Reports that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is again investigating the finances of the Akwa Ibom State Government have drawn strong reactions from different segments of the polity; including the state government and some advocacy groups.
In the latest development, it was alleged that the commission is investigating the state government over alleged withdrawals of N6.5 billion from the accounts of the state government.
As the state commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Charles Udoh said: “For the records, the current administration has made Akwa Ibom State one of the few states; if not the only state that publishes its annual audited financial statements. This underscores the state government’s commitment to transparency, accountability and integrity in governance. Copies of the state’s annual audited financial statements are available in the public domain.
“We wish to state emphatically as follows; that this is a malicious allegation and a desperate face saving effort by the EFCC to justify the several illegalities it has allowed itself to be used by the opposition to perpetrate against the Akwa Ibom State Government which have attracted widespread condemnation within and outside the country.
“For avoidance of doubt, the constitution and laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria authorizes only the state House of Assembly and the state Auditor-General to pry into the financial dealings of a state government. It is ludicrous that the EFCC has allowed itself to degenerate into a tool of lopsided political mudsling and witch-hunting used by the opposition in the state to cast aspersions on the integrity of the Akwa Ibom State government.
“This story was earlier published in the same newspaper by the same author on August 12, 2018, and since it did not have the intended effects, EFCC has sadly condescended to regurgitating the story in a flagrant act of impunity against existing laws of Nigeria.
“The Akwa Ibom state Government will do all within its lawful limits to protect the integrity of governance in the state. Recall that the Akwa Ibom State Government had served notices of contempt to the EFCC and would not be dragged into a public discourse on a matter that is patently sub judice. This matter is before the Federal High Court Uyo.”
The assertions of the state government were also echoed by the group, Akwa Ibom Media Advocates which also speaking in the same vein drew attention to what it claimed was the prospect of tarnishing the international image of the EFCC through such actions as the witch-hunting of political enemies of the ruling party in Abuja.
The group in a statement drew attention to the recent newspaper publications of invitations of state officials and of investigations of the financial affairs of the state government.
Noting that the EFCC was established to fight financial crimes and lift the glory of the nation above what it used to be at the beginning of the century, the group in the statement drew attention to what it claimed had become a rehash of reports of investigations of the accounts of the state government.
“We did not react to the first report in August of the investigation of the accounts of the state government as we thought that it could have been a mistake. That the state government even went to court was reassuring. However, the latest report clearly indicates an agenda that is out of place with the purpose of the establishment of the commission.
“We believe that the commission has fully delved into the political arena and is carrying out a partisan agenda aimed at destabilising the state government. If not, we wonder why the agency left the investigations of the period between 2007 and 2015 despite the lack of immunity of the senior officials at that time.
“It is trite that the power to investigate the finances of a state government is domiciled in the State House of Assembly and this is a fact that has been proved by the courts.
“We are not aware of any petition that may have triggered the EFCC in its present mission other than the now popular notion of a partisan interest to destabilise the government in favour of the ruling political party at the federal level.
“The EFCC was built on the solid pedestal of clearing graft and not on the pursuit of political goals as it is now seen to be doing in Akwa Ibom and the present efforts will in no small way diminish the agency both locally and among its international peers.”
“We call on the commission to be unbiased in all their efforts in order to leave a lasting legacy for posterity.
It is pertinent to state that this latest report was a rehash of the earlier report in the same newspaper published in August this year just about the time that a former governor of the state, Senator Godswill Akpabio moved from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP to the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC.
As the movement of Akpabio did not spark the kind of political meltdown that was expected given that he moved alone, the report at that time was believed to have been instigated to spark a crisis in the state to facilitate more defections. Apparently it didn’t work.
So when the same report was regurgitated it became obvious to discerning minds that the report was part of a political strategy by those who control the EFCC to reinvent the narrative in the state.
The focus of the anti-corruption agencies in the affairs of Akwa Ibom State did not start today. We are of course aware of the initial investigations and pressures brought upon the former governor of the state, Akpabio by the commission and other agencies of the Federal Government.
At one point the commission did not deny the fact that it was probing Akpabio. However, when the special assistant to the president on prosecution, Mr. Okoi Obono-Obla became the first to announce that the former governor was going to join the APC, we did not need any one to further tell us of the close knit relationship.
Now that the former governor has been successfully recruited by Obono-Obla into the agency, one is not much surprised that the EFCC has all of a sudden gone cold on the prosecution of the former governor despite the lack of immunity.
However, the failure of the former governor to bring his successor, Udom Emmanuel and people of political worth with him into the APC seems to have fired the prosecution agencies into an overdrive that has been exposed to all to be a malicious effort in stampeding the Udom Emmanuel administration in the state into political surrender. It is in that light that we see the rehashed reports of an investigation into the accounts of the state government.
The state government and even concerned stakeholders have risen to the rebuff the EFCC and its operations.
For one, the EFCC does not have the latitude under the laws to go to a state government and investigate or act as an oversight over the affairs of the government. That is the express duty of the State House of Assembly and the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly has not been derelict in its functions.
As the state government said earlier last week, the annual audited accounts of the state are regularly published and no one has come forward to fault any published.
***Ubong wrote in from Lagos.