By Chukwudi Nweje – Assistant Features Editor
Culled from Daily Independent
Monday, 25 November, 2013
The ongoing prosecution of Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji and his personal assistant, Oyebode Atoyebi by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has continued to generate differing reactions. Ikuforiji and Atoyebi have been on trial before a Lagos Federal High Court since March 1, 2012 on a 20-count charge bordering on money laundering. The anti-graft commission also alleged that Ikuforiji used his position to misappropriate about N500 million belonging to the legislature. Specifically, the EFCC alleges that the duo conspired between April 2010 and July 2011, to commit an illegal act of accepting cash payments amounting to N273 million from the Assembly, without going through a financial institution, an offences the anti-graft commission says contravened Section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011.
Incidentally, since March 1, 2012 when they were first charged before a Federal High Court in Lagos, it has been followed by intrigues and allegations of conspiracy. For s case of such magnitude, many expected that the commission would pursue the prosecution diligently. Rather, the case continued to suffer endless adjournments with trial judge, Justice Okechukwu Okeke who granted the Lagos Speaker bail on self recognition accused the EFCC and the prosecution of “deliberate act” to delay the trial, following which he adjourned indefinitely.
In fact, when he adjourned the case indefinitely in April this year, the judge noted that; “This matter has suffered series of adjournments all at the instance of prosecution. It is a deliberate attempt by prosecution to disrupt hearing in the case and blackmail this court. I hereby adjourn this case sine die (indefinitely). Whenever the prosecution is ready to diligently handle their case, hearing notices will be issued.” Unfortunately, this notice never came before he retired in May.
The Speaker has however been re-arraigned before a new judge, Justice Ibrahim Buba on June 24. The judge not only revoked the earlier bail on argument that he was not bound by the terms of the bail earlier granted to the accused by the former trial judge, he also imposed stiffer bail conditions. The judge initially imposed N5bn bail with two sureties in like sum but it took the intervention of counsel for the accused persons – Messrs Tayo Oyetibo (SAN) and Tunde Akinrimisi – for him to reduce the bail sum to N1billion each with two sureties in like sum for each of the accused. He also said each of the two sets of sureties must swear to an affidavit of means, even as he also gave Ikuforiji and Atoyebi a 48-hour ultimatum to meet the bail conditions or be remanded in prison pending when they would perfect the conditions.
The Speaker was able to perfect his bail conditions within the time-frame and escaped going to prison, but varying views have continued to trail his prosecution. While some people believe that the trial is in line with the anti corruption crusade of the Federal Government, others think it is politically motivated. For instance, the Speaker’s admirers accuse the Lagos State Government of engineering the travails of the Speaker. Specifically, they accuse forces loyal to Governor Babatunde Fashola of being behind the Speaker’s ordeal as they argue that the Speaker is being punished for the role he played during the allegations of corruption peddled against the State Governor by a group called, The True Face of Lagos in 2010.
It would be recalled that in January 2010, the True Face of Lagos had made series of corruption allegations against the State Government especially regarding the budgeting processes which it said has not impacted on the lives of the people. It is also recalled that following the allegations, various civil society organisations including the Coalition Against corrupt Leaders (CACOL) put pressure on the Lagos State House of Assembly to not only launch an investigation into the allegations by way of performing its oversight functions, but to also investigate its self since it is part and parcel of the State Government.
However, while the House inquest was ongoing the legislators were ordered to halt their investigation following a suit filed by another group questioning why the legislators were acting on the report of a faceless group. In fact, CACOL had condemned the court verdict halting the Assembly’s inquiry, arguing that the State Government must answer to the people who elected it. It urges that the state government should explore the instrument of a State of the State Address to respond to the allegations levelled against it, insisting that the continued silence of the government “shows that our government cares less about what we the people think about how well or otherwise we are governed.”
The investigation had exposed Governor Fashola to an impeachment threat from the House of Assembly, even as Speaker Ikuforiji was seen as the arrow head. Some Ikuforiji sympathisers believe that the ongoing prosecution of the Speaker is designed to discredit his image and weaken his political structure in the face of his alleged interest in contesting the governorship of the state in 2015.
However, even as the intrigues continue, the CACOL which is one of the civil society groups that in 2010 agitated that the House of Assembly should not only investigate the allegations of the True Face of Lagos against the State Government but should also probe itself has explained its silence on the allegations and counter allegations trailing the EFCC prosecution of the Speaker.
In a recent encounter with Daily Independent, Debo Adeniran, Executive Chairman of the group said that after studying the allegations against the Speaker, they found out that the allegations against the Speaker bothered more on failure to follow administrative requirements, rather that core acts of corruption and misappropriation of funds. According to him, the anti-graft agency has so far not been able to establish that there are missing public funds nor have they traced any to the Speakers private account. He argues that until there it is established that the Speaker transferred public funds into his private account, it will be difficult to establish a case of corruption against him.
Adeniran also argued that there could be some politicking in the case as some people allege, considering that there are several other cases of alleged corruption that are pending. For instance, he says the N39 billion spent on the construction of the cable bridge at Lekki, in Lagos is “an absurd of the highest order” and a drain on the tax payers’ money. He said that the amount spent on the cable bridge could have been judiciously used to construct of road somewhere else in the city. He said the construction of bride which he argues was not approved by the House of Assembly is an act of corruption, adding that if the EFCC were serious about fighting corruption, it would have investigated the petition on the huge amount spent on the bride and all other over bloated projects preceding that against the Speaker.
“What we discovered in the case against the Speaker is that the charges against him bother on administrative lapses. We believe that there is a little bit politicking in that case. The allegation of N7billion fraud initially filed against him has been reviewed downwards. How can the EFCC take up the case with dispatch when the allegation against the State Government preceding that of the Speaker has not addressed,” he asks. Adeniran also blamed the EFCC for the seeming intrigues that have dogged the case, arguing that the commission should have had all their facts before charging the Speaker to court.
Like the adage says that when two elephants fight, the grass suffers, Adeniran also argues that Lagosians are at the receiving end of whatever intrigues playing out in the EFCC prosecution of the Speaker of the State Assembly. He says that the executive and the legislative arms of government have concentrated so much effort on the matter that the welfare of the people has been relegated.
For Adeniran, the way forward is for the EFCC to insulate its self from politics and prosecute cases of corruption diligently. He also advises that all the actors imbibe democratic values which recognise the people as giving the government its legitimacy, arguing that all the arms of government must be answerable to the people.