Some choice property seized by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) under interim forfeiture and investigations are now being used as accommodation and transit camps by their operatives and other security agencies in some parts of the country, Daily Trust on Sunday’s investigations reveal.
By Itodo Daniel Sule, Idowu Isamotu & John Chuks Azu (Abuja), Adelanwa Bamgboye (Lagos), Lami Sadiq & Maryam Ahmadu-Suka (Kaduna)
Hotels and residential buildings on which permanent forfeiture orders are yet to be obtained are some of the property that have been converted to use by the EFCC, police, DSS and civil defence officials.
While the federal government has the power to allocate permanently forfeited property to security and other government agencies, legal practitioners say governments at the federal and state levels do not have the power to tamper with buildings under temporary forfeiture.
An interim forfeiture order obtained through an “exparte order” is usually for 14 days to preserve such property (subject matter) so that it will not be dissipated or sold.
Within the 14 days, the owner, if any, is expected to come forward to explain why such property should not be forfeited to the federal government.
However, there is serious uncertainty over the powers of the EFCC to manage property and assets forfeited to the federal government.
Initially, EFCC engaged agents to manage property and assets on its behalf while the interim forfeiture order was in force to maintain the value of the property and to prevent waste.
In early 2012, a Federal High Court nullified the appointment of agents employed by the EFCC to manage forfeited property and assets and held that the EFCC was only empowered to seal seized houses.
According to the court, if the EFCC wished to deal with the houses other than to put them under seal, then it must obtain a court order to that effect.
However, there are concerns over the legality of the conversion of confiscated property under interim forfeiture and investigation, to serve as accommodation or transit camps for EFCC personnel and other security operatives.
Investigations by Daily Trust on Sunday revealed that a number of buildings marked, “Under EFCC Investigation, Keep Off” as well as property under interim forfeiture are currently being used as accommodation by some EFCC operatives and those of other security formations such the police, DSS and NSCDC.
Operatives convert ‘sealed’ Kaduna hotel to transit camp
Since the EFCC sealed it in late 2015, Halal Fountain Hotel (Annex), situated at No. 29A, Rabah Road, Kaduna, said to be owned by a former National Security Adviser, retired Col. Sambo Dasuki, has emblazoned in red paint the inscription: ‘EFCC Keep off, under EFCC investigation’.
Our correspondents gathered that though the hotel has been under investigation in connection with the $2.1bn arms scandal involving the former NSA, the once sprawling hotel with an elegant design has become a temporary home for some EFCC cadets and officials.
Following a petition written to Daily Trust newspapers by the Badarawa Concerned Youths, our correspondents visited the hotel and confirmed that despite being on temporary forfeiture, EFCC officials have been using the facility ‘illegally’.
The petitioners had alleged that: “The facilities in the premises, including television sets in the rooms have disappeared into thin air.”
However, during a visit by Daily Trust on Sunday, it was observed that the premises was empty but for a staff sighted in the hallway. The staff confirmed that the EFCC had been using the facility as a transit camp for its cadets and other staff on transfer.
Our correspondents could not independently verify if items were missing as they were denied access to the hotel rooms. However, since the gate was open, our correspondents sighted a vehicle and a motorcycle while a man who did not identify himself told Daily Trust on Sunday that the hotel was under investigation and therefore, not open to the public.
He also confirmed that EFCC cadets were lodging at the time of the visit, saying it was a temporary arrangement before they sorted out their accommodations.
“Cadets who have passed out from the EFCC camp use this place; the people you see coming into this place are EFCC staff. They stay here temporarily before they get accommodation and move to their permanent abodes,” he said.
When contacted, the EFCC Zonal Head in Kaduna, Sanusi Abdullahi, confirmed to Daily Trust on Sunday that the facility was presently being used as a transit camp but that it was not true that some items including television sets were missing from the hotel.
Abdullahi said staff on transfer to Kaduna, including himself, have benefited from the use of the facility and said the EFCC had done a lot of maintenance work to ensure the hotel did not fall apart.
The zonal head said the commission had taken inventory of all items in the hotel with pictures to show the state of the facility when it was temporarily forfeited to it.
DSS, police, NSCDC operatives occupy seized properties in Abuja
In the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), findings by one of our correspondents revealed that some of the properties seized under the administration of erstwhile acting EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Magu, are occupied by security agents including police, DSS and NSCDC officials under the guise of securing them.
Some sections of the properties that are not occupied by the security agents, according to findings, are already rotting away while bushes and reptiles have taken over some of such landed properties.
