© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Tinubu: Why EFCC planned probe on bullion vans may not come anytime soon
Says commission will invite petitioner if case has merit
LAST Thursday 24th October, a coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) under the aegis of Concerned Nigerians approached the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to submit a petition against Bola Tinubu, National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The petition bothers on how two bullion vans, driven into Tinubu’s Ikoyi residence on the eve of the 2019 Presidential election reportedly transported cash for the purpose of vote-buying.
Yet, the anti-graft agency, since the February 23rd poll has remained silent on the incident until the interest group led by Deji Adeyanju filed the petition.
Tinubu, who spoke shortly after casting his vote on the election day admitted in video footage that the vans were conveying money. He thereafter described those complaining about the bullion vans driving into his house as mischief-makers.
What is your headache? He asked journalists who queried him. “Are those ballot papers?” he said referring to the van. “So, even if I have money to spend in my premises, what is your headache?” he added.
“Excuse me, if I don’t represent any agency of government and if I have money to spend…., if I like, I give it to the people free of charge, as long as is not to buy votes…..who are those watching my house looking for bullion vans, they must be mischief-makers.”
Tinubu is a strong loyalist of President Muhammadu Buhari, and also a major political kingpin in the ruling APC. In 2012, he conceived the merger of about four political parties to realise the APC, which eventually became the ruling party since 2015 general election.
However, the EFCC on Monday told The ICIR it already acknowledged receipt of the petition. But indication has shown that the petition may not get the desired attention anytime soon due to scores of petitions the commission has received both at its physical offices and through its website.
“Once you submit a petition, there is a waiting time. We receive hundreds of petitions throughout the country everyday,” says Wilson Uwujaren, the EFCC Head of Media and Publicity. “…Investigation takes time. We are not police station where complaints come and we make an arrest. No, EFCC does not work like that. As people submit petitions in our offices the same way they drop petitions online.”
The spokesperson said once a petition is received, it would undergo a review process; the evidences are checked before the actual investigation commences if the claim has merit.
But, considering the status of the personality involved, The ICIR asked if there was a timeline to the investigation, Uwujaren only responded on the anticipated result of the petition. He could not provide an answer as to when exactly the accusation against the former Lagos State Governor would commence.
“I don’t know about that,” he stated. “Let’s look at the issue we have on ground first. I don’t want to get into a matter that is not before me at the moment. They have dropped petition, let’s wait for the outcome of the petition.”
“Our procedure is this, once we receive a petition we look at it. If it has merit, we will invite the petitioner to come and justify the petition, so there are times it takes some time because there are hundreds of petitions submitted daily.”
Meanwhile, prior to the petition, Segun Awosanya, Convener of the #EndSARS campaign had accused the EFCC of being docile over the vans allegation, despite picture evidence and popularity of the tweet, revealing the alleged crime.
Awosanya responded to the EFCC’s tweet which boasted of its constitutional mandate, citing Section 7 (1) of the EFCC Act 2004. It says it has the mandate to probe any persons if it appears such a person’s lifestyle and properties are not commensurate to his earnings.
But in his reaction, the activist said, “I’m sure this section only gives you an erection when it concerns Yahoo Boys and opposition politicians. While the miraculous self-aggrandisers in bed with those the head of the EFCC worships are immune to investigation.”
“Daylight bullion van exhibition of Bourdillon is justified right?” Awosanya had stated.
The commission in a tweet has tasked concerned citizens to file petitions on suspected corrupt practices, and some CSOs have already responded.
EFCC is our partner but we lack prosecution power
Rotimi Lawrence, Spokesperson for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) while reacting to the petition excluded INEC’s involvement in the entire process but said except the anti-graft commission is able to investigate and establish the indictment; it may be difficult to comment on the matter.
Though the commission admitted vote-buying as an offense, which its partner the EFCC made several arrests during the same poll, it is more interested in corrupt incidents that occurred at the 176, 000 polling units nationwide.
His words: “Of course, we work with the EFCC to help us track any suspicious activity which could be linked to vote-buying. And because the EFCC is so experienced in tracking those involved, they are the ones to tell us.
“These are the things that cannot be answered except EFCC confirms that they received a petition, they investigated and this is linked to vote-buying. That is when INEC will be involved. We can only have case files to help prosecute whoever is involved. As it is now, we don’t have any say in the matter. Let the appropriate organisation investigate and make a determination.”
According to him, the essence of partnership with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Police and EFCC was to reduce incidences of vote-buying during elections.
What does the money laundry Act say
The Anti-Money Laundry Act put a cap of N5 million on cash that could be handled by private individuals. This implies that any cash transaction beyond N5 million should be done via bank. Though it’s uncertain what the content of the bullion van was, many assumed it was cash meant to influence the electorate. It is also assumed that it would be a tough decision for the anti-graft agency to probe the party chieftain. For instance, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF) believed the accused would not be prosecuted due to his political affiliation.
Barrister Kayode Oguntuase, a practising lawyer at Ace Solicitors while reacting to the incidents said it is assumed that such a large sum, to be expended is more than the acceptable cash in possession of the party chieftain.
While emphasising that bullion vans are not to convey a little sum of money, he said every reasonable person would assume he was transporting large sum to his compound.
“Of course, you don’t need bullion van to transport N2 or N3 million and we have the anti-money laundry act, amended in 2016. It fixed a limitation on the amount of cash individual or corporate body can spend at a given time, N5 million for individuals and N10 million for corporate bodies.”
However, Oguntuase noted that the EFCC has the responsibility to intervene in the matter once prima facie is established. “Adeyanju has written a petition already, requesting the EFCC to query the matter. Tinubu is also a politically exposed person and he insisted it was his money, so I will be surprised if he is not probed by the EFCC.”
Another lawyer, Barrister Chukwunonso Akah, Head of Chambers, Ace Solicitors added that though EFCC may not respond to all petitions but once there is prima facie against the accused, there is no basis for the commission not to act on the matter.
Barrister Ifedayo Oluseye, Head of More Solicitors, in his reaction, also argued that considering the timing at which the bullion vans were driven to the accused person’s apartment – it calls for a question. He described the incident as abnormal, saying it is a criminal offense to have such vans in Tinubu’s apartment. According to him, it amounts to flouting the Anti-Money Laundering Act.
“It is abnormal to see a bullion van entering into someone’s apartment. Of course, we all know what the bullion van conveys. It is money…when you put 2 and 2 together; of course we know it contains money.”
But he emphasised on proving the case with reasonable evidence that the vans contained money. This, he noted how Tinubu granted an interview on the day of election affirming it was his money which he could spend at will. Aside, he recollected how the politician boasted he did not get any contract from the federal government but worked for his money.
“So, that is an admission that the content of the bullion van is money and it is a crime which calls for an investigation.”
He specifically mentioned the anti-money laundry and electoral acts as laws the former governor violated.
On INEC’s response that the incident did not occur at the polling units, Oluseye disagreed but emphasised on the timing the vans were driven to the politician’s apartment.
“At that point, it could be established that you have lots of would-be voters in his house because it was televised and this thing happened a day to the election.”
But Abiodun Salami, APC spokesperson in Lagos State disregarded the petition stressing that it lacks evidence.
“Let them come up with the proof. The man is a private citizen and he has been out of government for the past 12 years,” salami stated.
“If he has decided to spend his money on his party, how is that a problem? Let them come up with proof that somebody’s money is missing.”