For the first time, the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), Alhaji Nihu Ribadu, has opened up on the arrest and trial of Governor Diepreye Alamieyesiegha of Bayelsa State over money laundery charges in London.
Ribadu, in an exclusive interview he granted Sunday Punch in Abuja on Friday night, said it was necessary for him to put the record straight over what he considered as falsehood being spread by some individuals over the fate of the governor.
He said that part of the falsehood included the circumstances that surrounded the arrest of the governor by detectives from the Metropolitan Police on September 15, at the Hearthrow Airport.
Another grey area which he claimed some individuals and groups had propagated as truth was the actual worth of the property allegedly owned by the governor in the British capital.
According to him, Alamieyesiegha allegedly owns many houses in London, all estimated at 10 million British pounds.
Besides, the EFCC boss claimed that the governor was not with his diplomatic passport as at the time of his arrest.
The governor, who is facing a three-count charge of money laundering offences, was on Thursday remanded in Brixton prison.
The Bow street court has adjourned his case to October 6, after the futile bid by his lawyers to secure his bail.
Giving a clearer insight into the arrest and arraignment of the governor, the EFCC boss, told Sunday Punch, that the houses traced to Alamieyesiegha did not show any evidence that the property belonged to the state government.
“He owns a couple of houses in London and those houses were not registered as the property of the government of Nigeria. They were never registered as diplomatic premises.”
The Metropolitan Police conducted a search on one of his houses shortly after his arrest and allegedly found about one million pounds.
Though unconfirmed reports claimed that the governor has about 43 houses in the British capital, Ribadu could not confirm the actual figure, but he said the houses were not up to 43.
Sunday Punch also sent e-mails to the Metropolitan Police on the authenticity of the report on the number of houses owned by the governor in London.
However, there was no response on the enquiry as at 9.30 pm when we went to press.
Ribadu accused those individuals who had been defending the governor over the money laundering charges against him of ignorance since they do not have concrete facts on the case against him.
“He must have revealed the source of the money found on him and, of course, he made a statement as to the origin of the money. So, may be those that are defending the governor should shut up because they do not know what they are talking about.”
The EFCC boss also shed light on the raging public controversy, especially among legal luminaries on the arrest of the governor since he was supposed to be covered by diplomatic immunity.
According to Ribadu, the governor travelled out of the country with the Nigerian passport contrary to claims that he was with his diplomatic documents at the time of his arrest.
His words: “When the governor travelled, he did not use a diplomatic passport. He used a common Nigerian passport.
“When he went there, he did not go to London to transact any diplomatic business on behalf of the state. He went there to care of himself and he was found completely not in possession of anything in government. His journey was personal.”
SUNDAY PUNCH, October 02, 2005
Alamieyeseigha: Pressure on legislature to impeach him
EMMA AMAIZE, Regional Editor, South-South
Posted to the Web: Sunday, October 02, 2005
FROM the first week Bayelsa state governor, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, was arrested in London over money laundering; a high-level political move was launched by some powers that be outside the state to get his deputy to take over as acting governor and from there, the governor of the state but the deputy, Mr. Jonathan, whose first name is Goodluck does not see anything good in the luck that destiny has put on his table. Since the beginning of the sour episode, September 15, Jonathan could be excused on grounds that he was being loyal to his boss. But by Wednesday when the governor found himself in Brixton Prisons, which is his new stamping ground until October 6 when his case would come up again in court, the question is who takes over from him as the acting governor of the oil-rich state.
WHAT the law says: Section 190 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria stipulates: "Whenever the governor transmits to the speaker of the House of Assembly a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to the speaker of the House of Assembly a written declaration to the contrary, such functions shall be discharged by the deputy governor" while Section 191 (1) also indicates that "The deputy governor of a state shall hold the office of governor of the state if the office of a governor becomes vacant by reason of death, resignation, impeachment, permanent incapacity or removal of the governor from office for any other reason in accordance with section 188 and 189 of the Constitution".
The speaker of the State House of Assembly by virtue of sub-section two of Section 191 would take over in the circumstances mentioned above if the office of deputy governor of the state is also vacant for a period of not more than three months, during which there shall be an election of a new governor of the state who shall hold office for the unexpired term of office of the last holder of the office. For now, the office of the deputy governor is not vacant and that leaves out the speaker in the scramble. The only person in the race is, therefore, the deputy governor. The governor has not, however, told anybody, either orally or in writing that he was on vacation or unable to discharge the functions of his office and has not also resigned from office.
That again narrows the options of his removal from office to impeachment by the State House of Assembly. Sunday Vanguard learnt that this was already in the pipeline. Indeed, the speaker and other principal officers of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly jetted out of the country barely a week after the arrest of the governor when pressure was allegedly being mounted on them to commence impeachment proceedings against the governor.
