SEVERAL speculations have emerged as to why former Akwa Ibom State Governor, Godswill Akpabio, is considering defection from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), prominent among which is the report that the Senate Minority Leader is seeking to avoid prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
During his eight-year tenure as governor, Akpabio popularly referred to himself as the “transformation governor”. He started and completed several high profile capital projects, including a 30,000-seater capacity Stadium which has been renamed after him.
However, the EFCC has been on Akpabio’s trail since he left office, though a formal charge is yet to be filed against him in court.
As early as October 2015, just months after becoming a senator, Akpabio was invited to the EFCC headquarters in Abuja for questioning over allegations of mismanagement of public funds.
According to Vanguard, the EFCC grilled Akpabio “for over seven hours, and confronted him with evidence of alleged financial impropriety while he held sway in Akwa Ibom State”. The invitation by the EFCC was in response to a petition the Commission purportedly received, accusing Akpabio of mismanaging N108 billion belonging to the people of Akwa Ibom between 2007 and 2015.
“The former governor is still with our operatives, who are taking him up on a number of financial transactions that required clarifications from him and his officials. We really need to know how and why certain transactions were carried out and if such huge withdrawals in certain cases, based on the evidence before us, complied with laid down financial regulations or the said amount of money was wrongly spent,” Vanguard quoted an unnamed EFCC source as saying.
Akpabio, however, denies the charges, telling Premium Times that he is “a law-abiding citizen, and whenever I’m summoned to answer questions about how I served my people, I will always respond.
Nevertheless, the EFCC continued its probe of Akpabio’s administration, and in September 2017, the commission said it discovered a suspicious payment of N1.4 billion by the Akwa Ibom government as “gift” to a commercial bank. The payment was approved by Akpabio in 2013.
“The commission has made some progress in investigating the circumstances in which Apkabio, in 2013, paid N566, 883,728.66; N441,808,081.90; and N392, 631,943.37 as gifts to a new generation bank,” an EFCC source reportedly told The Punch.
The EFCC added that they were not able to get the needed documents to support their investigation because the Akwa Ibom State government has refused to cooperate with the Commission, rather, Uwemedimo Nwoko, the state’s Attorney General filed a suit in court seeking to stop the EFCC from”harassing and embarrassing” the state officials.
There is also the case of the yet-to-completed 14-storey Ibom Tropicana Entertainment Centre, which is reported to have gulped several billions of Naira since it was begun by the Akpabio administration in 2012.
Premium Times reports that “10 years after take-off, and three years after Akpabio left office, the Ibom Tropicana Entertainment Centre, remains unfinished, despite the huge money sunk into it”.
The Akpabio administration had said the centre would cost the state N33 billion, but people familiar with the project said the cost was later reviewed upward to N120 billion, PT further reported.
There is little or no evidence to support the insinuation that Akpabio is joining the APC to avoid prosecution, neither are there sufficient reasons to conclude that once he joins the APC, the EFCC will discontinue its investigation of Akpabio’s eight years in charge of Akwa Ibom state.
Joshua Dariye, former Plateau State Governor, was recently sentenced to 14 years imprisonment after he was found guilty of a two-count charge brought against him by the EFCC. This is despite the fact that Dariye, who committed the said offences as a PDP governor, had defected to the APC.
The same fate also befell former Taraba State Governor, Jolly Nyame, who is also serving a 14-year jail term, despite having defected to the APC.
Similarly, the corruption trial of former Abia State Governor, Orji Uzor-Kalu, is still ongoing. Kalu is accused by the EFCC of fraud, enriching himself to the tune of billions of naira using state funds. He defected to the APC in 2017 and has been very vocal in his support of President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election bid. This, however, has not halted his trial.
No doubt, there are persons in the Buhari presidency who many believe are being shielded from prosecution by the government. Clear examples are Babachir Lawal, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, and Kemi Adeosun, Minister of Finance.
Lawal was removed from office after he was indicted by a committee headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo of abuse of office and contravening procurement laws. He is yet to be prosecuted for the offence.
Adeosun, on the other hand, was accused of parading a forged National Youth Service Corps exemption certificate, having failed to take part in the one-year national service that is mandatory for all Nigerians who graduated from the university before the age of 30.
It has been 30 days after the allegation was made by Premium Times, but neither the presidency nor Adeosun has offered any explanation. The NYSC too has been mute.
But whether Akpabio’s case (if he eventually defects) will be like that of Dariye, Nyame and Kalu, or like that of Adeosun and Lawal, only time will tell.