BANKOLE OPENS UP IN DETENTION
By Clifford Ndujihe, with agency report, Oscarline Onwuemenyi, EMMAN OVUAKPORIE & ABDULWAHAB ABDULAH
ABUJA- EMBATTLED former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Dimeji Bankole, who was arrested, Sunday, by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, opened up, yesterday.
Hon. Dimeji Bankole and EFCC boos, Mrs. Farida Waziri
Vanguard learnt that he has started mentioning names after being grilled for more than 12 hours by the anti-graft agency over alleged financial impropriety in the House of Representatives during his tenure which ended last week.
The former speaker was said to have refused to cooperate with the commission for more than twelve hours between Sunday evening and yesterday morning when he was requested to write a statement on what he knew about the allegations against him. But when he was brought out from his cell yesterday morning and he saw that the anti-graft agency meant business, he became sober and started to tell his story.
Meanwhile, Vanguard learnt that the agency was yesterday trying to secure a remand order that would enable it to keep Bankole in custody for a week while he is being interrogated. It had earlier got an order from a magistrate court in the Federal Capital Territory to carry out a search on all his known property.
Intensive search on property
A highly placed source at the EFCC said: 'This morning our operatives undertook an intensive search of all property known to belong to the former speaker in Abuja. The warrant also covers his other property in Lagos and Abeokuta, in Ogun State.'
Although he didn't state where the property were located in the various cities in the country, but one of these would be the mansion on No. 8 Richard Clapperton Street, in Asokoro, where the former speaker was arrested by EFCC operatives the previous night.
The source added that the search by the EFCC was to unearth documents and files that would help the Commission in its efforts to prosecute Bankole for numerous financial and economic misappropriations during his tenure as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
He added: 'It's a normal investigative procedure performed for such a high profile investigation by the Commission, and our officers took away from his house some documents and files that we believe will enable us to build a credible case against the suspect when we finally charge him to court.'
The commission has also seized his travel documents to prevent him from jetting out of the country.
Meanwhile, Bankole is said to be undergoing 'thorough grilling' at the hands of EFCC interrogators who are trying to establish his role in alleged numerous financial misconduct while he served as the number four citizen.
Response to text messages
EFCC's Head of Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Babafemi, confirmed in text message response to questions posed by our correspondent that the former speaker was undergoing interrogations at one of the cells at the Commission's headquarters.
Babafemi said: 'He is still being interrogated, while we have got a warrant to search his property.' He, however, refused to comment on when Bankole could possibly be charged to court to face legal action for his alleged role in financial misconduct in the House of Representatives.
The EFCC arrested the former speaker at his residence in Asokoro, Abuja, in a raid which lasted for more than four hours, Sunday, bringing to an end weeks of hide and seek between the two.
Bankole had adamantly shunned invitations by the Commission to come in and answer questions regarding some financial impropriety including a N10 billion loan secured by the former speaker using his office as a speaker of the House of Representatives. An attempt to arrest him last Friday was thwarted by his well-armed security details who had confronted the EFCC officers, leading to a stand-off which lasted through the weekend.
The anti-graft agency is investigating the speaker's role in some alleged financial transactions executed by the House, which included the alleged use of the House's accounts as collateral to secure a private loan.
The former speaker is also being investigated for allegedly taking a loan of N10 billion for the House without any resolution of the House supporting the said loan, as well as N2.3 million contract scam and alleged misappropriation of over N9 billion from the 2008/2009 budget allocation to the House as well as the purchase of NET building in Lagos for N4 billion.
Meanwhile mixed reactions yesterday trailed Bankole's arrest by the EFCC.
While some Nigerians urged the commission to arrest and investigate other lawmakers, others described the arrest as a charade.
Human Rights lawyer, Mr. Bamidele Aturu, said the EFCC should ensure thorough investigation of the matter including all members of the out-gone Sixth House.
His words: 'The arrest should not stop with the former Speaker, every member of the National Assembly in the last dispensation should be investigated and those found culpable must be brought to book.'
Embarrassment to the nation
Aturu described Bankole's arrest as 'embarrassing to the nation, morally indefensible and legally untenable' because 'Bankole occupied a moral position in Nigeria. He was morally and legally bound to submit himself to the EFCC for questioning rather than trying to resist it.'
He commended the EFCC for showing that nobody was above the law in Nigeria.
Chairman of the National Action Council, NAC, Dr. Olapade Agoro, urged EFCC 'to ensure that a good job was made of Bankole's arrest' because 'the conduct of the Speaker prior to the arrest was a disgrace to the youths of Nigeria.'
He said: 'It becomes more saddening that a young man who earns over N100 million per quarter should have his name tainted in any form of financial allegations. Even the allegations against Mrs. Patricia Etteh, who was disgraced out of office as Speaker was a child's play, compared to the current allegations emanating from the House.'
Agoro said that EFCC must pursue and arrest other members of the House, including the Senate in the last dispensation, to logical conclusions, adding: 'The final arrest of Bankole is highly encouraging because it at least put paid to the belief and wrong assumption in some quarters that some Nigerians are above the law.'
Proof of innocence
The Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP, on its part, said the arrest should not end as a mere fanfare.
The South West Secretary of the CNPP, Mr Austin Nnorom, told NAN that justice must be seen to have been carried out by EFCC on the allegations. He said: 'If the former Speaker is to be acquitted of the allegations, Nigerians must be shown proof of his innocence and vice_versa.'
However, the Coalition of Oodua Self_Determination Groups, COOSEG, said the EFCC was playing on the emotion of Nigerians with the arrest.
COOSEG Director of Strategy, Razaq Oladosu said: 'The commission was quoted in the media to have set up two committees on Sunday that would investigate the Speaker after giving impressions to Nigerians that investigations had been concluded. The former speaker or anyone else, would be a fool not to have tied up loose ends because there was adequate time since the EFCC started harping on the arrest to cover any such tracks.'
Oladosu said that a sincere war on corruption must start with a change in the leadership of the EFCC that had 'indicted more persons on the pages of newspapers than in actuality.'