Senator Bassey Albert Akpan, governorship candidate of the YPP in Akwa Ibom State is still at the Ikot Ekpene Prison. He has only served two days out of the 42 years of his jail term. This is no news afterall. What may be news is how the journey started. In this interview with Obol Okoi Obono-Obla, a former presidential aide on prosecution, spoke to TNN on the role he played in the processes that led to his trial and also hailed the judiciary for the courage of the judge to sentence him.
As a former presidential aide on prosecution, How did you feel when you heard of the conviction of Senator OBA of Akwa Ibom State?
I was the Chairman of the defunct Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property and Senator Albert Bassey Akpan was one of those senators on the panel investigated for the acquisition of properties in the United Kingdom and Nigeria beyond his means and which he failed to declare in his assets declaration form. The Panel proceeded to obtain an interim forfeiture order from the Federal High Court Abuja and also arraigned him before the court for violation of the provisions of the Recovery of Public Property Act. However, in August 2019, I was suspended and the Panel disbanded in September 2019. I felt vindicated when I the news of his conviction and sentence by the Federal High Court Uyo because he was one of those powerful Nigerians.
You don’t think what is happening to him has some political undertone?
I disagree. I have told you that his travails started when PDP was in power. Recollect he was Commissioner of Finance for eight years during the time of Senator God wills Akpabio. The case that ended in his conviction started before this government came into office in May 29 2015. It will therefore be speculative to suggest that the case was politically motivated. However I know some cases in Nigeria are as a result of which hunts and politically weaponization of law enforcement.
In the course of your investigations, what did you find out about OBA that is not in public domain?
I have told you that the Panel discovered that he has assets abroad and in Nigeria beyond his means and which he did not declare truthfully. The panel seized some of his houses in Katampe extension Abuja. Katampe extension is one of the choicest neighborhoods in Abuja. These properties are worth more than one billion. He acquired these properties when he was Commissioner of finance and you know as when as I do that a commissioner cannot legitimately acquire assets beyond his earnings without helping himself to the public till. You also know under Nigerian law when a public official enters office he is required to declare all his assets including that of his wife, relatives, and children. He has to declare these assets frankly and truthfully.
Are you proud and satisfied that finally, the law caught up with him, even though you were no longer in that office?
Yes, I am glad because one of the things they alleged was that I investigated these cases I handled without a mandate. How can an investigative panel wait for mandates before investigating cases legitimately brought before it or those it proactively researched and investigated? Does that make sense?
The panel was not an administrative body.
It is set up by law and its powers are clearly defined and delineated by law.
What did you suffer in the course of investigating the OBA case?
Victimization, persecution, and unprecedented witch hunt. He openly threatened to deal with me and the prosecutor of the panel Dr. Celisus Ukpong when we refused to play ball with him, He is from Oron, Akwa Ibom, and was on secondment from ICPC. After the panel was disbanded he was arrested and his traducers tried to cause him to implicate me he bluntly refused and he was dismissed from his job. He doggedly challenged the impunity in the National Industrial Court and he won his case. He is alive and presently the Labour Party candidate for the State House of Assembly for one of the State constituencies in Oron. He is a man of conviction and integrity.
What lessons are there to learn from all of this?
In Nigeria, it will be very difficult to fight corruption squarely, resolutely, and profoundly. In Nigeria, anti-corruption fighters are endangered species. And if we continue to hound, witch hunt, and victimize people who are ready to pull their lives on the line to help the country fight corruption nobody will ever take the job of fighting corruption. For me, it opened my eyes to how difficult it is to change a system that so many vices have become institutionalized.
How will you feel if OBA secures relief from the appellate court for stay and is freed?
Well, that is left for the appellate court to determine. If he is granted bail by the appellate court after he can satisfy it there exist extraordinary circumstances in his favour that entitles the court to exercise its discretionary jurisdiction and grant him bail, so it. I don’t bear any personal grudge.