Sunday, September 24, 2023

Governor Matawalle stole N70 billion from poverty-stricken Zamfara, EFCC announces

The announcement comes days after Mr Matawale tried to preempt the investigation by publicly accusing the anti-graft authority of bias and corruption.

• May 18, 2023
Governor Bello Matawalle 4
Zamfara Governor, Bello Matawalle [Credit: Bello Matawalle]

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has revealed that it is investigating Governor Bello Matawalle over the theft of more than N70 billion from Zamfara.

EFCC chief Osita Nwajah said this on Thursday while addressing journalists at the commission’s headquarters in Abuja.

“The Commission would like to put the nation on notice to expect more of the kind of wild allegations made by Matawalle as those at the receiving end of EFCC’s investigations, fight viciously back.

“But the real issue with Matawalle is that he is being investigated by the EFCC, over allegations of monumental corruption, award of phantom contracts and diversion of over N70 Billion,” the EFCC official said.

The announcement comes days after Mr Matawale tried to preempt the investigation by publicly accusing the anti-graft authority of bias and corruption.

Mr Matawalle said the EFCC should also probe people working with President Muhammadu Buhari, including federal cabinet ministers. The anti-graft office has been accused of being too timid to go after people loyal to the president, and Mr Matawalle recently attacked Mr Buhari as disloyal to the ruling APC and responsible for the party’s shortcomings in some states during the last elections.

The EFCC has rejected allegations of bias in its prosecution of corruption cases, saying Mr Matawalle has been out to distract the agency from its activities.

The Commission, therefore, highlighted some findings regarding Mr Matawale’s involvement in what it describes as “monumental” corruption.

The EFCC stated that it tracked down more than 100 companies that received payments from the claimed funds but provided no evidence of service to the state.

The commission added that several of the contractors it had invited and questioned had made shocking admissions about how they had been allegedly forced by the governor to return money they had received from the state coffers to him through his aides after having converted it to U.S. dollars.

“They confirmed that they did not render any service to Zamafara state but were allegedly directed to convert the monies paid to them into United States Dollars and return to the State governor through some of his commissioners, notably the Commissioners in charge of Finance and Local Government Affairs.

“One of the contractors, a popular Abuja property developer, collected N6 billion on a N10 billion contract without rendering any service to Zamfara state. Another contractor collected over N3 billion for a contract for the supply of medical equipment but the Commission traced a payment of N400 million from his account to a Bureau de Change operator. The contractor confessed the payment was to procure the dollar equivalent allegedly for the state governor.

“As part of the extensive investigation of contracts awarded by the Matawalle administration, especially for phantom projects in the local government areas, the Commission has recovered a sum of N300million from a company, Fezel Nigeria Limited. The funds were traced to the Zamafara Investment Company,” the EFCC official said. 

The EFCC explained that Mr Matawale is yet to be arrested and prosecuted for his alleged criminal acts because he enjoys immunity from prosecution as a state governor.

“The EFCC had in the past had run-ins with state governors over allegations of theft of state monies.

“However, because the Nigerian constitution confers immunity on state governors from prosecution and punishment while in office, the anti-corruption agency will have to wait until such a state executive leaves office before taking action.”

Mr Matawalle will step down as governor on May 29 after losing his re-election to the PDP candidate, Dauda Lawal

“The EFCC investigation is the source of anxiety in Government House, Gusau, with the governor in mortal dread of his fate once he steps down as governor on May 29. In Nigeria, state governors and their deputies enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution while in office, a reason the EFCC has yet to arrest Governor Matawalle,” the anti-graft agency added. 

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