All that was needed to jump-start the process, according to Section 188 (1) of the Constitution, was a notice of allegation in writing, signed by not less than one-third of the members of the House of Assembly, stating that the governor is guilty of gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office. To some people, the legislators were running away from their lawful assignment. Those in this school of thought, however, believe that nemesis would soon catch up with them and they would have no other option if Alamieyeseigha were finally jailed for the offence.
How Jonathan resisted take-over: Sunday Vanguard was told at Yenagoa that Bayelsa’’s share of the last allocation to state governments was withheld because of the arrest of the governor. The action was almost degenerating to another crisis in the state as civil servants were not paid and the deputy dovernor was told categorically that the allocation would not be released except it was clear who the acting governor of the state was in the absence of the governor. The import of the action was very clear to Jonathan but he felt it would be a stab on his boss if he grabbed the opportunity.
It was gathered that those involved assured the deputy governor that they would handle the situation properly and that it would not be seen as if he torpedoed his boss because he was not the architect of Alamieyeseigha’s misfortune. Jonathan, however, read between the lines and squealed to Alamieyeseigha who is holed up in London on phone. A game plan was hatched to overcome the mountain.
The deputy governor had to personally visit President Olusegun Obasanjo to explain the situation to him. The Presidency, according to our sources, feigned ignorance of the temporal seizure of the state’s allocation but it, nonetheless, said the action was to forestall crisis in the state in the absence of the governor. Our source said that the deputy governor had to write an undertaking that there would be peace in the state before the allocation was released to him. With what appeared to be the continued detention of the governor, more pressures have been mounted on him to take the bull by the horns by accepting the challenge of becoming the acting governor to enable the strategists go into action. Will he play ball, it does not seem likely with the footprints of Jonathan.
Unwilling Legislators: Ab initio, the members of the State House of Assembly who suspected or knew that the game plan was for them to impeach the governor and the principal officers flew out of the country so as to be "out of network" or within the coverage area of the hawks. Some people were ready to "burn" some cash, for the governor to be sent packing from Creek Haven as Government House, Yenagoa is called, according to available information. Even the governor’s critics in the rival ANPP in the state were also reading political undertones in his current travails.
As if calling the bluff of those who want them to impeach the governor, the State Assembly had gone on an indefinite recess with some of the lawmakers hinting that they would not resume until the governor’s fate becomes clear. There is the fear that if the House continues with its sittings, some members would one way or the other be compromised and the governor has been so good to them. The premises of the State House of Assembly were calm when Sunday Vanguard visited but none of the lawmakers was found in office. A staff said: "You cannot see them now, they are on recess. Are you a stranger here, don’t you know that they do not want to impeach the governor and so, the best thing for them is to stay off now until the time is ripe to resume sitting because they cannot take any matter in the House now without mentioning the money laundering case against the governor and once that is done, some people could cash in on it to call for impeachment and other things".
It was gathered that there were really moves to get the lawmakers to impeach the governor and this much, the national president of the Ijaw National Congress, Prof Kimse Okoko, indicated when he addressed a world press conference few days after Alamieyeseigha’s arrest. Majority leader of the House, Hon Steve Adika, who recently returned from London, where he visited the embattled governor castigated the Nigeria High Commission in Britain for allegedly acquiescing to the arrest of Alamieyeseigha despite the immunity granted him by the Constitution. A lawmaker who spoke on condition of anonymity said the members had only gone on recess to consult with members of their constituency on the 2006 Appropriation Bill currently before the House.
Who runs Bayelsa for now? The deputy governor is in-charge of the running of the affairs of the state for now. Before the governor was remanded in Brixton Prisons with court approval, he was said to be briefing the governor constantly and getting instructions on what to do. But the channel of communication has been hampered since the remand. Jonathan is, however, mindful not to do anything that would suggest that he is disloyal to the governor even though he is eyeing the governorship seat in 2007. Nobody is competing for power with the deputy governor as far Government House, Yenagoa is concerned at the moment. The only powerful person that would have been flexing muscle with him by virtue of his been a cousin to Alamieyeseigha is the Special Adviser who is on the run following the manhunt for him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Clearly, Alamieyeseigha is still in control of the state.
Atmosphere at Creek Haven: As one observer put it: "The governor moves with the soul of the state whenever he travels out of the state". That is exactly the situation at Government House, Yenagoa when Sunday Vanguard visited. The seat of power was quiet with the deputy governor running the affairs from his office. According to our source: "The place is like a deserted arena when the governor is not around and with him being held, it is now like a grave yard". The signs of the time were boldly written on the faces of virtually everybody in the Government House but the workers were seen going about their normal duty albeit with low spirits.
