Alleged N96bn Fraud: Amaechi, Wike Disagree Over Supreme Court Judgment
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike; and his predecessor, Rotimi Amaechi, on Friday exchanged words over a Supreme Court judgment ordering Amaechi to surrender himself for probe over alleged N96bn fraud claimed to have been perpetrated while he was Governor of Rivers State between 2007 and 2015.
The apex court ruled on an appeal by Amaechi challenging his invitation by a commission of enquiry set up by his successor and incumbent Rivers State, Governor Nyesom Wike.
The Commission of Inquiry is to look into the lawfulness or otherwise of the alleged sale of Rivers State’s valuable assets, such as Omoku Gas Turbine, Afam Gas Turbine, Trans Amadi Gas Turbine, Eleme Gas Turbine, Olympia Hotel and the award of contract for the execution of the Mono Rail project.
Amaechi’s bid to stop the probe at the Rivers State High Court and the Court of Appeal had earlier failed, as the two lower courts dismissed his suit and ordered him to surrender himself to the Justice George Omekeji’s panel.
He was ordered to surrender himself to the panel and give account of how N96bn was allegedly withdrawn from the Rivers State treasury under his watch and how the money was spent.
Displeased with the verdict of the Court of Appeal, Amaechi had approached the Supreme Court seeking to quash the probe.
But Justice Adamu Jauro, who read the lead judgment of the Supreme Court on Friday, declared that Amaechi’s appeal lacked merit and substance and thus dismissed it.
The apex court also slammed N1m fine against Amaechi.
With the final decision of the apex court, Amaechi is expected to surrender himself to the Commission of Inquiry for probe.
In a statement on Friday, Amaechi said the pronouncement further vindicated his stance that the investigation by the commission ought not to be portrayed as personal to him because he was not on trial.
His position was contained in a statement by his Media Office.
The statement reads, “Nigeria’s apex court today ruled on the Appeal filed by Rotimi Amaechi against the Rivers State Government on the Justice Omereji Judicial Commission of Inquiry.
“The Supreme Court in dismissing the appeal however pronounced that the function of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry was mere investigative, that nobody, neither Amaechi nor anyone else, was on trial before the panel.
“The Supreme Court ruling clearly vindicates the former Governor of Rivers State. The apex court was categorical and clear that Amaechi was not on trial. The implication of this is that any indictment from the commission is null and void and cannot stand.”
“It has been further settled that the decisions or recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry and subsequent White Paper issued by the State Government is not a conviction or indictment and cannot stand.”
Also, the leadership of the APC in Rivers State dismissed insinuations that Friday’s judgment of the Supreme Court may have dampened the presidential ambition of Amaechi.
Reacting to the verdict on Friday, Publicity Secretary of the Rivers State APC, Chris Finebone, told Saturday PUNCH that it had not dampened Amaechi’s chances in the presidential race.
Finebone said it was unfortunate that people were giving all manner of interpretations to the court judgment, saying it was mere propaganda.
He said, “What the Supreme Court has said is that judicial panels of inquiry do not have the powers of the court to indict anyone; that they (judicial panels) are a mere fact-finding panel; that he (Amaechi) or anybody else ought not to be afraid to submit themselves to it.
“It was on that basis that the court ruled that he (Amaechi) caused inconvenience by not subjecting himself to the panel. So, the court said he should pay N1m for inconvenience to the state government and to go ahead and submit himself.
“That means you will have to go the extra mile to the court to get an indictment. And so, there was no need for the former minister or anybody to fear that they might be indicted by a judicial panel of inquiry. Those are the words of the court. The propaganda people are carrying is not true.”
But Wike said the leaders of Rivers State will meet to decide on whether to commence criminal prosecution against Amaechi, over the fraudulent sales of some valued state assets and diversion of state funds.
The governor said those whose fate will also be decided during the meeting, will include, Mr. Tonye Cole, Sahara Energy Ltd, and a former Rivers State, Commissioner for Transport, George Tolofari.
Cole was elected the governorship candidate of the APC in Rivers State ahead of the 2023 general elections.
Governor Wike, during a media parley attended by Rivers Elders in Abuja on Friday, said the Supreme Court judgment that dismissed Amaechi’s appeal to frustrate investigation into activities of his administration, had vindicated the Rivers State government.
This was contained in a statement issued by Wike’s Special Assistant on Media, Kelvin Ebiri.
Wike explained that on his assumption of office in 2015, the State government set up judicial panel of inquiry to investigate the activities the former Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi.
The judicial panel was mandated to investigate the sale of the 150 Mega Watts gas turbine in Omoku, Afam 360 MW Gas Turbine, Trans-Amadi 136 MW Gas Turbine and the 75 MW Gas turbine in Eleme; Monorail Project; the sale of Olympia hotel; and non-execution of the contract for the construction of Justice Karibi-Whyte hospital after the Amaechi administration paid $39.2m to the contractor.
Wike said the judicial panel at the end of its investigation submitted its report and recommendations to the state government. According to him, this necessitated the state government to come up with a white paper.
“If you see that report, as a Rivers man you will cry. Nobody who loves Rivers State will see that report and will not cry,” the governor said.
The Rivers State governor narrated how the sum of $50m was allegedly diverted from the state account and paid to Sahara Energy for inexplicable reason. According to him, there is no evidence of any transaction indicating that the state was indebted to the company.
In his reaction, the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Ikunyi Ibani, said the apex court judgment was a victory for the government and people of Rivers State.
He charged those saddled with the responsible to superintend over public funds to always bear in mind that the funds belong to the people.
Similarly, a former president, Nigerian Bar Association, Onueze Okocha, (SAN), commended Governor Wike for always defending the interest of the state.