•Former governor urges calm
Gboyega Akinsanmi, Segun James in Lagos and Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) yesterday denied an allegation by three lawyers that it attempted to plant foreign currency in the Epe, Lagos State house of former governor of the state, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, during an early morning search by its operatives.
The lawyers, Fatai Adebanjo, Busari Olanrewaju and Samson Okuneye, who claimed to have witnessed the search, had in a joint statement yesterday, alleged that they stopped the commission’s agents from “planting foreign currency” in the former governor’s house.
But in a statement last night, the commission’s Head of Media and Publicity, Mr. Wilson Uwajaren, said the search was not an attempt to plant foreign currency in Ambode’s house but was part of its investigations into an alleged N9.93 billion fraud.
It condemned alleged attack, by people it called thugs, on its operatives. “The commission had obtained valid warrant to conduct search on Ambode’s residences in Park View, Ikoyi and country home in Epe, as part of ongoing investigation of alleged malfeasance,” it stated.
It added: “However, the commission’s operatives were attacked and prevented from executing the search warrant in Epe by irate youths who injured three officers and damaged EFCC official vehicle.
“The attack was totally unprovoked as the commission’s operatives were civil and did not molest anybody.”
The commission frowned at the attempt to manipulate the video of the search to create the wrong impression that officers of the agency molested residents at the Epe home of the governor.
It added: “It is also not true that the search, was an attempt to plant foreign currencies in the home of the former governor.”
Lawyers Alleged Attempt to Frame Ambode
Adebanjo, Olanrewaju and Okuneye, had alleged an attempt by the anti-graft agency’s agents to frame up Ambode.
Saying the EFCC attempted to prevent them from witnessing the search, the lawyers explained that the operatives eventually allowed them into the house after they had engaged them in arguments, claiming that the commission’s agents seized their phones while the operation lasted.
The lawyers stated in their statement: “Before they entered, we searched all the officials of the EFCC, who intended to go in for the search. There was a blue bag, which they were holding with them.
“We requested to see the content of the bag before they could take it in. They got angry and said we could not see the content.
“Having said that, we strongly resisted them from taking it in since they would not allow us to see it; they later agreed.
“We later got to know that the bag contained foreign currency which they brought to plant in the house of the ex-governor to incriminate him.”
According to the lawyers, the operatives, while collecting their phones, insisted that only one of the anti-graft agents would record the search, saying at the end of the operation, nothing incriminating was found in Ambode’s house except some documents, including the State Executive Exco Meetings Volumes 1-16.
The lawyers said the operatives were stopped from taking the documents away because they refused to record the items.
They stated further: “We followed them as they entered from one place to the other.
“When our presence was intimidating them, they said we should sit down while they do the search.
“We insisted that we must follow them to observe every of their activities on the premises.
“To our greatest consternation, the officials of the EFCC, led by Rotimi Oyedepo, Esq, held on to our phones and told us to follow them to their office in Ikoyi to get our phones.
“All efforts to get back our phones were abortive, as the officials rushed into their white Hiace bus with our phones and instructed that since we had resisted their efforts to take the said blue bag into the main premises of the ex-governor, they would hold on to the phones.
“Thus, almost six phones were forcefully taken away, iPhones inclusive.”
Ambode Urges Calm
Meanwhile, Ambode yesterday urged his supporters and the general public to remain calm and law-abiding as there was no cause for the alarm over the search of his residence by the EFCC.
Ambode, in a statement by his media aide, Mr. Habib Aruna, noted that the anti-graft agency conducted the exercise without any incident.
He said the commission, till date, was yet to open any direct communication with him on any issue, adding that he was ready and willing to respond if or when they do so.
He said: “This morning, operatives of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission visited the Epe Country home and Parkview Ikoyi residence of Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, former Governor of Lagos State, with warrants to conduct a search. These searches were carried out extensively and at the end of the exercise the operatives left without any incident.
“The former governor reiterates that the EFCC has till date not had any direct communication with him on any subject matter whatsoever and if or when it occurs, he is ready and willing to respond.
“The former governor wishes to assure his supporters and the generality of Lagosians to continue to remain calm and law-abiding as there is no cause for alarm.”
The former governor reiterated his belief in the rule of law and due process and said he remained grateful for the opportunity to have served Lagos State diligently and conscientiously.
It would be recalled that Ambode, in an earlier response to allegations by the EFCC that it had frozen certain accounts linked to him, insisted that no account of his contained N9.9bn let alone being frozen by the commission as the suspected accounts were opened and operated by the Lagos State Government.
The EFCC had yesterday searched the residence of the former governor located at Oloja Estate, Papa, Epe, Lagos over N9.92 billion corruption allegation.
The operatives of the anti-graft commission also searched the residence of Ambode’s Chief of Staff, Mr. Olukunle Ojo, equally located in Epe, in connection with the same allegation.
THISDAY gathered that the operatives of the anti-graft agency entered into Ambode’s Epe residence about 9.00 a.m. in connection with three accounts of the Lagos State Government the agency froze a fortnight ago.
It was also learnt that the former governor, who had denied any personal connection with the three accounts, was not in the country at the time the operatives of the anti-graft commission entered into his residence and searched the entire building yesterday.
Before the anti-graft operatives completed the search of Ambode’s residence yesterday, residents trooped out in solidarity, protesting the action of the anti-graft commission.
The mass action compelled the anti-graft operatives to quickly conclude the ransacking of Ambode’s country home.
In telephone conversation with THISDAY yesterday, the spokesman of the EFCC, Mr. Tony Orilade, confirmed that the anti-graft operatives were in Ambode’s residence as part of the on-going investigation into his administration.
The spokesman explained that the anti-graft agency had received different petitions against Ambode, requesting it to investigate Ambode’s four years’ tenure in office.
He said the operation “is part of the on-going investigation. It is part of effort to unravel the allegations. Two weeks ago, the EFCC froze three accounts of the Lagos State Government opened during the Ambode administration.”
However, in a statement issued yesterday, the EFCC denied raiding Ambode’s residence as indicated in some media reports.
The statement said the commission “has since early hours of Tuesday been inundated with calls that operatives of the Commission raided Ambode’s residence
“We need to state for the records that the EFCC did not raid Ambode’s house. It is instructive that his administration, like other former governors, is under investigation, since they no longer constitutionally enjoy immunity against prosecution.
“The commission hereby states with high sense of responsibility that the operatives did not raid Ambode’s residence. Whatever the commission is presently doing with regards to the investigation is in line with its mandate and the rule of law.
“We wish to inform the social media to be circumspect in the reportage of any news with regards to investigation activities of the commission. As a tradition, the commission does not carry out investigation on the pages of the newspapers or through the media.
“Our operations are always covert until at a time when we file charges in court. Therefore, the attempt to cast the commission in a bad light is unacceptable as the EFCC will never engage in illegal act. We remain committed to the war against corruption.”
A Federal High Court presided over by Justice Chuka Obiozor had recently granted the EFCC an order, freezing of the sum of three accounts belonging to the Lagos State government over alleged N9.9 billion fraud.
The former governor had clarified that he did not have any personal link with three accounts of the state government.
He said the accounts in question that were frozen belong to the Lagos State government and not him or any individual.
“Those accounts were opened in the course of normal operations by the Lagos State Government for its administrative purposes and not for the former governor’s personal transactions as was being wrongly insinuated,” he said, explaining: “The accounts have been operated to ensure smooth operations of government activities by previous and present administrations. The former governor was not and will never be involved in any unauthorised use of government property and resources.”