Can Yusuf Put Ganduje on a Criminal Trial?

With the previous experience where governors failed to put their predecessors who were backed by the federal government on trial for corruption, Ejiofor Alike writes that the ongoing effort by Governor Abba Yusuf of Kano State to prosecute former governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, may be futile in view of Ganduje’s strong backing by the federal authorities due to his influential position as the National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress

The Kano State High Court has fixed April 17, 2024 for the arraignment of the immediate-past governor of the state and the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje, on bribery charges.

According to the court documents, Ganduje will be arraigned alongside his wife, Hafsat, who is a professor; his son, Umar; and five others before Justice Usman Na’aba, on eight counts, bordering on $413,000 and N1.38 billion bribery.

The state government said it had assembled 15 witnesses to testify against them.

Governor Abba Yusuf had on assumption of office accused Ganduje of misappropriating public funds and allocating plots of land to some members of his immediate family.

The APC national chairman and his family are not new to allegations of corruption.

As governor of Kano State, a video clip allegedly showing Ganduje stuffing his pockets with bales of dollars suspected to be kickback from contractors, was released to the public in October 2018 by the Publisher of Daily Nigerian, Mr. Ja’afar Ja’afar.

While the hands of the suspected contractor giving the person, claimed to be Ganduje the kickback, was clearly visible in the video, his face was carefully hidden.

His critics had thought that the video would deny him a second term in office but surprisingly, President Muhammadu Buhari on January 31, 2019 endorsed him for a second term, despite the weighty allegation.

However, Ganduje had denied being the person in the video, claiming through his Commissioner for Information, Malam Muhammad Garba, that if such video existed, it was at best cloned.

He later dragged Ja’afar Ja’afar and Penlight Media Limited to court for defamation of character and demanded the sum of N3 billion as damages.

But in a curious twist, Ganduje filed an application dated June 28, 2021 seeking to discontinue the court case.

Ja’afar Ja’afar and Penlight Media Limited did not object to the application to discontinue the case but demanded the sum of N400 million as part of terms to discontinue the suit, which was granted by the Presiding Judge, Justice Suleiman Na-mallam.

Another Kano State High Court had also ruled that the state House of Assembly lacked power to investigate Ganduje over the allegation.

The presiding judge, Ahmad Badamasi said the lawmakers had no capacity to probe the bribery allegation because it was a criminal offence.

Badamasi stated that collecting bribes from contractors is a criminal offence, according to sections 115 and 116 of Penal Code, and should be left for agencies under executive arms such as the police and the Economic Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) to investigate.

But the EFCC said its hands were tied because the governor enjoyed constitutional immunity from criminal proceedings.

Ganduje’s family later faced another corruption allegation in July 2021, following the petition filed against the governor’s wife, Hafsat, by her first son, Abdulzeez Ganduje.

Abdulzeez had dragged his mother to the commission over a property, which he claimed the mother used her access to power to acquire.

The governor’s wife was grilled for over five hours in October 2021 by the EFCC over the allegation.

 However, the state government had promptly denied the arrest of the governor’s wife by the EFCC, describing it as mere rumour peddled by mischief makers.

With Ganduje’s election as the National Chairman of the APC, the various corruption cases died a natural death. 

But last Monday, Governor Yusuf urged the EFCC to release the result of its probe into the alleged dollar bribery video.

Yusuf, in a statement by his spokesperson, Sanusi Tofa, also urged Ganduje to prepare to face his criminal trial instead of talking about non-existent failure in the current administration.

In one of the charges, Ganduje was accused by the state government of demanding and receiving $200,000 bribes from one of the contractors around January 10, 2016 or thereabouts.

In the second count, he was accused of collecting $213,000 as kick-back from contractors on February 10, 2017.

Ganduje had, in a reaction to the scheduled arraignment, accused Yusuf of using diversionary tactics to cover up for his failure to deliver to the people of the state.

The APC national chairman, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Edwin Olofu, said the antics of the governor was a sorry attempt at shifting public glare from the fact that there was really nothing on the ground in the state to justify the sharp increase in statutory allocations to the state since the inception of the President Bola Tinubu-led administration on May 29, 2023.

Ganduje said: “In their desperate attempt to malign me and my family, they either forgot or probably cannot conduct themselves by the dictates of the law.

“They failed to take judicial notice of the recent pronouncement of the Federal High Court in Kano, which ruled that the so-called offence I am being accused of is a federal offence that can only be prosecuted by the Attorney General of the Federation and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission,” Ganduje added.

Ganduje’s Senior Special Assistant on Public Enlightenment, Chief Oliver Okpala, had also reportedly insisted that the matter was in the jurisdiction of the federal government, citing the judgment of the Federal High Court sitting in Kano.

 As the National Chairman of the ruling party, many believe that neither the EFCC nor any other agency of the federal government would likely subject Ganduje to any criminal trial and that may have accounted for his confidence in insisting that his alleged offence can only be prosecuted by the justice minister or the EFCC.

Also given the previous experience where governors failed to prosecute their predecessors, many also believe that Governor Yusuf’s effort will be futile, given the strong federal backing enjoyed by Ganduje.

In June 2022, the Rivers State Government, under former Governor Nyesom Wike filed criminal charges against former Governor Rotimi Amaechi who was the Minister of Transportation, over the alleged misuse of N96 billion, which allegedly accrued from the sales of state’s assets.

The Supreme Court had in May 2022, dismissed an application by Amaechi, challenging his probe by Wike’s administration.

But in October 2022, the state government withdrew the criminal charges against Amaechi, and six others.

Experience has shown that except in cases where the federal authorities move against a former governor, his successor cannot successfully put him on a criminal trial.

Events of April 17 and beyond will reveal if Governor Yusuf can successfully prosecute Ganduje for criminal offences, in view of his strong backing by the federal government.

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