BY TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI; SEYI TAIWO OGUNTUASE || INDEPENDENT (www.independent.ng)
Eight out of 109 Senators in Nigeria are facing various criminal cases and are being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Three of the Senators belong to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), four are also from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) while one is from the relatively new Young People’s Party (YPP). Some of the Senators are chairmen and co-chairmen of sensitive Senate committees recently announced by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan.
The Senators who constitute about 10 percent of the members of the upper legislative chamber are the ones responsible for making laws for the country. The Senators are Theodore Orji, (Abia Central, PDP); Orji Uzor Kalu (Abia North, APC); Ifeanyi Ubah (Anambra South, YPP); Adamu Aliero (Kebbi Central, APC); Stella Oduah ((Anambra North, PDP); Sam Egwu (Ebonyi North, PDP); Gabriel Suswam (Benue North East, PDP) and Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa West, APC). Senator Abdullahi is the new Committee Chairman on Agriculture, Aliero is in charge of Works, Oduah cochairs Appropriation, Egwu oversees Housing while Orji Uzor Kalu, the Chief Whip of the Senate is the co-chairman for Banking, Insurance and Other Financial Institutions. Section 66 (1a-i) of the 1999 Constitution bars certain categories of Nigerians from being members of the National Assembly.
The Constitution says: “A person shall be unworthy to make laws for the country if he has been indicted for embezzlement or fraud by a judicial commission of inquiry or an administrative panel of inquiry or a tribunal set up under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act, Tribunals of Inquiry Law or any other law by the federal or state government which indictment has been accepted by the federal or state governments respectively”.
Members of secret societies, persons with forged certificates, and un-discharged bankrupts are also disqualified from becoming lawmakers.
While none of the eight Senators is yet to be convicted based on the above provisions of the law, many of them face criminal and sundry charges that cast doubts on their integrity. The High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Gudu, Abuja, on June 11, 2018, sentenced a former Governor of Plateau State and serving senator, Joshua Dariye, to 14 years imprisonment on charges of criminal breach of trust and misappropriation of overN1.16 billion belonging to the state.
However, on November 15, 2018, the Court of Appeal in Abuja reduced the jail term to 10 years.
Orji Uzor Kalu In 2007, the EFCC in case number FHC/ABJ/ CR/56/07, accused the former Abia State Governor alongside others for money laundering allegedly committed when he was the Governor of Abia State.
On August 28, 2019, Kalu and two others rested their case in their 12-year trial for an alleged fraud of N7.65 billion.
Justice Mohammed Idris, sitting at the Federal High Court in Lagos, directed the prosecution and the defence to file their final written addresses.
Theodore Orji Orji, the Senator representing Abia Central, was a former Governor of Abia State (2007-2015). He was also a former Permanent Secretary. Orji served as the Chief of Staff to former Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu.
While serving in that capacity, Orji was alleged to have been the conduit through which Abia State was defrauded during the eight-year reign of his estranged godfather, Kalu.
The Senator was linked to the withdrawal of N5.6 billion in cash from the state’s accounts in the Guarantee Trust Bank, against the regulation of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). He was arrested and detained by the EFCC.
While in EFCC cell, Orji won the governorship ticket of the Progressives People Alliance (PPA), and subsequently the election. Orji was still in EFCC detention a few days to his swearing in 2007.
It was, however, the Court of Appeal in Lagos, that issued an order for him to be released on time to be inaugurated as governor. Being a governor, he enjoyed constitutional immunity for eight years. Orji is yet to be cleared of the charges of fraud.
Gabriel Suswam is a former Governor of Benue State and Senator representing Benue East. He is facing three separate charges of money laundering, diversion of public funds and unlawful possession of firearms.
Suswam is alleged to have diverted N3.1 billion of the state’s shares from the sale of Benue Cement Company Limited.
He is also facing a three-count charge of alleged possession of one Gloek Pistol with serial number KML 275, one mini-rifle with serial number 54976 and one AK 47 rifle with serial number 5622620063, without lawful authority in February 2017, at Dunes Investment and Properties Limited, No. 44 Aguiyi Ironsi Way, Maitama, Abuja.
