This article is part of our #FirstWord series to provide context on trending news.
Peter Amangbo, one of Zenith Bank’s top executives, was held by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) last week over some transactions carried out on behalf of Rivers State.
The anti-graft commission is alleging that the transactions, at least N117 billion in value, are suspicious in nature and that Zenith Bank failed to report them as demanded by the law.
Mr Amangbo and four other officials were therefore detained to explain why their bank did not document the withdrawals, allegedly done over a period of three years. Others are being sought for the investigation. The suspects considered to be at large include Fubara Similari, whom investigators identified as the Director of Finance and Account at the Government House in Port Harcourt. The Government House cashier is also said to be on the run.
State Government’s response
Meanwhile, the Rivers State Government has called on the EFCC to leave the state alone and concentrate on other pressing matters. In a statement issued by Emma Okah, Rivers' Commissioner for Information and Communications, the state denied any illegal operation of her bank accounts as alleged.
The statement also adds that by law the Rivers State Government is not answerable to the EFCC unless the court says so. In 2007, the anti-graft agency was taken to court over interferences with state finances, and the court restrained the EFCC from probing the accounts of Rivers state. Interestingly, the EFCC has been unable to set aside the injunction.
“We plead the injunction and advise the commission to respect the laws of the land as anything short of this is equal to political blackmail. For the avoidance of doubt, the Rivers State Government is not against the fight against corruption but insists that such fight must be within the ambit of the law not as a tool of political witch hunt” – Emma Okah
Is there a pattern?
The investigation into the Rivers State bank account comes a few weeks after the EFCC froze bank accounts owned by Akwa Ibom and Benue States. The agency had alleged that more than N22 Billion had been mismanaged by Benue’s Samuel Ortom.
Governor Ortom had stated during the incident that the actions of the anti-graft agency severely crippled activities in his state for some days because it was impossible to pay state workers and pensioners.
While the restrictions on Benue accounts were lifted within three days on August 9, and Akwa Ibom confirmed partial unfreezing of its accounts on the same day, it should be noted that the EFCC as a federal body does not have any business with state funds. That is within the purview of the State House of Assembly.
It is hard to guess why the EFCC is proceeding with this crackdown, considering the agency is well aware that its actions are against the law. This disregard for clear-cut laws is however becoming more common with Federal Government agencies.