Akpabio’s Defection Puts Buhari’s Anti-corruption War Under The Spotlight

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Senator Godswill Akpabio, who has a pending case before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission following allegations of stealing over N100bn from the coffers of Akwa Ibom State when he was governor, has defected to the ruling All Progressives Congress.

The APC-led Federal Government has welcomed him with open arms and political analysts believe the defection could make the former governor to evade corruption trial, raising questions about President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war.

Unsurprisingly, the senator representing Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District, Godswill Akpabio, on Tuesday resigned from his position as the Senate Minority Leader. A day later, he defected from the Peoples Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress.

Perhaps, so much drama had surrounded his move to defect from the opposition PDP to the ruling APC, amid the senator’s romance with key members of the opposition party and political leaders.He had met with Acting President Yemi Osinbajo at the Aso Rock Villa last Thursday, accompanied by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Ita Enang.

While the meeting was on, the 81st meeting of the PDP National Executive Council was holding at the party’s national secretariat in Abuja.Then, on Sunday, Akpabio showed up in London to visit President Muhammadu Buhari, who is on a 10-day furlough.

Reacting to the senator’s visit to Buhari, the PDP expressed shock, saying the former Akwa Ibom State governor had told members of the party’s National Working Committee he was travelling to Germany.“He told us he was going to Germany, but if he ended up in London, maybe he had a technical stopover,” the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said.

However, by Monday, the senator was back in the country to pay a visit to the National Leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.The visit was said to be part of the last-minute consultations on his planned defection to the APC.

The PDP had earlier accused the APC of wooing its top members with money and political opportunities. “Nigerians can now see the shameless hypocrisy of the APC, which is now going about, cap in hand, to beg the same persons it taunted as corrupt and evil, seeing that it has been overrun by the tides,” Ologbondiyan had said.

“Having failed to cow such persons through threats, media trials, trumped-up charges and raw violence, the APC is now seeking to ensnare them with promises of political opportunities it no longer has control over,” he added.

Akpabio’s defection came under the heel of gale of defections of key members of the APC, including Senate President Bukola Saraki and Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal, to the PDP.Akpabio’s defection appeared like a relief to the leadership of the APC-led Federal Government which had apparently been worried by the mass defection of its key chieftains to the PDP.

Although the former Akwa Ibom State governor has attributed his defection to what he called President Buhari’s patriotism and integrity, media reports have linked his defection to pressure from the APC-led Federal Government over his case with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, as well as the disagreement between him and his successor, Governor Udom Emmanuel.

The anti-corruption agency is currently seeking court approval to resume its investigation of Akpabio over allegations that he stole over N100bn from the coffers of the oil-rich state while he was the governor.Operatives of the Department of State Services had in September 2015 stormed the Akwa Ibom State Government House and reportedly confiscated arms and millions of dollars.

Weeks later, the EFCC started investigating Akpabio and Senator Bassey Akpan, who was the Commissioner for Finance when Akpabio was governor.The EFCC wrote letters to Zenith Bank Plc, Keystone Bank, First City Monument Bank, Skye Bank Plc, and the United Bank for Africa demanding information on the state’s accounts amid the investigation.

The anti-graft agency also extended its investigation to the accountant-general, the auditor-general, the Speaker and the clerk of the state House of Assembly.The Akwa Ibom State Government later described the EFCC’s probe as a witch-hunt.

It have dragged the commission to court and obtained an interim injunction, restraining the agency and other Federal Government agencies from probing the finances of the state government, but this was temporary as the judge lifted the injunction months later, paving the way for full investigations.The matter was taken to the Appeal Court, where it has remained for over a year.

However, political commentators believe the former Akwa Ibom State governor’s defection could be attributed more to the alleged pressure from the APC-led government over his case with the EFCC.The Reformed-APC had Sunday accused the APC-led Federal Government of wooing PDP lawmakers who are still having cases before the EFCC, promising them a clean bill of health before the anti-graft agency.

A commentator and President of the Nigeria Youths Know, Mr. Emmanuel Olaosebikan, believed the former governor of Akwa Ibom State wouldn’t have defected to the APC if he wasn’t “afraid of something.”

