In what appears a brazen mockery of President Muhammadu Buhari’s war on corruption to date, a former governor accused of absconding amidst his ongoing fraud trial has been seen attending a rally of Nigeria’s ruling party.
Orji Kalu joined other politicians of the All Progressives Congress in Umuahia to stomp for the party’s candidates ahead of the general elections next month.
The appearance comes amidst pronouncements by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that the former governor was wanted after departing Nigeria for Germany on purported health grounds in November 2018.
The N7.7 billion trial had remained stalled ever since, although the court fixed further hearing for later this month.
Mr Kalu left office as governor of Abia State in Nigeria’s South-east in May 2007, and has faced allegations he squandered state resources during his reign.
After several judicial manoeuvres which critics said were designed to frustrate his prosecution, the EFCC ultimately reactivated Mr Kalu’s case last year, filling amended graft charges of up to N7.7 billion against him.
At the resumed hearing at the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court on November 5, 2018, the EFCC expressed shock that Mr Kalu had departed the country despite seizing his travel documents.
The former governor’s lawyers said he travelled to recuperate in Germany following a surgical operation.
The judge scolded Mr Kalu for departing the country without due notice to the court, and gave him seven days to return to the country for his trial.
Although the matter was subsequently adjourned till November 12, 2018, Mr Kalu failed to show up. He has been reportedly sighted at different parts of the country by those who know him.
Last week, the Buhari campaign announced Mr Kalu as a key member of the president’s reelection committee.
The announcement drew nationwide outrage, even though the politician was not sighted in public.
But at the rally in Umuahia, the Abia State capital, today, Mr Kalu was shown on NTA wearing white clothes with an APC campaign lapel Friday afternoon.
It was not immediately clear why Mr Kalu seamlessly roamed about in the country without being apprehended by law enforcement authorities.
A spokesperson for the EFCC told PREMIUM TIMES the agency was not aware that Mr Kalu was in the country, much less attending a public event.
A spokesperson for Mr Kalu did not return requests for comments Friday evening.
The seemingly sloppy manner with which Mr Kalu’s corruption case is being handled suggest that the Buhari administration has not been as enthusiastic in going after corruption suspects in his own political party as he had been with opposition, said political analyst, Sola Olubanjo.
“We have seen cases and cases where the Buhari government turns a blind eye to its allies who have been formally accused of corruption,” Mr Olubanjo said. “But we may say the soft-landing they have given Orji Kalu is the most brazen since 2015.”
Mr Kalu was a member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party since 1999. He joined the APC in November 2016, and critics immediately added him to a growing list of opposition politicians moving to the new ruling party to dodge trial for fraud.
The PDP was Nigeria’s ruling party from 1999 until 2015 when Mr Buhari became the first opposition candidate to win a presidential election.
Amongst those whose corruption cases have gone cold since joining APC include Abdullahi Adamu and Godswill Akpabio.
While their cases were not entirely dropped by the EFCC, the anti-graft agency, which is under absolute control of the president, has not been vigorously prosecuting them as it has been doing with Femi Fani-Kayode, Olisa Metuh, Nenadi Usman and other opposition PDP bigwigs.
The EFCC has however convicted two major politicians affiliated with the APC: Jolly Nyame and Joshua Dariye. They are now serving jail terms.