EFCC’s N108bn fraud allegation : Controversy  over freezing of  Akwa Ibom accounts in Zenith, others

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Mary Amodu

There was controversy and outrage  yesterday over alleged freeze of  Akwa Ibom accounts in Zenith Bank and others by the  Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) over alleged N108.1 billion fraud.This took place after two years of investigation and series of court cases against the EFCC by the state government  from interfering in the account of the state.

The action of the anti-graft agency was  disclosed in an online report by the Information Commissioner Charles Udoh on the date which the former Governor of Akwa Ibom State Senator Godswill Akpabio officially decamped to All Progressives Congress (APC)

The current administration in Akwa Ibom, headed by Governor Udom Emmanuel,  has been accused severally by the EFCC of blocking it from having access to the financial records of the state government.

Mr Udoh said state authorities only learnt of the development yesterday, and there were no prior indications from the anti-graft agency.

However, there was no response to text message sent to the spokesman of the EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren on the status of Akwa Ibom accounts in Zenith and others.

OUTRAGE OF PDP

However,  the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)  alleged that President Muhammadu Buhari is using the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), to “arm-twist” Governors and States to support his re-election bid.

PDP, in a series of tweets on Wednesday, was reacting to the freezing of the bank accounts belonging to Benue and Akwa Ibom States.

The opposition party described the move as “illegal, unconstitutional and overtly wicked”.

The state government had earlier filed a similar suit and obtained a restraining order in April 2016 at a state high court in Ikot Ekpene against the EFCC and others.

The state judge, N.F. Ntong, however, later vacated the order.

PARTIES INVOLVED IN EFCC VS AKWA IBOM

Also  in 2016, a Federal High Court judge in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, had criticised the alleged harassment of the officials of the state government by the EFCC over the investigation of  the former governor of the state, Godswill Akpabio, over the alleged looting of N108.1 billion belonging to the state while he was the governor.

Mr. Akpabio, who at that time was an influential member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) before his defection yesterday. The former governors who  was the Senate Minority Leader before his resignation on Monday was arrested and detained at least twice by the EFCC.

The suit filed by the state at the Federal High Court, Uyo, seeks to restrain the EFCC from investigating the state finances. The presiding judge  F.O. Riman had warned the EFCC not to take any action against any official of the state government, until the determination of the case before the court.

Apart from the EFCC, the Akwa Ibom state government had also sue the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), and the Inspector General of Police over the same allegations of harassment.

Akpabio was listed as one of the 11 defendants in the case.

Five banks – Zenith Bank, Keystone Bank, Skye Bank, First City Monument Bank, FCMB and the United Bank of Africa, UBA were among the defendants.

Other defendants include the Speaker, Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, the Clerk of the state Assembly, the Auditor-General of Akwa Ibom State and the Accountant-General of Akwa Ibom State.

It was gathered that the judge’s remark was prompted by a complaint from the state government through its Attorney-General, Uwemedimo Nwoko, that the operatives of the anti-graft agency were “harassing” the officials of the state government.

TWO YEARS OF LEGAL CASES BETWEEN EFCC AND AKWA IBOM STATE

Justice Ntong Ntong of the Akwa Ibom State High Court, sitting in Ikot Ekpene, Akwa- Ibom State, later vacated an order of interim injunction restraining the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission from investigating the accounts of Akwa Ibom State Government as well as some of the state’s past officials.

The court had on July 13, 2016 ruled in favour of an ex-parte motion filed before it by the Akwa Ibom State’s Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Uwemedimo Nwoko, seeking an order of interim injunction restraining the Federal Government or any of its agencies, including the EFCC, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), and the Inspector General of Police from arresting, from detaining or investigating any official of the state government, past or present, without any report of indictment by the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly.

Previous report stated that  EFCC source said one of those being investigated is Godswill Akpabio, a former governor of the state, at that time a minority leader of the Nigerian senate.

However, the EFCC, through a motion on notice, filed on August 2, 2016, approached the court to quash the injunction.

At the resumption of the matter, counsel to the EFCC, Ben Ubi, told the court of an application dated July 29, 2016 and filed on the August 2 asking the court to vacate the restraining order.

In response, the Attorney General of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Nwoko argued that his seven days to respond to the application by the EFCC had not elapsed. Besides, he said he had filed a motion on notice for the enlargement of the lifespan of the interim injunction.

The judge having listened to arguments on both sides vacated the interim order of injunction and then adjourned the matter to October 19, 2016 for hearing of the preliminary objection of the EFCC alongside other applications

The legal fireworks initiated by the Akwa Ibom State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, against the EFCC and other agencies were allegedly sparked by a petition received by the EFCC against some governors and officials of the past regimes in Akwa Ibom State.

The vacation of the restraining order on the EFCC has now paved ways for the commission to continue its work in that regard, the Head of Media and Publicity for the EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren, said in a statement issued previously that:

“Also, the vacation of the order has also voided an earlier order restraining the Speaker of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Clerk of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, the Auditor General of Akwa Ibom State and the Accountant General of Akwa Ibom State from surrendering themselves or any document or financial records to the EFCC, ICPC or any other person.”

There was no response to text message  sent to Head of Corporate Communications Zenith Bank Mr Victor Adoji to confirm if the account of Akwa Ibom State was truly frozen by the EFCC.

BACKGROUND OF AKWA IBOM GOVERNOR

Governor Udom Emmanuel has been a loyalist of Senator Akpabio before there was a breakdown in  relationship. Also, the governor a banker was a former general manager of Zenith Bank Plc before he left to join politics.

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