Sunday 19 January 2020

FG Keeps Mum Over Uzodinma's Travel Ban, N4.3bn Fraud Case

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Apart from the case being handled by the office of the AGF, the governor has a case with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Hope Uzodinma
Hope Uzodinma
The Federal Government has failed to make any comment on the alleged $12m (N4.3bn) fraud case of newly inaugurated Governor of Imo State, Senator Hope Uzodinma, as well as the travel ban imposed on the governor.
When contacted for update on the alleged fraud case of Uzodinma, the Spokesman for the Attorney-General of the Federation, Dr Umar Gwandu, promised to give an update.
When Sunday PUNCH called six hours later, Gwandu said he had forwarded the inquiry to the appropriate quarters but there had been no response.
“I have not been able to get a response for now. When there is information, I will forward it to you,” he said.
Gwandu, however, could not say when the response would come.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which is also investigating Uzodinma for allegedly issuing a N200m dud cheque, however, said the new governor could not be touched because of his immunity.
Recall that the AGF had taken over all cases handled by the Special Presidential Investigation Panel led by Okoi Obono-Obla which was dissolved in September 2019 while Obono-Obla, has since become the subject of investigation.
One of the cases taken over by the AGF was that of Uzodinma.
The Obono-Obla panel had in line with Executive Order 6, placed a travel ban on 39 alleged treasury looters one of whom was Uzodinma.
Some others on the list included a former Senate President, David Mark; and a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole.
Uzodinma, according to the panel, allegedly perpetrated fraud to the tune of $12m (N4.3bn) when he failed to execute a contract worth $12m awarded to his company by the Nigerian Ports Authority for the dredging of the Calabar Channel.
He had also been arrested by the panel but was released due to high blood pressure he suffered in custody, according to Obono-Obla.
The panel had also dragged Uzodinma before Justice Babatunde Quadri of the Federal High Court in Abuja for alleged non-disclosure of assets.
One of the charges read, “That you, Senator Hope Uzodinma (male) on or about March 5, 2018, being a public officer with the National Assembly, Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, committed an offence to wit: refused to declare your assets without reasonable excuse upon notice to declare your assets before the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property, Abuja, contrary to and punishable under Section 3(3)(1)(a) of the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provision) Act 2004.”
Uzodinma now enjoys immunity from prosecution having been sworn-in as governor following a Supreme Court judgment which ordered Governor Emeka Ihedioha sacking.
Others who were under probe but now enjoy immunity include Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State, Governor Umar Fintiri of Adamawa and Zamfara State Governor, Bello Matawalle.
It remains unclear, however, if the governor’s travel ban has been lifted.
Apart from the case being handled by the office of the AGF, the governor has a case with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Justice Abdulahab Muhammed of an FCT High Court had on October 29, 2018, referred the case of criminal complaint of issuing N200m dud cheque instituted against Uzodinma, to the EFCC for investigation and action.
The court had on September 18, 2018, ordered the arrest of the senator following his refusal to honour the summons to answer to the complaint that he issued the dud cheque.
On September 25, 2018, the court granted a request by counsel for the complainants, Tosin Ojaomo, for the publication of a public summons against Uzodinma following the failure of security agencies to produce him despite a pending arrest warrant issued against him.
Speaking with Sunday PUNCH on Friday, human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), said immunity for governors only relates to prosecution.
“Immunity does not protect one from a travel ban. If the travel ban was backed by a court order, he would need to vacate it before being able to travel,” Falana said.
The Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Ogwuike Nwachukwu, did not respond to a text message on the fraud case as of press time.
The Spokesman for the EFCC, Mr Tony Orilade, when contacted on the telephone, said he was not aware of Uzodinma’s case.
He, however, stated that Uzodinma now had immunity from prosecution.
“I am not familiar with the issue you are raising concerning Senator Hope Uzodinma. In any case, whatever criminal case in respect of the subject, by virtue of Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution, he enjoys immunity from prosecution until such a time when he will be out of office,” Orilade said.
Meanwhile, Uzodinma has ordered the sacking of all chairmen of boards and parastatals in the state and their members.
The governor ordered the affected people who were appointed by the ousted governor, Emeka Ihedioha, to hand over all government properties in their possessions to the most senior civil servants in their respective agencies.
A source said, “The Executive Governor of Imo State, His Excellency, distinguished Senator Hope Uzodimma, has approved the immediate dissolution of boards of all government parastatals and agencies in the state.
“By the same token, the governor has requested that the outgoing appointees relinquish all government properties in their care to the most senior civil servants in the various affected MDAs on or before close of work on Friday, January 17, 2020 and thanking them for their services to the state and also wishing them well in their future endeavours.”
The Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Oguwuike Nwachukwu, confirmed the sacking when contacted on Saturday. 

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