26th March, 2013
The scale of Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha’s crimes against Bayelsa State makes it difficult for Nigerians as well as governments of other countries to stomach the presidential pardon he has been granted
Even in a country where the most preventable occurrences–including avoidable tragedies resulting from glaring government and institutional failures–are charged into God’s account, most Nigerians are piqued by the attribution of the pardon granted to Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha to the Almighty. Defending President Goodluck Jonathan against widespread criticism of the pardon granted the former Bayelsa State governor, controversial businessman, Chief Arthur Eze, claimed it was an act of God. “Jonathan took advice from God. God has told him to show mercy. The Bible says blessed are those that are merciful for they shall see God,” said Eze, who recently donated over N1 billion towards a church project in the President’s village.
Eze, as yet, is the only one who has dragged God into the matter since the presidential pardon for Alamieyeseigha and six others was announced after the National Council of State meeting of 12 March. The Presidency responded by wheeling out a raft of firefighters, including sponsored public commentators, to counter the flames of public disapproval. Their efforts have yielded nothing, as the decibel of opposition to the pardon–within and outside the country–continues to rise.
Those pardoned include Major Bello Muhammed Magaji (retd.), Mohammed Abba Liman Biu, Shettima Mohammed Bulama and Alamieyeseigha. Also pardoned were some military officers and individuals indicted and convicted in the “phantom coups” of 1995 and 1997 during the regime of the late General Sani Abacha. They include Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua (posthumously); Major General Oladipo Diya (retd.); Major General Abdulakareem Adisa (posthumously) and Major Segun Fadipe (retd.).”
Of the lot, Alamieyesiegha, and Bulama, Managing Director of the defunct Bank of the North, who both confessed to and were convicted for corruption; and Magaji, who was jailed for sexually molesting four young boys, were the names that got the public fizzing with anger.
Speaking at a press conference at Freedom Park in Lagos last Wednesday, Professor Wole Soyinka described the pardon for Alamieyeseigha as a discredit to every Nigerian. This, Soyinka said, was not just because of Alamieyeseigha’s involvement in corruption and money laundering, but because he is still a wanted man in the United Kingdom, where he jumped bail after his arrest in 2005. “And so, I just want to say to you that I have joined the ranks of the ignorants and I criticise and I deplore this decision of President Jonathan to grant pardon to Alamieyeseigha and also try to confuse the issue by listing those who were victims of injustice, those who were wrongly convicted under the most brutal dictatorship we ever had; the era of Sani Abacha,” Soyinka said in reference to presidential spokesperson, Reuben Abati’s rant that critics of the pardon are afflicted with “sophisticated ignorance”.
The reaction of Chief Okey Wali, President, Nigerian Bar Association, was everything but complimentary. “Unless you know what the Council of State put into consideration in granting Alamieyeseigha and others the state pardon, you cannot say much on it. But to me as a lawyer, it was a bad signal to the fight against corruption,” Wali told journalists at the commissioning of the Association’s Web-Portal last Wednesday. The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, also said it found the pardon shocking. In a statement signed by its President, Abdulwahed Omar, the body said it is “alarmed by the decision of the National Council of State to pardon Mr. Diepreye Alamieyeseigha who was impeached as governor of Bayelsa State and eventually convicted by a properly constituted court for stealing public funds; and Mr. Shettima Bulama, a former managing director of Bank of the North, who was also convicted for misappropriating the bank’s funds”.
Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, pioneer chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, told the House Financial Services Committee of the British Parliament in 2009 that between 1960 and 1999, Nigerian officials stole or wasted more than $440 billion, with between $5-6 billion stolen within five years of the late General Sani Abacha’s rule. According to him, the loss by Nigeria to corruption since independence is “six times the Marshall Plan, the total sum needed to rebuild a devastated Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War”.
Despite the establishment of two agencies – EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other offences Commission, ICPC, Nigeria has continued to lose billions of naira to corruption annually. Government officials at various levels have continued to raid the public treasury without restraint.
In the last two years of the Jonathan administration, for example, Nigerians have been traumatised by disclosures of rapacious looting of trillions of naira through fraudulent fuel subsidy and pension payments.
