The legal wrangling between the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, and the Special Investigation Panel on Recovery of Public Property is only a ‘smear campaign’ and an ‘unfolding sinister agenda informed by the politics of 2019 elections,’ an aide to the senator has said.
Mr Ekweremadu is being investigated by the panel for failing to declare his asset comprising mostly of lands and buildings located in Nigeria, Dubai, London and the United States, amounting to billions of Naira.
The federal government last month asked the Federal High Court in Abuja to freeze all undeclared asset traced to the senator.
In order to prevent the forfeiture, Mr Ekweremadu’s lawyer, Adegboyega Awomolo, on Tuesday asked the same court to stop the government from temporarily seizing the asset.
The Special Adviser (Media) to Mr Ekweremadu, Uche Anichukwu, said the investigation was not about ownership of properties, but a deliberate effort by the All Progressive Congress (APC) to prosecute members of the opposition ahead of the 2019 polls.
Mr. Anichukwu in a statement on Wednesday alleged that APC lawyers constituted themselves into a panel to try his boss relying on Decree 3 of 1984, now known as the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provisions) Act, 2004.
He said not only was the law already overtaken by the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, 2004, but the panel was also not gazetted in any publication in the Federal Government of Nigeria Gazette or inaugurated by the President.
The statement quoted him as saying, “so, considering the Senator’s ordeals since his re-emergence as the Deputy President of the Senate in 2015, and with 2019 election fast-approaching, no one needs any soothsayer to know that the FG is up to something more sinister and diabolical of which the asset forfeiture lawsuit is a launchpad.
“As earlier clarified by the Senator, the list contains so many fictitious and repeated properties generated by the dismissed Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice Innocent Umezulike, who, in his capacity as the Chief Judge of the State in 2016, colluded with his lawyer, Barrister Tagbo Ike, and some politicians, to steal and doctor his will. They then churned out petitions to many government agencies.
“Should proper investigation devoid of bias and witch-hunt not require that Ekweremadu be invited to respond to the petition, assuming the panel had the constitutional powers to dabble into matters relating to assets declaration?
“But the Panel instead approached the court by way of Motion Ex-parte, which would allow it obtain an interim forfeiture order against the Distinguished Senator, without hearing him, just to achieve a maximum smear effect.
“The fact that the petition was authored by a former Chief Judge, who was sacked by the National Judicial Council for corruption and gross abuse of office and is currently facing corruption trial at the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt and High Court of Enugu State, was more reason his petition should have been treated with wariness.
“Also, the fact that the Chairman of the Panel, Okoi Ofem Obono-Obla, signed, on behalf of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), the very letter referenced HAGF/ENUGU/2000/I and dated February 4, 2016 directing the Inspector General of Police to investigate Umezulike and the Director of Litigation over alleged forgery of a court judgment and order in Suit No. E/170/76 dated the June 25, 1985, is the more reason the Panel should have been circumspect.”
Mr Anichukwu said a property, Congress Estate, did not exist anywhere in Nigeria and that the senator did not accept the federal government’s offer to pay for Kyami Layout plot located in Abuja. Mr Anichukwu’s statement did not clarify whether Congress Estate was part of the properties in contention.
He added that Mr Ekweremadu’s asset declaration form, which the panel obtained from the Code of Conduct Bureau, shows that the House on Evans Enwerem Street, Apo Legislators Quarters, was declared with the plot number by which it was originally known and monetised to the Senator.
“Besides, it is on record, as recently reported by some national dailies, that the AGF had in a letter dated November 1, 2017 and signed by the Solicitor-General of the Federation, withdrawn Notices of Investigation, which Obono-Obla sent to some Judges of the Federal High Court, requesting them to fill assets declaration forms all over in clear overreach of the his purported powers.
“So, Senator Ekweremadu’s case is treated differently because the main purpose of the suit, which is another overreach by the Panel, is to intimidate, smear, and embarrass Ekweremadu to give the impression that he illegally acquired and hid properties from the government, which is clearly not the case,” the statement further said.