Was the immediate past governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano, trying to escape when he fell into the hands of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)? Some hours before EFCC officials arrested him at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, on March 17, on his way to the US, he had participated in the inauguration of his successor, Prof. Charles Soludo.
EFCC spokesman Wilson Uwujaren explained: “Obiano was arrested for alleged misappropriation of public funds, including, N5bn Sure-P and N37bn security vote which was withdrawn in cash. Part of the funds was also allegedly diverted to finance political activities in the state.”
It was an uncomplimentary exit after two four-year terms as governor, from 2014 to 2022. Though his party, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), remains in power with Soludo’s election, this does not necessarily glorify the ex-governor’s performance in office. Indeed, Obiano’s arrest calls into question his governorship years.
It is striking that his arrest happened on the same day he left power and consequently lost the constitutional immunity he had enjoyed as governor, which shielded him from prosecution while in office. There had been signs that he would be asked to account for his performance as governor after leaving office.
Last year, the EFCC had placed him on its watch list, and had also asked the Nigeria Immigration Service to stop him from leaving the country, in a letter to the Comptroller-General of Immigration dated November 15, 2021. So the anti-corruption agency was waiting to pounce on him at the end of his tenure. Even then, his arrest was perhaps unexpectedly swift.
His speedy arrest suggested that the agency may well have a strong case against him. It is unclear if his arrest will lead to a trial.
Interestingly, the allegation of “security votes” fraud underscores the reality that it is still in vogue among people in power in the country today as an easy path to wealth acquired fraudulently.
In a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, in January, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) highlighted a recent report by Transparency International (TI) indicating that “most of the funds appropriated as security votes are spent on political activities, mismanaged or simply stolen. It is estimated that security votes add up to over N241.2b every year.”
The group urged Buhari to instruct the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to “jointly track and monitor spending of security votes” by the 36 state governors.
Paradoxically, security votes in Nigeria are usually not for security purposes. In 2020, for instance, a former governor of Abia State from 2007 to 2015, Senator Theodore Orji, told the EFCC how he spent N38.8b security votes in eight years for other purposes, showing that security votes do not mean what they should mean.
The former governor was reported saying he received N370m monthly as a security vote in 2007, and N410m monthly from 2008 to 2015.