Ambush, not for Alamieyeseigha alone: Sunday Vanguard investigations showed that traps were set for most of the governors who were out of the country then on vacation by the Federal Government. It would have been a devastating blow, most especially, for the South-South if three of its governors, including Alamieyeseigha, who is already in the net, were arrested for money laundering. "That was exactly the plan but it failed because some people were smarter than those plotting their downfall thought", a source told us. One of the governors reportedly got a tip off from his contacts in the Presidency and stayed clear from a bank where all necessary arrangement had been made to follow him.
Average Bayelsan: The ordinary Bayelsan in the streets of Yenagoa was initially perturbed when the news of the arrest of the governor was broken to them, September 16, through the newspapers and, daily, they thronged the newsstands to find out the latest. The strong campaign by the governor’s loyalists, Ijaw National Congress, Ijaw Youths Council and other groups diffused tension later as they saw his ordeal as political fireworks against him by the Presidency because of the internal politics of the PDP. "For now", said a trader, Mr. John Beneibi, "we are not perturbed, we are waiting for our governor to acquit himself creditably and come back but that is not to say that he will get our support if he is found to be involved in money laundering". The government of the state did not break the news of the arrest of the governor to the people, September 15, when the news got to Government House. Rather, it tried to hide the information but it became public the next day to the average Bayelsan when the newspapers broke the news. Since then, the local newspapers in the state, and there are legion in that axis, have been feasting on the matter.
New twist: What could have been Uhuru for the governor, following the clever argument by his lawyers that his arrest by the Metropolitan Police and bail conditions attached to it were unjust, lasted only for a moment as the police re-arrested Alamieyeseigha on the grounds of fresh evidence and formally charged him to court, where a legal remand order was obtained after the court had, technically, quashed his arrest. The re-arrest of the governor by the police seems to indicate that they were ready to prosecute the case. That is to say that they believe that they have enough evidence to slam him. Though, only the court can determine whether he is guilty or innocent, some people were really beginning to wonder whether the governor could come out of this trial with his reputation unscathed. One of those who strongly believe that the governor would come out victorious is his Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Oronto Douglas.
Immunity against arrest
But as far as Warri-based constitutional lawyer, Mr. Akpo Mudiaga-Odje, is concerned, Alamieyeseigha, by virtue of State Immunity Act of 1978 of the United Kingdom has immunity against arrest or prosecution in the United Kingdom. He added that the governor’s liberty was guaranteed in the United Kingdom like a diplomat and, therefore, "cannot be interrogated or arrested at all". Mudiaga Odje also stated that the Federal Government had no right to waive this immunity on behalf of the governor unless the governor under the Immunity Act and Internationally Protected Persons Act waives it by himself. His words: "The primary issue now is not really money laundering or corruption, but that of international diplomacy, status, prestige and law. The worst thing that could have happened was to send the governor back on the ground of being a persona non grata or to allow him travel back to Nigeria after granting him bail on self recognition and to return when requested.
Who is the wrongdoer: Alamieyeseigha or Obasanjo? As far as Mudiaga-Odje is concerned, Alameiyeseigha’’s ordeal is a calculated ploy to intimidate those involved in the resource control struggle. He said, "No amount of political foreign arrests, victimization and oppression will make us abandon the struggle for resource control. When they ask what we are doing with 13 per cent, then we ask what they are doing with the balance stolen 87 per cent of our oil money"
Blair shuns OBJ’s request on Alamieyeseigha
The Prime Minister was, however, said to have vehemently turned down the pleas by Obasanjo on the excuse that his government could not afford to let Alamieyeseigha slip off its grip for violating the British law on financial crime, if only to make him face the music to serve as a deterrent to others.
Tony Blair, according to sources, specifically lamented to President Obasanjo that the slackness of his government with the governor of Plateau State, who was earlier arrested for money laundering in Britain, was responsible for the escape of the governor to Nigeria to avoid trial, a reason why Britain would not let go of Alamieyeseigha until he responds appropriately to question on allegations against him.
The Prime Minister was said to have expressed regret that Dariye’s escape from Britain was a slight on the commitment of the British government to the global war on corruption, thus implying that a release of Alamieyeseigha would have amounted to encouraging other money launderers to use Britain as a good ground for the business of money laundering.
Presidency sources, however, told Sunday Tribune that the Nigerian President resolved to wade into the case of the Bayelsa state governor against the backdrop of the implications of his trial in Britain on the anti-corruption posturing of his government. Nigeria has already been rated as the Third World most corrupt country, according to report by the Transparency International.
Alamieyeseigha now languishing in a British cell was reportedly arraigned in Britain during the week, marking the beginning of his expected trial for the allegations of money laundering levelled against him. He had earlier been arrested in his London home for allegedly being in possession of hard currency running to about $1 million.
The British government has saddled itself with the task of championing the cause of a partnership with Africa with commitment to help the continent moderate its problems of underdevelopment, poverty and stagnation as a means of fulfilling the World Millennium Development Goals.
