Ibrahim Oyewale in Lokoja
The Kogi State Government has raised the alarm over what it described as a desperate attempt by “criminals masquerading as politicians” to tarnish the image of the immediate past Governor of Kogi State,Yahaya Bello, for selfish reasons, through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
The state government said, in its desperation, “which would leave Nigerians wondering who exactly is afraid of Yahaya Bello”, the EFCC had, in an amended charge, accused the former Governor of diverting Kogi State Government funds in September 2015, four months before he assumed the position of a Governor.
It said this was not only laughable but portrayed the EFCC as an agency infested with persons whose intents disagree with the noble intention of Mr. President to defeat corruption in Nigeria.
This was contained in a statement signed by the Commissioner for Information in Kogi State, Kingsley Fanwo, copy of which was made available to newsmen in Lokoja on Tuesday .
“The fact that the EFCC, in charge No. FHC/ABJ/CR/550/2022: FRN V. 1. Ali Bello 2. Dauda Suleiman, currently pending before Honorable Justice J.K. Omotosho of the Federal High Court, Abuja Division further amended the ‘Amended Charge’ to include in the count, the name of former governor Yahaya Bello, describing him as being “at large”, is ridiculous, laughable and portrays the EFCC as an agency infested with persons whose intents disagree with the noble intention of Mr. President to defeat corruption in Nigeria.
“Being ‘at large’ of course means that a person is evading arrest or is on the run and cannot be found after an attempt to arrest.
“For the sake of clarity, the original charge is against Ali Bello and Dauda Suleiman, Ali’s associate. The offence which Yahaya Bello is alleged to have committed upon which he has been named in the count is conspiracy to convert the total sum of N80,246,470,089.88 (Eighty Billion, Two Hundred and Forty Six Million, Four Hundred and Seventy Thousand, Eighty Nine Naira, Eighty Eight Kobo) which offence is said to have occurred on or about September 2015 in Abuja. His co-conspirators according to the Count are Abdulsalami Hudu (Kogi State Government House Cashier) described as being ‘at large’ too, Ali Bello and Dauda Suleiman.
“In the EFCC’s desperation to nail H.E Yahaya Bello, they forgot their thinking hammer at home.
“The Count of the offence is most laughable as the election that produced Yahaya Bello as Governor of Kogi was only conducted in November 2015. Indeed, Captain Idris Wada of the PDP held sway as Governor of Kogi State at the material time until he handed over to Yahaya Bello on the 27th day of January 2016.
“Yahaya Bello could therefore not have as of September 2015 conspired with anyone, including Abdulsalami Hudu, a Kogi Government House Cashier to convert any money belonging to the Kogi State Government. It is to be noted that Yahaya Bello before becoming the Governor of Kogi State had no financial dealings with the Kogi State Government which could have permitted him to convert monies belonging to the Kogi State Government, hence, one’s dismay at the allegation.”
The state government warned political actors to steer clear of Kogi State affairs and desist from their campaign of calumny “as the state government has not said its money is missing, and has been adjudged, both locally and internationally, as top in the area of transparency and accountability.”
The state government asked: “Why should Nigerians trust the leadership of the agency that made such a ridiculous, shameless and indefensible allegation? The Chairman of the Commission should tender unreserved apologies to the Nigerian people for making us a laughing stock in the comity of nations.”
It called on the President to step in to save the integrity of the EFCC from those “pushing the Commission into a fight that should be left to politicians.”
“The Kogi State Government under the leadership of His Excellency Alh. Ahmed Usman Ododo will continue to support the Renewed Hope Agenda of Mr President. We will also continue to promote probity, accountability and transparency and open our books to agencies and institutions constitutionally empowered to look into them. We will continue to win awards in transparency and accountability,” the state government added.
The journey did not begin today, according to Fanwo.
He said, “In 2021, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in a desperate bid to embarrass the Government of Kogi State then under the leadership of His Excellency Alh. Yahaya Bello, came out with a false claim that it had uncovered over N20 billion Naira of the state’s bailout fund in a Fixed Deposit Account in Sterling Bank. Emboldened by its innocence, the Kogi State Government wrote a letter to Sterling Bank for clarifications.
