Political Affairs

Dapo Abiodun -An Ex-convict?  By Kazeem Akintunde

The All Progressive Congress, APC, is facing a moral dilemma on whether to stop Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State from contesting the 2023 Governorship election in the state. Abdullahi Adamu, its National Chairman would have to decide whether the Governor should fly the flag of the party in the coming election or dance to the tune of Ayodele Oludiran, a lawyer who, on behalf of Oluwatobi Sofela of Ogun Bibire Unity Forum, filed a petition against the governor seeking to stop his re-election. Oludiran is alleging that the handsome governor has baggage hanging on his neck for allegedly being an ex-convict which the group believed, could cost the party the 2023 governorship election in the state. Whatever Adamu and the party decides, the matter is not likely to end very soon as either parties may resort to the court of law.

Oludiran, in the petition to Adamu, alleged that Abiodun was an ex-convict having been jailed in 1986 for credit card fraud in Miami Dade Florida, USA. The Governor was alleged to have used a pseudo name, Shawn Michael Davis, with the aim of concealing his identity to perpetrate the fraud. Oludiran alleged that the governor was eventually caught and jailed in the USA and was issued jail number 8600B9436.

According to the lawyer, Abiodun, to enable him to contest in 2015 for the Ogun East Senatorial seat against the late Buruji Kahamu of the PDP, applied for the redaction of his criminal records in Miami Dade, Florida. A Redaction in law is the retroactive editing of a document to remove confidential material. In other words, the Governor wanted to conceal information of his being jailed in the USA. The act of concealment meant that he could lie on his Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, forms that he had no prior criminal records; a perjury that could have disqualified him from ever holding an appointive or elective office in Nigeria. Fortunately for the governor, the redaction was allegedly granted in August 2015.

The Governor is however not sitting back and has directed his lawyer to write to Adamu not to entertain the petition. According to a statement issued by Kunle Somorin, spokesman to Abiodun, the law firm representing the Ogun governor, in the letter dated April 19, 2022, described the petition, dated April 12, as full of “spurious and unfounded allegations”.

According to Afe Babalola & Co, the allegation of discrepancies in Governor Abiodun’s INEC Form CF001 for 2015 and 2019 is statute-barred, arguing that the allegation can only form the basis of a cause of action in court 14 days from the day the governor filed and deposed to the forms,” the statement reads.

It further stated that the alleged contradiction in the two INEC forms can no longer be a ground to disqualify Governor Abiodun in the upcoming 2023 gubernatorial election. ‘Forms CF001 for 2015 and 2019 are spent and cannot be used to determine the eligibility of the governor to contest in the next governorship election.’

The law firm recalled that court cases were filed in court and petitions filed at the Governorship Election Tribunal seeking to disqualify the governor based on allegations of falsehood and inconsistency in the two INEC forms, adding that both the Tribunal and courts were unanimous in their decisions that not only were the allegations statute-barred, but that the said Forms CF001 of 2015 and 2019 did not contain any false statement.

It further said that the Supreme Court of Nigeria had also affirmed the decisions of the Tribunal and the Appeal Court by dismissing the petition of false statement against the governor. On the allegation that the governor had been convicted for an offence in 1986, the chamber said the petitioner failed to attach any court judgment to the petition to this effect, hence, the allegation was baseless, asking the APC top echelon to discountenance it as such.

The law firm also denied the allegation that the governor had a former name, adding that “he never bore the name ‘Shawn Michael Davis’ or any other name however described”.

 “As shown above, the High Court of the FCT, Governorship Election Tribunal, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court have all held that the said allegations are unfounded and statute-barred, so that there would be no basis for disqualifying our client. Our client has been adjudged by the Tribunal and courts to be eminently qualified to contest the 2019 Ogun State gubernatorial election, which he won by a landslide.

“Since, as of today, the courts have held that our client is qualified under CFRN, the party cannot impose additional grounds for disqualification on him. Also, the APC Constitution and guidelines for the conduct of primary elections cannot override the CFRN. Therefore, the party has no vires to prevent our client from contesting any election under its banner. As rightly admitted by the petitioner, only a court of law can disqualify our client. The party cannot disqualify him or prevent him from contesting in the party’s primary election,’ the governor’s lawyer stated.

Whatever decision Adamu and his party executives took, the case against Abiodun has once again brought to the fore, the crop of people in, and vying for power in Nigeria. Often times, fraudulent individuals do find their way to corridors of power with a do-or-die mentality that rubbish our political system to the extent that nothing surprises Nigerians anymore about the crop of our politicians. It is no secret that many of them vie for political office for selfish interests and most, allegedly perpetuate crimes inside and outside the shores of the country in actualizing their selfish goals; becoming rich overnight using state funds.

