A former Governor of Akwa Ibom state, Godswill Akpabio, has given insight into why he was interrogated for several hours on Friday by operatives of Nigeria’s anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Speaking with a PREMIUM TIMES reporter shortly after he left the EFCC headquarters late on Friday night, Mr. Akpabio admitted that he was summoned by the anti-graft body to respond to several allegations of corruption against him.
He however said he was not arrested, but that he honoured the commission’s invitation voluntarily.
“A young lawyer from my state has been petitioning the EFCC accusing me of corruption,” the former governor said. “So shortly before I got involved in an accident in August, the EFCC summoned me to come and respond to the allegations.
“But following the accident, I wasn’t well enough to honour the EFCC summon. And I let them know.
“So today, since I’m now well, and the Senate did not sit, I decided to honour the EFCC so as to answer questions concerning the allegations against me.
“I wasn’t arrested. I walked in there myself and now I’m back at home. The EFCC operatives were professional. They asked questions, and I answered.”
Mr. Akpabio insisted the allegations against him were false, saying “those making the allegations do not understand how government works”.
The former governor, who is now Senate Minority Leader, said the lawyer who dragged him to the EFCC submitted at least four different petitions, and that it would take a while for him to respond to each of the allegations.
“So I will return to the EFCC again as necessary,” he said.
Mr. Akpabio added, “I am a law-abiding citizen, and whenever I’m summoned to answer questions about how I served my people, I will always respond.
“I urge everyone who has served in public office not to be afraid to explain what they did and how they served.”
The EFCC had begun investigation into alleged theft of N108.1billion of Akwa Ibom funds by the former governor in June.
The action followed a petition forwarded to the commission by an Abuja-based lawyer and activist, Leo Ekpenyong.
Mr. Ekpenyong had on June 8 petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari and the EFCC, calling for Mr. Akpabio’s probe and accusing him of looting Akwa Ibom state treasury.
Investigations by PREMIUM TIMES showed that several other indigenes of the state, who are demanding the investigation of the former governor, have been invited by the EFCC to adopt their petitions.
On his part, Mr. Ekpenyong was summoned on Wednesday, June 17, to adopt his petition and provide more details to some of the allegations he made against Mr. Akpabio.
The former governor, now senator, was elected in 2007, at a time the nation enjoyed robust oil revenue.
Akwa Ibom and Rivers States are Nigeria’s largest oil-producing states. The two states alternate as first and second top producers periodically.
The two states receive the highest funds allocation from the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee, FAAC, monthly.
Data from the National Bureau of Statistics and the office of the Accountant General of the Federation indicate that under Mr. Akpabio, known for ostentatious spending, Akwa Ibom received a staggering N1. 6 trillion from FAAC between June 2007 and May 2014.
At the time he vacated office on May 29, the state received more, excluding other revenues like Ecological Funds, internally generated revenue etc.
In a new petition to the EFCC dated June 22, and copied to Mr. Buhari and the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, Mr. Ekpenyong gave details of some of Mr. Akpabio’s alleged financial recklessness.
He alleged that between January and December 2014, the ex-governor colluded with two of his top aides to steal a whopping N108.1 billion from the state’s treasury.
Mr. Ekpenyong told the EFCC that the former Government House Permanent Secretary, Etekamba Umoren, and the former Accountant General of the state, Udo Isobara, colluded with Mr. Akpabio to steal the funds.
“Between January –December 2014, it is on record that the trio of Godswill Akpabio, Mr. Etekamba Umoren and Mr. Udo Isobara, made illegal but substantial withdrawals of cash from a designated state government-owned account with Zenith Bank with account number: 1010375881 amounting to N22.1 billion,” he stated in the petition.
“It is worthy of note that reasons for such ungodly cash withdrawals against financial regulations and due process laws range between sundry use and unjustifiable expenditures by Godswill Akpabio and his numerous surrogates and proxies.
“For example, a whopping N18 billion was withdrawn fraudulently from the state FAAC account with the United Bank for Africa in trenches of N10 million and above by Mr. Isobara in a surreptitious manner to conceal their dishonest intention.”
For assisting Mr. Akpabio retire billions of the stolen funds, Mr. Ekpenyong said Mr. Umoren was rewarded with an appointment as Government House chief of staff and now secretary to the state government under Udom Emmanuel’s administration.
The legal practitioner went on to state that over N50 billion of Akwa Ibom funds were spent by the former governor during the last general elections.
During the period under review, he said Mr. Akpabio also withdrew a whopping N18 billion from the state coffers under the guise of special services, reception of very important guests and sundry items.
“The cumulative aggregate of these monies stolen by Godswill Akpabio from the coffers of government as pocket money is the annual budget of some states in Nigeria put together,” the petition reads.
He listed the bouquet of assets acquired by the former governor through surrogates to include a multi-billion naira mansion at Plot 5 Okogosi Spring Close, off Katsina-Ala Crescent, Maitama-Abuja, a multi-billion naira mansionette at Plot 28 Colorado Close, Maitama, Abuja and another multi-billion naira mansion at 22 Probyn Road, Ikoyi, Lagos.
Others include a multi-billion naira mansionette at Plot 23 Olusegun Aina Street, Parkview, Lagos and a multi-billion naira 25 storey building at Akin Adesola Street, Victoria Island, Lagos.
“As earlier promised, more details of assets and graft-related funds illegally and fraudulently siphoned from Akwa Ibom State treasury and laundered to foreign destinations are in the offing. As usual, we will do the needful.”
ALLEGATIONS, COMPLETE FALSEHOOD
The commissioner of information during the administration of Mr. Akpabio, Aniekan Umana, has however described the contents of the petition by Mr. Ekpenyong as falsehood taken too far.
He said the petition betrayed a lack of understanding of the workings of government.
“Every sum withdrawn from a government account is tied to a subhead and there must be a budgetary provision. To attribute fraud to withdrawals which had the full sanction of Government and was accommodated in the budget is strange, mischievous and untenable. More so, when one understands that there are checks and balances which guide all aspects of government financial administration,” he said.
He also said the allegation that the State Government spent N50 billion on the March General Elections falls flat on its face based on his explanations of the workings of government as regards financial transactions.
“There was no such provision in the budget of this year and such an amount could not have been paid as an extra-budgetary expenditure and yet salaries and other commitments were met. We challenge the petitioners to provide proof to support this wild allegation. Who was it paid to? How was it paid? Where was it paid? And when was it paid?
“Senator Akpabio does not own a 25-storey building in Victoria Island or in any part of the world, as alleged by the petitioner. It is also a patent falsehood that the house at 22 Probyn Road, Ikoyi belongs to Senator Akpabio.
It is a rented building which ownership can be verified from the Lagos State Lands Registry.
“Senator Akpabio does not own the properties mentioned in the petition to belong to him. You can verify the ownership of the properties (5 Okokosi Close, Maitama and Plot 28 Colorado Close, Maitama) from the land registry in Abuja,” he said.
He also denied that the state received over N2 trillion as oil allocation.
“Please do note that the idea that the Akwa Ibom State Government received over N2.5 trillion in the eight years of the Akpabio administration is an outrageous lie. What this suggests is that the State Government received an average of N26 billion monthly for the period. What a lie! From published accounts of disbursement from the Federation Accounts, Akwa Ibom State never received up to N26 billion in any month throughout the period.
“Note that in some months like the April and May, 2015, Akwa Ibom State received about N8 billion.”