When Daily Trust on Sunday visited one of the properties reportedly owned by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, located at Yakubu Gowon Crescent, Asokoro, Abuja, fierce-looking security agents were seen guarding the building.
A fruit seller in the area who did not want his name in print said since the house was marked as one of the properties under investigation by the EFCC four years ago, men in uniform – mostly police, DSS and NSCDC operatives – have turned it into their residential apartment.
“Although the officers didn’t bring their family members here, they live in the place as if it is their personal apartments. They bathe there, wash clothes and do all sorts of things. In fact, they cook there sometimes,” he said.
Speaking with one of our correspondents, an official at the EFCC headquarters said it was not true that the anti-graft agency allocated properties under investigation to its members of staff or anybody, no matter how highly placed, for personal use.
“That might have happened in the past when impunity was reigning but not in this present dispensation. When a property is marked for investigation with the inscription ‘Keep off’, I can tell you that nobody dares occupy or use such a property,” he said.
Michael Ojo, who is familiar with the EFCC activities, said an interim forfeiture order on a property implies that such property would be sealed pending the determination of the motion for final forfeiture order by the court.
A source close to the anti-graft agency, who does not want his name in print, corroborated the story that EFCC officials who are newly posted from one state to another usually use property forfeited to the federal government as temporary camp.
This practice, he said, is mostly obtainable in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano, Kaduna and some other states where EFCC officials stay for some months before getting accommodation.
According to him, such development may not be unconnected with the hardship encountered in securing accommodation across the nation.
“Recall that EFCC handed over the property forfeited by a former Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Alison-Madueke, to the Lagos State government for use as an isolation centre for COVID-19 patients.
“The property, consisting of six flats of three bedrooms and boys’ quarters, was forfeited by Alison-Madueke following an order of the Federal High Court in 2017.
“Even after the interim and final forfeitures, the parties cannot deal with the property until the appeals at both the Court of Appeal and finally the Supreme Court have been determined,” he said.
Major stakeholders in the justice sector believe that EFCC could not manage properties and assets forfeited to the federal government, hence the need to have a separate agency to manage them. This, it was gathered, was one of the challenges the former EFCC boss Magu faced.
They are on guard duty – EFCC
When contacted, the spokesman of the EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren, told Daily Trust on Sunday via a text message that there was no iota of truth that the anti-graft agency allocated forfeited properties to its members of staff or other security operatives to occupy.
The text message read: “It is not true. Any staff you find in a forfeited property will certainly be on guard duty.”
There were reports in the media that the federal government had directed that some properties seized from past government officials should be given to government agencies.
It was gathered that such properties have been permanently forfeited by the courts and handed over to government.
In 2019 for instance, a property located on Plot 1076 Cadastral Zone, Sector B 18, Gudu District, Abuja, was handed over to the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) by the EFCC.
Also in 2019, the EFCC handed over a-13 bedroom, one-storey building and a basement to the management of the North East Development Commission (NEDC).
Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that there are hundreds of properties and assets that have been forfeited with the street value running into trillions of naira.
In March this year, the House of Representatives ad hoc Committee on Abandoned Property called for the immediate sale of seized assets by the EFCC.
Rep. Ademorin Kuye, chairman of the committee, stated this at an investigative hearing on sales of abandoned property on Thursday in Abuja.
Kuye said as long as the EFCC kept the property in its custody, it would lose value and deteriorate, adding that such would not augur well for the country.
Also speaking, the National President of Nigeria Association of Auctioneers (NAA), Alhaji Aliyu Kiliya said that disposal of public assets must follow the due process of law as provided in the Bureau of Public Procurement Act, (BPP Act) 2007.
He submitted that the Federal Ministry of Justice and other anti-corruption agencies such as EFCC, ICPC, Ministry of Defence, Police, NSCDC, and NNPC are keeping recovered assets worth N4 trillion.
FG’s panel on disposal of forfeited assets yet to complete assignment
Meanwhile, the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the Disposal of federal government’s Forfeited Assets approved by President Muhammadu Buhari is yet to conclude its assignment less than one month to the expiration of their term.
The president had, through the Attorney-General of Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, inaugurated a 22-member Inter-Ministerial Committee in Abuja with a directive to dispose of all the assets within six months.
He said the panel was set up following President Buhari’s directive in October 2018 following the recommendations of the Presidential Audit Committee on Recovery and Management of Stolen Assets because of the need for effective and efficient management of recovered assets as an interim measure pending the passage of the Proceeds of Crime Recovery and Management Bill.
Source: Daily Trust