It is estimated that over 50 per cent of nearly N3 trillion paid out as subsidy to fuel importers and marketers in 2011 was fraudulent. The sons of a former National Chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, Ahmadu Ali, and the incumbent chairman, are among importers of petroleum products currently being tried on allegations of receiving billions of naira in undeserved payments.
In the same vein, scores of top civil servants are also being tried by the EFCC for stealing billions of naira meant for pension payments. In one bizarre case, an EFCC raid on the house of Shaibu Teidi, one of the civil servants accused of gorging themselves on pension funds, yielded over N2 billion in cash. The anti-graft agency has also taken over assets valued at tens of billions of naira from the accused and some of his colleagues.
With such records, Nigeria has consistently ranked on the log of corrupt countries. For example, Nigeria ranked 139 out of 174 countries in the 2012 Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International, TI. With such a dismal record in graft fighting spanning over three decades, the conviction of Alamieyeseigha and Bulama was regarded as a milestone in the anti-graft war. Alamieyeseigha, the “Governor General of Ijaw Nation”, was first elected governor in 1999 and re-elected in 2003.
On both occasions, Jonathan was his running-mate. With copious sums of money coming from federal allocations and considerable appetite to steal, Alamieyeseigha was in heaven–until he was arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport by the Metropolitan Police on the suspicion of money laundering on 15 September 2005. His arrest followed months of discreet investigations by the Proceeds of Corruption Unit of the Metropolitan Police. The Police later discovered the sum of $1.5 million during a search on his London home. The former governor was arraigned on a three- count charge of corruption at Bow Street Court. He was granted bail the next day.
The court, however, ordered his passport seized, while his next court appearance was scheduled for 8 December, 2005.
But four days after his arrest, there were speculations that he had returned to Nigeria.
How Alamieyeseigha fled the UK without a passport remains unknown till date. “I cannot tell you how I was brought here. It is a mystery. All the glory goes to God,” he told his supporters two days after his arrival in Nigeria. His short narrative was believed by Oronto Douglas, his Information Commissioner (now Presidential Adviser on Strategy and Documentation). “He told me God brought him home. As a Christian I believe in miracles,” Douglas told a foreign journalist.
It was not a story that attracted conviction among members of the public, who created a popular story that had him fleeing the UK dressed as a woman. Alamieyeseigha’s return sparked confusion in the state. Jonathan, his deputy, who had acted informally as governor, was not told of his boss’ impending return and was taken by surprise. On his return, Alamieyeseigha quickly moved to take the over from where he stopped. He was working on the assumption that his office, complete with constitutional immunity, would insulate him from prosecution. He had not reckoned that he could be impeached and thus stripped of immunity. That was the fate that befell him.
The EFCC, under Ribadu, enjoyed the support of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was determined to have him evicted from his seat and prosecuted. The process began on 8 November 2005, when sitting under heavy security, the Bayelsa State House of Assembly outlined eight impeachment offences against Alamieyeseigha. They were served on him the same day. Offences listed included maintaining foreign bank accounts while in office. The accounts were in Barclays Bank plc, London; National Westminster Bank, London; Royal Bank Of Scotland and Commerz Bank, London. This was contrary to the clear provisions of Paragraph 3 of the Fifth Schedule (Part 1) of the 1999 Constitution, He was also accused of corruptly enriching his wife and children, namely Mr. Enetonbra Alamieyeseigha, Mr. Seleake Alamieyeseigha, and Miss Embeleakpo Alamieyeseigha as disclosed by the EFCC; criminal diversion and misappropriation of public funds to facilitate acquisition of N1billion shares in Bond Bank plc; purchase of Chelsea Hotel, Abuja, for the sum of N2 billion; and acquisition of £10 million worth of properties in London.
