Senator Ike Ekweremadu was appointed local government chairman in 1997. Significantly, he has remained in public service at all levels of government since then. This incredible staying power is as much a salute to his interpersonal skills as it is a confirmation of his relevance by the people who chose him to represent them in the Senate for 20 years. But this is not the matter for interrogation today. The question is, how much did he earn over the course of this 25-year career as a public servant? A proper examination of this question will determine whether he is guilty of the allegations against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The EFCC, in a July 2022 letter to the London Metropolitan Police, alleged that the senator amassed a total of 60 properties worldwide. It claimed that his earnings as a public servant could not support the alleged acquisition. For this reason, EFCC disclosed its intention to dispossess Ekweremadu of “some of the properties” through a “non-conviction-based forfeiture.”
Thereafter, the agency said it would file criminal charges against the former deputy Senate president.
Will EFCC succeed? Is the agency going about its investigation the right way?
Quite a few persons know that it is an uphill task to find the senator guilty of corruption based on current EFCC allegations. However, saying this does not imply that one thinks Ekweremadu is not corrupt, or that he is. Rather, this is a call for a more thorough interrogation of publicly available information that people gloss over when they’re debating the EFCC allegation. And what it shows is that EFCC appears to be hiding material facts and using the information gap to create mischief.
Before I get to the substance of this thesis, let me disclose that I am Ekweremadu’s constituent, and, therefore, might be considered a sympathizer. I am. However, I hasten to add that I do not believe there is a saint among Nigerian politicians, my senator included. This is a call for a more diligent investigation of alleged corruption by the senator dictated by commonsense and devoid of mischief that has hitherto characterized the investigation of the senator by the anti-graft agency.
EFCC alleges that Ekweremadu owns 60 properties worldwide. It subsequently applied to seize the properties through a court process. An Abuja High Court judge last week restrained the agency from carrying out the seizures, confirming the doubts that many had about the fidelity of the investigation that cast Ekweremadu as a villain.
Here is the premise upon which people raise doubts about this allegation. Any politician with a head for business elected to the National Assembly can legitimately become a billionaire in no time. For a start, within three months of their arrival in Abuja, each senator “legitimately” earns the sort of income that an entrepreneur looking for seed capital can only dream about. And this money rain continues until they leave the hallowed legislative chambers. Senator Ekweremadu has been in this Red Chamber (Senate) for 20 years, 12 of which he served as the Number Three top executive. It can, therefore, be argued that he has earned enough to start and sustain a flourishing business.
Nigerians have rightfully expressed outrage over alleged humongous earnings of members of the National Assembly. Thus, there is no doubt about it that a national legislator earns enough to invest in businesses that multiply income. To restate the point, what each National Assembly legislator earns is more than enough seed capital for anyone with a head for business to launch a big business. This is despite the reality that many a member spends their income on wasting assets and on concupiscence. The fools among them and their monies are soon parted.
What are Ekweremadu’s sources of income and are these income streams enough for him to ultimately acquire and own 60 properties, as published by the EFCC? The agency’s position is that Senator Ekweremadu’s earnings over the past 25 years of public service cannot support his alleged acquisition of 60 properties. In its letter to the London Metropolitan Police, EFCC described Ekweremadu as a lawyer, former local government chairman, former chief of staff to a governor, former secretary to a state government, and five-term senator. It is true that salaries and allowances from these positions are hardly enough to buy five dozen properties if he is truly the owner of the listed properties. However, judged from the context in which the agency made its allegations, there is no doubt that everybody presented with this single narrative will readily jump to the same conclusions as did the EFCC. The EFCC must have forgotten to add two material facts to the dish it served the senator, and further garnished it with a double dash of mischief.
The two material facts and the double mischief could have provoked the anger expressed in court last week by Judge Inyang Ekwo. According to the judge, EFCC provided evidence to London Metropolitan Police that made bail impossible for Ekweremadu, only to turn around to annex his alleged properties back home and dare him to appear in court to contest the allegation. In other words, the judge noted that it was the anti-graft agency that made certain that Ekweremadu could not contest claims of illegal acquisition of private properties within and outside Nigeria. This is how the judge framed his disgust.
“I have been asking myself the question repeatedly: How can a citizen of Nigeria who is incarcerated outside the country, to the respondent’s knowledge, be expected to show cause in action in Nigeria brought by the respondent? How do you help tie a man down and initiate a fight and demand that the same man you helped tie down must defend himself?”
The second piece of mischief making is that the agency appears not to have done sufficient due diligence on the properties before advertising them. Imagine that the Anambra State Government is one of the entities that contested property listed by EFCC as belonging to Sen. Ekweremadu!
Then there are the material facts that the anti-graft agency ignored in its claims that the senator’s sources of income were not enough to support ownership of alleged 60 properties.
The first is that Senator Ekweremadu is still a practicing litigation lawyer, albeit a sleeping partner in a prominent law firm that argues landmark political and election cases. We know how much in fees those cases attract for senior lawyers in Nigeria. Did the agency investigate how much the chambers managed by a brilliant lawyer make over the 20-year period that the senator was in the National Assembly? And, if it did, what portion of it went to the senator? In addition, the senator is a shareholder in a flourishing real estate firm. This firm, Power Properties, is a limited liability company that owns a good number of the houses that the agency listed as the senator’s personal property.
There are benefits for registration of companies as limited liability, one of which is that individual investors cannot be held personally liable for the business. Therefore, for any firm registered as limited liability, should its properties be said to solely belong to an individual investor, even when they own majority shares? Won’t other shareholders of the business vigorously contest such a claim? Similarly, should the state attribute the assets of a registered limited liability business to an individual investor? Is it lawful to proceed to seize the property as if they are individual personal assets?
On this Ekweremadu matter, we may have ended up internationalizing the shoddy way we do business in Nigeria.