By Tosin Omoniyi
There seems to be no end to the controversy rocking the Code of Conduct Tribunal, with its chairman, Danladi Yakubu Umar, swimming in an ocean of accusations relating to corrupt practices, official impropriety and victimization of junior staff under his watch.
On Monday, in a new twist to the corruption allegations flying around at the tribunal, Mr. Umar’s his personal assistant, Ali Abdullai Gambo, was docked by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, before an FCT High Court on charges of conspiracy, bribery and abuse of office.
Mr. Gambo’s arrest and subsequent arraignment followed a petition that he received a bribe of N1.8m on behalf of the tribunal chairman ostensibly to quash a case before the CCT.
The EFCC alleged that Mr. Gambo, sometime in August, 2013 in Abuja, made a confessional statement to investigators that the petitioner, indeed, paid the money into his Zenith account on December, 12, 2012.
He, however, claimed that the money was payment made by the petitioner to assist him offset his father’s medical bill. But, he could not give any sensible reason why an accused being prosecuted by the tribunal where he worked would want to support him financially.
The EFCC insists that the claim by Mr. Gambo was false and charged him for bribetaking but he pleaded not guilty to the charge.
He was subsequently granted bail after a plea by his counsel, A. F Attah.
However, although Mr. Gambo is the person currently in the public gaze because of his arraignment, the shadow of graft and impropriety clinging to the tribunal’s boss is still heavy and many people believe that he was to be the ultimate beneficiary of the bribe and that his assistant only took the fall for him.
Many in fact allege that Mr. Umar was the initial focus of investigation and question why his personal assistant, instead of him, eventually faced prosecution.
Some of the other allegations that have been leveled against Mr. Umar include misappropriation of the tribunal’s funds, soliciting for bribes and illegal posting of staff opposed to his highhandedness.
Investigations by the icirnigeria.org show that the EFCC did invite Mr. Umar on March 18, 2013 over an allegation of illegally demanding the sum of N10m from one Taiwo Rasheed, a retired comptroller of customs, who was being prosecuted at the time by the CCT for failing to declare his assets while in office.
The retired customs officer had discreetly reported Mr. Umar to the police who had advised him to play along by paying part of the bribe money. Mr. Rasheed had subsequently paid the sum of N1.8m into account of the personal assistant of the CCT chairman.
Although the EFCC had invited and questioned the CCT chairman several times over the matter and other allegations of financial impropriety, the anti-graft agency is yet to prosecute Umar over the accusations.
A reliable source at the EFCC told our reporter that the case against Mr. Umar has not yet been dropped and that investigators were looking into the series of allegations leveled against him and were quietly sifting the evidence in order to build a solid case against him.
“We do not want to rush into arresting and prosecuting him. We have to start from somewhere. And we did that by inviting him several times. For the records, he has denied all the charges leveled against him especially that of soliciting or receiving bribes from an accused.
Although the petitioner insists that he paid Mr. Umar through his PA’s account, we have to thoroughly ascertain that this is in indeed a true reflection of what happened,” the source said.
The source added that Mr. Umar’s arraignment would be done as soon as the EFCC investigators are able to build a case that would stand in court.
However, aggrieved former staff members at the CCT say the illegal actions of Mr. Umar go beyond corrupt enrichment.
He is equally accused of victimization of some staff who subtly or openly condemned his corrupt acts.
On May 3, 2013, three members of staff of the tribunal – the accountant, Shotunde Adeyinka, and two other administrative staff, Johnson Owopetu and Lucky Eronlan – were transferred to Ondo, Katsina and Bauchi states respectively for allegedly opposing some of the corrupt actions of the CCT boss.
The three subsequently appealed the decision of Mr. Umar to post them out of Abuja, citing irregularities in the process leading to the posting.
One of the three claimed that they were victimized for calling the attention of the chairman to irregularities in the spending pattern of the tribunal, a move that angered him.
The aggrieved staff subsequently petitioned the board of the tribunal which has deliberated on the issue thrice – June 27, July 2 and 17, 2013.
Part of the recommendations of the panel set up to look into their complaints was that all sanctions against the trio be lifted without further delay and that their salaries, which had been withheld, be released to them immediately.
However, despite this directive, the three said they have not been paid their salaries and entitlements since May, 2013.
The three also petitioned the EFCC, Public Complaints Commission, PCC, and the Presidency on July 1 the same year, alleging corrupt practices and impunity by Mr. Umar.