With the backing of the federal government and the EFCC, the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, on 29 November 2005 adopted a resolution requesting the state Chief Judge to appoint a seven-man panel to investigate the allegations. The resolution was passed by 15 out of the 24 members of the legislature. Indeed, the House had passed a resolution to suspend members opposed to impeachment move. The suspended members had, on 2 December 2005, filed a suit in the state High Court against their 15 colleagues, who adopted the resolution requesting the convocation of an investigative panel. In the suit, in which the Chief Judge was joined as co-defendant, they prayed the court, among other reliefs, for an injunction restraining the Chief Judge, “whether by himself, agents, privies and servants from giving effect to any request from the 1st – 15th November 2005 or any other day whatsoever to appoint any investigative panel to investigate the Governor of Bayelsa State”.
The same day another suit was filed in the Supreme Court by the Attorney-General of Bayelsa State against the Attorney-General of the Federation, claiming, among other reliefs, an order of injunction “restraining President Obasanjo and agencies of the Federal Government from any attempt to forcibly remove or induce the removal of Governor Alamieyeseigha from office” and from “further unlawful and unconstitutional interference in the administration of the state.”
Neither stopped Emmanuel Igonarwari, the then Chief Judge of Bayelsa State, from setting a seven-man panel to investigate the allegations. In its report, the panel said Alamieyeseigha brought the office of the governor to disrepute, odium and ridicule by jumping bail and returning to Nigeria dressed like a masquerade.
The panel described Alamieyeseigha as an “international fugitive”, warning that Britain’s Scotland Yard may issue a warrant of arrest against him to the embarrassment of the people of Bayelsa. The panel also said by his conduct, Alamieyeseigha had succeeded in scandalising, embarrassing and depicting Bayelsans and Nigerians as people whose word cannot be relied upon. Also, the panel affirmed that Alamieyeseigha dealt a severe blow to the Ijaw Nation, of which Bayelsa is part.
On 9 December 2005, the House adopted the report of the panel, pronouncing Alamieyeseigha guilty of gross misconduct. Consequently, two-thirds majority of the House voted to impeach and dismiss him from office. At the same time, the Bow Street Magistrate Court issued a warrant for his arrest for failing to appear before it at the resumption of his trial.
With the issuance of the international warrant of arrest, the International Police (INTERPOL) could arrest Alamieyeseigha anywhere, except in Nigeria, where he had immunity. But his removal from office ended the immunity from arrest and prosecution in Nigeria. He was arrested immediately after his impeachment. On 13 December 2005, the Federal Government filed a fresh 17-count charge against Alamieyeseigha at the Code of Conduct Tribunal sitting in Kaduna. In the charges, it was alleged that Alamieyeseigha maintained and operated the following foreign personal bank accounts: Account No. 10659347 with Barclays Bank plc, United Kingdom with a balance of £203,753.34 as at 15 February 2005; Account No. 3239940 with UBS Warburg AG, 1 Curzon Street, London, W1J 5HB with a balance of $2.5 million as at September 2005; Account No.338931 in the name of Falcon Inc. with UBS Warburg AG, 1 Curzon Street, London, W1J 5HB; Account No. 7341553/7341596 for US dollars with Barclays Bank plc at International Banking Unit, 88 Dighemis Akritas Avenue 1644, Nicosia, Cyprus; Account No. 7341588 for British pounds with Barclays Bank plc at International Banking Unit, 88 Dighemis Akrltas Avenue 1644, Nicosia, Cyprus; Account No. 5005220454-7 in Denmark with Jyske Bank at Bseterbrogate, 9, DK-1780, Copenhagen V with a balance of at $2.5 million; Account No. 005482562491 with Bank of America United States of America (in the name of Peter Alamieyeseigha) with a balance of $160,000.
The government also alleged that a comparison of asset declaration forms filled by Alamieyeseigha in 1999 and 2003 revealed that he failed to disclose several assets he owned in Nigeria and overseas.