Security agents that should prevent these characters from getting elected are also complicit as little or no background checks are conducted on the aspirants. Although the allegations against Abiodun came to light during the 2019 governorship election, he was still given the nod to fly the flag of the party, a scenario that would have been enough to end the political ambition of any aspirant in more organized societies.

Just last year, one of his aides, Abidemi Rufai, was arrested by the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, over $350,000 employment fraud.

Rufai was arrested at the John F Kennedy International Airport in New York based on a criminal complaint and was subsequently charged with defrauding Washington State Employment Security Department of over $350,000.

According to the US Department of Justice, District of Washington, 42-year-old Rufai used the pseudonym Sandy Tang and the stolen identities of more than 100 Washington residents to file fraudulent claims with Employment Security Department for unemployment benefits last year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Acting US Attorney Tessa Gorman said, “Rufai also filed fraudulent unemployment claims with Hawaii, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, and Pennsylvania. Rufai used variations of a single e-mail address in a manner intended to evade automatic detection by fraud systems. By using this practice, Rufai made it appear that each claim was connected with a different email account.”

The criminal complaint also said Rufai mailed some of the proceeds of his fraud to the Jamaica and New York addresses of his relatives with more than $288,000 deposits between March and August 2020.

“Since the first fraud reports to our office in April 2020, we have worked diligently with a federal law enforcement team to track down the criminals who stole funds designated for pandemic relief,” said Gorman. “This is the first, but will not be the last, significant arrest in our ongoing investigation of ESD fraud.” Rufai is still cooling off in US jail.

Neither Abiodun nor his aide would be the first Nigerians with alleged shady pasts in the corridors of power. Joshua Dariye, former governor of Plateau State and a former Senator representing Plateau Central Senatorial District, was also convicted by an Abuja High Court for diverting public funds and was sentenced to 14 years in prison without the option of fine. Dariye was promptly arrested and taken to prison but miraculously remained a senator and kept drawing his salary and allowances till his term expired in 2019. The explanation given by the Senate President for continuing to pay him while serving his prison sentence was that the INEC did not declare his seat vacant.

James Onanefe Ibori returned to Nigeria after two criminal convictions in the United Kingdom and was again convicted by an Upper Area Court, Bwari, Abuja, for stealing building materials. Yet, in 1999, he contested for, and won election as Delta State Governor, and went ahead to win it again in 2003. When his traducers approached the courts to demand his disqualification on the grounds of his convictions, even the Supreme Court could not help, stating instead that although a certain James Onanefe Ibori was convicted by a Bwari Area Court, they could not ascertain whether it was the same James Onanefe Ibori that was the governor of Delta State, even though there was no record of another James Onanefe Ibori existing anywhere in the world.

As Governor, it is on record how Ibori managed the resources of the state. Even after the EFCC charged him to court with a 170 count charge of corruption and mismanagement of public funds in Nigeria, the courts, after more than a year of trial, discharged and acquitted Ibori because, as the Judge, Marcel Awokulehin averred, there was “no clear evidence to support the charges”. Yet the same Ibori promptly pleaded guilty in the UK to avoid a trial and the lengthy prison term that was sure to follow.

It was Senator Nuhu Aliyu, a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police who in 2008, drew the attention of the country to the presence of crooks in the National Assembly. Aliyu, then in his third term in the Senate during plenary on January 23, 2008, shocked many when he said that “in this National Assembly, we still have 419ners.” Senator Aliyu’s assertion may have shocked many, but certainly not some of his colleagues. He was put under tremendous pressure by his colleagues to come up with the names of the crooks in the Red Chamber and had to apologize later to allow the matter to die a natural death.

While Nigerians with impeccable records continue to shy away from partisan politics on the pretext that politics is a dirty game, it is not surprising that people of alleged questionable character take over the reins of government. That is what we have been experiencing in Nigeria, and until we start to demand accountability from our leaders, the undesirables or those with alleged questions to answer would continue to lord it over the complacent.

In 2019, Abiodun became the governor of Ogun State. He is most likely going to fly the flag of the ruling APC again in the forthcoming elections. Already, the Chairman of the Governor’s Forum, Kayode Fayemi, has made a case for his friend to be given a second term. Posterity will judge many of our leaders.

See you next week.

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