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Governors shun foreign trips

Posted by By our Correspondents on 2005/10/08 | Views: 1145 |

Governors shun foreign trips

Following the arrest of the Governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, in London, most state governors have shunned foreign trips.

Following the arrest of the Governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, in London, most state governors have shunned foreign trips.

Alamieyeseigha was arrested at the Heathrow Airport, London on September 15, 2005 for alleged laundering of over £1million.

The governor, who was accused of owning about £10million property in the United Kingdom, has had his passport seized and is presently remanded in prison on the orders of a Court.

Investigations by our correspondents showed that no governor had travelled abroad since Alamieyeseigha’s arrest.

Checks in the Presidency indicated that governors who wish to travel may not be disposed to confide in the Presidency before doing so.

Although it is not a constitutional requirement, every governor, as the Chief Security Officer of his state, is expected to inform the president about his movement.

The notice could either be verbal or written.

A former governor of Kwara State, who spoke in confidence, said, "Such a notice is a routine thing, not a compulsion.

"A governor has to put the President on notice as the CSO of his state and in view of the enormous responsibilities on him.

"You will recall that a state of emergency was imposed on Plateau State because the governor travelled out, despite security reports."

But in spite of the fact that the travel notice is optional, investigations revealed that most of the governors had remained in the country.

A source in the Presidency said, "We have not been receiving notice of any trip abroad by the governors unlike in the past. In the last two weeks, we have not got any notice.

"What some of them used to do is to either phone the President for permission or write to his office. But there is no record of any pending application to travel.

"Even those who are supposedly close to the president have not applied to go abroad. Those who ‘often’ fall sick have not sought permission."

Enquiries at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport; Aminu Kano Airport and Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport further confirmed that no governor had travelled out of the country since September 15.

Records at the Nigerian Immigration Service posts and VIP lounges showed that no governor was out of the country.

It was learnt that some of the governors were gripped with fears as nine of them are still on the watch list of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

Investigations by our correspondents revealed that the list of the alleged corrupt public officers was handed over to President Olusegun Obasanjo by some creditor nations.

The affected creditors made a check on corrupt governors as a precondition for the recent debt relief for Nigeria.

It was gathered that the President gave the list to the Chairman of the EFCC, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, for action.

A source at the EFCC who spoke with our correspondents said that the commission had already submitted the list of the identified governors to the INTERPOL and the governments of Britain, United States, France, Germany and South Africa.

The source said, "Those governors may be treated like Alamieyeseigha when they travel to such ‘friendly countries’ where they have questionable assets.

He said, "The ongoing trial of the Bayelsa State Governor is giving us some morale booster if it goes on well and the man is convicted or if he loses some property to the government, then those remaining are in trouble, real trouble.

"If the commission releases its report and findings, Nigerians will be shocked and start having little or no respect for some of the people who are their leaders."

As at press time, it was difficult for any of the 36 governors to ascertain if he was on the wanted list or not.

But some of the governors who have properties in the UK, United States, South Africa, Germany, France and Malaysia may have cases to answer.

Findings further revealed that lack of immunity for a governor abroad has made it difficult for some of the governors to go on foreign trips.

But some governors on Friday denied that they suspended their foreign trips because of the fear of arrest.

The Zamfara State Governor, Alhaji Ahmed Sani, said, he was not afraid to travel abroad because he had nothing to hide.

The governor who spoke through his Director of Press, Alhaji Ibrahim Birnin-Magaji, on telephone said the travails of Alamieyeseigha would not stop him from travelling to any part of the world.

"I was the first and probably the only governor so far to publicly declare my assets before, during and after my first term in office. I did the same when I was sworn in for the second term, I will do the same insha Allah at the end of my second term in 2007," the aide quoted the governor as saying.

He said that the governor had always challenged anyone with evidence of financial impropriety against him to forward same to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

He said, "I can vouch for my principal. The arrest of the governor of Bayelsa State by British authorities has nothing to do with His Excellency’s current stay at home. Yerima has no skeleton in his cupboard; if anybody knows about any property belonging to him outside Nigeria, we challenge him or her to please forward the evidence to the EFCC."

 He explained that the governor had not travelled abroad in the past few weeks because he has not received an invitation.

Also speaking, Mr. Yemisi Fadairo, a media aide to the Jigawa State Governor, Alhaji Saminu Turaki, told our correspondents on telephone that the governor was not afraid of travelling abroad.

When our correspondents told him that the governor’s presence in the country was strange as he was used to junketting around the world, Fadairo replied on telephone, "It is not true."

"He added, he is around. He is in the country. Nobody has stopped him from travelling. There is no fear about him travelling. He was cleared by the Code of Conduct Tribunal. He has nothing to be scared of. What would have made him afraid is the foreign account which has ben closed."

The Chief Press Secretary to the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Kehinde Bamigbetan, declined comments when Saturday Punch contacted him on telephone.

In Asaba, the Delta State capital, the state government denied that Governor James Ibori had not travelled out of the county in the past few weeks to evade arrest.

The state’s Commissioner for Information, Mr. Magnus Onyibe, told our correspondents that the governor, who had just returned from his annual vacation, could not be expected to travel abroad again.

He said, "The governor has just come back from leave, how can he just resume and begin to travel again? He has work to do. He came back barely a month ago, after six-week leave."

Onyibe said it was not unusual for the EFCC to investigate anybody but stressed that the governor was not under the commission’s watch.

Speaking in the same vein, the Special Assistant to the governor on Media Matters, Mr Abel Oshevire, said Ibori did not travel out of the country because he had no need to do so at the moment.

He said, "As far as the Delta State government is concerned, we are not aware that our governor is under any ban to travel either within or outside the country. The governor is a citizen of this country and he has a right to move freely anywhere in the world. Let me confirm to you that Governor Onanefe Ibori is not under any ban."

He added that the governor was not being investigated by EFCC, admiting, however, that the anti-graft agency requested access to the accounts of the state government.

"But the matter is in court because we want the court to determine whether EFCC has such powers to pry into the privacy of individual and state accounts. Although the court has said they have the powers, but the case is still in court," he said.

Oshevire added that Ibori had not travelled abroad in the past few weeks because he needed to attend to the numerous problems facing the state, pointing out that Ibori has "less than two years to go, so he must sit down and consolidate the gains of the past six years. The governor has promised he would not leave any uncompleted projects."

SATURDAY PUNCH, Friday, October 08, 2005

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