- Wike releases white paper to support claim against Amaechi
- Ex-Rivers gov insists allegation is diversionary
Olawale Olaleye in Lagos, Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt and Ogheneuvwede Ohwovoriole in Abuja
With the controversy trailing the recovered N15 billion from a flat in Ikoyi, Lagos last week, pressure is now mounting on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which carried out the raid, to speak out on the recovered funds.
Though, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) had said that it owned the money, which it claimed was for its covert operations, while responding to THISDAY enquiries off the record, the EFCC, which carried out the raid and announced the recovery, has kept mum since controversy began to trail the ownership of the money.
EFCC had on Thursday stormed a luxury apartment in Ikoyi, Lagos, where it discovered cash in three currencies stashed in fire-proof safes. During the raid on one of the flats on the 7th floor of Osborne Towers in Ikoyi, a total of N13 billion, made up of $43.4million, N23million and £27,000, was found.
Although the EFCC did not give details of the operation, four names were immediately touted as alleged owners of the money. Those allegedly linked to the flat and cash include former chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party and owner of the Osborne Towers, Alhaji Adamu Muazu; Mrs. Esther Nnamdi-Ogbue, who was recently relieved of her appointment as Managing Director of NNPC (Retail); and an alleged daughter of Chief Tony Anenih, a former chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP. They have all refuted the allegations.
A curious dimension was also added to the controversy with the claim by the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, that the recovered money was allegedly stolen from the state coffers by his immediate predecessor and current Minister of Transport, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi. He consequently released a white paper which indicted the former governor of corruption. Amaechi has refuted the allegation.
While effort by THISDAY to reach EFCC yesterday on the issue was unsuccessful, a majority of prominent Nigerians, who spoke exclusively to THISDAY insisted that to put the controversy surrounding the money to rest, the EFCC must speak on the intelligence that led the agency to the building, the result of its investigation and the ownership of the money.
Afenifere leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, who claimed the development was a reflection of the rot in the President Muhammadu Buhari government, insisted it was a problem created by the government itself, asking: “Are these not agencies of government? Don’t they have defined responsibilities and roles? Why are they interloping each other?”
According to him, “Government set up commissions by law to fight corruption and they are fighting each other, is that not corruption? What is happening now shows the rottenness in the government.
“Those who rejected the DSS report on Magu, what have they to say? Is that not the body empowered to investigate any public officer and this agency sent a report to the Senate that Magu was not credible to lead EFCC and you declined their report and yet, you still keep them. The moment you have lost confidence in them, you sack them since you no longer believe in them?
“That’s the responsibility of a responsible government. The moment you are no longer confortable with an agency or its recommendations, you sack them. In fact, this is the first time in the history of government in this country that the DSS recommendation was turned down and when you don’t believe in it anymore, you sack them. You can’t continue to keep the DSS there because you have shown that you are not comfortable with them. If a permanent secretary doesn’t perform, what do you do? You sack!” he said.
Former Ogun State governor, Chief Olusegun Osoba was palpably irritated when he said, “The whole thing is a total disgrace of the highest order and there’s a total display of sordid incompetence. A whistleblower should have told them the owner of what he’s blowing the whistle on. EFCC too should have taken the trouble to monitor the place and catch whoever owns it red-handed. I say it is a disgrace because a body claims to have recovered a huge sum of money and within three hours, they touted four names as the owners.
“It was first Muazu. Muazu denied and said he was not the owner and in any case, Muazu is not in the country. They now went on to Esther, and Esther denied. Then, they went to Anenih’s daughter and that one too denied. Then, then said it was Amaechi and Wike now came out of the blues to say it is Rivers’ money. I cannot believe that a serious body would run itself into such a situation, where its credibility is being questioned. I am really not impressed at all.
“EFCC has made the mistake of confirming that the internet bloggers are their agents because all these names were being touted, not by major newspapers but internet bloggers, who are not themselves in any way professional. EFCC has to go and search itself, clear its name and stop this trial by the media.
“I say this because of the recent happenings. For instance, up till now, we don’t know the owner of the N49 million found in Kaduna. Did the money fall from heaven like manna? You went to a market and you said you found N250 million and so what? Are we not a cash society? Do we politicians not throw money around and pay cash to our agents during campaigns? Does that turn us into money launderers? During elections we pay our agents cash. We don’t send money to them by bank transfer or cheques. Nigeria is still largely a cash society. It is not a big deal at all. There’s no law that says it’s a crime to keep cash in your house.
