24 March 2014

Nigeria: Exclusive - Nigerian Anti-Corruption Agency Enmeshed in Corruption Scandal

Photo: Vanguard
Corruption in Nigeria

The Code of Conduct Tribunal, an anti-corruption agency established to check corrupt practices in Nigerian's public service, is currently enmeshed in scandal, as its past and present leaders have been accused of spates of corruption, running into millions of naira.

The tribunal, CCT, was established in 1989 with the motto: "Rectitude in public service. Public Service is a trust, don't abuse it."

The tribunal serves as a court where public office holders suspected to have violated the code of conduct by, among others, failing to declare their asset as prescribed by law, are prosecuted.

In what appears to be an irony for an anti-graft agency, both the current chairman of the tribunal, Justice Danaladi Umar, and his immediate late predecessor, Justice Murtala Sanni, are accused of corrupt practices, with the former currently being investigated by another anti-graft agency.

Some of the allegations against Mr. Umar include misappropriation of funds, bribe collection, and illicit staff postings.

Bribery allegation

On March 18, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, invited Mr. Umar over an allegation that he demanded a N10 million bribe from a retired comptroller of customs, Rasheed Taiwo.

Mr. Taiwo is being prosecuted at the CCT in suit No: CCT/ABJ/03/12 for allegedly failing to declare his asset while in office.

The retired comptroller had allegedly paid part of the bribe, N1.8 million, to the chairman through the account number of one Ali Abdullahi, a personal assistant to Mr. Umar, who was allegedly recommended for that role by the tribunal boss.

A highly placed source at the EFCC told PREMIUM TIMES that Mr. Umar earlier failed to honour an invitation sent to him on December 30, 2013 to respond to the bribery allegations against him.

After his refusal to honour the initial summons, the chairman is now expected to report to the commission on March 27 to respond to the bribery allegation, among other corruption charges.

Not just bribery

Aside from the alleged bribe demand and collection, Mr. Umar is also accused by the tribunal's officials of maladministration and corruption.

On May 3, 2013, three staff of the tribunal - its accountant, Shotunde Adeyinka, and two administrative officers, Lucky Eronlan and Johnson Owopetu - were transferred out of Abuja to Ondo, Bauchi and Katsina states respectively.

The three men, sources and documents available to PREMIUM TIMES show, appealed to the tribunal's chairman to reverse their new postings.

In his appeal, Mr. Adeyinka said he believed he was transferred because he had privately called Mr. Umar to caution and advise him on the irregularities in the tribunal's expenditures authorized by the chairman.

He said although the chairman thanked him for the advice, less than 24 hours later, he was relieved of his duties without any stated reason. He said he loafed around the office receiving endless accusations for having the guts to advice the "Honourable Chairman," before he was eventually transferred.

The three men eventually petitioned the EFCC and copied the Presidency, CCT, the National Human Rights Commission, and the National Judicial Council. Others petitioned were the Senate, Nigeria Bar Association, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, and the Attorney General of the Federation.

The petitions were sent out between May and July, 2013.

The petitioners called for an investigation into the alleged corrupt practices in the tribunal, allegedly masterminded by Mr. Umar, between February and May 2011.

Others accused alongside Mr. Umar are his Special Adviser, Abdulazeez Badisha; Umar Sambo; and Peter Agaba.

In the petition, they accused Mr. Umar of awarding contracts without due process, making full contract payments to contractors instead of mobilization fees, and dysfunctional appointments and promotion without board approval or regards to federal character.

They also accused the tribunal chairman of repeatedly awarding already completed projects. They claimed that most of the companies benefitting from such projects belonged to Mr. Sambo and other cronies of the Chairman who helped in forging receipts to justify their financial misappropriations.

Mr. Umar was also accused of diverting contract funds worth N76.53 million for different contracts between February and May, 2011.

Some of the specific allegations include an alleged illegal payment of N1 million from the commission's account to Mr. Umar for his wedding ceremony which took place on July 16, 2011.

Another was the alleged disappearance of N24 million belonging to the tribunal that was allegedly found in the Wuse Zone 5 residence of the late chairman and his wife.