“I have been following Akpabio for some time and I think he is definitely afraid of something. It’s possible it’s true that the APC wants to unleash the EFCC on him should he refuse to ‘cooperate’ and defect,” Olaosebikan said.

Previously, the PDP had alleged that Akpabio was being blackmailed by the APC-led Federal Government because of his case at the EFCC.

A top source in the party had also told Saturday PUNCH last Friday that Akpabio was considering leaving the PDP because the ruling party was threatening to use the EFCC against him if he did not defect.


“What is happening is that the APC has threatened to deal with him, using the EFCC and he doesn’t want that at all.“Although we are all pleading with him not to leave the PDP, but he is afraid. He doesn’t want to be in the EFCC’s net at all. He is really under pressure but we hope that he would listen to us,” the source had said.

However, Akpabio on Wednesday in Ikot Ekpene claimed that the “young man” who wrote petition against him to the EFCC could not prove his case, adding that this was why the EFCC was unable to charge him to court.

But the EFCC, in its response to media enquiries, on Thursday said the senator still had a case before it.

Considering the Federal Government’s past, an Uyo-based political analyst, Mr. Joseph Akpan, told our correspondent via telephone that it wasn’t impossible that Akpabio was coerced by the APC to join the party, among other reasons.

He said, “Here in Akwa Ibom State, it is shocking that Akpabio would ever consider dumping the PDP for the APC. It’s not that it’s totally strange because no situation is permanent in life, but considering his influence in the party here, it’s surprising he would want to leave a party he has a grip of for the APC.

“It could be true that the APC wanted him by all means, by offering him certain ‘gifts.’ He has been accused of mismanaging the state funds to the tune of N108bn.
“Bearing in mind that the APC has always regarded as ‘saints’ those with corruption cases that join the party, Akpabio may not be an exception. His ‘sins’ may soon be forgotten as he has joined the APC
.

“His defection would certainly alter a lot in the political landscape here. No doubt about it, he has a big following in the state. He practically single-handedly installed the current state governor, Udom Emmanuel, and made the PDP to win virtually all the legislative seats in the state House of Assembly.”

An Abuja-based development economist and political commentator, Dr. Juliana Ogunyinka, opined that if President Buhari was leading a genuine anti-corruption war, he wouldn’t have been allowing politicians with pending cases before the anti-corruption agency to defect to his party.

She cited the example of a former Minister of Defence, Senator Musliu Obanikoro, who was allegedly involved in the diversion of N4.7bn from the imprest account of the Office of the National Security Adviser in 2014. Obanikoro defected to the APC in November 2017 and nothing has since been heard of his corruption case with the EFCC anymore.

However, Ogunyinka noted that as soon as the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, defected from the APC to the PDP, the EFCC “quickly” resumed investigation into allegations of corruption against him.Barely five days after his defection from the ruling party, the EFCC said the governor was being investigated of a N22bn fraud.

“One then wonders what the fuss about the anti-corruption war is all about,” Ogunyinka said.
“It’s not an anti-corruption war that this government is fighting; why is it that when you join the APC, your corruption cases are swept under the carpet, but when you are in the opposition, you are haunted.

“Look at the Ortom scenario, where was the EFCC all the while the governor was in the APC? Why didn’t we hear anything about his case? But as soon as he defected, the EFCC then remembered the governor had a case to answer regarding his security vote.

“While I’m not saying the anti-graft agency shouldn’t investigate any governor or senator, especially as we know that many of them are indeed corrupt, what I’m canvassing is that it shouldn’t be a selective anti-corruption war, which is why I loved Ortom’s response to the EFCC.”

After the anti-graft agency said it was investigating the governor for alleged N22bn fraud, he had urged it to begin the probe of President Buhari’s security vote.
Ortom had asked a series of questions, “Why am I being investigated by the EFCC? My records are there. But so far, I am the only governor in Nigeria whose security vote is being investigated by the EFCC.

“How can you single me out of 36 (governors) for investigation? It (security vote) is not something that any government will begin to disclose. Why should Benue’s case be different if not persecution? If the EFCC wanted a genuine investigation of security vote spending, they should have started from the Presidency and across the 36 states.”

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