“The Bank came out clean that the State Government had no such account with it, rubbishing the blatant falsehood of the EFCC in a manner that was so embarrassing to the people and Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“But rather than apologize to the Government of Kogi State and the general public, the EFCC chose to harass the officials of Sterling Bank, coercing them to do everything possible to achieve the aim of roping the Kogi State Government into their ignominy ring. It ended with a conspiratorial exchange between the EFCC and the CBN. Today, Nigerians are not confused about the personae of Bawa and Emefiele.
“The sack of Bawa and the startling revelations that followed threw Nigerians into jubilation. Their hope was that EFCC will birth a new era of separating political vendetta from the actual fight against corruption. But recent happenings have shown that it isn’t war against corruption anymore but a clear manifestation of hired gun approach to hack down political opponents by certain elements within and outside the anti graft agency.
“This betrays the determination of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, GCFR to retool the agency and make it more vibrant in preventing and fighting corruption in a genuine and objective manner within the ambit of the rule of law.”
According to him, the current leadership of the EFCC has now continued to toe the path of the leadership of Abdulrasheed Bawa who woke up one day in August 2021, decided in his mind that the Kogi State Government had Twenty Billion Naira in an account, secured ex-parte, an Order of the Federal High Court, Lagos empowering him to direct the Manager of Sterling Bank Plc to freeze Account No. 0073572696 with the name Kogi State Salary Bail Out Account pending the conclusion of investigation or possible prosecution.
“They went on even when Sterling Bank through a letter addressed to the Kogi State Government dated 1st September, 2021 confirmed that ‘the Kogi State Government does not currently operate or maintain a Fixed Deposit Account with Sterling Bank’
‘There is no mandate letter from the Kogi State Government to open account number 0073572696 with Sterling’ and that ‘Sterling Bank account 0073572696’ is an internal (mirror) account operated by the Bank for purposes of managing the Kogi State salary bailout facility,” he said.
The state government added, “While the EFCC’s suit was withdrawn and the Order of Court vacated upon a challenge by the Kogi State Government, the EFCC continued to issue press statements on all its social media platforms, attaching the pictures of H.E Yahaya Bello to those statements and insisting that the factual basis of their claim was genuine. To cover up the falsehood and their shame, the EFCC under Bawa compelled Sterling Bank Plc and the CBN under its embattled Governor Emefiele, to write letters confirming the return of funds belonging to the Kogi State Government to the CBN, when no such funds existed.
“The EFCC has since refused to answer to the suit filed against it since 2021 by the Kogi State Government and its officials challenging the falsehood on the issue of bailout funds. The EFCC has continued to maintain frivolous appeals even when the Court of Appeal had confirmed that the trial Court had the jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
“A similar modus operandi was employed by the EFCC with respect to the former first lady of Kogi State, Rashida Bello. She was named in the counts of offence and described as being at large in Charge No: FHC/ABJ/573/2022: FRN V. (1) ALI BELLO (2) ABBA ADAUDU (3) YAKUBU SIYAKA ADABENEGE (4) IYADI SADAT and was alleged to have conspired to criminally misappropriate over Three Billion Naira, funds allegedly belonging to some Local Government Areas of Kogi State. It is noteworthy that she was never invited by the EFCC or arrested before branding her as being ‘at large’.
“As usual, the EFCC employed rogue ‘news’ platforms who sensationalized the issue, claiming that the then First Lady has been charged to Court and was running from justice!”
The Kogi Government said the current leadership of the EFCC seemed to have picked up the gauntlet from where Bawa left it.
“They have started using their media cronies and other faceless blogs and rogue media handles to spread lies about H.E Yahaya Bello. The purpose of the current amendment of Charge No. 550/2022 is no doubt to allow their irresponsible bloggers gleefully but erroneously claim that Yahaya Bello has been charged to Court for the conversion of over 80 Billion of Kogi money, an offence which was allegedly committed when he was not yet a Governor.
“The unprecedented extent to which the EFCC is ready to go to tarnish the image of the Kogi State Government and also the image of the immediate past Governor, His Excellency Alh Yahaya Bello, has left much to be desired.
“It is in our character to fight in defence of the integrity of the Government and over 5 million Kogites whose common patrimony the Government allocates on their behalf. We are prepared to use the instrumentality of law to defend the integrity of the State Government.
“We urge the people of Kogi State to remain calm and law abiding in the face of relentless provocation by EFCC who is insisting that the money we used to build infrastructure in the state is missing. We will never lose a just battle,” the statement said.