By Demola Akinyemi
Former Senate President, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki has reiterated his position that the application to the Federal High Court, Lagos, for interim forfeiture order on his Ilorin home by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is an abuse of the court process and a violation of a subsisting order of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
Saraki, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu, noted that the Federal High Court in Abuja presided by Justice Taiwo Taiwo had given an order “restraining the respondents (Commission) by themselves, their subordinates, agents, servants, or privies howsoever, from seizing, impounding, taking over, confiscating or otherwise forfeiting the Applicant’s (Saraki) right to own and peacefully enjoy any of his assets and properties.”
The statement further reads: “The EFCC’s claim that the Ilorin property was built by any proceeds of fraud is outrightly false. The fact is that the Ilorin property was built partly by the Kwara State Government pursuant to the Third Schedule of the Governor and Deputy Governor (Payment of Pension) Law 2010 while Dr Saraki personally funded the remaining cost of the building.
“There are existing letters from the Office of the Head of Service of Kwara State notifying the former Governor (Saraki) of the State Government’s compliance with the State Pension for Governor’s law and the one indicating his intention to bear the cost of the additional expenditure that will arise from building the property to his desired taste dated 25th January 2012 and 8th February 2012 respectively.
“The construction of the building did not commence until the last few weeks of Dr Saraki’s tenure as Governor and the bulk of his contribution to the funding were made with cheques. Where cash was involved, this was mainly in 2012 and 2013, more than a year after he had left office as Governor.
“So, where is the claim that the money for the construction of the house fraudulent obtained from Kwara State Government coming from? It should also be noted that the land on which the house is built is not a government allocated land.
“One can only see that EFCC is playing politics and spreading falsehood in its cheap attempt to witch-hunt and intimidate a perceived enemy. We are also surprised that the EFCC could not even hide its penchant for abusing the nation’s judicial institution as it engaged in forum shopping when it filed a suit in Lagos on a property situate in Ilorin.
“We will like to restate our earlier position that Dr Saraki will contest this matter in the court at least to further attest to his belief in the rule of law, the sanctity of the courts and their enduring readiness to do justice in all matters and to all persons”, Olaniyonu stated.
“Let it be known that the usual claim by the EFCC that its actions were directed against corrupt elements does not apply to Dr Saraki because he is a man who at every point in his public service has sought to institute transparency and accountability in governance.
“Dr Saraki has always worked to promote transparency in governance in all the places he had held public office. As a Special Assistant to then-President Olusegun Obasanjo on budget matters, between 2000 and 2002, he initiated the passage of the Fiscal Responsibility Act and Public Procurement Act. Both laws were aimed at ensuring macro-economic stability and efficiency in government procurement through greater accountability and transparency.
“As Governor of Kwara State, he waived his immunity to enable his regime be probed. He is, perhaps, the most investigated individual, in the nation’s democratic history. However, each time, Dr Saraki has been given a clean bill of probity and health. It should be noted that seven separate investigations were instigated on Dr Saraki during his time in office as Governor.
“In September 2006, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, then Chairman of EFCC, took to the floor of the Senate to give a clean bill to six states, of which Kwara State where Dr. Saraki was then Governor was one. Under Ribadu’s successor, Farida Waziri’s Chairmanship, Local Government Councils in Kwara State were investigated in 2010 when Dr Saraki joined the presidential race.
“During his governorship years, he introduced the Price Intelligence Unit, the first by any state government. This unit reduced leakages in government revenues and introduced transparency and efficiency in government procurement. The idea was later adopted by the Federal Government as it became the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP).
“As chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), Saraki later influenced the adoption of that law by many of the states. Kwara State under his governorship was the first state to be rated by Fitch, the global rating agency which affirmed its National Long term rating at AA-(minus) and ratings of B+ in public finance transparency.
