Four former Nigerian state governors taken into custody on Friday face embezzlement, money laundering, and other corruption charges. The four, detained by Nigeria’s anti-corruption body, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), include the ex-governors of Plateau, Abia, Jigawa, and Taraba states. Some are due in court in the capital Abuja today. Former Taraba State Governor Jolly Nyame will be in prison until Thursday, pending his formal application for bail. The other three, Ibrahim Saminu Turaki of Jigawa, Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia, and Chief Joshua Dariye of Plateau State, are suspected of laundering several billion naira of state government funds into their own accounts. In the capital Abuja, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International says the chief executives lost their immunity from prosecution on May 29, when President Olusegun Obasanjo left office.
“Unfortunately, they were supposed to be dealt with when they were in power, but because of the immunity and because of the protection that the former President Obasanjo had given to them, nobody could raise anything. But now that Obasanjo has gone, these governors can be arrested and prosecuted. And we are hoping that justice will be done so that it will serve as a deterrent because they have looted so much. They have left people in abject poverty. They have kept people in underdevelopment. They have sold entire resources that are for the development of their states,” he said.
One of the unexpected developments was the return to face prosecution in Nigeria by ex-Plateau State Governor Joshua Dariye, who had left the country for Britain in 2004 under a cloud of suspicion. Rafasanjani explains that it had become clear to Dariye that the risks of his stay in London would become too much to bear.
“Part of the reason why he had to come back was at that time, he was told that if he had immunity, he could still be protected. The second is that he thought that business was going to continue as usual, since the whole thing was selective. The former president, Obasanjo, had abused the war against corruption to be very political, very selective. So Dariye thought that kind of protection could continue, and unfortunately for him, having lost the immunity as a former governor. EFCC got overwhelming evidence against the governor to prove that he actually had looted the state,” said Rafsanjani.
The four jailed governors are among 31 Nigerian state chief executives indicted by the EFCC. Transparency International in Nigeria’s Auwal Musa Rafsanjani says he hopes that these first public officials’ prosecutions under the regime of new President Umaru Yar’Adua signal a new direction in the country’s war against corruption.
“It is obvious that the new president clearly wants to fight corruption, but he wants to make sure that it is done according to the law. If you will remember, during Obasanjo, a lot of abuses of the law made people to be very suspicious of the fight against corruption. And more importantly, when the president turned the whole fight against corruption to be very political, very selective, and vindictive, and in fact, personalized the whole fight against corruption, a lot of people lost hope and confidence. And then he himself has been involved in all sorts of tendencies that are tantamount to corruption. But now it is clear that the new president wants to do things the right way, by ensuring that he adheres to the rule of law,” he noted.