The Senator was also alleged, to have been found with 29 rounds of 40 MBG Winchester Ammunition and 56 rounds of 7.66 live ammunition. He is also facing a 32-count charge of diversion of e-Investment Programme (SURE-P) funds of the state with his former Commissioner for Finance, Omodachi Okolobia and an administrator in the State Government House, Janet Aluga. Suswam is yet to be cleared of the alleged fraud charges.
Adamu Aliero Senator Aliero represents Kebbi Central and is a former Governor of Kebbi State. Some citizens of Kebbi State, including Sani Dododo, Abubakar Kane and one Mungadi had in December 2006, February 2007 and August 2007, petitioned the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the EFCC to investigate the former Governor over alleged theft of N10.2 billion funds belonging to the state.
While the matter was yet to be settled, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua appointed Aliero the FCT minister. The appointment irked the citizens who later petitioned a Federal High Court in Abuja and caused the EFCC, and the ICPC to summon Aliero. Just like others, Aliero is yet to be cleared of the charges.
Stella Oduah Oduah is the Senator representing Anambra North and former Minister of Aviation. While serving as Minister of Aviation, Oduah courted many controversies including allegation of certificate forgery and was indicted for corruption by the House of Representatives.
In a report of its investigative hearing, the House found that Oduah approved the purchase of two armoured BMW cars for a whopping N255 million. Among other things, the report revealed that there was no appropriation for the purchase.
It also revealed that due process was not followed in the procurement. While the controversy over the illegal purchase of the two armoured vehicles was yet to settle, another scandal broke out over the Masters in Business Administration, MBA Degree and PhD she claimed to have gotten.
It was found out that Oduah obtained the MBA from a school, which has never had a Masters’ programme, and in the same year in which she was serving in the National Youth Service Corps in Nigeria. Since she could not have obtained the MBA from the school because the institution never had such a programme, it meant Oduah forged the paper she submitted as certificate. On the PhD claim, it was found that the ‘awarding’ institution does not exist.
Following widespread public outcry, President Goodluck Jonathan relieved her of the ministerial job and she went back to Anambra and contested and won the Anambra North Senatorial seat. The Senator has not been cleared of the allegations yet.
Sam Egwu He is the Senator representing Ebonyi North Senatorial District, Ebonyi State and former Governor of the State. In July 2007, a group, which called itself the Coalition for Good Governance in Ebonyi State, wrote to late President Yar’Adua, a copy of which was sent to the EFCC, accusing Egwu of stealing billions of funds belonging to the state.
The first of the allegations against Egwu was false declaration of assets. In his assets declaration form, dated July 21, 1999, Egwu claimed that he had three buildings located in Amoffia Ngbo, Ezzamgbo and Abakaliki, all valued at N15 million.
But Egwu’s accusers challenged him, claiming that it was a lie fabricated to cover up intended and pre-determined fraudulent acquisition of property while in office.
They alleged that Egwu, both as a lecturer at the then Enugu State University of Technology, Abakaliki campus (now Ebonyi State University) and later Commissioner for Education, had no personal house at Abakaliki, the state capital, or his town, Amoffia.
They insisted that the university accommodated him at its quarters, an address he used even as Governor, when he sought for a loan of N71.5 million from the erstwhile Allstates Trust Bank on May 7, 2003. The group listed several other alleged criminal acts.
While the EFCC arrested and detained the former Accountant General of the state, Linus Nwankwo, the former governor, under whose government Nwankwo served, was untouched.
Abdullahi Adamu Adamu is a former Governor and Senator representing Nasarawa West, Nasarawa State. He was arrested by the EFCC on February 23, 2010, over alleged fraudulent award of contracts and stealing of public funds estimated at N15 billion.
He was arraigned by the EFCC on March 3, 2010, alongside 18 others, on a 149-count charge of fraud amounting to N15 billion.
While he has made several attempts at getting the courts to drop the charges, Adamu has met brick wall but these have not dampened his morale and barred him from sitting in the “hallowed” chambers of the Nigerian Senate to make laws since 2011. His case is on interlocutory appeal. Trial is yet to commence.
Ifeanyi Ubah He is the Senator representing Anambra South in the Senate. He is also the only Senator that won election on the platform of the Young People’s Party (YPP).
The Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal recently cleared the EFCC to continue its investigation and possibly prosecute Capital Oil and Gas Limited and its Managing Director, Ubah, for their alleged complicity in a N43.29 billion fraud perpetrated through the petroleum subsidy scheme.
