12 May 2009

Nigeria: EFCC Detains Three House Members Over N6 Billion Scam

Abuja — After playing hide-and-seek for nearly a week, Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Power, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu; his deputy, Hon. Mohammed Jibo; and Committee Chairman on Rural Development, Hon. Paulinus Igwe, yesterday reported to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in connection with the N6 billion rural electrification contract scam.

The controversial contracts were awarded by the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) with suspicious approvals for payments made on December 30, 2008.

EFCC has also concluded arrangements to institute fresh criminal charges against ex-governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, who is currently facing trial before a Federal High Court in Abuja for diverting state funds totalling N3 billion during his tenure.

The anti-graft commission has asked Elumelu and two other lawmakers to appear before its investigators last Wednesday but they failed to honour the invitation and instead sent their lawyers who were refused audience.

They will remain in the custody of the commission until they are arraigned in court before the end of this week, THISDAY has learnt.

THISDAY checks revealed that the anti-graft agency has concluded its investigations and all suspects fingered in the scam will be prosecuted before the week runs out.

THISDAY learnt that the anti-corruption agency had planned to obtain a court warrant to declare the representatives wanted if they failed to appear and make official statements.

Among those in EFCC custody in connection with the scam are Senate Committee Chairman on Power, Senator Nicholas Ugbane; Rural Electrification Agency (REA) boss, Sam Gekpe; Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Power, Alhaji Abdullahi Aliyu; and a contractor, Emeka Ohagbena.

Sources at the commission told THISDAY that "the lawmakers turned themselves in today (Monday) and we are going to keep them in our custody. We are going to arraign all the suspects before Thursday."

EFCC is working on the theory that the monies were hurriedly disbursed, despite the non-execution of the contract, "for selfish reasons".

Also, officials of Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) detained by the EFCC over N850 million contract to supply seating materials will be arraigned in court before Thursday.

Those who will be arraigned for allegedly flouting due process in the plastic chair contract award are former Executive Secretary, Gidado Tahir; Director of Finance & Admin, Hadiza Kura; Deputy Director Fiscal Planning, Andrew Ekpunobi; and an Accountant, Mike Awule.

The Managing Director of Inter Market USA, the company awarded the contract, Alex Cozman, will also face trial.

One of the suspects who escaped when the arrests were made last week, Mulkat Mufnang, has been apprehended while Bridget Sokan, an official who travelled to Canada, is expected to return on May 25.

In another graft case, EFCC intends to slam an 83-count charge against Kalu following new discoveries allegedly in his matter.

EFCC alleges that its investigators have uncovered more money siphoned by the former governor to fund his personal business interests.

A top official in the commission said the chairman, Mrs. Farida Waziri, after assuming office, pioneered a discrete investigation into Kalu's case which informed the decision to file fresh charges against him.

"We are also going to attach some property in US, London and Nigeria linked to him in the charge suit," the source said. "Our legal department is already drafting the charges."

Last Friday, Kalu lost in the suit he instituted against EFCC to quash the N3 billion money laundering charges proffered against him.

The presiding judge, Justice Adamu Bello, declined the plea by the former governor that his arrest, detention and subsequent arraignment by the EFCC was an abuse of court order as it purportedly violated an earlier order granted by a court of competent jurisdiction in Abia State which had restrained the EFCC from arresting, detaining or arraigning him for fraud, abuse of office and outright theft of public funds in the state.

Kalu is facing trial for diverting the said amount in 36 instalments, during his tenure, into the account of Slok Nigeria Limited, a company owned by him and his family.

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