Detained Air Force Chief Alleges EFCC is Demanding N40m for His Freedom

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By Tobi Soniyi in Abuja

A detained former Nigerian Air Force (NAF) officer in charge of the Tactical Air Command, Makurdi, Air Vice Marshal Rufus Ojuawo, has told a Federal High Court in Abuja that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) forced him to pay the sum of N40 million as a condition for his release.

Ojuawo is currently in confinement at House 27, Niger Barracks, Asokoro, Abuja, under the directive of the EFCC.

He further alleged that contrary to the position of the anti-graft agency, he did not voluntarily surrender his Range Rover sport utility vehicle to the commission, adding that it was seized from him by force.

His averment was contained in a second affidavit in support of his application to enforce his fundamental rights now pending before Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Abuja division of the Federal High Court.

The officer, who has been in detention for over 100 days since his arrest on February 7, 2016, was last week produced in court by the anti-corruption agency following an order of the court.

Justice Ademola gave the order after the counsel to the detained military chief, Mr. R.N. Ojabo, moved an application for the enforcement of his fundamental human rights.

His appearance was ordered by the court to enable it know which agency of government had detained him, as the EFCC had denied that the embattled military officer was in its custody, stating that Ojuawo had been released on administrative bail.

Until his arrest by the EFCC on February 7 at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, Ojuawo was carrying out his duties as the Air Officer Commanding, Tactical Air Command, NAF, Makurdi.

He was arrested while on his way to Stuttgart, Germany, on national assignment as a member of the Armed Forces delegation to the United States African Command (USAFRICOM), where he was scheduled to deliver a keynote address on issues bordering on the speedy conclusion of the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency.

Since his arrest, according to his lawyer, he had been confined on the instructions of the respondent (EFCC) and had had to endure the deprivation of his personal liberty for a period of 100 days.

In his further affidavit, the detained air force chief accused the EFCC of distorting facts as the Nigerian Air Force never conducted any investigation on him in which it was discovered that he was “busy signing delivery notes for one of its contractors, Societe D’ Equipments Internationaux Nig. Ltd represented by Mr. Hima Aboubakar” as claimed.

He explained that Societe D’ Equipments Internationaux Nig. Ltd was not a contractor of the NAF but a contractor with the National Security Adviser (NSA), and that he did not sign delivery notes for the company.

“It is not true that the applicant was busy signing delivery notes for the company. When the company supplies the equipment, it is the officers at the armament office that sign the delivery notes to acknowledge the supplies made,” he said.

Ojuawo also averred that contrary to the depositions by the EFCC, the company did not engage in any malpractice, but made genuine supplies and only made claims for equipment delivered and duly acknowledged.

He stated that the company was contracted by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) to supply equipment to the Nigerian Armed Forces, which included the NAF.

On the allegations that he demanded and received a Range Rover car from the contractor, the applicant who denied the allegation explained that the contractor gave him the car of his own free will as additional compensation for the undervalued house which he agreed to buy from him.

He said: “I did not confess to receiving money from the contractor as ‘gift or good will’ and I did not offer to refund the sum of N40 million as falsely claimed.

“Rather, I told them about the agreement for the sale of my house to Mr. Hima Aboubakar and they forced me to pay to them the sum of N40 million as a condition for my release, which they ultimately refused to grant.

“The respondent had my statement of account at the time of my interrogation and knew that the cheques paid into my account were returned unpaid and that I did not receive any money from Mr. Hima Aboubakar.”

Meanwhile, the contractor, Abubakar, in a letter dated May 14, 2016 explained why he was unable to pay for the house situate at NAF Valley Estate, Asokoro which AVM Ojuawo offered him at the price of N50 million.

But the EFCC, through its counsel, Francis Jirbo, denied keeping the applicant in its custody, saying he was released on administrative bail after his statement was obtained.

In a counter affidavit filed before the court, the commission said that the applicant, in his capacity as the Director of Operations, NAF, signed delivery notes for one of the contractors of the NAF – Societe D’ Equipments Internationaux Nig. Ltd – represented by Mr. Abubakar.

Jirbo adding sometime in February 8, 2016, the NAF brought the applicant to the office of the EFCC to be investigated on allegations of financial crimes; precisely receiving money from a contractor with his employers in the name of a gift.

He informed the court that after the applicant was interviewed by officers of the EFCC who took his statement, he was released on bail on self-recognition the same day, but was to keep reporting to the commission as the need arises.

The commission’s counsel further told the court that Ojuawo confessed to receiving money from the contractor which he said was a gift from the contractor, but that he could not remember the exact amount and offered to refund the sum of N40 million.

EFCC also said that a two-count charge had been filed against him before an Abuja High Court while his arraignment had been fixed for June 23, 2016.