In the petition, Mr. Umar was accused of awarding contracts without following laid down guidelines, issuing full contract payment to contractors rather than the legal process of issuing mobilization fees first. Other allegations against him are lop-sided appointments, transfers and promotions without board approval and with total disregard for federal character.
Mr. Umar was equally accused of awarding contracts for already completed projects and collection of bribes to facilitate such approvals and also using proxies to corner juicy contracts.
He was particularly accused of diverting monies amounting to about N76.53m for various contracts between February and May, 2011.
One of the aggrieved staff alleged that the hatred displayed towards them by the CCT boss goes as far back as 2011, when Umar’s predecessor, Murtala Sani died while in office.
According to him, Mr. Sani died at a time when the tribunal was taking stock of the various disturbing financial inconsistencies that took place in the last quarter of 2010.
At the time, the schedule officer of the tribunal could not produce reliable information about various contract jobs awarded during the period.
Mr. Umar, according to him was also accused of being paid a sum of N2.5m from the tribunal’s coffers for unknown reasons, immediately after the demise of his predecessor, an allegation Umar denied.
Perhaps to clear his name, this necessitated the setting up of an investigative committee by Mr. Umar, who subsequently became acting chairman, to look into the financial transactions of the tribunal in the last quarter of 2010.
According to the source, a lot of mind-boggling findings were discovered which pointed to a systematic rot and corruption in the running of the tribunal.
Some of the findings included ambiguities in the award of contracts and the bidding process, payment of full contract monies rather than mobilization fees, non-monitoring of projects that funds had been deployed for, usage of post-audit process rather than the pre-audit channel of ensuing accountability and the compromise of the membership of the tribunal’s tenders board.
“There was no adherence to payment procedure which states that 15% mobilization fee should be paid and final payment done after completion. The secretary of the tenders board on his own discretion determined the rates of tenders and registration without following due process. Also, most of the contractors awarded were not registered companies,” part of the final report of the committee stated.
The committee observed among other things that the companies awarded juicy contracts were actually used to siphon funds from the tribunal for selfish purposes.
The investigative panel also found out that all the tender’s board recommendations were carried out without any input from the Technical Procurement Committee as stipulated in financial guidelines of the civil service.
During the course of the investigation, members of the committee also discovered that a member of the tender’s board was also a member of the Procurement Planning Committee which violated financial rules and regulations.
According to sources in the CCT, the recommendations by the committee that certain members of staff of the tribunal indicted be sanctioned as well as the blacklisting of errant firms used to siphon monies of the tribunal were subsequently ignored by Mr. Umar, the new CCT boss, who ironically had set up the investigative panel in the first instance.
Recommendations that certain amounts of monies embezzled by both the indicted staff and companies be refunded using legal means and criminal proceedings in some cases were also not implemented.
One of the three staff members victimized by the CCT chairman, who was a member of the investigative panel, said the committee did a thorough job to uncover the enormous corruption at the tribunal.
But he alleged that some indicted staff bribed the CCT chairman to kill the report. According to him, some indicted persons were his superiors at work which made the task more sensitive and difficult.
He said that as a result of his insistence that the recommendations of the report be implemented fully, he was put on the firing line and victimized.
He also alleged that Mr. Umar refused to explain an outstanding N18m from the past administration which he spent without following due process.
This, he claimed, the CCT boss used to purchase a jeep for his private use, an allegation our reporter could not verify.
“The chairman wanted to buy a jeep, no advert, no voucher, no bidding, only payment directly. I was directed to capture the document used to buy the car and I used that date intentionally because I wanted to exonerate myself. I was reported to the chairman,” he claimed.
He added that after that incident, he was removed from his department unceremoniously and he had to ‘float’ without a schedule or office for over four months before he was dumped in the ICT department where he was not given any specific duty to perform.
He said later in the year when the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC became involved in the investigations to unravel the scam at the tribunal, the chairman threatened to deal with those whom he believed had invited the anti-graft agencies.
He also said that in November, 2014, after consistently trying to make the CCT chairman see reason with them, letters terminating their appointment were given to them stating that the termination took effect from July, 30, 2013.
Interestingly, he said, the board sat on their matter between June and July, 2013, and ordered the CCT to pay all their entitlements and suspend their posting.
When contacted by the reporter for reaction to the allegations, the CCT boss declined comments.
However, he said any enquiries should be made to the chief registrar whom he said was in the right position to speak on the matter.
