EFCC vs. Yahaya Bello: Who Blinks First?

EFCC Yahaya Bello
By Richard Elesho

In and out of office as governor of a scruffy Kogi State, Alhaji Yahaya Bello is someone who hugs the limelight. Only a maverick politician of his standing could have sustained the level of public interest his battle with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has generated.

Going by their frosty relationship, not a few people had predicted that Bello would end up as an unwilling guest in a dingy EFCC territory soon after the expiration of his immunity on 27 January. They were wrong. Nearly two months later, although the cat and mouse enmity has not abated, none has come to captivity. Many groups have staged protests, counter-protests, and press conferences either in support of or against the arrest of the strong politician.

The anti-graft agency, however, continued its systemic move to tie the noose against the former governor on Thursday, 14 March, when he was charged in absentia for money laundering. He was charged along with his nephew, Ali Bello, and two others, Dauda Sulaiman and Hudu Abdulsalam. While Ali is also the Chief of Staff to incumbent governor Usman Ododo, Hudu, said to be at large, was a cashier in Government House and was recently elevated to Permanent Secretary in the state civil service.

In an amended 17-count charge, the quartet was accused of perpetrating money laundering, breach of trust and misappropriation of funds to the tune of N84,062,406,089.88 (Eighty-four Billion, Sixty-two Million, Four Hundred and Six Thousand, Eighty-nine Naira, Eighty-eight Kobo). They were brought before Justice James Omotosho of the Federal High Court, Maitama, Abuja.

The EFCC led evidence to show how Ali and Sulaiman fronted for the ex-governor in the purchase of a property valued at N950 million located in Danube Street, Maitama, Abuja. The money was allegedly paid in cash and mostly in hard currency.

Count one of the charges reads: “That you, Ali Bello, Dauda Suleiman, Yahaya Adoza Bello (still at large) and Abdulsalam Hudu (still at large), sometime in September 2015 in Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, conspired amongst yourselves 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 sum you reasonably ought to have known forms part of the proceeds of your unlawful activity to wit: criminal breach of trust and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 18(b) and punishable under Section 15(3) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 as amended.”

Both Ali and Sulaiman, who were in court, pleaded not guilty to the charge, and the matter was adjourned to 28 March for further adjudication.

The Kogi State Government immediately stood in the gap for the former first citizen. Kingsley Fanwo, Commissioner for Information and Communication, fired from all Salvo, explaining that no money was missing in the state and accusing the EFCC of persecuting the ex-governor. Fanwo, who had previously described the charge as laughable, argued that the alleged offence was committed in September 2015, more than three months before Bello became governor.

The Commissioner alleged that the antigraft agency was being manipulated against the former governor by forces in and around the presidency. Fanwo called on the agency to desist from mentioning the name of Kogi State in its ongoing persecution and on President Bola Tinubu to institute a special probe into what is happening in Kogi State.

Fanwo’s statement reads in part. “The desperation of the EFCC to hastily and for glaring political reasons, hound the immediate past Governor on their corruption list is unfortunate and speaks volumes on how we reward altruistic leadership in our nation. For the records, we wish to make it clear that Kogi’s funds are not missing and that the EFCC is trying so hard to find what is not missing.

“We therefore call on the EFCC to desist from mentioning the name of Kogi State in its ongoing persecution, orchestrated by some political actors in and around the Presidency bent on destroying the image of Alh. Yahaya Bello and Kogi State. We believe that this ignoble agenda is unknown to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu who trusted those people with power with the hope that they will use it judiciously for the greatness of our nation. Unfortunately, they have decided to use the privileges given to them as tools for political vendetta.

“The amended charges in which the name of the former Governor was mentioned are false, frivolous, fictitious, and far from the truth. They are cooked-up charges that signpost their desperation to call a dog a bad name to hang it. The intention was to sensationalize the whole scenario and promote a media war against the former governor and other officials of the government. We have seen how low EFCC and its paymasters can pander to the political agenda of those afraid of the rising profile of Alh. Yahaya Bello.

“The Kogi State Government wishes to call on Mr President to order a special probe into what is happening in Kogi State before the EFCC is pushed into being used as a hired gun by political hawks acting a selfish and overambitious script.

“As a government, we will continue to support the anti-corruption crusade of the federal government, however, such crusade should be based on the rule of law, purity of conscience and devoid of political scheming. We can not afford to politicize our fight against corruption. We will continue to have faith in the judiciary to protect our name and integrity.

“Those who have personal grievances can vent their grievances without dragging the name of Kogi State in the mud. Our government believes in transparency, accountability, and probity in line with the trend from 2016.

“We also wish to assure the good people of our State that nothing will be spared to protect the integrity of our government. Our administration will continue to act so that Kogites will be respected wherever they go and for us to retain the respect of our international development partners who have persistently commended our anti-corruption credentials.”

An analyst, Jibrin Sam Okutepa, SAN, said it was wrong for the state government to defend Bello. “Bello is no longer the governor of Kogi State. Therefore, the resources of Kogi State must not and should not be deployed to launder the image of Yahaya Bello by press states attributable to the Government of Kogi State.”

He noted that it is an abuse of office contrary to the 5th schedule to the 1999 constitution for Fanwo to use his office in defence and protection of the ex-governor who is not in employment of Kogi State as of today.

In the beginning

Both litigants, EFCC and Bello, are not new to each other. They have been at each other’s throats for quite some time. The genesis of their brawl was not long into the ex-governor’s second tenure journey. They went into their first angle-bangle in 2021 when the EFCC, under its former chair, Abdulrasheed Bawa, announced the discovery of a Kogi government fixed deposit account containing about N20 billion suspected to be part of the state’s salary bailout fund.

The EFCC had claimed it discovered N19.3 billion belonging to the Kogi government in a fixed deposit account with Sterling Bank, which was opened sometime in 2019. The funds in account 0073572696 with the name Kogi State Salary Bail Out Account were meant to pay salaries in the state and were allegedly not used for that purpose.

The state government denied opening the account and ownership of the money. It said further that its findings showed that it was a shadow account opened by the bank without its permission. After a diatribe, from the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN announced the forfeiture of the money in that account. However, the then-Bello administration sued the EFCC, CBN, and Sterling Bank for defamation of character and demanded N35 billion as damages. The status of that suit is not clear today.

The News reports that the EFCC and Bello have been in court over the ownership and forfeiture of 14 properties. Justice Nicholas Oweibo of Federal High Court, Ikoyi had, on Wednesday, February 22, 2023, granted an interim forfeiture of the properties in Lagos, Abuja and a hotel in the United Arab Emirates and also ordered the preservation of the sum of N400, 000,000.00 (Four Hundred Million Naira) recovered from one Aminu Falala, which “is reasonably suspected to have been derived from unlawful activity and intended to be used for the acquisition of Plot No. 1224 Bishop Oluwole Street, Victoria Island Lagos.”

The forfeiture order was later lifted based on the immunity Bello enjoyed then as governor. The EFCC went on appeal over the ruling.

In a related development, the EFCC at a time declared Bello’s wife wanted for money laundering and in a separate case reportedly seized the sum of $760,910.84 that Bello allegedly paid to American International School, Abuja, as prepaid school fees for four children until graduation, over alleged money laundering.

In all instances, the Kogi State Government described the anti-corruption agency as being meddlesome and yielding itself as a tool to witch-hunt Bello. Former chairman, Bawa’s inglorious end in the commission added vent to the persecution or blackmail apologia.

Who will blink first?

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