The petitioners also alleged that the training and budgetary allocations for the tribunal from 2011 to 2013 have been embezzled by Mr. Umar.

"Investigate the above in the interest of democracy, justice and rule of law," the petitioners told the EFCC.

Perhaps irked by the petitions sent to the EFCC by the aggrieved officials, the tribunal's Board of Inquiry invited them to appear before it on July 2, 2013 for, among others, publication of false allegations against Mr. Umar.

Other allegations against Messrs Adeyinka, Eronlan, and Owopetu include: their refusal to proceed on transfer, absence from duty without leave, and failure to follow appropriate measures in seeking redress of their grievances as provided by the Public Service Rule.

Sources at the commission told PREMIUM TIMES that the three men appeared before the panel and were eventually cleared and asked to stay back in Abuja; while their salary arrears were to be paid to them, something which has not been done.

However, allegations of corrupt practices at the CCT did not start in 2013, in fact it commenced a few days after Mr. Umar assumed duties.

A corrupt predecessor

Shortly after his assumption of office on January 24, 2011, following the death of his predecessor, Mr. Umar set up a six-member committee to investigate perceived corrupt practices by Mr. Sanni, his late predecessor.

In a letter dated February 21, 2011 and handed over to the members of the investigative committee which included one of the later petitioners, Mr. Adeyinka, the committee was asked to determine the total sum of contracts awarded, procedures for awarding the contracts, as well as confirmation of the status of companies that contracts were awarded to in the fourth quarter of 2010.

In its investigation, the committee said it discovered diversion of funds of about N111.8 million awarded to pseudo contractors through two staff of the tribunal, Salihu Mukhtar, and Akinola Waheed, the Tender Board Secretary. The diversion, according to the committee was for Mr. Sanni.

The committee's investigations also showed that majority of the contractors were introduced to the tribunal by Mr. Mukhtar.

The report also indicted Mr. Muhktar as a middleman between the late chairman and the contractors.

Some of the dubious contracts include the installation of security doors, burglary and tilling at N50.94 million; awarded to two different companies owned by one person.

In its report, the investigative committee said Mr. Mukhtar appeared before it to represent the contractor, who was away in India for his wife's treatment, and told the committee that the money for the contract was paid back to the late chairman's account.

The committee also exposed the illicit sharing of millions of naira among some senior staff of the tribunal.

The report by the committee stated that Julius Koplang, the Head of Finance of the CCT, said he received N11.32 million from the federal government as 2010 End of Year staff incentive.

He was quoted as saying that since the money was paid into the account of the tribunal, the (late) chairman had the authority to use his discretion in deciding who gets what.

He said the late chairman ordered that all the money be paid to the latter.

The committee also said that after the death of the late chairman, Mr. Mukhtar unlawfully entered the tribunal's premises at 8:15 p.m. on January 26, 2011.

Acording to the investigative report, when questioned about it, Mr. Mukhtar said he did so with Abudullahi Gwarzo (Personal Assistant to Mr. Sanni) on orders from the late chairman's wife. He explained that they only found two million Naira in the late chairman's safe; money that was not paid back to the tribunal's account.

The committee also discovered that after the death of Mr. Sanni, two deposits of N4 million each were made to the Oceanic bank account of the late chairman by one of the contractors, Adekunle Bello.

The investigative committee also discovered the sharing of tens of millions of naira illegally by senior officials of the commission including Mr. Sanni and the Chairman of the Tenders Board, J.Z Gado, who confirmed to the committee that he received some of the moneys from the Tender's Board secretary, who may have gotten it from contractors.

The committee, after its investigation, recommended that N8 million paid into the account of the late chairman's wife be refunded to the tribunal. It also recommended that sanctions be meted out to contractors that offered the bribe; and that all the staff that benefitted from the bribe should return the money.

It is not clear if the tribunal implemented the recommendations. Also, none of its officials indicted for receiving the bribes or benefitting from the other illegalities is being prosecuted.

These are among the issues Mr. Umar is expected to clarify before the EFCC and for which he shunned an earlier summon.

"Yes, Justice Danladi Umar has been invited and he is expected to respond to the commission's invitation on March 27," the EFCC spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, said, explaining that he is only familiar with the N10 million bribery allegation.

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