The registrar, AbdulMalik Shaibu, in company of the tribunal’s spokesperson, Hassan Ibrahim, told the reporter that all the allegations leveled at the CCT chairman were unfounded and aimed at tarnishing his image.
The registrar said even the EFCC had been unable to prosecute Mr. Umar on any of the allegations leveled against him of financial impropriety especially that of using his personal assistant to collect bribes.
He added that since the commencement of investigations, Mr. Gambo had been removed from serving in the chairman’s office pending the outcome of the court case.
“You know that when you want to pull down someone of repute, all you need to do if you can’t get him or her is to use those around them. The chairman has always denied soliciting for bribes from an accused or using a subordinate to collect same. He has honored the invitation of the EFCC and other agencies of government on this matter and nothing has been found against him even after many years of investigation,” Mr. Shaibu said.
He contended that Mr. Umar could not have attempted to influence the case against Mr. Rasheed as the panel that adjudicated on his case then was made up of three persons.
“Are you saying all the three eminent senior officials of the tribunal involved in the case were compromised? Why is he being targeted alone?” he queried.
He insisted that the chairman was only targeted by the petitioner because of his principled stance in ensuring that the case against him at the tribunal was effectively concluded.
Concerning the three aggrieved staff, the registrar showed the reporter documents detailing the processes that led to their sack.
According to him, their sack followed strict adherence to due process and the extant laws guiding the public service.
He said the genesis of the controversy started when the three affected staff, out of the 25 transferred out of the Abuja office in May, 2013, stoutly refused to go even after the remaining 22 reported at their various new postings.
He insisted that the allegations that led to their eventual dismissal have not been disproved even by the trio till date despite their several petitions to various government agencies.
These, he said, included absence from duty post without authorization, engagement in false claims against management, gross disrespect of constituted authority, unruly behavior, use of foul language against a superior and refusal to carry out legitimate orders.
The registrar said the purported panel that directed the management to cancel their transfer and pay their entitlements was a mediatory one and not official.
“The duly constituted Senior Staff Management Committee, SSMC, empowered to act on issues of staff matters met on July 30, 2013, and after studying the findings of the investigations, approved their dismissal. This was of course after they had been invited to defend themselves against the allegations. At that period, rather than appear to defend themselves, they engaged in writing petitions to organizations like the Human Rights Commission, the Presidency, NJC, House Committee on Public Petitions, Chief Justice of Nigeria and fighting a media war against the tribunal,” Mr. Shaibu stated.
“At most of these places they were advised to apologize for their actions and seek for reconciliation. The chairman had nothing to do with their eventual dismissal,” he claimed.
He said the allegations of victimization via use of transfer was untrue as one of the complainants, initial posting to Yola was changed to Sokoto after he requested for a change. He said that despite this, “he refused to go and instead teamed up with the other two to engage in a battle to pull down their boss.”
Mr. Shaibu insisted that the accusations that they were being victimized for standing against the chairman’s corrupt practices were an afterthought aimed at currying public sympathy. He attested to the uprightness of the tribunal’s head in the handling of the affairs of the agency since taking over.
A senior officer in the administration section of the tribunal also said that due process was followed before the trio was sacked. These steps – suspension, interdiction and dismissal were followed before they were shown out.
But the three insist that they have been treated unjustly and that their sack is illegal.
They also insist that the committee report discovering corrupt practices at the tribunal which generated the bad blood between the victimized staff and CCT boss, be unearthed, revisited and implemented fully.
They equally want their dismissal reversed and all entitlements paid fully.
The three are currently fighting the battle of the lives using diplomatic and legal channels to get their sack reversed.
The Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Chapter 56 LFN 1990 gives the bureau and tribunal the mandate to establish and maintain a high standard of public morality in the conduct of government business and also ensure that the actions of public officers conform to the highest standard of public morality and accountability.
But the bureau has remained largely ineffective over the years due to its inability to achieve any major conviction of high profile personalities in the polity.
The major trial that it has recorded in many years appears to be that of the national leader of the All Progressive Congress, APC, Bola Tinubu which had more media hype than legal bite.
In any case, the case against Mr. Tinubu was eventually thrown out for lack of merit.
The irony of the situation is not lost on many watchers of the unfolding events at the CCB as a prosecuting agency set up by government to uphold moral standards has turned into an ocean of corruption allegations, with is helmsman likely to soon face prosecution for corruption.
This story was first published by the International Centre for Investigative Journalism. We have their permission to republish.