To this effect, the British government had commissioned a report on Africa this year with strong emphasis on catalysing the growth of the continent with a reduction in the level of corruption bedeviling it, a task which the government now seems to be performing by combating the racket of money laundering at the instance of thieving public officers in Africa, most especially Nigerians.
According to the African Report commissioned by Tony Blair, African countries were urged to “ratify and implement the UN Convention against corruption during 2005 and should encourage more transparent procurement policies particularly in the areas of construction and engineering.
Efforts by Sunday Tribune to confirm the position of the British government on Alamieyeseigha over the weekend, proved abortive as calls put across to the British High Commission (Abuja) never went through.
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) may have sealed the hope of Bayelsa State Governor, Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha’s continued membership of the party with the on-going re-registration exercise.
The party had declared that the exercise, which commenced last week, cannot be done by proxy, a development which informed President Olusegun Obasanjo and former military President Gen. Ibrahim Babangida going to their roots to register.
With the exercise lasting 10 days in most of the states, ahead of the party congresses and convention, it is unlikely that the governor would have regain freedom as at the time the exercise would end. A member of the party’s national executive told Sunday Tribune that the governor has been deemed removed from the party in view of his ordeal.
“The governor is in London undergoing trial over money laundering allegations. He has been remanded in prison custody, which means that his rights are subject to British laws. We are monitoring development and I can tell you that with the latest court decision remanding him in prison, he cannot meet the registration exercise and once that is the situation, we don’t see him continuing as a member of our party”, the PDP official told Sunday Tribune.
“The National Executive Council (NEC) of our party has not met, so, there is nothing on the man officially yet, but I can assure you that if the man is convicted for those charges, the NEC will have no choice than to decisively intervene, another source told Sunday Tribune. It was gathered that besides the plot to scheme the governor out of the party, plans are afoot to get the governor out by other means.
This is said to be sequel to the experience the party is going through in the hands of the Anambra State governor, Dr. Chris Ngige, who has been expelled from the party but remains on his seat to battle his case at the tribunal. “Meetings have been held with the Bayelsa State Deputy Governor, Chief Goodluck Jonathan, to brief him of the party’s position and the deputy governor has pleaded for time. He is of the opinion that the governor should be allowed to sort out the matter, while he (Goodluck) has been asked to forward an official report to the party and the Presidency”, Sunday Tribune was further told.
It was gathered that the party had availed itself of detailed security reports on the situation and it had been concluded that the governor cannot come out of the ordeal. Besides the initial £1 million said to have been found on the governor, other monies said to have been traced to him have been discovered, bringing the total to £3.2 million PDP leaders who spoke on conditions of anonmity said that the party is fully behind the president’s anti-corruption crusade and the conviction of a governor or any high ranking official will be a big boost to the government crusade for debt relief and the anti-corruption war.
Alamieyesiegha was arrested in London on September 15 for allegedly being in possession of £1 million pounds. He was taken to a London court which adjoined the matter till November 15. But another court had on Wednesday, ordered him remanded in prison custody, though his passport which was earlier seized, had been returned to him.
If Alamieyeseigha loses his membership of the party, the PDP plans to push the House of Assembly hard to impeach him so as to pave the way for his deputy to complete his tenure. “As at today, the deputy governor is in the good books of Abuja and if he steps in, he will carry out reforms,” a source said. Although the House of Assembly had immediately gone on indefinite recess following the arrest of the governor in London, the party and the Presidency are already collecting the details of the governor’s sins to be made available individually to the legislators such that they will be convinced that there is the need to clean Bayelsa State.
“Once we set out on this project, we will pull it through, I can assure you that we cannot bungle it unlike that obtained in the case of Anambra House of Assembly. A careful, systematic approach is being adopted,” a top PDP chief said. The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has flagged-off its registration exercise without the embattled Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha in Bayelsa State.
The governor was, on Wednesday, arraigned before a Magistrate court in London on a three count charge of money laundering. The exercise which was flagged-off by the Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Steve Azaiki, was witnessed by a mammoth. The SSG who represented the State Governor, Chief Alamieyesiegha at the occasion assured the members of the committee of the state commitment to a hitch-free exercise.
He said the government would provide adequate security to ensure that the committee conducts a successful registration exercise. Dr. Azaki said the people of the state were very hospitable and charged the committee to ensure that it does a thorough job. He further called on all persons interested in joining the PDP in the state to avail themselves of the opportunity of registration, stressing that the only way they could participate in the affairs of the party was to ensure that they were registered.
Earlier, the leader of the party’s Registration Committee, Chief Adewale Omojuwa, had stated that in addition to registering new members, the committee would also validate the membership of old members by re-registering and issuing them with new membership cards. He, therefore, soli-cited government’s assistance, in terms of logistics and security, and assured that his committee would do a thorough job.