By SaharaReporters, New York
As officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission staged a dramatic effort to seal off the palatial residence of outgoing Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, a source in the diplomatic community and other sources within the government have told SaharaReporters that there appears to be a high-level scheme to create room for the embattled speaker to escape any serious prosecution.
Moments ago, the EFCC received instructions to back away from Mr. Bankole’s residence as part of a shady deal involving Inspector-General of Police Hafiz Ringim and the presidency.
Earlier, an EFCC source confirmed to us that the agency decided to arrest Mr. Bankole after the speaker spurned several invitations to come to the EFCC’s headquarters for questioning. However, the speaker’s security operatives, including police officers and agents of the State Security Service, initially frustrated the EFCC’s plans to arrest Mr. Bankole who was planning to depart to the UK today by air. “The arrival of our security people at the speaker’s house was just on time because the man’s plan was to leave today,” said the source.
The EFCC reportedly alerted IG of Police Hafiz Ringim of the fact that Bankole’s police protection was thwarting their effort to have the speaker arrested. The EFCC implored the IG to withdraw the police protection around Bankole in order to prevent a bloodbath. A short while later, the IG was spotted entering Mr. Bankole’s residence, ostensibly to break the siege on the speaker’s residence. However, a source in the Goodluck Jonathan administration said the IG had instructions from the presidency to tell the EFCC to back off from the outgoing speaker’s residence.
An EFCC source confirmed that Mr. Ringim called in the EFCC’s operations leader at Bankole’s house and said he had instructions from President Jonathan to allow the speaker to complete handing over ceremonies on Monday before he can be questioned. Then, in a move that an anti-corruption activist described as “ridiculous,” the IG offered to stand surety for Mr. Bankole. “Why would the nation’s chief law enforcement officer offer to stand surety for an alleged criminal?” he asked.
Thanks to the new twist, when the IG left about an hour later, the stalemate had ended in Mr. Bankole’s favor, with the outgoing speaker nowhere close to surrendering.
One of our sources said Mr. Bankole reportedly plans to insist on not surrendering unless he is allowed to travel to the UK first for a so-called “emergency medical visit.”
Soon after Mr. Ringim left the speaker’s residence, EFCC chairperson Farida Waziri reportedly received confirmation of instructions from the Presidency to withdraw most of their operatives from the speaker’s residence, maintaining just a skeletal presence to ensure that the speaker did not escape.
“The EFCC has been told to allow the speaker to finalize his hand-over on Monday before moving to arrest him,” a source disclosed to us. However, the source added that the speaker had planned to leave the country today, and would not have been around to hand over. Besides, a member of the National Assembly told SaharaReporters that the speaker’s presence was not necessary in order to implement a hand-over. “It’s the clerk of the House who mostly handles handing over,” he said.
A top government source also revealed to SaharaReporters that Mr. Jonathan had assured the outgoing speaker that the EFCC would be instructed not to charge him with the more serious crimes of stealing some $1 billion through an account at the United Bank for Africa ((UBA). “The plan now is to charge the speaker with the minor car-gate scam,’ referring to Mr. Bankole involvement in a car-buying scheme where he received kick-backs in exchange for over-inflated invoices. “I can assure you that nothing will be mentioned in the lawsuit about the speaker’s UBA account,” said the source.
In the face of the speaker’s stout refusal to submit to EFCC interrogation, several sources in Abuja, including a diplomat from one of the European Union nations, said the new move to lessen EFCC presence on the outgoing speaker could be part of a scheme to help Mr. Bankole evade arrest or seriously compromise the evidence against him.
A source in the EFCC told SaharaReporters that the agency believes Mr. Bankole has a huge stash of cash in his residence, “and he may be making plans to move it and to move or destroy some incriminating documents,” adding that the order to the agency to scale down the number of its operatives at the speaker’s residence was baffling.
The EU diplomat told SaharaReporters that he remained worried about Mr. Bankole’s defiance and his ability to get away with it. “One would think that a man who has held the responsible office of speaker would be anxious to meet with law enforcement officers to clear his name,” said the diplomat. He said the stand-off was reminiscent of the tug-of-war between the EFCC and former Governor James Onanefe Ibori.
The EFCC had sought to interrogate Mr. Bankole over discoveries that he stole some $1 billion through bank accounts opened at the UBA. SaharaReporters exclusively broke the news of the shocking heist and has reported the efforts of the Goodluck Jonathan administration to shield Mr. Bankole from interrogation and prosecution.