For the first time since the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led federal government swept to power seven months ago, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) late Wednesday arrested a close political associate of President Muhammadu Buhari and chieftain of the ruling party, Gen. Lawal Ja’afaru Isa (rtd), in connection with the misappropriation of funds in the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) under the past administration.
EFCC spokesman, Mr. Wilson Uwajiaren, confirmed his arrest by the commission, stating that Isa, who was also the former military governor of Kaduna State from 1993 to 1996 under General Sani Abacha and was a one-time governorship candidate of the defunct Congress for Peoples Change (CPC) in Kano State, was still being interrogated by the anti-graft agency last night.
Another insider in the EFCC informed THISDAY that Buhari’s close associate allegedly received over N100 million from the former NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), which he could not account for.
The revelation confirmed suspicions all along that the disbursement of funds meant for the procurement of arms from the NSA’s office was not limited to just chieftains and associates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which was in power at the time, but cut across party lines.
In addition to being close to Buhari, Isa was also an ally of the embattled former NSA who has been in the custody of the Directorate of State Services (DSS) for about two weeks.
Shortly after the 2015 general election, Buhari appointed Isa as one of the members of the Ahmed Joda-led transition committee, and was speculated as one of those who was going to be appointed to the president’s cabinet.
However, General Abdulraham Dambazzau from Kano State was selected over him.
According to sources, he was arrested at his residence located on Ajayi Crowther Street, Asokoro, Abuja, after ignoring the invitation of the EFCC.
An EFCC operative told THISDAY that the retired army general was first invited last week to appear before the commission to explain some questionable transactions in his bank account linked to the former NSA, but refused to honour the invitation.
In a related development, the Federal High Court in Abuja has granted a former National Chairman of the PDP Mohammed Haliru Bello and his son, Abba, bail under stringent conditions.
Justice Ahmed Mohammed, in his ruling yesterday, granted the accused persons bail on a bond of N300 million each and two sureties.
Mohammed granted the bail after considering the arguments presented by both the defence and the prosecuting counsels.
“This ruling is rested on the bail applications brought to this court by the first and third defendants. The issue to be determined is whether the applicants have tendered sufficient evidence to support their bail applications,” he said.
Citing the constitution and Section 162 of the Administration of Criminal Justice (ACJ) Act, the judge noted that bail can only be denied in a situation where “the applicant if granted bail, will commit another offence, jump bail and/or interfere with ongoing investigations”.
The justice however noted that in this instance, both defendants had met the conditions under which their bail applications were granted.
He said: “The first defendant (Abba Mohammed Bello), is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Also the third defendant (Mohammed Haliru Bello) is presumed innocent until proven guilty; he is bed ridden and currently receiving medical treatment at the Abuja Clinic, Maitama.
“I have carefully read the affidavit in regard to the first and third defendants, as well as the counter-affidavits by the prosecuting counsel. The offences are bailable and for the first defendant, he is suffering from chronic asthma.
“The third defendant is suffering from a spinal injury for which he is receiving treatment in London. All medical records are verifiable.”
Based on the above, the trial judge granted the first defendant (Abba) bail, on the condition that he would provide a bond of N300 million, two sureties – one of whom must be a civil servant not below grade level 12 and the other must own a landed property within Abuja or the like same of the bond.
Justice Mohammed also directed Abba to deposit his travelling documents, and international passport with the court, while his sureties would submit an affidavit of means and their passport photographs to the court.
He further directed the first defendant to be remanded in Kuje Prison pending the perfection of his bail conditions.
Justice Mohammed also granted the third defendant (Mohammed Haliru Bello), who for the second time was brought to the court in a wheelchair, bail under the same terms, but remanded him in the custody of the Inspector General of Police (IG) while on admission at the Abuja Clinic until his bail terms are met.
Justice Mohammed further adjourned the case to Tuesday, February 16 for definite hearing on the matter.
Speaking to journalists after the ruling, counsel to the PDP chieftain and onetime Minister of Defence, Mr. Abdulaziz Ibrahim, commended the court’s decision to grant his client bail.
Ibrahim however noted that even though the court’s bail conditions appeared to be stringent, his client would do everything possible to meet the terms.
Haliru and his son Abba Bello are alleged to have aided in the diversion of funds from ONSA.
EFCC, in a four-count charge against them, is alleging that N300 million was received by the senior Bello, Abba and BAM Projects and Properties Limited from the former NSA on or about March 17, 2015.
They are among others being prosecuted by the EFCC for complicity in the arms purchase scandal.
The commission last month arraigned Dasuki; former Minister of State for Finance; Ambassador Bashir Yuguda; former Sokoto State governor, Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa, and his son; and the former Chairman of DAAR Communications Plc, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, among others, for the same offence.
