Nigeria’s third most powerful politician is to be questioned by police in connection with a brutal bank robbery that left 33 people dead, nine of them police officers.
Bukola Saraki, the head of the country’s upper house of parliament, the Senate, was named by suspects as being involved in the gang that staged the raid on six banks in Kwara State in April.
Saraki, who denies the allegation, served as state governor of Kwara from 2003 to 2011. He has been senate president since 2015.
National police spokesperson Jimoh Moshood said 22 suspects have been arrested over the robbery, including five ring leaders who have alleged Saraki’s involvement in the gang.
“Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki is being invited by the Nigeria Police Force… to answer to the allegations levelled against him from the confessions of the five gang leaders,” AFP quoted Moshood as saying in a statement.
He said the gang leaders confessed to be working for Saraki as “political thugs under the name Youth Liberation Movement also known as, ‘Good Boys’.”
They also “confessed to have been sponsored with firearms, money and operational vehicles by the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki and the governor of Kwara State, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed”.
Moshood said a Lexus jeep purportedly owned by Saraki and used during the robberies, had been traced to the government office in Ilorin, Kwara’s state capital, and two of the governor’s personal aides had also been arrested.
Saraki, who last year had charges of using public funds to acquire private property dismissed, has accused the police of planning to frame him and called on the public “to disregard this claim as a baseless allegation”.
“Let it be known that there is no way I could have been associated with armed robbery against my people,” he said last month.
Saraki is a member of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC).
Meanwhile, the country’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), achieved its first major scalp in the jailing of Jolly Nyame for 14 years for looting millions of dollars as governor of north-eastern Taraba state between 1999 and 2007.
Nyame, a church pastor, was one of more than a dozen governors who
were questioned at the end of their tenures in 2007 by the EFCC.
Theirs and dozens of other high-profile graft cases, some dating back to the early 2000s, are still before the courts, having been delayed by repeated adjournments.
But EFCC spokesperson Wilson Uwujaren said Nyame’s sentencing on May 30 would boost anti-corruption efforts and potentially help to speed up pending cases.
The EFCC has brought dozens of high-profile individuals to court. But with many of them members of the former administration of Goodluck Jonathan and his Peoples Democratic Party, Nigeria’s President Buhari has been accused of conducting a political witch-hunt.
Buhari, who had pledged to stamp out the “hydra headed monster” of corruption on his election in 2015, has failed to secure a big-name conviction to date – Nyame’s prosecution began before he took office.
According to the latest report of global anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International, Nigeria is ranked 148 out of 180 countries evaluated in its corruption perceptions index, lower than its 136 ranking in 2014. This follows a number of scandals involving senior government officials, who have either remained in office or been allowed to quietly retire.