The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Thursday, May 18, 2023, raised the alarm of a campaign by politically exposed persons under the Commission’s investigation for alleged corrupt practices to discredit the agency and its leadership.
The Commission made the disclosure while responding to a statement credited to the Governor of Zamfara State, Bello Muhammed Matawalle, in which he criticized EFCC’s investigation of state governors and alleged corruption in the agency’s handling of assets disposal and plea bargain processes.
But Osita Nwajah, Director Public Affairs of the Commission who addressed journalists at the Commission’s headquarters, Abuja, said Matawalle’s outburst was tantamount to corruption fighting back, as the governor is under investigation for alleged corruption that bordered on contract fraud and diversion of funds meant for the execution of projects in the local government areas to the tune of N70billion.
According to him, “What is at play here is a pure case of corruption fighting back. Matawalle’s outburst is a product of paranoia- an uncomfortable exertion arising from the heat of EFCC’s lawful activities.
“The Commission would like to put the nation on notice to expect more of the kind of wild allegations made by Matawalle as those at the receiving end of EFCC’s investigations, fight viciously back”.
He said the attack by the governor did not come as a surprise to the Commission, as it has become the trend for corrupt elements to attempt to destabilize the commission’s leadership during periods of political transition,
“These shenanigans are not strange. They appear to play out in cycles, particularly when the nation is in political transition. Virtually all the predecessors of the incumbent EFCC chairman suffered similar indignity at the hands of politically exposed persons under investigation for corruption. Who among the former chairmen of the Commission was not accused of pilfering recovered assets?”
The full text of the briefing is reproduced as follows:
The attention of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC has been drawn to a statement credited to the Governor of Zamfara State, Bello Muhammed Matawalle, in which he attempted to cast aspersion on the integrity of the EFCC’s fight against corruption by making farcical allegations of corruption in assets disposal and plea bargain procedure, among others.
These claims ought not to be dignified with a response. What is at play here is a pure case of corruption fighting back. Matawalle’s outburst is a product of paranoia- an uncomfortable exertion arising from the heat of EFCC’s lawful activities.
However, for the sake of some gullible citizens who might be swayed by the governor’s sudden burst of crusading zest, a measured response has become imperative to expose Matawalle’s outburst for what it is, a hollow gambit to deflect attention from the real issue.
The issue has nothing to do with the transparency of EFCC’s asset recovery and disposal process. Contrary to the claims by Matawalle, the Commission supervised an asset disposal exercise that was widely acclaimed as the most transparent in the country’s history. Proceeds of the open and transparent exercise have since been remitted into the coffers of the Federal Government, and are being deployed in the provision of infrastructure for Nigerians.
The issue is also not about plea bargains. Indeed, it is hypocritical for Matawalle to rile a process for which he has been a beneficiary. A plea bargain is a practice established by law, and the Commission has never gone outside of the law in the application of this principle. If Matawalle has any evidence of abuse of the plea bargain process, he is at liberty to make the disclosure.
It is intriguing that Matawalle would want to take on the role of a supervisor, who tells the EFCC whom to investigate. Is this a case of a “’ thief’’ saying he must not be touched until other ‘’thieves’’ are caught? Unfortunately, it is not within Matawalle’s remit to dictate to the EFCC whom to arrest, when, and where. Suspects in the custody of the Commission cut across all sectors and social classes. The qualification to get a space in the Commission’s detention facility is to commit a crime. It does not matter whether you are a priest, Imam, Governor, or minister. Currently, a former minister of power is in the custody of the EFCC over an N22 billion corruption allegation. That conveniently did not attract Matawalle’s attention.
Of course, these shenanigans are not strange. They appear to play out in cycles, particularly when the nation is in political transition. Virtually all the predecessors of the incumbent EFCC chairman suffered similar indignity at the hands of politically exposed persons under investigation for corruption. Who among the former chairmen of the Commission was not accused of pilfering recovered assets?
The Commission would like to put the nation on notice to expect more of the kind of wild allegations made by Matawalle as those at the receiving end of EFCC’s investigations, fight viciously back.
But the real issue with Matawalle is that he is being investigated by the EFCC, over allegations of monumental corruption, award of phantom contracts, and diversion of over N70 billion.
The money which was sourced as a loan from an old-generation bank purportedly for the execution of projects across the local government areas of the state, was allegedly diverted by the governor through proxies and contractors who received payment for contracts that were not executed.
The Commission’s investigations so far reveal that more than 100 companies have received payments from the funds, with no evidence of service rendered to the state. Some of the contractors who had been invited and quizzed by the Commission made startling revelations on how they were allegedly compelled by the governor to return the funds received from the state coffers back to him through his aides after converting the same to United States Dollars.
They confirmed that they did not render any service to Zamafara state but were allegedly directed to convert the monies paid to them into United States Dollars and return to the State governor through some of his commissioners, notably the Commissioners in charge of Finance and Local Government Affairs.
One of the contractors, a popular Abuja property developer, collected N6 billion on an N10 billion contract without rendering any service to Zamfara state. Another contractor collected over N3 billion for a contract for the supply of medical equipment but the Commission traced a payment of N400 million from his account to a Bureau de Change operator. The contractor confessed the payment was to procure the dollar equivalent allegedly for the state governor.
As part of the extensive investigation of contracts awarded by the Matawalle administration, especially for phantom projects in the local government areas, the Commission has recovered a sum of N300 million from a company, Fezel Nigeria Limited. The funds were traced to the Zamafara Investment Company.
The EFCC investigation is the source of anxiety in Government House, Gusau, with the governor in mortal dread of his fate once he steps down as governor on May 29. In Nigeria, state governors and their deputies enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution while in office, a reason the EFCC has yet to arrest Governor Matawalle.