By Yusuph Olaniyonu, Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) to Senate President
EFCC Should Stop This Witch-Hunt Against Saraki
1. We have noted a statement issued yesterday by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in reaction to a news story published by a national newspaper, based on the letter written by the commission to the Kwara State Government in which it demanded for all details of salaries, allowances, estacode or any other entitlement enjoyed by Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, the President of the Senate, during his tenure as Governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011.
2. While we have kept quiet over the series of letters sent to various institutions where Dr. Saraki had served or is serving in which the commission stated that it is conducting various investigations, we are compelled to make our positions known on the less than noble and patriotic objectives behind these investigations because we believe it is a mere witch-hunt exercise, aimed at settling scores, laced with malicious and partisan motives.
3. We will first make clarifications to put a lie to some of the claims made by the EFCC in the statement issued yesterday. The EFCC claimed that “the commission’s letter to the Kwara State Government House, which sought an inquest into Saraki’s earnings as the state Governor, from 2003 to 2011 was dated Friday, April 26, 2019, predating his announcement as IHRC ambassador at large which came on Sunday, April 28, 2019 with two clear days”. It should be noted that the IHRC letter informing the Senate President of his appointment is dated March 16, 2019, that is about 40 days before the EFCC wrote its letter conveying the investigations to Kwara State Government House. In fact, the media team of the Senate President held on to the announcement of the appointment for several weeks so that we could do due diligence on it.
4. At this point, we need to remind members of the public that Dr. Saraki’s tenure as Kwara State Governor has been investigated several times since his last months in Office in 2010 till date. In fact, at a point, as incumbent Governor, he voluntarily waived his immunity and submitted to investigation and yet nothing was found against him. Also, members of the public should be reminded that during the proceedings of his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) between 2015 and 2018, it became clear that the evidence relied upon was from investigations conducted by the EFCC on his tenure as Governor and that is why the lead witness for the prosecution was an EFCC agent, Michael Wetkas. Yet, the CCT in its judgement dismissed the 16 charges filed against Dr. Saraki and that verdict was upheld by the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court.
5. This new investigation into his activities as Governor of Kwara State is a repeat performance. The EFCC is fishing for evidence that they did not get in the past investigations which has spanned almost nine years. However, we need to remind the Commission that Dr. Saraki is not an outgoing Governor. Since 2011, tens of governors have been in and out of our various State Houses. Like wise, hundreds of Senators and Representatives have been in and out of the National Assembly. To single out one individual for persistent investigation can only be logically and plausibly interpreted to be a witch-hunt. This is definitely no fight against corruption. It is a battle waged against a ‘political enemy’. It is a ‘label to damage’ plot.
6. Not satisfied with the reports submitted by its various teams which worked on the Saraki case in Ilorin and Lagos, the EFCC constituted a fresh team to investigate the Office of the Senate President and despatched another letter late last week to the Clerk of the Senate signed by Mohammed Umar Abba, Director of Operations, in which it requested for the following: “the Certified True Copies of the following: i) All Cash Books, Payment Vouchers, Contract Award Letters, Evidence of Contract Bidding, Agreement and Certificate of Contract Completion from 2015 to date. ii) Certified True Copies of all Financial Retirement made within the same period. iii) Any other information that may assist the Commission in its investigation”.
7. We observed that this type of letter was only written to the Office of the Senate President and not to both chambers of the National Assembly. Also, it is the first time such a letter is written to the office of the Senate President at the twilight of the tenure of the National Assembly indicating hostile investigation along these lines. None of his predecessors got such ‘exclusive’ treatment in which their office was investigated by state officials seeking to nail them at all cost. What EFCC does not know is that all the issues they are seeking to probe in the office of the Senate President are handled by the National Assembly Management, that is the bureaucracy of the federal legislature. The Senate President has nothing to do with such issues. However, in the eagerness and desperation to nail Dr. Saraki, they ignored even the basic facts upon which the entire investigation rests.
8. Some people who have called Dr. Saraki about the EFCC statement have wondered whether this is the Commission’s way of settling scores by blaming the non-confirmation of its acting chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, on the leadership of the Senate. For those who reason in this direction, our response has always been that the decision not to clear Magu was not a personal issue between both men. It was an institutional decision which was taken on a day that the public freely follows the proceedings through live coverage on television. This was done to avoid accusations that some people seized the process to deliberately deny Mr. Magu fair hearing.
