Federal lawmakers appear headed for a confrontation with the leadership of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over fresh disclosures that about N50 billion of looted public funds recovered from past government officials by the EFCC can still not be located, several years after the monies were recovered.
A formal investigative report on the missing funds was launched by the House of Representatives nearly six months ago, and is expected to be released this week — just before the end of the current legislative session.
Key members of the house ad hoc committee on the investigation who spoke to NEXT have hinted that there has been no revelation from the anti-graft body that is significantly different from its past claim that the N20 billion recovered from the former Inspector General of Police (IGP), Tafa Balogun, and anotherN30 billion from other officials, could not be traced.
“We have sent them a query and they responded still denying that the funds are with them,” said a member of the committee, who refused to be named because the report has not yet been submitted.
The newest of the details though, according to another member, is that out of the total N20 billion recovered from the convicted police boss, the EFCC has, for the first time, argued that the sum was actually N2 billion and not N20 billion. The lawmaker said based on the information made available to the committee, the commission did not refute that N2 billion is in its coffers. “I believe the money is with them,” the source added.
The admission that the agency is in possession of the sum - although it is meagre given that N50 billion was the subject of the House investigation - appears to be a positive step when placed in the context of the many years during which the commission has summarily denied knowledge of the whereabouts of the missing funds.
Even after the latest disclosure last week to NEXT, EFCC spokesperson, Femi Babafemi insisted that issues of the commission keeping records of recovered loots have not arisen at all.“The EFCC does not keep recovered money,” Mr Babafemi said.
In many ways, the wide ranging controversy - denials and counterclaims over the so-called missing money which is nearly the size of the budget of some states for a full year — remains a puzzling episode in the nation’s fight against financial crimes. On the one hand, the anti-corruption body recoups stolen public funds from offenders in a widely acclaimed feat, and on the other hand, the commission stands accused of not remitting the cash to its rightful destination, although it publicly claims that it did.
Police denies receiving funds
The former IGP’s case, which has now l ingered for many years after he was said to have paid out N20 billion to the anti- corruption agency following a plea bargain, stands as a reference point.
Mr Balogun and two other unnamed officials were convicted in 2004 under the former chairman of the EFCC, Nuhu Ribadu. Upon conviction, Mr Balogun entered into a well-c riticised plea- bargain that required that he part with N20 billion of the money traced to him, for a reduced sentence.
The commission further announced that it raised N30 billion from the sale of properties belonging to two other corrupt public office holders.
Several years after the payment, the whereabouts of the money, totalling N50 billion in all, according to the House committee on Police Affairs chairman, Abdul Ningi, remains unknown amid several allegations and denials.
Despite several correspondence between the house police affairs committee, the EFCC and the police, the location of the funds remained unclear according to the testimony Mr Ningi gave when the matter came up in the house late last year.
While the commission, now under a new boss, Farida Waziri, maintained a sweeping innocence on the matter, some of its officials at times laid the blame, not surprisingly, at Mr Ribadu’s feet.
Mr Ribadu has, in past interviews, denied keeping the funds. And so has the police, which is now under its third boss after the removal of Mr Balogun.
In a reply to the House of Representatives inquiry into the missing money, former IGP, Mike Okiro, who succeeded Mr Balogun, said that only the EFCC was in the best position to state the actual amount recovered. He was emphatic that the amount was not remitted to the police purse.
On December 8, 2010, in a motion whose wordings clearly countered the repeated public claims of the anti-graft agency, Mr Ningi drew the attention of the house to the matter, arguing that the funds should be located and be made part of the 2011 appropriation.
The house said that while the police had stated “officially that they had not received the N20 billion,” the EFCC on the other hand “confirmed that the monies had neither been credited to the Nigeria Police nor into the federation account”.
In clear terms, the house noted that failure was a “violation of the provision of section 162 of the constitution,” and after six months of probing, a six-member panel headed by Ehiogie West-Idahosa, is expected to submit a report before the lawmakers wrap up their session next week.
What is the figure?
Despite the investigation, the EFCC spokesperson, Mr Babafemi, insisted on Friday that “recovered money is paid into designated government accounts”.
Mr Idahosa, a third-term lawmaker from Edo State, confirmed to NEXT that the report would be submitted this week. “We have just had to tidy up the few things,” he said, referring to the electioneering, the corruption uproar and speakership zoning crisis that the house has been dealing with since resumption.
“By next week we should have something to report back, to the house,” he said.
The unofficial disclosure, which many members confirmed, of claims by the EFCC that the amount recovered from the former IGP, Mr Balogun, was not N20 billion butN2 billion, now seems set to complicate further the already contentious matter.
The house is itself burdened by its own winternal corruption charges and might not be in a good stead to discuss this major national embarassment.
“It was public knowledge that they announced N20 billion,” said Halims Agoda, who helped push the call for investigation. “Claiming N2 billion now is something we would like to know when we resume next week.”