On February 14, a federal high court sitting in Abuja and presided over by Justice Evoh Chukwu discharged and acquitted former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, on a 16-count charge of contract inflation and fraud. The charge was brought by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Bankole had been standing trial since June 13, 2011, shortly after he left office.
Specifically, Bankole was arraigned in court over fraudulent “purchases of two Range Rover bullet-proof vehicles, two other Range Rover vehicles, three Mercedes Benz S-600 cars, 400 DSTV units, 400 television sets, 800 desktop computers, 100 Sharp Digital Copiers and 400 HP LaserJet printers.” The EFCC called six witnesses, some of them staff of the National Assembly.
After sitting out the submission of the prosecution that took the whole of three years, Bankole’s lawyers entered a no-case submission which the court upheld. “In the totality of the evidence of the prosecution, there is nothing to show that the accused person acted with intention to defraud and there is no evidence to show that he selected the companies that were awarded the contract,” Justice Chukwu ruled. “It would amount to inquisition to ask the accused person to enter his defence in this case. The no-case-submission succeeds and the accused person is discharged and acquitted of all the 16 counts in the charge.”
The former House Speaker could not believe that he was a free man again. He still sat in the dock after the judge had read his decision and Bankole’s aides had to nudge him to come to terms with his changed situation. Unable to speak with reporters in court who had approached him to get his comments, a bemused Bankole could only mumble, “Not now. I’ll talk later.”
As it turned out, after a long trial it was Bankole who laughed last and indeed laughed the best, whereas the EFCC left the court, embarrassed by another failed attempt to land a big catch in the anti-corruption campaign. On January 31, 2012, another high court judge, Justice Sulaiman Belgore freed Bankole and his deputy, Usman Bayero Nafada, whom the same EFCC arraigned for embezzling N10 billion.
The EFCC’s losses to Bankole have added to a string of judicial setbacks the anti-graft agency has suffered in recent times against former top public functionaries it suspected of having abused their offices. Last year, the Supreme Court quashed the only high profile conviction EFCC had secured against a flamboyant PDP chieftain in the South-west, Chief Bode George, it accused of contract inflation while he was the chairman of the board of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). The apex court ruled that the charge on which he was convicted was not known in law at the time and erased the two-year jail term he had already served.
The real big fishes that have landed in the anti-corruption net so far – former Delta state governor, Chief James Ibori, and that of Bayelsa, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha – were caught not in this country but by UK police and made to face justice in British courts. The other high profile case involved a former Edo state governor, Chief Lucky Igbinedion. Somehow, the EFCC managed to bungle his trial by accepting a plea bargain which let him off the hook.
With a dismal performance record like that, is it any surprise that Nigerians do not take this EFCC seriously?