9. Let it be known that the usual claim by the EFCC that its actions were directed against corrupt elements does not apply to Dr. Saraki because he is a man who at every point in his public service life has sought to institute transparency and accountability in governance. Dr. Saraki has always worked to promote transparency in governance in all the places he had held public office. For example, as Governor of Kwara State, he waived his immunity to enable his regime be probed and introduced the Price Intelligence Unit, the first by any state. This unit reduced leakages in government revenues. The idea was later adopted by the Federal Government as it became Bureau of Public Procurement(BPP).
10. Kwara State under his governorship was the first state to be rated by Fitch, the global rating agency which affirmed its National Long term rating at AA-(minus) and ratings of B+ in public finance transparency. In 2006, the EFCC under Mallam Nuhu Ribadu in a report presented before the Senate gave Kwara State under his tenure a clean bill of health, alongside five other states. At the end of his tenure in 2011, the anti- corruption agency did not find any reason to invite him for any questioning. It was more than a year after he left office when he moved the controversial motion calling for investigation into fuel subsidy that the EFCC first invited him for investigation and nothing came out of that effort. Again, Dr. Saraki in his first term in the Senate was the one who through a motion on the floor exposed the biggest fraud in the country then. That is the oil subsidy scam. Such a person can definitely not be said to be a corrupt element.
11. There is need to once again put it on record that the Eighth Senate led by Dr. Saraki has played key roles in institutionalizing the fight against corruption, which is the national objective for setting up the EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies. Among the bills passed to facilitate the fight against corruption include the National Financial Intelligence Agency Act, which, in-line with international best practices, created an autonomous Financial Intelligence Unit in the country that would allow Nigeria to have access to information relating to financial investigations in the 152 member countries of the EGMONT Group. The Senate got commendation from the Financial Intelligence Database Agency (ultrascan) for passing the NFIA Act and enabled the nation to be readmitted into the Egmont Group. In fact, the latest directive by the NFIA preventing Governors from accessing local government funds and banning banks from allowing transactions from State Joint Local Government Account without monies first reaching the accounts of the particular local government is also a derivative of the NFIA law passed by the Eighth National Assembly.
12. Another one is the Proceeds of Crime Bill which now pave the way for the country to become full member of the Financial Task Force (FATF). South Africa was the only African country on the task force before now. The Senate also passed the Federal Audit Services Commission Bill, which is aimed at empowering the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation to ensure that MDAs comply with the Fiscal Responsibility Act in the management of public funds and in the timely submission of their audited accounts for scrutiny. The bill came out of the oversight by the Senate in which it uncovered the fact that over 300 MDAs have not submitted their reports to the office of the Auditor-General in the past years. These are definitely not the acts that a corrupt element will prefer.
13. Other anti-corruption bills passed by the Eighth Senate include the Whistleblowers Protection Bill, which seeks to ensure that individuals that are in danger of reprisals in relation to whistleblower activities are protected under the law; Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act which sought to among other things identify, trace, freeze, restrain, recover, forfeit and confiscate proceeds, property and other instrumentalities of crime; Witness Protection Bill, which is geared at encouraging witnesses of crimes, especially organized crimes, terrorism or other crimes to come forward and assist government and its agencies by offering protection to witnesses willing to provide information, and evidence for the purpose of ensuring proper investigation.
14. These are more fundamental issues that can make permanent the anti-corruption war and remove it from the realm of whimsical pursuits. All these are legislative measures taken by the Eighth Senate led by Dr. Saraki to make the EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies more efficient, and generally, in aid of the fight against corruption.
15. It is to the credit of the Senate President and his colleagues in the Eighth National Assembly that there has not been any case of bribery scandal or misappropriation in the procurement process. Dr. Saraki promised more transparency on his inauguration as Senate President and the Eighth National Assembly has promoted transparency tenets in which the full details of its budget are now available for public scrutiny. The engagement of the Eighth Senate with the public in the process of conception, drafting and passage of bills are unprecedented.
16. Dr. Saraki led a senate where the leadership do not get involved in contract awards. It has initiated public hearing as part of the process for annual appropriations bill passage and has helped to make the legislative institution more responsive to the yearnings of the ordinary people.
17. While we do not wish to obstruct the EFCC in the performance of its tasks, we reiterate our position that the Commission should be professional, ethical, transparent and consistent. It cannot be deemed professional when the agency is not consistent in the application of its rules and the laws to all cases and individuals. The recent onslaught against the Senate President by the anti-graft Agency is definitely a case of different laws for different folks.