No fewer than 200 Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials have been queried for allegedly collecting bribe during the 2015 elections.
About N23.29billion was allegedly paid out to INEC officials in a desperate bid to change the results of the election, which President Muhammadu Buhari won. The cash, according to investigators, came from former Oil Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke.
A panel headed by National Commissioner Baba Shetiima Arfo is investigating the alleged involvement of some INEC employees in the scam.
Apart from internal sanctions by INEC, those found wanting after the probe are to be released to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for prosecution.
One of those under interrogation for the scam, former Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) Gesil Khan, has applied to travel abroad for medical care.
Khan is under investigation by the EFCC for allegedly collecting N185, 842,000 out of a N681million bribe.
The anti-graft agency is weighing whether to release her seized travel document or not, because some suspects have hidden under medical trips to escape trial.
Alison-Madueke is under EFCC probe over her alleged involvement in the $115m (N23, 299,705, 000 billion) scandal.
Four oil firms, 14 directors of oil companies, two banks, two RECs, more than 16 INEC directors and 82 others are also under investigation.
INEC is considering a report sent to it by the EFCC.
A source, who spoke in confidence, said: “About 200 INEC employees who have been implicated in one way or the other in the poll bribery scandal have so far been queried.
“The queries were based on the report of the investigation, which was conducted by the EFCC.”
Besides, a panel headed by a National Commissioner, Alh. Baba Shetiima Arfo, is grilling all the affected employees – in line with the extant public service rules.
“It is after the panel has concluded its work that a disciplinary action will be taken against the guilty ones. Thereafter, the EFCC will proceed with the trial of those with cases to answer,” the source said, adding:
“It is too early to conclude that all the 200 employees will face trial. They are only going through an internal fact-finding process in INEC.”
The source added: “The panel is actually taking on the implicated employees based on the six geopolitical zones.
“These employees, after answering queries, have been coming to the INEC headquarters to appear before the panel.”
An EFCC source said the agency was ready for the trial of some of the suspects, but “it needs to allow INEC to conclude its internal process”.
“Some suspects acted in connivance with INEC employees and you cannot isolate the cases at hand,” the source said, pleading not to be named so as not to jeopardise the investigation.
INEC’s Director of Voter Education and Publicity, Mr Wole Osaze-Uzzi said: “A panel is sitting but I cannot confirm the total number of people involved. But all those involved will be dealt with administratively without prejudice to what the law enforcement agencies will do.”
But the fate of a serving Resident Electoral Commissioner, Sylvester Ezeani, may be determined by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Neither INEC chairman nor the panel can take any disciplinary action against a REC.
Section 3 of INEC Establishment Act says:
(1) “ The chairman and members of the Commission shall each hold office for a period of five years and on such terms and conditions as may be specified in their letters of appointment.
(2) “ A member may at any time be removed from office by the President for inability to discharge the functions of his office (whether arising from infirmity of mind or body or any other cause) or for any act of misconduct but shall not be removed from office except in accordance with the provisions of this subsection.
(3) ”A member may resign his membership by notice in writing addressed to the President and that member shall, on the date of the receipt of the notice by the President, cease to be a member.”
Khan’s application to EFCC to travel abroad for medical care came when her investigation was said to have reached “an advanced stage for trial”.
The EFCC source added: “At a time we are set for ex-REC Gesil Khan’s trial, we got an application from her to travel abroad for medical care. She wanted the commission to release her passport.
“Our medical team will go through her records and make appropriate recommendations upon which the Acting Chairman of EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, will exercise his discretion.
“We may also give her conditions, including being on surveillance by collaborating agencies in whichever country she is travelling to. We have had instances where some suspects who were allowed to travel abroad did not come back.”
Some INEC officers already grilled by EFCC are the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Abia State, Sylvester Ezeani, who has refunded N20million credited to him from the poll cash; Khan for collecting N185, 842,000 out of a N681million bribe deal; Fidelia Omoile( Electoral Officer in Isoko-South Local Government Area of Delta State)—N112,480,000 ; Uluochi Obi Brown( INEC’s Administrative Secretary in Delta State)—N111,500,000; a former Deputy Director of INEC in Cross River state, Edem Okon Effanga—N241,127,000 and the Head of Voter Education in INEC in Akwa Ibom, Immaculata Asuquo—N214,127,000.
Also, a retired INEC official, Sani Isa was grilled over alleged N 406,206,000 bribe allegedly collected on behalf of the deceased Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), in Kano State, Alhaji Mukaila Abdullahi.
Those grilled in Gombe are: Godwin Maiyaki Gambo Balanga, Bukar Alone Benisheik, Dukku, Jibril. B. Muhammed,Billiri, Dunguma Musa Dogona, Funakaye, Mohammed. A. Wanka, Kaltungo, Ishaku Yusuf, Kwami, Suleiman Isawa, Nafada, Babagana Malami, Shongom, and Nuhu Samuel, Y/Deba.