A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has dismissed a move by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) seeking the final forfeiture of two houses in Ilorin, Kwara State, belonging to a former Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki.
In his ruling delivered on Thursday, Justice Rilwan Aikawa held that the contention of the EFCC that the property was acquired with illegal funds was based on mere suspicion.
He stated that the evidence placed before the court was to the effect that the property was substantially financed with money paid to Saraki as a former governor, in line with the Kwara State Governor and Deputy Governor Payment of Pension Law.
The Pension Law provides that a two-term governor is entitled to a house within the state upon completion of his second tenure.
Justice Aikawa, therefore, discharged the interim order for forfeiture it had earlier granted in favour of the EFCC on December 2, 2019, and subsequently dismissed the EFCC’s application for final forfeiture of the property.
In its submission before the court, counsel to the EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo, said the former Senate President spent N1.09 billion on the two houses, funds which he alleged were stolen from the coffers of Kwara State.
The anti-graft agency claimed that it had evidence that Saraki, who was Kwara State governor between 2003 and 2011, diverted not less than N1 billion belonging to the state.
On December 2, 2019, the agency obtained an interim order temporarily forfeiting the houses – Plots No. 10 and No. 11 Abdulkadir Road, GRA, Ilorin, Kwara State – to the Federal Government.
An EFCC operative, Bilikisu Buhari, in an affidavit filed before the court said the anti-graft agency found that while he was governor, Saraki allegedly diverted N100 million on a monthly basis from the Federal Allocation to the state.
She said the N100 million was usually diverted from the Kwara State government account to the account of the Kwara State Government House.
Buhari explained that following the transfer, one Mr Afeez Yusuf said to be acting on Saraki’s instructions, went to withdraw the money from the Kwara State Government House account and took the case to the Government House.
“After the funds were stacked in the Kwara State Government House, it was then fraudulently dissipated and taken away in cash by Messrs Abdul Adama, Ubi Ofem and Ubi Austin, acting on the instructions and direction of Dr Bukola Saraki in violent breach of public trust.
“That in this scheme of fraud alone, about N10 billion was fraudulently diverted from the treasury of the Kwara State Government.
“That part of the proceeds of the aforementioned fraud were reasonably suspected to have been comingled with other funds used for the development of the property sought to be forfeited,” the EFCC operative told the court.
She added that Adama, Ofem, and Austin, using fictitious names, usually pay the diverted N100 million into the bank accounts of contractors who built the houses.
Opposing the application for the final forfeiture of his client’s houses, Saraki’s lawyer, Kehinde Ogunwunmiju, said they were built from his legitimate earnings.
Ogunwumiju said N252.2 million out of the N1.09 billion used for developing the property represented what Saraki was paid for the development of a five-bedroom apartment, which he was entitled to as a two-term governor of Kwara State.
He also drew the attention of Justice Aikawa to the Governor and Deputy Governor (Payment of Pension) Law 2010 of Kwara State, which stipulated that an elected two-term governor of the state was entitled to five and four-bed roomed duplexes respectively, at any location of their choice within Kwara State.
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria said rather than allow the state to build the house for him, Saraki chose to collect N252.2 million so he could add money to it to build a house to his taste.
He argued that if it was true, as alleged by the EFCC, that the document leading to the release of the N252.2 million was forged by an official of the Kwara State Government, the payment to Saraki was still not illegitimate because it was provided for under the law.
Ogunwumiju, therefore, asked the court to dismiss the EFCC’s application for being an abuse of court processes, saying the same issues had been taken before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court where Saraki was vindicated.
Oyedepo, however, countered by insisting that as long as Saraki failed to explain how he came about the over N700 million, which he added to the N252.2 million to develop the houses, they were liable to be forfeited to the Federal Government.