The assets included a property known as Water Gardens, London W2 2DG, which he bought for £1.75 million in the name of his company, Solomon & Peters Ltd; a building at 14 Mapesbury Road, London, NW2 4JB which he bought at £1.4 million and another property at 14 Jubilee Heights, School Uphill, London, NW2 2UQ, which he bought at £241,000. The other undeclared assets included a property at No. 68-70, Regent’s Road, London, bought at £3 million; Chelsea Hotel, Abuja (N2 billion) for which N1.5 billion was paid; two blocks of luxury flats at Plot 26 Bashir Dalhatu Close, Abacha Estate, Ikoyi (N45million); a property at John Kadiya Street, off Jose Marti Crescent, Asokoro, Abuja, worth N350 million; an estate of six luxury duplexes at No. 1 Community Road, off Allen Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos (N200 million); N1 billion worth of shares acquired in Bond Bank, and properties at Plot 916 & 917, Wuse II District, Abuja, Plot 7, Cadastral Zone A6, Maitama Abuja, Plot1267, Amazon Road, Abuja, Plot 3375, Cadastral Zone A6, Abuja, Plot 1372-1374, Cadastral Zone A7, Wuse II, Abuja and Plot 1281, Cadastral Zone A4, Asokoro, Abuja. This, the government said, is contrary to Section 15(2) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act. The EFCC also obtained a freezing injunction over his Nigerian assets.
EFCC investigations also revealed that Alamieyeseigha held a personal bank account with Barclays Bank plc, which was opened on 5 January 2004, and had a balance of £203,753.34 as at 15 February 2005; a personal bank account with HSBC, London, which was closed in March 2003, with all the money in it transferred to Santolina Investment Corporation’s account with National Westminster Bank, London. The anti-graft agency said its investigations revealed Alamieyeseigha was the sole director of Santolina Investment Corporation and sole signatory to the company’s account with National Westminster Bank with A/c No. 10182819, Sort Code 15-00-25 in London.
Also linked to him was a personal account with Bond Bank in Lagos, which was opened in January 2004 and had a balance of N105 million as at 16 September 2005; and another account in Oceanic Bank plc (The Salo Trust) in the names of Enitonbrapa Alamieyeseigha, Embelakpo Alamieyeseigha, Ebipadei Alamieyeseigha, Oyamuyefa Alamieyeseigha, Saleaka Alamieyeseigha and Margaret Alamieyeseigha. In South Africa, the former governor owned a property at V & A Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa, worth over £1 millon; Royal Albatross Properties 67, a company registered in September 2005 in South Africa. And in the United States of America, he owned a property at 504, Pleasant Drive, King Farm Estate, Maryland, and another one on 15859, Aurora Crest Drive, Whither, California. The EFCC in December 2005 obtained an order to freeze his assets worldwide. And on 20 December 2005, the anti-graft agency charged Alamieyeseigha on 40 counts of corruption and money laundering before Justice Muhammed Shuaibu of Lagos High Court. However, as the trial went on, the British authorities in 2006 returned $1.9 million seized from Alamieyeseigha to the Bayelsa State Government. Also, the United Kingdom government seized $2.7million held in bank accounts at Royal Bank of Scotland and Santolina Investment Corporation.
On 26 July 2007, in a bargain plea deal brokered by his lawyer and the then Vice-President Jonathan, Alamieyeseigha pleaded guilty to six charges of money laundering, corruption and stealing. He was sentenced to two years imprisonment on each count. The sentences were to run concurrently. He was, however, released on 27 July 2007 because the sentences ran from the day of his arrest in 2005. He was also ordered by the court to forfeit his assets, including N1 billion shares owned in a commercial bank, four properties, £2.29 million, N105 million and $160,000 to the government of Bayelsa State.
The report of World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery initiative, STAR, revealed that Alamieyeseigha illegally aquired properties, investments and cash exceeding at least, £10m in value. The initiative arrived at this value after considering what he declared in his assets declaration forms submitted in Nigeria and the real assets its investigations linked to him directly or by proxy.
STAR also noted that while some of the foreign assets were held in Alamieyeseigha’s name and that of his wife, the bulk of them were held by companies and trusts incorporated in the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, South Africa, and Seychelles. The body indicated that after Alamieyeseigha pleaded guilty to charges of money laundering in Nigeria, EFCC was able to ask the London Metropolitan Police to disclose further findings on him. With evidence obtained by the EFCC in Nigeria and the Metropolitan Police in London, in form of documents and witness statements from contractors and financial institutions, anti-graft agencies have been able to prove that Alamieyeseigha got his massive wealth from outright stealing of public funds, principally from the Bayelsa State Development Fund and from bribes paid by contractors for the award of public contracts while he was governor. “This was used alongside evidence of Mr. Alamieyeseigha’s income and asset declaration to obtain a worldwide restraint order covering all assets owned directly or indirectly by Alamieyeseigha and a disclosure order for documents held at banks and by Alamieyeseigha’s associates,” said STAR.
