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Travails and a legacy of anti-corruption crusade

Chairman, Human and Environmental Development Agenda, (HEDA) Olanrewaju Suraju

He was calm and unruffled. He sat on the high table with the Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC), Mr Olanipekun Olukoyode. Hon. Justice Latifat Okunnu and Prof Adele Jinadu sat close to him. For many of his old friends, it was difficult to recognise Olanrewaju Suraju. He had grown beards. He wore an unusual dress that would make it difficult to identify him unless at close scrutiny.
Looking different at every occasion might just be one technique Suraju, the Chairman of Nigeria’s most remarkable anti-corruption group has devised to delude corrupt actors who once made attempt to eliminate him.
For instance, in 2022 at midnight, armed men stormed his house. They did not come to steal but took away valuables, perhaps as a decoy. The deal, it appeared, was to kill or at least warn him that corruption has the means and ways to fight back, anywhere, anyhow and anytime.
The storming of his house was with precision: the time, the break-in, the stealth, the gadgets employed and the expertise of the invaders indicated they were professional. There have been several other threats to him, his soulmate, Sulaiman Arigbadu and the staff that are usually on edge at the close of work each day for constant fear of being trailed.
This has not deterred the Human and Environmental Development Agenda, (HEDA Resource Centre) in the vigorous pursuit of Nigerian cruel but powerful sleaze network. The travails of the group, for 20 years now, clearly shows that the fight against corruption in Nigeria is like a fight with a lion right in its den. The consequences are life threatening. Fighting corruption in Nigeria is like walking barefoot on a rope adored with blade edges.
This is why it is remarkable that for 20 years, a Nigerian organisation HEDA Resource Centre has been confronting the lion in its den. At the anniversary held in Lagos this week, which I attended, the EFCC Chairman lamented the vicious hearts of Nigerian cartel of powerful rogues.
He said after he assumed office, he suddenly developed strands of grey hairs in months. He sometimes leaves his office 1am in the morning, yet would go home with unfinished files. He narrated one incidence recently, when on the last day of the previous year, billions of naira were being illicitly transferred by politically exposed persons. He watched the illegal transfers on his security screen forcing him to step aside from the New Year praise and worship night to take decisive action against the complicit bank accounts. They were cronies of Government ministries moving illegal cash not spent during the previous year.
If there is a major problem hunting Nigeria, it is the audacity of corruption in high and low places. In the last half a century, experts think funds stolen from Nigeria are enough to build a new, prosperous country. Corruption has become the monster that rules public and private services. Many politicians in Nigeria see the theft of public funds as habitual. Budgets have become mere yearly rituals.
Professor Jinadu at the event said in many instances, the motivating factor for public service seems to be access to public wealth. Fronts are created to launder public money through exaggerated contracts, over invoicing, outright stealing of funds to budget manipulation and kickbacks.
There is institutionalised corruption. This comes in the form of bogus self awarded salaries, perks, privileges, constituency allowances, and legally protected sleaze. Apart from corrupt practices of highly placed people, artisans, professionals wear the dirty garb of graft making the cancerous plaque the addiction of the rich and poor.
In his remarks, Olukoyode regretted that corruption is defended viciously by its practitioners, local and international capons, powerful people, rulers of darkness who do everything possible to sustain the rot. It is this hegemon that HEDA Resource Centre decided, for the past twenty years to confront with all its strength. The EFCC Chairman, described HEDA Resource Centre as one of the most ‘prolific’ anti-corruption civil society organisations in Nigeria.
Led by a formidable team of men and women, with two icons, Olanrewaju Suraju and Sulaiman Arigbabu at the captain’s seat, the Centre has continued to strike the sky like a comet that awes politically exposed persons.
One of the most remarkable corruption cases exposed by HEDA Resource Centre was the Malabu oil scam. It involved the transfer of about $1.1billion dollars by two Nigerian oil giants through Nigerian government officials to the account of a former Minister of Petroleum. About half of the fund went into the account of another Nigerian individual who owns an oil company.
The crook fronted for many government officials under the Government of Mr Goodluck Jonathan who ruled Nigeria for six years. When HEDA Resource Centre launched this campaign in 2016, every effort including espionage, threat to life, sending armed agents to the office, phone bug, spying and trailing of its workers at the anti-corruption institution was made to hack down, blackmail or intimidate the group. The scam was linked to OPL-245. In the face of poisoned arrows fired at the organisation’s officials at the homefront, international anti-corruption groups, RE:Common, Corner House and Global Witness rose in defence of HEDA Resource Centre and its team as the case took the centre stage in Italy and Holland where for the first time, the governments of those countries saw the rare determination of a Nigerian anti-corruption group that risked everything including their lives for a transparent country where the Federal Government was found wanting and even complicit.
The Malabu case saw at least some $190m paid to the account of the former Nigerian oil Minister frozen by a London Court. Local and international campaigns of the group are deafening. HEDA was at the United Kingdom Parliament to press against aiding of corruption by the international community.
But the tormentors are not giving up. Suraju was wrongly but deliberately accused of forgery. Former Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Bello Adoke petitioned the Inspector General of Police claiming the email linked to him with communication with JP Morgan, the bankers in June 2011 over the OPL 245 deal through the address of a company owned by one of the suspects, was forged. The International anti-corruption consortium in its letter to the IG said it was a ‘story of how false allegations about forgery contained in a complaint to the Nigeria police have been used to target a leading Nigerian anti-corruption group’. The case dragged on, but HEDA Resource Centre was eventually vindicated.
The group is perhaps the only organisation in Nigeria that keeps the most up-to -date information about corruption. One of its comprehensive publications detailed unresolved corruption allegation scandals under various governments including that of President Mohammadu Buhari. The group has published seven editions of 100 high profile corruption cases in Nigeria which when put together would amount to the entire 20 year budgets of some major African countries. Anyone reading the publications is bound to shed tears for Nigeria. It puts together a string of unresolved sleaze amounting to trillions of naira of stolen public funds spanning decades under various governments since 1999 many of which many Nigerians have forgotten. How many would recall the theft of N1.1billion at the Nigerian Maritime Agency,(NIMASA), forfeiture of N754.8m of properties belonging to a NIMASA official or the son of a former Bauchi State Governor who was linked to the theft of N1.1b or a former Accountant General of the Federation linked with another N24b fraud or the case of a Professor who scammed an American knowledge-based company to the tune of $922m or a former Registrar of JAMB put in the dock by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, (ICPC) over N5b theft? The Registrar was docked along with his children.
HEDA Resource Centre reminds all of us about the positive adventure of the EFCC and the ICPC and also their limitations. It brings into eternal memory that corrupt officials may twist the law to escape justice, but history has already taken note of their bitter footprints and that a black book has been opened for generations born and unborn to behold, so that when the story of Nigeria is told and retold, those hawks who worked tirelessly to see Nigeria become the carcass of a beautiful Zebra, so they can feast, will never be absolved by time and history.