“At the end of his tenure in 2011, the anti-corruption agency did not find any reason to invite him for any questioning, even though his colleagues who also just left the Governorship posts were interrogated and some of them were charged to court. It was more than a year after he left office when he moved the controversial motion calling for investigation into fuel subsidy that the EFCC first invited him for investigation and nothing came out of that effort.
“Similarly, four years after he left office and was elected Senate President against the wish of the establishment, he was again charged to the tribunal based on his alleged activities as Governor. Also, now, eight years after he left office as Governor and having concluded his term as Senate President, the anti-graft agency has decided, once again, to raise issues over his term as Governor.
“Dr Saraki in his first term in the Senate was the one who through a motion on the floor exposed the biggest fraud in the country then. That is the oil subsidy scam. It was an action which set him against the Presidency controlled by his own party. Consequently, he was investigated by the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) at the conclusion of which the Federal Ministry of Justice issued a letter clearing his name of any wrongdoing.
“The above facts have shown that the position Dr Saraki has taken in the fight against corruption in this country both during his time as governor and in the Senate, particularly on the defence of democracy and independence of the three arms of government, has put him in constant clash with the establishment. That is why his current harassment by the EFCC is just true to type, an after-thought and ill-motivated move.
“There is need to once again put it on record that the Eighth Senate led by Dr Saraki has played key roles in institutionalising the fight against corruption, which is the national objective for setting up the EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies. Among the bills passed to facilitate the fight against corruption includes the National Financial Intelligence Agency Act, which, in line with international best practices, created an autonomous Financial Intelligence Unit in the country that would allow Nigeria to have access to information relating to financial investigations in the 152 member countries of the EGMONT Group.
“The Senate got commendation from the Financial Intelligence Database Agency (ultrascan) for passing the NFIA Act and enabled the nation to be readmitted into the Egmont Group.
“In fact, the later directive by the NFIA preventing Governors from accessing local government funds and banning banks from allowing transactions from State Joint Local Government Account without monies first reaching the accounts of the particular local government council is also a derivative of the NFIA law passed by the Eighth National Assembly.
“Another contribution of the 8th Senate under Saraki to the anti-graft war is the Proceeds of Crime Bill which now pave the way for the country to become full member of the Financial Task Force (FATF). South Africa was the only African country on the task force before now.
“The Senate also passed the Federal Audit Services Commission Bill, which is aimed at empowering the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation to ensure that MDAs comply with the Fiscal Responsibility Act in the management of public funds and in the timely submission of their audited account for scrutiny.
“The bill came out of the oversight by the Senate in which it uncovered the fact that over 300 MDAs have not submitted their reports to the office of the Auditor General in the past years. These are definitely not the acts that a corrupt element will prefer.
“Other anti-corruption bills passed by the Eighth Senate include the Whistleblowers Protection Bill, which seeks to ensure that individuals that are in danger of reprisals in relation to whistleblower activities are protected under the law; Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act which sought to among other things identify, trace, freeze, restrain, recover, forfeit and confiscate proceeds, property and other instrumentalities of crime; Witness Protection Bill, which is geared at encouraging witnesses of crimes, especially organized crimes, terrorism or other crimes to come forward and assist government and its agencies by offering protection to witnesses willing to provide information, and evidence for the purpose of ensuring proper investigation.
“These are more fundamental issues that can make permanent the anti-corruption war and remove it from the realm of whimsical pursuits. All these are legislative measures taken by the Eighth Senate led by Dr. Saraki to make the EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies more efficient, and generally, in aid of the fight against corruption.
“It is to the credit of the former Senate President and his colleagues in the Eighth National Assembly that they offered strong support to the Nigerian Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI) and opened the floor of its chambers to it for the purpose of articulating the contents of its report on handling of finances in the Petroleum Industry. The objective was to compel various agencies related to the oil industry to be more transparent and accountable.
“Dr Saraki promised more transparency on his inauguration as Senate President and therefore promoted the concept of Open NASS among others”