Following their alleged role in facilitating vote buying, the Federal Government has charged the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the March 18 governorship election in Ogun State, Hon. Ladi Adebutu, a leading Deposit Money Bank, Zenith Bank Plc and its Managing Director, Dr Ebenezer Onyeagwu, to court for conspiracy, bribery and money laundering.
According to the charge sheet of the case with no AB/10C/2003 filed at the High Court of Ogun State, Abeokuta Division and dated June 2, 2023, Adebutu, along with Messers Ogunbona Hammed, Tiamiyu Waliu, Egunsola Owolabi, Sanni Adegoke, Hon Dare Lukman Ogunleye, Dayo Fasina, Wasiu Enilolobo and Malik Badmus, is being prosecuted by the Federal Government on a four-count charge, namely one count of criminal conspiracy contrary to Section 121 of the Electoral Act, 2022, bribery contrary to Section 121 of the Electoral Act, 2022, and two counts of undue influence contrary to section 127 of the Electoral Act, 2022.
The charges were filed by the Director, Public Prosecutions of the Federation, M.B Abubakar; the Assistant Chief State Counsel, Aderonke Imana and Senior State Counsel, Bagudu Sani, on behalf of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
On his part, Onyeagwu, along with one Celestina Appeal and Zenith Bank Plc, was charged with failing to report suspicious transactions on verve cards with the inscription Dame Oladuni Memorial Endorsement Scheme for Less Privileged between February and March 2023 and thereby committing an offence contrary to section 7(1) (a) of the Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Act 2022; and failing to verify the identity of customers carrying out electronic transactions on verve cards with the inscription Dame Oladuni Memorial Endorsement Scheme For Less privileged, thereby committing an offence contrary to Section 37 of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc) Act 2022.
According to the particulars of the offence, Adebutu and the co-accused “on or about 18th of March at Ibara, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court did conspire among yourselves to corruptly give gifts in form of verve prepaid cards which had inscribed on them ‘Dame Caroline Oladuni Adebutu Memorial Endorsement Scheme for Less Privileged’ in order to induce voters to endeavour the return of PDP candidates during the Gubernatorial and State Assembly elections in Ogun State.”
Adebutu was further accused of providing 200,000 prepaid verve cards loaded with N10,000 each and inscribed with the same name “for the purpose of corruptly influencing voters to vote for PDP candidates” during the said elections.
It would be recalled that Adebutu had recently left the country following security agencies’ uncovering of a vote buying plot linked to him during the March 18 polls in Ogun State and the invitation extended to him to clarify issues.
The PDP candidate had however alleged that he left the country following threats to his life.This was despite the fact that in the letter made available to security agencies investigating his alleged criminal activities, Adebutu had indicated that he travelled abroad to seek medical care, and had given no indication of threat to life.
Sources within the security circles alleged that in order to perpetrate electoral fraud, Adebutu had contacted Zenith Bank and caused over 200,000 prepaid Verve bank cards preloaded with N10,000 each to be printed and delivered to him shortly before the Match 18 election.
This action, they had maintained, constitutes a violation of Section 121of the Electoral Act (2022) which prescribes 12 months’ imprisonment for any “person who directly or indirectly, by his or herself or by any other person on his other behalf corruptly makes any gift, loan, offer, promise, procurement or agreement to or for any person, in order to induce such person to procure or to endeavour to procure the return of any person as a member of a legislative house or to an elective office or the vote of any voter at any election.”
Security sources indicated that contrary to Adebutu’s claim that the cards were issued during his mother’s burial, they were actually issued few days to the election, raising the obvious question of collusion by Zenith Bank with a politically exposed person to perpetrate electoral fraud.
Also, the statements by some polling agents that were arrested confirmed that he gave them the cards to manipulate the March 18 polls.
The scheme was described as carefully orchestrated and unprecedented electoral fraud made out of desperation after losing the February 25 Presidential and National Assembly elections using game-betting platforms and POS operators.
Adebutu and his agents were said to have distributed the cards throughout the over 5000 polling stations and positioned POS operators at the same so each voter could receive money at the POS terminals.
The cards were said to have been funded on the 16th and 17th of March directly from Adebutu’s account with Zenith Bank, with the lawmaker paying over N2bn directly from his account.
Checks at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) also showed that the foundations in whose name the PDP candidate carried out his criminal activities were fictitious.