter of the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, who, despite damaging allegations of using a fake NYSC waiver to evade the mandatory one-year service has not said a word! More worryingly is that there is also total silence on the part of the government and her anti-graft agencies. It is such “pick and choose” cases that have left the EFCC, ICPC and other such agencies, vulnerable to claims that they are only there to do the bidding of the government in power and not carry out their functions and duties conscientiously.
Until these agencies are able to work free of political interference they will always be seen as being the “Gestapo” arm of the government in power, used to hound both real and imaginary opponents, rather than agencies set up with good intentions. It is because of this perception that even when a genuine case of graft or fraud exists the person involved will still shout “witch hunt,” confident that his claim will resonate with many people. Sadly this has been the norm since its establishment by President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003 and will most likely continue until we finally find the political will power to change the perception by allowing the EFCC and other agencies run free of government interference.
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