TOP DELTA GOVT OFFICIALS ON THE RUN

By NBF NEWS
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EFCC Chairman, Farida Waziri
Some top officials of the Delta State Government are believed to have gone underground as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission continues the search for evidence that could help its investigation into an allegation of graft against former Governor James Ibori.

The officials, said an EFCC source on Wednesday, were mostly heads of some ministries and departments in the oil-rich state.

The source, who pleaded not to be named, did not give the names of the officials. But he told one of our correspondents that the operatives began the search of some ministries and departments in the state on Monday for incriminating materials against Ibori.

He said the operatives ransacked some offices in the Ministry of Finance and the office of the Accountant-General on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The anti-graft agency official made this disclosure shortly after the Nigeria Police Force said that the search for the ex-governor continued.

It was learnt that the detectives had on Monday intimated the Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, with their mission in the state.

Our source said that the operatives briefed Okowa of the ministries and departments whose records they intended to examine and the officials they hoped to quiz.

He explained that the operatives pleaded for the cooperation of the state government in making vital documents relating to the alleged fraud against Ibori available to them.

When contacted on the telephone on Wednesday evening by one of our correspondents, the EFCC Head of Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Babafemi, confirmed that most of Delta officials that the commission planned to interrogate were on the run.

He said, 'Most of the top government officials we are looking for in Delta State have gone underground and that is why we are intensifying efforts to locate them wherever they are.'

Babafemi, who declined to give the names of the officials, had earlier said the commission would not bow to sentiment and blackmail by Ibori and his loyalists.

He said, 'Everybody involved in the shares scam shall be made to explain his or her role in accordance with the laws of the land.

'We have had series of such insinuations and sentimental expressions since the EFCC began the fresh move to investigate Ibori; at every point, we have taken time to explain to the public our intentions and motives to have audience with the man.'

Ibori was declared wanted by the anti-graft agency last week for failing to honour an invitation to defend an allegation of corruption levelled against him by the Delta State Elders and Stakeholders Forum.

The forum, which is led by a former Minister of Information, Chief Edwin Clark, had alleged in a petition to the EFCC that the former governor sold millions of shares belonging to the state and used the proceed to offset a loan which his company, Ascot Nigeria Limited, used to buy an American oil firm, Wilbros.

On Tuesday, a team of security operatives led by the Deputy Inspector-General of Police in Charge of Zones 5 and 6, Mr. Udom Ekpoudom, stormed Oghara, Delta State to arrest Ibori but was resisted by armed youths numbering over 1,000, some of whom were said to be militants.

The ex-governor reportedly escaped and his whereabouts remained unknown.

But the raids on the ministries and departments were interpreted by some officials in the state as an extension of EFCC's alleged mandate to intimidate the present administration of Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan.

A top government official said, 'We are in a dilemma as to the real mission of the EFCC in the state. The way and manner they have been invading ministries and government departments and parastatals since Monday easily create the impression that the mandate of the detectives goes beyond the investigation of a petition by some Delta leaders.

'Some top government officials, particularly the civil servants, have gone underground; they don't come to the office again because of the fear that they could be arrested by the EFCC operatives. Most of the offices are deserted. The latest clampdown on the state by the EFCC could ground government businesses if the trend continues.'

Reacting to the failure of the team led by Ekpoudom to arrest Ibori, the EFCC chairman, Mrs. Farida Waziri, reminded the fleeing ex-governor that he could not be above the law.

Waziri, who fielded questions from journalists in Abuja, however, said that Ibori would not get away with his action.

She said, 'We went there with the assistance of the police, the militants chased us out. Nobody should be above the laws of the land. And if you feel your hands are clean, you should come out and go to the court and clear your name.

'But when you make it impossible and you say you are above the law and you can't answer to a call by a law enforcement agency to come and clear some issues, it is a pity.'

The EFCC chief added that with the encounter on Tuesday, the EFCC and other law enforcement agencies would need to map out fresh strategies on how to arrest Ibori.

'We are going back to the drawing board with the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ogbonna Onovo, then we will decide what next to do,' she stressed.

When contacted, Force Pubic Relations Officer, Mr. Emmanuel Ojukwu, said the police were still on the manhunt for the embattled former governor, adding that his whereabouts were unknown as at Wednesday.

Ojukwu, who spoke in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents, said the warrant of arrest against Ibori was still valid.

'There is nothing new from what happened on Tuesday in Oghara, Delta State, when we (police) tried to arrest former Governor James Ibori. But the warrant of arrest remains open until it is executed and we shall continue to make efforts using all legal means to get him arrested as directed by the court,' he added.

Ibori has, however, denied that he is being guarded by militants.

A statement by his Media Assistant, Mr. Tony Eluemunor, said Ibori would also want the world to know that the police, the State Security Service and the EFCC had all been served with the ruling of the Asaba Federal High Court, which he said asked that the status quo be maintained.

He added that no militants or any group at all engaged security agents in any fight as the Oghara people were peace-loving and law-abiding.

The former governor said that he was afraid that the falsehood might be an excuse for security agencies to wreak havoc on defenceless people, especially the children and women of Oghara.

'We categorically refute the unfounded allegation that militants disturbed the policemen, who stormed Oghara on Tuesday April 20, 2010, ' he said.

Meanwhile, the DSLESF on Wednesday asked the EFCC to give effect to the warrant of arrest issued against Ibori by an Abuja High Court.

It said that the position of Ibori that the Federal High Court, Asaba, ruled that the status quo should be maintained by not arresting him, should be ignored.