The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is poised to suspend the multi-billion naira corruption probe of Bala Mohammed, succumbing to a constitutional provision that accords absolute immunity from criminal prosecution to an elected governor.
Mr Mohammed, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party PDP), was elected governor of Bauchi State on March 9, defeating incumbent Mohammed Abubakar of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Since his exit as Abuja minister in 2015 and until his election this month, Mr Mohammed faced corruption trial arising from alleged land racketeering.
Following months of investigation, Mr Mohammed was first arrested in late 2016 in what anti-graft detectives suspected might have involved up to N1.6 trillion in questionable land allocations around Abuja, the nation’s most expensive real estate market.
Mr Mohammed was suspected of receiving bribes of N550 million to illegally allocate public properties to Aso Savings Limited. The governor-elect was also accused of receiving N314 million in separate suspicious payment from Aso Savings. He was the mortgage banker’s board chairman at the time of the questionable transactions, prosecutors said in court filings.
He was subsequently slammed with an initial N864 million fraud. He was then arraigned on May 10, 2017, before Abubakar Talba of the Gudu Division of the Federal Capital Territory High Court and granted a bail, which he has enjoyed ever since, as his trial proceeded in court.
Multiple sources told PREMIUM TIMES there is a slew of other probes involving billions of naira pending against the politician as of Wednesday afternoon.
While his immunity would prevent prosecutors from bringing charges that may arise from further investigations, it would not prevent those investigations from proceeding on their own.
“Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution is clear,” that charges cannot be brought against a governor, EFCC spokesperson Tony Orilade told PREMIUM TIMES. “Considering the fact that it will be practically impossible to get conviction before May 29th, the moment he is sworn in as governor, immunity clause is invoked.”
Chris Uche, a senior lawyer who has been representing Mr Mohammed in the case, conveniently told PREMIUM TIMES he had nothing more to add to the position of the EFCC.
On the campaign trail, Mr Mohammed repeatedly dismissed the charges as politically motivated, saying the EFCC had not been able to pin anything on him.
He described himself as a victim of a vindictive crackdown on opposition elements, especially officials of the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
A different fate
While Mr Mohammed might have gotten a crucial reprieve from all corruption allegations against him for at least another four years — bar an impeachment or other outliers that could drive him from office — his son will continue to answer all outstanding cases of graft, the EFCC said.
Mr Orilade said Shamsudeen Bala is also being prosecuted, and his trial will continue as he has no immunity from prosecution, and will not be getting any by way of his father. Only the president, vice-president, governor, and deputy governor are bestowed immunity under the Nigerian Constitution.
The son was charged with laundering about N1.1 billion, using a mishmash of shady tech and agro firms, court documents alleged. Some of the firms included Bird Trust Agro Allied Ltd; Intertrans Global Logistics Ltd; Diakin Telecommunications Ltd and Bal-Vac Mining Ltd.
Mr Uche has also been providing legal services to Mr Bala in the matter, which had seen multiple adjournments since it commenced in 2017. The lawyer has vigorously defended his client, saying he was innocent of all allegations of corruption.
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