The arrest and arraignment of Taraba state’s Accountant General, Joel Lenbang, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has raised more dust than it has settled them. It has also generally questioned the real motives behind the current activity of the anti-graft agency in the state. And unless the EFCC convinces the state’s citizenry that it is acting on altruistic grounds, many would view the dramatic arrest and prosecution of the AG as a mere smokescreen for something more sinister. The act would amount to a case of straining at a gnat while swallowing a camel or ignoring a log and latching out at a speck of wood in the eye. It would clearly show that EFCC is only chasing soft helpless targets and permitting the VIP thieves in Jalingo to enjoy their loot and have a field day. With this arrest, the EFCC has to show that it has come to equity with clean hands and that it can earn the trust and respect of the people. This is because many people in the state still remember the twisted Nollywood drama which took place earlier in the year when the state government tried to bribe the EFCC in broad day light. At the said event, Speaker of the Taraba State House of Assembly, Hon. Josiah Kente had announced a donation of 10 million naira to the agency to use and fight corruption. The bemused agency promptly turned down the money and rebuked the state government. The agency was further perplexed when Kente came up again and insisted the EFCC collect the money because, according to him, it was their foundation in the state. No one knew how the matter ended. However, that drama has never really varnished from the consciousness of the people who suspect that the EFCC and the state government under its current usurpers may be having a romantic affair.
EFCC must therefore go the whole nine yards and convince the Taraba people that it has indeed come to the state to clean up the Augean Stable; and not to serve as an errand boy to some self-serving politicians as many people in Taraba state now believe. Lenbang is facing trial for what the EFCC termed “abuse of office’” and “diversion of public funds”. Now that is the main reason Taraba state indigenes are skeptical of the EFCC current odyssey in Jalingo. For example, Commission on Turnover (COT) which Lenbang is accused of diverting is not money belonging to government. As a matter of fact, COTs are charges made directly by banks on customers current accounts, so how come it ended up with the Accountant-general so he could “steal” it? It is money belonging to the Bankers so how come they are not the ones complaining? Please EFCC should explain these posers to the public quickly because it is not possible for anybody to “steal” COT. The same poser goes for the VAT funds said to have been stolen by Lenbang. This is money payable to the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS). It is a well known fact that the FIRS is one of the most efficient government organs in the country. They carry out periodic review of contract payments by governments and ensure that all sums due to them are remitted. Even if Lenbang stole VAT funds, it could not have been done without the connivance of FIRS officials. So why is Lenbang the only person culpable here? Haba EFCC, you cannot afford to lose your credibility so cheaply!
If the EFCC was sincere, there are certain individuals whom it should have docked because no one has abused office more or diverted public funds than the trio of the deputy governor’s office, the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Social welfare ( the place SURE-P funds are kept) and the Bureau for local government and chieftaincy affairs. There are loads of petitions from Taraba State to the EFCC on these organs. These are the ultimate conduit pipes of the state that have almost killed off Taraba’s economy. Today, the state government has over-borrowed, while civil servants have not been paid salaries. Suffering and deprivation have become the order of the day. Markets are shut down due to orchestrated violence. Farmers cannot go to farms due to sponsored attacks. A famine situation looms. The state is practically comatose. Yet a few individuals are reeking off billions of stolen money. Where is the EFCC? Deputy Governor Umar has practically bought up all the houses and other properties in the state. Where is EFCC? Allegations of mind boggling bribery have been leveled against some members of the TSHA. Where is the EFCC? Local government chairmen continued to be shortchanged every month. In fact, one of them, Dr. David Jedua, even boldly cried out one time, shouting that he has no funds for projects due to over-deduction. He was hounded by the junta in Jalingo into silence. Where is the EFCC?
But let’s even dwell, in passing, since it would be prejudicial to overstretch it, on the case the EFCC is currently pursuing. First, is it even possible for the AG to withdraw all those monies without the active connivance of the Deputy Governor, Alhaji Garba Umar? Although the time frame the crimes were said to have been committed also falls within the period when Governor Danbaba Suntai was in active control (January 2012-December 2013), there is no gainsaying the fact Lenbang also worked with Umar. It is a known fact that banks do not honour cheques without CLEARANCE from the Acting Governor. So how did Lenbang get those cheques cleared if the Acting Governor did not clear them? We are aware Umar is now enjoying immunity but that would soon be over so that he can come and explain how Mr. Lenbang acted alone without orders from above.
But beyond the legal insipidities, EFCC should be mindful of the dose of politics playing out in Taraba State. Umar, an Islamic zealot, has continued to target Christians in the state for his unique “smear and sack” jihad. The tactic is an ancient one but very efficient. What he does is to disgrace people he perceives as opponents out of office. And Christians are at the receiving end of this. Umar has vowed to deal a blow on Christians in the state. Who can forget so easily how, in one day, he “smeared and sacked” five commissioners (all Christians) over a spurious flood scandal allegation? The sixth commissioner who was to be sacked was spared the ordeal. Umar asked him to resign before the hammer fell. The man complied and was spared the shame and humiliation. His sister blood sister was appointed Commissioner to compensate him! The others had to go through stress and humiliation as Lenbang is now being made to face. By the way, the one thus spared is a Muslim!
Who has forgotten how he “smeared and sacked” a respected elder statesman, Ambassador Emmanuel Njiwa? So only Christian public servants are now corrupt?
The EFCC should be mindful of the aggressive ambition of Umar and how he believes Christians are the only ones trying to stop him. To date, he has treated selected Muslims in the state with kid gloves and trying hard to clash the two faiths all for his parochial and jaundiced 2015 pipe dream. Yet, many Muslims in the state have seen through his ill-digested plans and are distancing their religion from him. That is why Senator Aisha Alhassan- a good Muslim in her right- recently slammed him, calling him a “machin amana” (traitor).
EFCC should train its efficient gaze at how Alhaji Hadi Lau, the commissioner of Youth, Sports and Social Welfare, in conjunction with Umar, has turned the SURE-P funds into an ATM for the duo. Or how Marafa has colonized the funds at the Bureau for Local Governments and Chieftaincy Affairs. These men are above the law. They are untouchables. And they are Muslims!