49 Nigerians stole N143.6bn public funds – EFCC

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By Emma Ujah and Emmanuel Ovuakporie
ABUJA — FORTY-NINE Nigerians looted the nation’s treasury to the tune of N143.6 billion (One hundred and forty-three billion, six hundred million naira), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission revealed yesterday.

Also, Chairman of the Commission, Mrs Farida Waziri, at an interactive session with journalists, in Abuja, to mark her first year in office yesterday said the court cases of some former governors were ongoing and that there was no letting up on efforts to prosecute former Governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Odili and Senator Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State.

49 Nigerians docked over N143bn fraud

It has also come to light that 49 Nigerians are presently being prosecuted by the EFCC for fraud, totaling N143.6 billion. This was contained in a list of “On-going High Profile Cases” made available by the anti-graft body yesterday. The high profile cases include that of some ex-governors. 11 of the fraud cases were commenced by former chairman of the anti-graft agency, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, while the incumbent boss of the EFCC, Mrs Farida Waziri has filed 20 fraud-related charges against suspects.

Most of the suspects have been granted bail by the court. The suspects in the UBEC case where high profile public servants connived with an American, Alexander Cozman, to defraud the government are however still in the custody of the EFCC.

Some of the cases listed include the case against former Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State at the Federal High Court, Lagos over N1.2 billion.
Another case is against former Governor Joshua Dariye of Plateau State at the Federal High Court, Gudu.

Also listed is the case of former Governor Saminu Turaki of Jigawa State at the Federal High Court, Maitama,  over N36 billion.

Also ongoing is the trial of former Governor Jolly Nyame of Taraba state over N180 million; the case against former Governor Michael Botmang of Plateau State over N1.5 billion.

The ongoing trial of Mr Roland Iyayi, former Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) over N5.6 billion is also listed. The trial of Mr Eider George, an Ustalian Business man at the FCT High Court, Maitama over N5.6 billion and that of Mr Patrick Fernandez, an Indian Businessman whose trial is ongoing at the Federal High Court, Lagos over N32 billion fraud is also listed.

The trial of four Senior Managers of a bank over N3.6 billion at the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt is also one the cases listed by the EFCC.

Also, the Rural Electrification Agency fraud case to the tune of N6.2 billion involving a serving Senator, three serving members of the House of Representatives, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Power and other top public officers was listed. The suspects in the case include Senator Nicholas Ugbane, Mr Ndudi Elumelu, Mr Mohammed Jibo, Mr Paulinus Igwe, Mr Samuel Ibi, Dr Aliyu Abdullahi, Mr Simon Nanle, Mr Lawrence Orekoya, Mr Kayode Oyedeji and Mr Garba Jahun.

According to the EFCC, charges have been filed against the former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, but he is yet to put in an appearance.

No letting up on Odili, Tinubu

On former Governors Odili and Tinubu, Mrs Waziri said: “I inherited most of these case files and no file was at any time involving the governors was declared missing as reported by the press. Instead, we have been investigating and building on the files.”

Answering specific questions on Dr Peter Odili and Senator Bola Tinubu both former governors of  Rivers and Lagos states respectively, the EFCC boss said the Commission was working hard to drag them before the law court.
According to her, “there was no time the case against Odili was dropped. There was this obnoxious court order of perpetual injunction restraining us from prosecuting him but we have appealed against it. We have been contesting the obnoxious court order restraining us from prosecuting him.  We have assigned the case to a SAN to try to vacate it.”

On Tinubu, she said that the Commission was working on gathering evidence with which to establish a case against the former governor but admitted that certain words of her predecessor did not make that effort easy.
Mrs. Waziri said she has been very sincere in handling her responsibilities in the last one year, adding, “I don’t have any basis to lie as posterity will judge me because in the last one year, what I have done is to build case files, analysing them and working day and night to ensure that suspects are arrested once a prima facie case is established.”

Cases of ex-govs stalled in courts

She, however, expressed frustrations at the delays corruption cases were suffering at the courts.

Her words: “The cases of past governors are ongoing. They are in court. I have been crying hoarse that cases are stalled.  This is the area that I expect you, the media, to assist me; to cry out with me. Cases that were filed by my predecessor are still there in the courts. They are stalled, one way or the other.

“I have told you many times why I feel the cases are stalled. If you have a bad case and you engage a lawyer whom you pay everything that you can pay and even from the charges drafted, he knows that if this case gets to its logical conclusion, he will end up in jail, they will do everything they can to forestall the trial and this is what is happening. The cases are not moving.

“I told you that what some of these lawyers do is to first of all challenge the jurisdiction of the court. Even when it is clear that the high court has jurisdiction, then they go to the court of appeal to ask for a stay of execution, so the case is not moving at all. And the delay of trial has its own repercussions: witness fatigue, witnesses may die or move.

“My job is to compile the case file, charge them to court and the next thing is to monitor the trials, to see whether on grounds of technicality, the investigation was thorough or something was missing; secondly to ensure that witnesses attend court and to ensure that exhibits are tendered. And that is where my job stops. I don’t go to the bench; I can’t do anything else.

“This is what is frustrating us and I leave that to you. You are Nigerians. If one arm of government is trying to solve this problem, you should highlight it; you should ask questions.”

The EFCC boss stressed the need for all Nigerians to buy into the anti-corruption crusade, insisting, “all Nigerians are stakeholders in this crusade.”

Reacting to the claims of civil right groups that the Commission had performed below expectations under her watch, Mrs. Waziri said: “I hate armchair critics who sit on the fence and criticise everybody’s efforts. This country belongs to us all, if they are given opportunity, they will steal this country silly because they suffer from the Pull Him Down Syndrome (PHD).”

On the role of the banks, Waziri said “some of the banks report (suspected transactions) while others don’t, that is why we re-organised the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit to make it more proactive and responsive to strategic intelligence.”

Estates built with stolen money to be confiscated

On the allegation that politicians were building estates and the Commission is not beaming its searchlight on the property industry with a view to confiscating those built with looted public funds, she said that once the Non-Conviction Based Assets Forfeiture Bill was passed, she would move against ill-gotten estates.

Her words, “A lot of estates are springing up in Abuja. We are waiting for our Non-conviction Asset Forfeiture Bill to be passed then we will really go into that. Find out the owner of this estate, find out how he got the money to develop the estate. If you can’t, we investigate you, we take the property to court.  It has nothing to do with the person. And we will take the property which will be forfeited to the government if you are unable to satisfactorily tell us how you came by that money.

“If you say you got a loan from the bank, we will investigate that claim. If you say you inherited anything, we will investigate. We are waiting for this law. It is going to make a great difference because the incentive to steal will be lost. The incentive to acquire properties in the country or outside the country and acquire luxury cars will be lost.

“Even the fact that some are developing the estates through proxies, companies or those that are developing properties using prominent individuals as partners notwithstanding, we are taking note of all of them.”
The Chairman said the Commission secured 65 convictions and has recovered over N50 billion  looted money.  It has also developed the EagleClaw, a software designed to combat cybercrime and advance fee fraud (419) scam.

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