The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Tuesday demanded answers to sundry allegations of corruption leveled against Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, PREMIUM TIMES has learnt.
Mr Ekeweremadu arrived at the EFCC headquarters on Tuesday morning and was subsequently taken into custody for “severe interrogation,” PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
A spokesperson for the anti-graft office told PREMIUM TIMES the detectives emphasised on alleged illicit acquisition of properties by Mr Ekweremadu.
“They are asking him about illicit asset acquisitions,” Wilson Uwujaren said. “We have to make sure he clarified everything.”
Consequently, the official said he could not immediately tell when Mr Ekweremadu would be released to go home.
The top lawmaker, also the most-senior member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party in public office, arrived at the EFCC for questioning at about 9:00 a.m., EFCC sources told PREMIUM TIMES Tuesday afternoon. He was then taken into a room for interrogation by a team of detectives and forensic experts who had been working on his case for several months.
Mr Ekweremadu, who has been a Nigerian senator since 2003, and had served as Deputy Senate President since 2007, has come under intense public scrutiny as multiple allegations of illicit purchase of posh properties, largely outside Nigerian shores, are featuring regularly in the media.
Earlier this year, he was accused of owning properties in the United States, United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, although he regularly denies the allegation.
The Presidential Panel on Recovery of Public Properties said it traced 13 assets to Mr Ekweremadu in those three countries. Efforts aimed at seizing the properties were still on, reports said.
In 2016, he was arraigned before a federal judge in Abuja on allegations that he forged parliament standing rules at the resumption of the current session in June 2015. He also denied these allegations.
Ikechukwu Ani, a spokesperson for Mr Ekweremadu, did not return PREMIUM TIMES’ requests seeking comments about his principal’s day with EFCC investigators and the foreign properties.
Earlier today, he sent a message to PREMIUM TIMES, saying he was “boarding” a flight without responding to initial questions or subsequent ones.
It was unclear whether Mr Ekweremadu issued official statement to the presidential properties recovery panel, led by Okoi Obono-Obla, before or after the assets were made public in March, but Mr Ani later distributed a statement in April, accusing his principal’s political detractors as being behind the ‘witch-hunt’.
Mr Ani accused the Buhari administration of trying to railroad his principal, including attempts to procure court orders for the forfeiture of his assets. He described most of the 13 properties as “fictitious”, but failed to clarify which of them belonged to him.
“Should proper investigation devoid of bias and witchhunt not require that Ekweremadu be invited to respond to the petition, assuming the panel had the constitutional powers to dabble into matters relating to assets declaration,” Mr Ani queried the presidential panel in April.
Mr Ekweremadu emphasised his innocence in a statement over the weekend, challenging anyone with actionable hints of corrupt conduct by him to publish same or furnish security agencies.
In recent weeks, anti-graft detectives appeared to be tightening the noose on Mr Ekweremadu’s activities, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
O July 24, the EFCC sent operatives to surround Mr Ekweremadu’s house in a bid to arrest him. The move was largely deemed controversial, coming simultaneously as Senate President Bukola Saraki was allegedly being prevented from leaving his residence.
Mr Saraki further accused the Buhari administration of taking desperate and undemocratic measures to thwart his planned defection from the ruling All Progressives Congress.
The operatives were later ordered to stand down, after hours of siege which was met with widespread condemnation. A letter later emerged on the same day, conveying the invitation notice about why the top lawmaker (Ekweremadu) must turn himself in for questioning over alleged conspiracy, money laundering and other illicit dealings.
Messrs Saraki and Ekweremadu quickly saw the development as a desperate attempt by the Buhari administration to prevent a planned mass defection of lawmakers. This claim was later corroborated by PREMIUM TIMES’ independent findings.
The presidency, however, fiercely rejected claims that President Muhammadu Buhari sanctioned the questionable tactics deployed by his top aides, warning politicians against meddling in the operations of law enforcement authorities.
Mr Saraki ultimately announced his defection from the ruling party moments ago, alongside Kwara State Governor, Abdulfatah Ahmed and other hitherto APC elements loyal to him in his state.