But as the EFCC tightens its noose around the necks of recipients of the funds meant for arms purchase, the opposition PDP said yesterday that it was considering taking legal action against the federal government and the EFCC over the continued detention of the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Chief Olisa Metuh, by the anti-graft agency.
Owing to concerns over the arrest and detention of Metuh, the party on Wednesday sent a high-powered delegation of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP led by its National Legal Adviser, Mr. Kwon Victor, to visit its spokesman and meet with the Chairman of EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Magu.
THISDAY gathered that on reaching the EFCC, the delegation requested audience with the commission’s chairman, but was told that he was not at his desk.
After waiting for him for about 30 minutes, the team asked for permission to meet with Metuh who was still being held at the EFCC facility.
Although the meeting between the delegation and Metuh was brief, a source said the NWC team assured him of the support of the party and promised to do everything possible to secure his release.
A reliable source at the PDP headquarters informed THISDAY that the party’s leadership continued to make frantic efforts yesterday afternoon to reach out to the authorities at EFCC to prevail on them to free Metuh or ensure that he is immediately charged to court so that he could secure bail.
Another source said the party had resolved that if its efforts failed to secure his release by the end of Thursday, it might push for the enforcement of his fundamental human rights by approaching the court to secure his freedom.
“In line with the rule of law, any person arrested for an alleged offence ought to be charged to court within 24 hours or else be released. The EFCC has no right to detain someone beyond the duration stipulated by the law, more so when no offence has been proffered against the person,” he said.
Metuh was whisked away on Tuesday at about 10.30 am by operatives of the EFCC who ordered him to follow them to the commission’s headquarters for a “friendly chat”.
According to Metuh’s aide, Mr. Richard Ihediwa, when his boss demanded to know the reason for the invitation, the officials stated that he had some issues to clear with the commission.
In line with the position of the PDP, the Metuh family, the Obi-Ezeani-Nnewi in Nnewi North Local Government Area of Anambra State, has protested his continued detention by the EFCC.
The family, in a statement issued yesterday and signed by Chief Gilbert Metuh for and on behalf of Obi-Ezeani-Nnewi, noted with grave concern the continued incarceration of Metuh since his arrest on Tuesday.
In the statement, the kinsmen said their call for the immediate release of their son was predicated on the assurances given to them by Metuh of his innocence.
“Whereas the charges for which Chief Metuh is being detained for over 48 hours now have not been formally made known to the family and the general public, we have noted some sensational publications in a section of the media claiming that our son collected the sum of N1.4 billion from the arms deal cash and has been collecting N4 million monthly from the Office of the former National Security Adviser.
“We have confronted our son with this allegations and he assured us that they are completely false.
“However, he acknowledged that in the course of his duty as the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, the then leader of the party and president of the country (Goodluck Jonathan) directed him to carry out some urgent national assignments relating to his office, which the former president duly funded and which he duly carried out to the satisfaction of the former president.
“The family therefore views the publications bandying the figure of N1.4 billion and alleged collection of a N4 million stipend from the Office of the NSA as deliberate blackmail aimed at inflaming public sentiments against our son.
“Our biggest concern for now is the health and safety of our son, who even before his arrest alerted the nation about various threats to his life, a stance that is not unconnected to his position as the spokesperson of the opposition.
“Our position is more so as he has refused to eat following fears of a plot to poison him in detention.
“In view of the above, therefore, we demand that the EFCC immediately release our son, Chief Metuh (Ugochidebelu Nnewi) from detention or charge him to court,” the family said.
Meanwhile, the chairman of EFCC yesterday was at the Presidential Villa to see the president. He came into the premises at about 3.15 pm with his police orderly.
Spotting a dark brown suit, white shirt and a bow tie, Magu who clutched an office flat file with the EFCC logo in his right hand, spent less than 10 minutes in the president’s office.
It was not clear whether he was able to see the president who was inaugurating the National Research and Innovation Council (NRIC) at the time.
On returning from the president’s office, State House correspondents sought to speak to him but he declined, saying: “Not now, not now.”
Magu’s visit to the villa came barely 24 hours after the EFCC arrested Buhari’s ally Ja’afaru Isa.
The visit also came on the heels of his statement that the anti-corruption agency would soon go after influential people who have allegations of corruption hanging on their necks.
Magu’s visit may not be unconnected to the looming arrests, over which he might have gone to the villa to brief the president.
On Wednesday, Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, refuted claims by the PDP that the arrest of its spokesman and other chieftains of the party by the EFCC was an attempt to silence the opposition.
Mohammed said the federal government was not dictating to the commission how to do its work.