By re-arresting Dimeji Bankole, former Speaker of the House of Representatives and slamming him with fresh charges, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is creating the impression that it is yet to thoroughly investigate the suspect’s case
Farida Waziri, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, chairman, once told the world that she would not follow the footsteps of her immediate predecessor by trying people on the pages of newspapers and arresting them without concluding investigations. It was her reaction to criticism of the slow pace of the anti-corruption crusade since her assumption of office in 2007.
But she seemed to have had a change of mind lately. Last Monday, operatives of the agency re-arrested Dimeji Bankole at the premises of an Abuja high court shortly after Justice Donatus Okorowo, granted his bail request. The former Speaker had been in detention since Sunday June 5. He, along with Bayero Nafada, his former deputy, was arraigned on 17 fresh charges at another high court in Asokoro.
Raising objections to the first 16-count charges against him and the manner the EFCC had dramatised his arrest and prosecution on the pages of newspapers, Bankole said last week that he was not guilty of the charges against him. He said he was being “vilified and demonised” unjustly by the anti-graft agency, arguing that he was neither an employee of the National Assembly, NASS, nor responsible in law for procurement on behalf of the NASS. The former Speaker also raised objection to his prosecution by Festus Keyamo, the EFCC counsel, arguing that only the attorney-general of the federation had the legal right to appoint a private prosecutor for EFCC, and the President was yet to appoint one.
In obvious sympathy with Bankole, David Mark, the Senate president, also condemned the new tactics of the EFCC, saying that the agency must first convict a suspect before condemning him in the public domain. Mark, who spoke through Victor Ndoma-Egba, former deputy leader of the Senate at a function last week, said arrests should not be “dramatised” until the suspect is convicted.
But Bankole and Nafada were docked again last Monday for “agreeing to approve the allowances and/or “running costs” of members of the House of Representatives in violation of the approved remuneration package for political, public and judicial office holders by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission and the extant revised financial regulations of the Federal Government of Nigeria 2009...”
The duo were charged with obtaining loan facilities to the tune of N40 billion from the United Bank of Africa and the First Bank of Nigeria, and disposing same “by indiscriminately increasing the allowances and/or running costs of members of the House of Representatives.” The two were also alleged to have “dishonestly misappropriated and disposed” part of the loan — a sum of N5.485 billion, obtained from UBA in August 2010. The charges contained details of the dates the loans were obtained and the allegations that they were dispensed to their colleagues in the House.
Keyamo had vehemently opposed bail for Bankole in the court of Justice Okorowo, arguing that the embattled former Speaker would jump bail. He had alleged, without evidence that Bankole had planned to sneak out of the country to evade arrest before operatives of the anti-graft agency picked him up.
It was curious that the EFCC opposed Bankole’s bail request and was not persuaded by Bankole’s status as a former Speaker of the House of Reps and a holder of a national honour of Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, CFR. Bankole, in his bail application, had pleaded with the court to grant him bail on self-recognition as a former Speaker, and a holder of a national honour of CFR. Adegboyega Awomolo, his counsel, had also dismissed allegations that Bankole planned to run out of the country and jump bail as ‘‘speculative.”
But Justice Okorowo agreed with Awomolo, and dismissed EFCC’s allegation as failing to meet the “demands of the Evidence Act,” and granted the bail request. But he was re-arrested immediately and brought to another high court presided over by Justice Suleiman Belgore, along with Nafada. Ruling on the bail application last Thursday, Belgore granted both suspects bail in the sum of N50 million each with two sureties in like sum and adjourned hearing till July 19, 2011.
But the question many are asking is whether the EFCC would arrest the remaining principal officers charged along with Bankole, but who are said to be at large. Some of those named by Bankole as beneficiaries of the N10 billion loan for which he was initially arrested have emerged as the new leaders of the seventh House of Representatives. Aminu Tambuwal is now the Speaker and Emeka Ihedioha, former leader of the House, is now the deputy Speaker.
Bankole himself has thrown the challenge to the EFCC when he said last week that those said to be at large are available in Abuja if Waziri wants to arrest them.
Although many see the prosecution of the former Speaker and his former deputy as desirable in the fight against corruption in public service, but they think prosecuting the others too would show the seriousness of EFCC. They also think the EFCC must get its acts together, investigate properly and prove beyond reasonable doubts all allegations made against the suspects. Otherwise, the anti-graft agency would only succeed in giving the impression that Bankole and Nafada are only paying for a different kind of sin.
It is suspected in some quarters that the fresh charges against Bankole could be a way of prolonging Bankole’s stay in EFCC’s custody. Femi Babafemi, spokesman of the agency, told the magazine last week that more charges would be filed as investigations yield new information. “We are investigating all allegations, and if there is need to invite anyone else, we shall do so,” he told the magazine. This is an indication that more charges could still be filed against the former Speaker and his deputy.
But Ibrahim Auta, the chief judge of the Federal Capital Territory, is unhappy that EFCC appears to be playing politics with the fight against corruption. He told Waziri last Monday that filing several charges against an accused in corruption cases would delay prosecution. He also frowned at the practice of amending charges during prosecution of suspects, saying it “contributed to dragging corruption cases in courts.” He urged the EFCC to conclude its investigations before suspects are brought to court. The EFCC under Waziri has been unable to successfully prosecute many corruption cases particularly those dealing with high-profile suspects like former governors and other politically exposed persons. The cases keep dragging on as the defending suspects exploit the commission’s penchant for amending charges to make case for adjournments. But Waziri who still believes the courts have not done enough to hasten trial has on several occasions stressed the need for the establishment of special courts to handle corruption cases.