Adeoye is a CNN African Journalist of the Year Award Winner and Executive Director, Journalists for Democratic Rights, (JODER)

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EFCC investigates more celebrities for naira abuse

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has said it is investigating several celebrities suspected of abusing the Naira.

This was revealed in a statement signed by EFCC spokesperson, Dele Oyewale, on Sunday.

“On the issue of the works of the Commission against Naira abuse, dollarization of the economy and the enforcement of all extant laws relating to them, the EFCC appreciates the avalanche of public awakening, support and involvement demonstrated so far.

“Increasingly, members of the public are drawing the attention of the Commission to video recording of abuse of the Naira by Nigerians from all walks of life.

“These gestures amply demonstrate rising consciousness of the public to the sanctity of our national currency and the need for collaborative engagement to sustain the tempo.

“To this end, the Commission will always investigate and prosecute anyone involved in the abuse of the Naira.

“Old videos being exhumed and flying around for the attention of the Commission are noted as the Commission is sensitive to the fact that its Special Task Force against Naira Abuse and Dollarization of the economy commenced operations on February 7, 2024. However, going forward, new videos of such infractions will be investigated and prosecuted.

“At the moment, the Commission is investigating several celebrities involved in Naira abuse. Many of them have made useful statements to the Commission and many more have been invited by investigators working on the matter.

