The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has detained the Resident Electoral Commissioner of Abia State, Mr. Sylvester Ezeani, for his alleged role in the N23bn ($115m) that was disbursed by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, during the build-up to the 2015 presidential election.
According to the EFCC, the suspect allegedly received N20m out of N241m while he was the REC in Cross River State during the March 28 presidential and National Assembly elections.
An EFCC operative told one of our correspondents on Tuesday that the REC had failed to explain what the N20m was meant for and had thus been detained.
He said, “The REC was on Tuesday interrogated by operatives of the EFCC in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, in connection with an alleged N20m electoral scam.
“While serving in Cross River State, he was alleged to have collected the sum of N20m out of the entire N241,000,000, which was released to Cross River State from the controversial $115m lodged in a bank by Diezani.
“Ezeani, who has now been redeployed to Abia State, was quizzed over his involvement in the scam. He is still in custody.”
The commission also quizzed the lawmaker representing Oron Federal Constituency in Akwa Ibom State, Nse Ekpenyong, for his alleged involvement in a certificate forgery scam.
According to the anti-graft agency, Ekpenyong ran into trouble when a non-governmental organisation petitioned the EFCC, alleging that he committed perjury and financial crimes by submitting a forged National Diploma/statement of result of the Abia State Polytechnic to the Independent National Electoral Commission in the build-up to the 2015 National Assembly election.
The petitioner also alleged that Ekpenyong fraudulently obtained salaries, allowances and other financial benefits through his contrived certificate.
A detective at the commission added, “Investigations by the EFCC showed that Ekpenyong did not attend the polytechnic as alleged by the petitioner and the ND did not emanate from the institution.
“Further investigations are ongoing on the case. Ekpenyong has been released on bail.”
Meanwhile, a Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Fred Agbaje, says the concern expressed by President Muhammadu Buhari over delay in the trial of corruption cases is a serious indictment on the judiciary.
Agbaje, who said this in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents on Tuesday, pointed out that it was up to the judiciary to redeem itself and change the negative perception.
The lawyer was reacting to the President’s call on the judiciary to support his anti-graft war by ensuring that criminal cases in court were not delayed but expeditiously concluded.
Buhari reportedly spoke at the opening ceremony of an ‘‘International Workshop on the Judiciary and Fight against Corruption.’’
The two-day event was jointly organised by the National Judicial Institute and the Prof. Itse Sagay-led Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption with the theme, ‘The Roles of Judges in the Fight Against Corruption.”
The President was quoted to have called on the judiciary to put its house in order, tackle corruption in the judiciary, be impartial and politically-neutral, remove causes of delay in adjudication of cases and stop tolerating the dilatory tactics of defence lawyers that prolonged high-profile corruption cases.
Speaking on Tuesday against the background of Buhari’s comment, Agbaje said, “It is a serious indictment to say the courts are the ones encouraging delay tactics to frustrate the hearing of corruption cases. It is a serious indictment on the judiciary. It is now for the judiciary to redeem itself.”
Agbaje, however, said the executive, through the anti-corruption agencies and the police, should also share in the blame.
But a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Godwin Obla, frowned on a situation where the President would blame the judiciary for the delay in corruption cases, adding that the delays were caused by some procedural challenges in the country’s laws.
Obla stated, “The President is less than two years in the saddle and I do not think that his opinion as to whether time is wasted or time is not wasted reflects the true position of the law. The truth of the matter is that there are procedural challenges in our laws and some of us have repeatedly spoken about it.
“The fact that someone is facing trial does not mean that we will abridge their right to actually defend themselves. They have the right to defend themselves; and at times in the course of doing so, they rely on unorthodox techniques of delaying trial, but it is within their right and it is within the confines of the law.
“Mr. President cannot indict the judiciary. Just as he is complaining that it is actually taking long for criminal cases to be decided, Nigerians are also saying that it is taking too long for the promises that he made to be fulfilled. It is not a one-way traffic.
“The law does not work in the way it works in the military. This is a democracy. The courts have tried, they’ve brought out certain practice directions, they are making certain levels of progress but it is not overnight.
“If we want to make substantial progress, we must invest in practical amendment to our procedural rule of the court.”
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, had, in his speech at the Abuja event, promised that the judiciary would no longer dismiss cases of corruption against high-profile persons without trial.