The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s (EFCC) withdrawal from the corruption trial of a former governor, Danjuma Goje, just after he agreed to back President Buhari’s candidate for the Senate Presidency, has caused an uproar among Nigerians.
The anti-graft agency withdrew from the prosecution of the senator-elect for allegedly misappropriating N25 billion while in office as governor.
The decision of the EFCC to withdraw from the case which has been on for about eight years, came a day after Mr Goje stepped down from the race for Senate President in the 9th National Assembly.
He stepped down on Thursday after meeting President Muhammadu Buhari who urged him to support his colleague, Ahmed Lawan. Mr Lawan is also backed by the governing APC.
Mr Goje later said he stepped down for Mr Lawan out of respect for the party and President Buhari.
When Mr Goje’s corruption trial came up for an emergency hearing before Justice Babatunde Quadri of the Federal High Court II in Jos, the EFCC counsel, Wahab Shittu, told the court the agency was withdrawing from the case and handing it over to the office of the attorney-general for continuation.
“My Lord, this case was earlier adjourned for June 20 for the continuation of hearing, but then we are here today on the latest development on the matter,” he said.
“We as EFCC counsels are withdrawing from the matter and handing it over to the office of the attorney-general for continuation with the prosecution.”
“As you can see in court today is a state counsel from the AGF’s office to formally take over this case from us,” EFCC counsel was quoted to have said.
While Mr. Goje’s lawyer, Paul Erokoro did not object the anti-graft agency’s withdrawal, the lawyer representing the office of the attorney-general, Pius Asika, applied for an adjournment to enable him to prepare for the case proper.
The matter was adjourned to June 21, 2019 for continuation of hearing.
This newspaper on Saturday also reported how the public reacted to the matter.
Nigerians react as EFCC is unaware
The spokesperson of the commission, Tony Orilade, told PREMIUM TIMES on Saturday he was not aware of the matter yet.
Responding to PREMIUM TIMES question on why the EFCC had withdrawn just after Mr. Goje’s stepped down for Mr Lawan, Mr Orilade told our correspondent via SMS that he had no idea on the case.
“For now, I have no idea on the subject matter. When I am properly briefed, I shall reach out to you”, he said.
Meanwhile, the matter has caused an uproar among Nigerians.
Both critics and supporters of Mr. Buhari’s government have reacted to the sudden withdrawal on social media. Many believed that the Presidency was aware of the matter.
Farooq Kperoogi, a journalism professor, wrote on Twitter that a witness of the meeting on Thursday said it was President Buhari that gave the withdrawal order.
“I’ve just learned from someone who witnessed Danjuma Goje’s meeting with Buhari in Aso Rock that it was Buhari who PERSONALLY gave orders that Goje’s N25b fraud case be withdrawn,” he wrote. “It was d condition Goje gave Buhari for supporting Ahmed Lawan for senate Pres.”
He dismissed Mr Buhari’s claim to “integrity”.
Kayode Ogundamisi, one of the supporters of Mr. Buhari’s government, said the timing of EFCC withdrawal was suspicious.
“The timing of @officialEFCC withdrawal is suspicious, the office of the AGF historically and currently is the weakest link in the anti corruption campaign, to remove any doubt or conspiracy theories, the AGF office must prosecute Goje’s case diligently. N25 billion isn’t small.”
Reno Omokri, a government critic, said: “Danjuma Goje withdraws from the Senate President’s race in favour of @MBuhari‘s anointed candidate, Farouk Lawan, and the next day the @OfficialEFCC withdraws from his corruption case. I like the way Buhari fights corruption! #FreeLeahSharibu#RenosNuggets”.
Deji Adeyanju, another critic, also tweeted: @ adeyanjudeji “You can’t leave Goje alone for N25billion & be disturbing Nigerians. EFCC should stop harassing Nigerians,” he said. “There’s no one they ever accused of corruption that Buhari has not negotiated with. From Akpabio to Goje, to Orji Uzo Kalu, etc; he has negotiated with them. The only people he didn’t negotiate with were those who refused to cross over to support him. Even the Bullion Van guy.”