THE TRIAL OF DIMEJI BANKOLE
The on-going trial of the immediate past Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Dimeji Bankole, for corruption, is a good opportunity to address the problem of public corruption in Nigeria, specifically, the unilateral approval and payment of outrageous allowances to legislators.
The former Speaker, who was arrested by operatives of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) three days after he left office, was initially slammed with a 16-count charge of misappropriation of N948 million through contract inflation. He was granted bail, but rearrested immediately and re-arraigned before Justice Suleiman Belgore of the Abuja High Court alongside his then Deputy, Usman Bayero Nafada, on 17-count charges involving illegal procurement of N40 billion loans.
Specifically, under count one, they were charged with agreeing between themselves to 'commit a felony, to wit, criminal breach of trust by agreeing to approve the allowances or 'running costs' of members of the House in violation of the approved Remuneration Package for Political, Public and Judicial Officers by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) and the extant Revised Financial Regulations of the Federal Government of Nigeria, 2009,' thereby committing an offence contrary to section 97 (1) of the Penal Code Act, Cap 532, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (Abuja) 1990, and punishable under section 315 of the same Penal Code Act.'
They were also charged with dishonestly using House of Representatives accounts with First Bank and United Bank of Africa (UBA,) which are properties of the Federal Government entrusted in their care, to obtain loans amounting to about N40 billion to augment allowances and 'running costs' of members of the House, and to fund what they called 'urgent recurrent expenses', in violation of the extant Revised Financial Regulations of the Federal Government of Nigeria 2009.
They were further accused of dishonestly disbursing the loans to various accounts of members of the House without the consent and approval of RMAFC. There is nothing really new about accusations of corruption in the House of Representatives. It has almost become a tradition for the leadership of the lower legislative chamber to be embroiled in one allegation of wrongdoing or the other.
Bankole's predecessor in office, Mrs. Patricia Etteh, was removed from office over charges related to inflation of N628 million contract for the renovation of her official residence and that of her Deputy. The House, in one of its last actions before it was dissolved, however, queerly acquitted her of any wrongdoing. The Bankole leadership, in 2008, was also enmeshed in a N2.3 billion car scam, and alleged misappropriation of N9 billion out of the 2008 capital vote for the House.
The difference that Nigerians want to see in the current case is a thorough and scientific investigation to get at the root of all the allegations, and diligent prosecution of the case to signal that corruption will no longer be tolerated in the legislative house. This case is significant because if EFCC succeeds in getting a conviction, it will reduce impunity in the House. Unilateral taking of loans by the leadership of the House should also come to an end. This case provides an opportunity for the EFCC to demonstrate that it is serious about the war against corruption.
Let the Farida Waziri-led agency demonstrate with Bankole's case that the fight against corruption is on course. There is no doubt that this is a high profile case. Already, there are insinuations in some quarters that the case against Bankole is political. The suspect has also said this much. Let EFCC demonstrate otherwise.
We urge that there should be no interference in the matter.
The EFCC and the courts should be allowed to do their jobs. If the suspects are found guilty, this is one case that should be used to demonstrate what would happen to those who soil their hands with corruption at both the executive and legislative arms of government. But, the anti-corruption agency needs all the help and co-operation it can get from Nigerians at this time.
All those involved in this case should strive to ensure that justice is done. The suspects should be given a fair hearing, but the axiom that the law is no respecter of persons should be upheld.