By GARUBA HAKEEM
With increasing speculation on the tenure of office of the Acting Executive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, the commission has recently been sending out mixed signals on its treatment of several persons accused of financial crimes under the Goodluck Jonathan Administration. While there have always been concerns about the selective prosecution of accused persons by the EFCC, some recent actions by the EFCC have buttressed this perception, fueling the belief that the Commission may be acting a script aimed at persecuting some persons who are believed not to be in the good books of the Government, while letting others off the hook.
A case in point is the recent Interpol arrest warrant executed against the former Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, SAN, in Dubai, which is believed to have been based on a request from the EFCC, even though the Judge who issued the initial warrant, Justice D. Senchi had quashed the warrant since October 25, 2019. Surprisingly, while the EFCC has gone ahead to seek Mr. Adoke’s extradition based on the quashed warrant, it has continued to develop cold feet with respect to Diezani’s extradition to Nigeria to face trial.
Prior to the arrest of Mr. Adoke in Dubai on 11th November, 2019, the EFCC had in a surprising twist withdrawn all charges against three accused persons – Nnamdi Okonkwo, Managing Director, Fidelity Bank, Lanre Adesanya, former Executive Director, Sterling Bank and Stanley Lawson, former Group Executive Director, NNPC, regarding the alleged transfer of US$153 million. While the charges allege, that the transfer was done on behalf of Mrs. Diezani Allison Madueke, they do not show any nexus between the accused persons and in particular, Mr. Dauda Lawal and Diezani. Although, this is the only case in which Diezani has been directly mentioned, the EFCC is yet to formally arraign any of the accused persons, since it first filed the charges in November 2018. Yet at the last sitting of the Court on November 5, 2019, the Commission surprisingly withdrew charges against the principal accused persons and only charged the former Executive Director, First Bank, Mr. Dauda Lawal with sundry charges of money laundering in an amended charge.
Mr. Lawal’s case in particular, is quite intriguing, as he is not accused of been a beneficiary of any of the funds allegedly transferred on behalf of Diezani, rather he is accused of having facilitated the transfer of the funds in the course of normal banking operations. Mr. Lawal was the Executive Director, Public Sector at First Bank, in which role he was responsible for dealing with government agencies and officials and it is believed that his close relations with top officials in the Goodluck Jonathan administration is the reason for his current travails with the EFCC. Mr. Lawal was first arrested by EFCC in May, 2016, where he spent weeks with the EFCC and was subsequently released without any charges. After resigning from First Bank, he joined politics and declared his intention to run for Governor in Zamfara State, it was only after his declaration to run for office that the EFCC revived the case of 2016 and again arrested him in 2018, where he was detained for another two weeks without any Court order. Since commencing its investigation into the alleged transfer of US$153 million, the Commission is yet to arraign the accused persons and take a plea from them.
This latest action of the EFCC in withdrawing charges against Nnamdi Okonkwo, Lanre Adesanya and Stanley Lawson, but retaining only Mr. Dauda Lawal, has again brought to the fore the inconsistent approach of the EFCC to some of its cases. In some instances, such as that of Mr. Adoke and Mr. Lawal, the EFCC is seen to be bullish in its approach, while it treats other cases with kid gloves, which opens the Commission to charges of bias, political persecution and trial by media. In particular some legal experts have posited that the EFCC has no actual intention of trying Mr. Lawal, before the Courts, but is rather using the charges to harass him and deter him from pursuing his claims against EFCC to recover some funds that were wrongly seized from him. One issue that is confusing is the withdrawal of charges against accused persons who are physically available for trial in Nigeria and substituting them with persons such as Ben Otti and Diezani Allison Madueke who are both stated on the charges to be at large and are therefore not available for trial.
It is even more curious that Nnamdi Okonkwo, Lanre Adesanya and Stanley Lawson and Dauda Lawal were charged with the same offences, yet the others were discharged from the case, while fresh charges were filed against Dauda Lawal. The EFCC is a body funded by taxpayers and the burden of transparency and responsibility is on the Commission to prove that they have not truly become an agent of witch-hunt and for settling personal scores.
It is therefore widely believed that this recent act of the EFCC in Diezani’s case and others will only fuel the belief that the EFCC may be subject to political and extraneous influence in its choice of persons to prosecute for alleged financial crimes, while letting others with even worse allegations off the hook. Political watchers are of the view that Mr. Magu is acting out a script towards achieving a particular end and that time will reveal all.