Timipre Sylva,former governor of Bayelsa state has denied ever owning forty-eight houses; property which the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has linked to him, and for which he faces criminal prosecution. In a statement issued at the behest of the former Bayelsa state governor by his lawyer Mr. Benson Ibezim, Sylva claims that the entire charge against him by the EFCC was no more than hocus-pocus – a great sham aimed at witch-hunt.
In their statement of defense in anticipation of arraignment, Timipre Sylva insists that the houses listed as belonging to him by the Crime Commission did not in fact belong to him.
According to his lawyers, Mr. Sylva does not own forty-eight houses anywhere in the world. The former governor accounts for only three houses which he claims to have duly declared prior to his assumption of office. In other words, Mr. Sylva is accusing the federal government agency of manufacturing evidence against him to satisfy those hell-bent at dismantling him, in this case, the president of Nigeria with whom he is in a long term feud.
This is serious allegation by Timipre Sylva against the EFCC, and if it is to be true, undermines the validity and further erodes the credibility of EFCC as a serious institution for fighting particularly while collar crimes in Nigeria. I am of course very leery about Mr. Timipre Sylva’s claim of a witch-hunt. But it is equally important to adduce on his behalf the very clear rules of equity.
In this particular instance, I think it obligatory to refer to two critical maxims of equity: “Equity delights to do justice and not by halves” and of course, “Equity will not allow statute to be used as a cloak for fraud.” There is a simple solution in my view to Mr. Sylva’s disavowal of ownership of the property in Abuja.
I assume of course that there is a registrar of property in Abuja, even if for tax purposes. If that were so, there must have been annual property tax paid for the forty-eight houses which Timipre Sylva denies. We must follow the money. Its trail leads ultimately to the truth.
This is a simple way of saying, whoever pays or fails to pay taxes on those property owns them. Whoever collects rent on those property owns them. If the EFCC has done these rudimentary tests and come up with the clear evidence that all these can be linked back to Timipre Sylva or his agents, then they’d have established enough grounds to nail him as a liar and a fraud.
Otherwise, Mr. Sylva’s claim of a witch-hunt and a frame-up might stand. Betterstill, if Timipre Sylva continues to deny ownership of the forty-eight buildings, and nothing in the deeds indicate that either he or anyone connected to him owns the property, the EFCC has an obligation to find their rightful owners who must step up with proof of ownership.
Where none steps forward, the property might be considered to rightfully thereafter belong to a ghost; and therefore to the City of Abuja, who may dispose of them as they see fit by public auction, since no owner claims it.
It might well be that the EFCC may have excavated property by absent landlords or such as may have died interstate. Whatever may be the case, Timipre Sylva must be given fair hearing. Fair hearing compels the courts established to try him to bring all clearly untainted evidence to bear to prove his corruption in Bayelsa state.
There was corruption in Bayelsa state, and misuse of public fund. What is necessary is to prove it with clear evidence. It seems to me that the EFCC has always failed in this regard, and has in many instances, either out of incompetence or disregard been unable to put a case conclusively about official corruption in Nigeria to close.
A week ago, the EFCC arrested the Accountant-General of Imo state, Mr. George Eche Ezenna and the Commissioner for Finance Mr. John Chike Okafor over what it claims to be a N47 billion transaction with Zenith bank. The details of these arrests are still hazy, but here, for me is the catcher: white collar crime in Nigeria will continue for as long as we have complicity within the Civil service.
No political officer can embezzle government funds without the complicity of the top civil servants in the system. It is true therefore that Nigerians are looking in possibly the wrong directions. Until Nigeria rebuilds its Civil service and restores its internal regulatory systems through the Civil Service Commission, politicians will continue to assert extraordinary threat and power, and manipulate officers of the service to divert public resources.
An example is the recent news that Governor Adam Oshiomole “sacked” a Permanent Secretary in the Edo Civil Service. I do not know if governors, as political officers, have that kind of power to sack tenured career of the rank of Permanent secretaries.
In the past all disciplinary actions against such officers are taken by the Civil service Commission which has never been under the political direction of the political head of the state. It is always independent. But strange things happen these days in Nigeria where strange powers have been established to undermine the strategic control that checks and balances institutions of power.
This, in sum, is the basis of corruption in Nigeria. As for the EFCC, it must strengthen its research and investigation arm, as well as its legal team. They often are blindsided by intricacies that suggest either incompetence, lack of technical ability, or in fact a lack of direction. Nigerians have frequently noted that the EFCC has not nailed any major fish or reptile since it was established to fight and prosecute corruption.
It was given extraordinary powers and made independent of the police to shield it presumably from the institutional decay and corruption within the national Police system itself. Yet, it also is a remarkably weak institution because it is tied almost inexorably to the strings of the executive office – notably the office of the president.
The law establishing this agency must in fact be reviewed. The EFCC must be placed under the independent office of the Solicitor-General in the ministry of Justice to start with, with six zonal offices under six Zonal Deputy Solicitors-General who will investigate, prosecute, and publicly account for their work through the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, an office that must also be fully and clearly strengthened for the course of fair and credible justice in Nigeria.