On March 16, 2022, operatives of Nigeria’s anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), arrested Willie Obiano, the immediate past governor of Anambra State. According to the EFCC, Obiano was apprehended at the Murtala Muhammad International Airport in Lagos while preparing to board a flight to Houston, United States. SecretReporters gathered that the arrest took place at approximately 8:30 p.m, a few hours after he left office as governor, thereby losing his immunity from arrest and prosecution.
This was in response to a letter dated November 15, 2021, from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), requesting that the service place the governor on a watchlist and notify the EFCC whenever he departs the country from any of the international airports or other points of entry and exit.
According to reports, the former governor of Anambra State was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on allegations of corruption. The spokesperson for the EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren, informed the Punch newspaper then, that Obiano was taken into custody for the alleged misappropriation of public funds. Specifically, the diversion of N5 billion Sure-P and N37 billion security vote, which was withdrawn in cash. It is also alleged that a portion of these funds was used to finance political activities in the state. Despite this, both Uwujaren and the chairman of the EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa, have declined to provide any further information and have stayed mum over the case.
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When asked to provide details about the case, Bawa responded by saying, “I don’t know what update you want me to give, because you have been accusing us of media trials, and you want me to say we are doing this and that. No, we (EFCC) would not do that.” The EFCC boss went on to add that “We would continue to conduct our investigations professionally, as we have been doing.”
In the meantime, a source informed the Daily Post that Obiano was accused of diverting funds allocated for Local Government Councils (LGCs) in Anambra for personal gain. Additionally, he was also implicated in the alleged purchase of properties in Lagos, Abuja, and outside Nigeria.
“Of course, these acquisitions were done through proxies and associates that would be revealed in due course. The EFCC had sent operatives to Lagos and Abuja airports 24 hours before Obiano handed over to Soludo”, the source said.
In the heat of the arrest, a 12-second video of Obiano in EFCC custody went viral and caused controversy. In the video, the former governor can be seen dressed in shorts and a white shirt, drinking water from a bottle in a closed room presumed to be in EFCC custody. After spending a week in detention, the EFCC released Obiano. As part of his bail condition, his passport was withheld.
However, more than a year after he was arrested and released, nothing has been heard about the case.
With the anti-graft agency allegedly operating on double standards, there have been speculations that the case may have been ignored or concealed as the agency have repeatedly come under fire for its approach to combating corruption, with the law arguably only enforced against ordinary citizens, while the wealthy often evade punishment for their corrupt acts.
In April 2022, President Buhari pardoned Joshua Dariye, the former governor of Plateau state, and Jolly Nyame, the former governor of Taraba state. Jolly Nyame was prosecuted by the EFCC for embezzling N1.64 billion during his tenure as governor of Taraba from 1999 to 2007. He was convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2018, following an 11-year trial. Similarly, Joshua Dariye, who served as governor between 1999 and 2007, was found guilty of N1.126 billion fraud and was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment in 2018.
Furthermore, Nigerians have raised concerns about the release of former Abia State Governor Orji Kalu from prison in 2020, despite his N7.2 billion fraud conviction that led to a 12-year jail sentence. It could be argued that Kalu’s release validates the statement made by the former Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Adams Oshiomhole, in January 2019, that “once you join the APC, your sins are forgiven.”
This double standards and lopsided fight against corruption by the present government was bemoaned by the immediate past chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Attahiru Jega who expressed worry that those who have stolen public funds or threatened by the EFCC for prosecution, are easily let off the hook once they join the broom sweeping campaign of the ruling All Progressives Congress party, APC.