“The EFCC will not relent in its no-sacred-cow mode of operations and the public should be wary of running afoul of laws against the crime.”

Recall that popular cross-dresser Idris Okuneye aka Bobrisky was sentenced to six months imprisonment for abusing the Naira.

Justice Abimbola Awogboro handed down the sentence without an option of fine.

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No one has been cleared in humanitarian ministry fraud investigation- EFCC

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, says it has not cleared anyone involved in the ongoing fraud investigation in the humanitarian affairs ministry.

Spokesperson of the commission, Dele Oyewale stated this in a statement tagged ‘Setting the Records Straight on Investigations of Humanitarian Ministry’ on Sunday.

According to him,  ongoing investigation have opened other fraudulent dealings involving Covid -19 funds, the World Bank loan, Abacha recovered loot released to the Ministry by the Federal Government to execute its poverty alleviation mandate.

The statement read;

“The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has noticed the rising tide of commentaries, opinions, assumptions and insinuations concerning its progressive investigations into the alleged financial misappropriation in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.

“At the outset of investigations, past and suspended officials of the Humanitarian Ministry were invited by the Commission and investigations into the alleged fraud involving them have yielded the recovery of N32.7billion and $445,000 so far.

“Discreet investigations by the EFCC have opened other fraudulent dealings involving Covid -19 funds, the World Bank loan, Abacha recovered loot released to the Ministry by the Federal Government to execute its poverty alleviation mandate.

“Investigations have also linked several interdicted and suspended officials of the Ministry to the alleged financial malfeasance.

“It is instructive to stress that the Commission’s investigations are not about individuals. The EFCC is investigating a system and intricate web of fraudulent practices.

“Banks involved in the alleged fraud are being investigated. Managing Directors of the indicted banks have made useful statements to investigators digging into the infractions.

“Those found wanting will be prosecuted accordingly. Additionally, the EFCC has not cleared anyone allegedly involved in the fraud. Investigations are ongoing and advancing steadily.

“The public is enjoined to ignore any claim to the contrary.”

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Junior Pope: NSIB launches investigation, sends team to accident site

The Nigeria Safety Investigation Bureau (NSIB) has launched an investigation into the boat accident that claimed the lives of Nollywood actor, Paul Odonwodo, popularly known as Junior Pope; Abigail Frederick; Precious Oforum, and Joseph Anointing, while returning from a movie location.

THN reported that the boat accident involved a commercial speedboat and a fishing canoe on the Anam River in Anambra State on Wednesday, April 10, 2024.

The boat carrying 12 film crew members and a boat operator reportedly crashed into the canoe, resulting in the loss of five lives.

Tthe director, Public Affairs and Consumer Protection, NSIB, Bimbo Oladeji in a statement on Sundat, said the Bureau has dispatched an investigation team to the accident site.

According to Oladeji, examination of the wreckage from both boats involved in the collision, interviews with surviving crew members, eyewitnesses, and a review of operational procedures for the commercial speed boat would be analysed, among others.

“The NSIB extends its deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in this heartbreaking accident.

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“Also, the director general of NSIB, Capt. Alex Badeh Jr, share in your grief and NSIB is fully committed to conducting a thorough investigation to determine the cause of this tragedy and prevent similar occurrence in the future.

“An investigation team has been dispatched to the accident site, and inquiry has begun. The investigation scope includes, but is not limited to: examination of the wreckage from both vessels involved in the collision, interviews with surviving crew members, and eyewitnesses, review of operational procedures for the commercial speed boat, analysis of weather and environmental conditions at the time of the accident, and assessment of compliance with relevant safety standards and regulations for inland waterway transportation,” NSIB spokesperson said.

Oladeji further assured Nigerians that the Bureau will release the preliminary reports of the investigation to the public.

“NSIB will collaborate with relevant authorities, including the Marine Police section of the Anambra State Police Command, maritime authorities, and industry experts during the investigation.

“The bureau will release its findings in a preliminary report, followed by a final report upon the investigation’s conclusion. These reports aim to enhance safety by providing recommendations to prevent similar accidents in the future.Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of the victims affected by the Anam boat mishap,” she added.

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