The EFCC and the police had leveled against Ubah and his company allegations of obtaining subsidy payments by false pretences, stealing, money laundering and forgery with respect to the alleged fraudulent payment of N43.29 billion in the transactions conducted in 2011.
A unanimous judgment of a three-man bench of the Court of Appeal headed by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson clearing Ubah for probe and trial was delivered on May 12, 2017. The lead judgment of the appeal court was prepared by Justice Emmanuel Agim, and was consented to by Justice Akomolafe-Wilson as well as the other member of the appeal panel, Justice Tani Yusufu. The judgment is yet to be upturned by the Supreme Court.
Speaking to SUNDAY INDEPENDENT on why people with criminal records are allowed to contest elections in Nigeria, pan Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, said politics in Nigeria has become a criminal project where criminals carry out their nefarious activities without consequences.
Yinka Odumakin, the organisation’s National Publicity Secretary gave the example of a Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIGP) who raised the alarm that there are criminals in the Senate after sighting a criminal he once arrested on the floor of the red chamber.
“Politics in Nigeria has become a criminal project and that is why notorious criminals now see it as a place to carry out their expeditions without consequences.
“Hope you have not forgotten that Senator Nuhu Aliyu, a former DIG of police once stood up on the floor of Senate to say there were criminals on the floor of the red chambers?
“He was said to have seen an armed robber he once apprehended as a distinguished Senator. That would be the trend until we sanitise the political environment,” said Odumakin.
On his part, Prof. Tunde Adeniran, a former Minister of Education, argued that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should do more at ensuring that only qualified candidates with no criminal records are allowed to participate in elections.
“The rules are there. I believe so much in the rule of law. I believe that INEC as the electoral umpire should do more thorough work in determining who go for elections and who does not.
“A situation in which some people go for election and they say because they have won, then you cannot bring up their criminal past doesn’t augur well for the sanity of the democratic process. More work should be done to make sure that only those qualified on the basis of our constitution and on the basis of the electoral guidelines are allowed to take part in elections,” he said.
Comrade Femi Aborishade, on his part, stated that having many persons standing criminal trials in the National Assembly has no legal implications because until the court finds them guilty, they are presumed innocent.
“But it has moral connotations and negative implications. First, it diminishes the moral authority of the National Assembly and lowers the respect and profile of Nigeria within the international community, which would also impact on the standing of individual Nigerians when they travel internationally.
“As far as the quality of legislations emanating from the National Assembly is concerned, those who face criminal trials may also be easily compromised to support bills, which are anti-people as conditions for discontinuing such trials.
“Moreover, it sets a bad moral tone for younger generations who may draw the conclusion that honesty does not count as standards to aim at in a country in which corrupt people can attain any height politically as long as they have the financial muscle to buy their way through.
“Until recently, persons who were indicted on ground of corruption by administrative commissions of inquiry could not stand for any election. But the Constitution was amended to the effect that provisions, which disqualified indicted persons from being elected, were deleted from the Constitution. There is a need
to reintroduce into the Constitution provisions that would prohibit persons indicted for corrupt enrichment from standing for elections until such persons are cleared by the judicial system,” Aborishade said.
Barrister Oladotun Hassan, Chairman, NBA Lekki Forum, said trial is not conviction. He said, “It is a known fact in our acquisitorial system of justice, which presumes an accused innocent until proven otherwise (Either Guilty or Not Guilty).
“It is upon these facts that the legal rights of the Senators standing trials at various courts, while standing for election, are legally right but morally wrong.”
Another lawyer, Goddy Uwazurike, equally posited that every accused person or defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. According to him,
“This is a fundamental right of every one
in this country. It is guaranteed by the 1999 constitution as amended. This country as we all know is guided by the constitution. The Senators you are referring to have not been convicted. They have the legal rights to contest for any post.
“I believe that moral and legal rights are not always conterminous. The legal right is straightforward but moral right looks beyond the letters of the law. The anger of some people is also that some of the new ministers have questionable records.”
Wale Ogunade on his part said, “It is an issue that needs serious attention and unfortunately we don’t see this thing curbing up because these people will continue to dominate the National Assembly and such law when it wants to come up cannot come up because you cannot take it away that people like this will not find their way into the corridors of power.”