Buhari’s Minister was charged with fraud, then discharged under unclear circumstances

Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Usani Usani,
Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Usani Usani,

The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Usani Usani, was charged with fraud 15 years ago, after he was indicted in 2000 by the government of Cross River State where he had served as a commissioner, according to a Premium Times revelation.

Premium Times had earlier published a story which showed how Mr. Usani, who had just finished serving then as Commissioner for Agriculture, Water Resources and Rural Development, was indicted by a committee set up by the Donald Duke administration in 1999.

The committee was set up to investigate financial impropriety among officials of the preceding military administration in the state.
Mr. Usani’s indictment is documented in a state government White Paper.

The investigating committee, headed by Orok Oyo, alleged in its report that Mr. Usani intended to defraud the state government, and refused to apply government approved scales when he paid out some money as fees to Gersh Henshaw & Company, a firm of estate surveyors and valuers.

The firm handled the contract for the valuation of vehicles, workshops and equipment belonging to the Cross River State Water Board.

The valuation was said to be part of the African Development Bank water project in the state.

The committee said the state government lost N16.323 million because of Mr. Usani’s “deliberate” action.

Mr. Duke’s administration, apart from accepting the committee’s report, directed that the N16, 323,150 be recovered from Mr. Usani, and that he should be prosecuted as well.

Premium Times has confirmed from available court documents that the state government actually filed complaint against Mr. Usani at the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).

Apart from Mr. Usani, the government also filed cases against seven other persons, including Mr. Usani’s erstwhile boss, the former military governor of the state, Umar Ahmed.

Two other former military administrators – Gregory Agboneni and Christopher Osondu – were also on the list of those charged.

However, no sooner had CCB forwarded the case to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for trial, than the state government quickly made a U-turn, and asked for its discontinuation.

No reason was given for the decision.

But those familiar with the case said the government’s action may have been influenced by political consideration.

A July 5, 2001 letter by the secretary to the state government, addressed to the CCB chairman, said the instruction to withdraw the case against Mr. Usani and others came from the then governor, Mr. Duke.

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The CCB, in its reply, informed the government that the tribunal on September 12, 2001 had accordingly ruled that further criminal proceedings against Mr. Usani and others be discontinued, and that the case against them was struck out.

The CCB’s letter, with reference number CCB/HQ/IM/007/102, was signed by J.J. Ndupu, the bureau’s legal adviser, on behalf of the attorney-general of the federation.

As at the time of publishing this report, the CBB was yet to furnish Premium Times with details of the charges that were filed against Mr. Usani and others.

A lawyer in the bureau’s legal department, who simply gave his name as Sam, told Premium Times, Monday, that workers at the tribunal were still searching for documents relating to the case.

Rabana Lawal, who was the attorney-general and commissioner for justice in Cross River at the time, told Premium Times that she could not recall what caused the state government to reverse its decision.
“The government was a responsible one,” said Mrs. Lawal, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. “They wouldn’t have done it without a reason.”

Besides, she said after the White Paper was produced, her office was no longer involved from that point onward.

The former governor, Mr. Duke, did not answer or return calls. He also did not respond the text messages sent to his mobile telephone line.

Mr. Usani too did not respond to our calls and text messages.
Premium Times also confirmed that the government initially accepted that Gersh Henshaw & Company be blacklisted. It later reversed itself, and absolved the firm of any wrongdoing.

Two lawyers, Doueyi Fiderikumo, and Inibehe Effiong, told Premium Times that the CCB could have continued the case if it wished, but that it would have been an uphill task without the backing of the complainant.

“In law, discharge is different from acquittal. It is just a temporary relief. The prosecution is at liberty to re-file the charges at anytime,” Mr. Effiong said.

President Muhammadu Buhari has been under intense criticisms from the opposition who are accusing his administration of being selective in its war against corruption.

Many people have challenged the president to also investigate members of his cabinet for alleged corruption.

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