Also, with the help of the South African Police, the former governor’s luxury penthouse in the country as well as assets in Cyprus and Denmark have been seized and handed over to the Nigerian authorities.
Last June, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) executed a forfeiture order granted by a federal district judge in the state of Massachusetts, which also led to the loss of the sum of $401,931 to the US government. Prosecutors had convinced the US court that the money deposited at a Massachusetts brokerage fund by the former governor was obtained through corrupt means from 1999 to 2005. “With a declared income of less than $250,000, Mr. Alamieyeseigha accumulated millions of dollars worth of property over a six-year period,” said Lanny Breuer, an Assistant Attorney-General. “Today’s announcement – the first forfeiture judgment obtained under our Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative – sends a powerful message about the United States’ commitment to rooting out corruption far and wide,” he added. It was also learnt that the US DoJ has also filed application for another order to enable it confiscate the $600,000 residence of Alamieyeseigha in Maryland, based on a suspicion that it was bought with proceeds of corruption.
Apart from the United States, it is believed that the former governor is still being probed by law enforcement agencies in Britain, South Africa, Bahamas and Seychelles as well as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and STAR.
It was learnt last week that the International Financial Crime Specialists are using Alamieyeseigha’s case to promote their conference and exhibition coming up in May as an example of cross-border war and cooperation against graft. The association and the US DoJ, according to reports, described the former governor’s case as the first success story of Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative.
While calling on President Jonathan to reverse his decision on his former boss, global anti-corruption organisation, Transparency International noted that the “decision undermines anti-corruption efforts in Nigeria and encourages impunity. If the government is serious about uprooting public corruption, sanctions against those who betray the public trust should be strengthened, not relaxed”.
On its part, the US, through its Embassy in Nigeria and its State Department, expressed its disappointment over the pardon granted the former governor. In a Twitter message, the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria said it was “deeply disappointed” at Alamieyeseigha’s pardon. “We see this as a setback in the fight against corruption,” Embassy spokeswoman, Deb MacLean, said in the Twitter message.
It was also gathered that leading United States’ news organisations have focused on the pardon, which they have all condemned without exception.
Some journalists took up Victoria Nuland, spokeswoman for US State Department, on the issue last week. “The United States government is deeply disappointed over the recent pardons of corrupt officials by the Nigerian government. We see this as a setback for the fight against corruption and also for our ability to play the strong role we’ve played in supporting rule of law and legal institution building in Nigeria, which is very important for the future of the country, obviously,” Nuland was quoted as saying on the reaction of her home government to the issue.
There have been speculations that the US may consider placing visa restrictions on Nigerian government officials and cut off aid to Nigeria as a result of the presidential pardon. Reports indicated that Nigeria may receive up to $660 million in aid from the US this year. There are also speculations that President Barack Obama may cancel his scheduled visit to Nigeria later this year in protest against the pardon. It was gathered that the opinion of other foreign countries with strong ties to Nigeria may not be different from that of the US.
Though the former governor was not the only corrupt individual pardoned, many had argued that the exercise was principally designed for him. The wide allegation is that the pardon granted Alamieyeseigha was to rehabilitate him towards the 2015 elections. But globally, the exercise has provoked outrage as the exercise was seen as putting the war against corruption in Nigeria on the reverse gear.
But the Presidency has dismissed the arguments that the pardon is a setback against the war on corruption, maintaining that the former governor had been duly punished for his offences. The Presidency also claimed that the pardon to Alamieyeseigha is in appreciation of the role he has played in helping to calm militancy in the Niger Delta, an action which it said has contributed to the growth of the Nigerian economy with increase in oil production.