“To compound it all, two major agencies of government – NIA and EFCC – started to wash their linen in the public, giving the impression of lack of cooperation. NIA now lays claim to the money and we are yet to have the reaction of EFCC. It is a disgrace to our country that two sister agencies are now working against each other with inadequate cooperation. I feel ashamed as a journalist that the information coming from our agencies is through the bloggers.”
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Dr. Eyimofe Atake, was not less disappointed, saying “In truth, by now EFCC must know who has the money and it is easy to find out who owns the flat or rented it. If you don’t know who owns the flat, you will know who rented it; if you don’t know who rented it, you will know who owns it.
“Either way, I am convinced that by now, the EFCC knows who owns the flat or who rented it at the very least. Why they are keeping mute is the most shocking part of this matter.
“My view, therefore, is that by now, the EFCC knows who owns the flat or rented it. But it is baffling that they are silent and nothing is being done about it. One thing is also clear: keeping such money in the house also shows that the money is illegal.”
The scribe of Afenifere, a pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, also described the development as “The greatest embarrassment for the anti-graft war in Nigeria. That the EFCC will rush to the public and make a scene about its discovery, in any case, that’s even the first tragedy. Initially, EFCC told us that $38 million was found. But immediately there was a claim that the money belongs to NIA and they went to court, the money became $43 million dollars.
“So, what was going to happen to the $5 million differential if the NIA had not allegedly claimed the money? And I think this speaks to the integrity issue which the DSS raised in its letter to the Senate. If a whole $5million suddenly surfaced after NIA claimed the money, that’s the first test of EFCC’s integrity. The second thing is that if you go to Alausa today, as a lawyer, to verify the title of that property, in a day, you can do that, to know the title of the house, who owns it and if it has been transferred to another person.
“So, if a whole EFCC cannot confirm the title or the identity of the owner of that property, then, there is problem. Now, we have this forth and back: oh, the money is owned by NIA; NIA said the money is…and up till now we’ve not heard from NIA – NIA has not made any statement, which raises a lot of concern and I think how EFCC handles this will determine whether Nigerians will continue to take it seriously.
“This is because, as a whistleblower, the first thing is who owns this money. You should be interested. In fact, we will be interested in seeing the owner of this money paraded than the cash being paraded. I don’t know of any serious country in the world, where there is sanity; where there is decency, where they have not lost their values and they would display money like that in front of children and in front of hungry people on a daily basis.
“I think the EFCC integrity is seriously being challenged here just like the DSS wrote to the Senate that there is integrity issue in EFCC, so the integrity of EFCC is being challenged over this recovered fund,” he said.
Meanwhile, Wike has not relented in his push to recover what he called Rivers money, accusing the federal government of a desperate attempt to cover up corruption in its handling of the money recovered by the EFCC at Osborne Towers because its “principal financial sponsor” (Amaechi) was involved.
But Amaechi has described Wike’s allegations as frivolous, malicious and diversionary.
In the same breath, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state has also said Wike was using his allegations to divert attention from the accusation by embattled National Chairman of the PDP, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, that the governor spent $6 million to bribe Supreme Court judges on the tussle for the national chairmanship of the PDP.
Briefing Rivers Christian Leaders on the development at the Government House, Port Harcourt, yesterday, Wike stated that the Rivers State Government was not interested in the prosecution of Amaechi but simply seeking the return of funds belonging to the state.
He said once the federal government returns the money to the Rivers government, it would deploy it to the completion of Amaechi’s abandoned pet project, the monorail.
Wike said the promotion of insults and needless propaganda would not detract the State Government from recovering her “stolen resources” and declared that the state was ready for a lengthy battle with the federal government over the money.
“The federal government wants us to believe that a security agency will keep a whopping N16 billion in a private residence in cash. They think that Nigerians don’t have brains. When millions of dollars were found in Kaduna, the EFCC was quick to announce the owner of that money. Now they don’t know the whistleblower in the case of the Ikoyi billions and they are afraid to disclose the owner of the money.”
But Amaechi in a statement described the claims as malicious, frivolous and another failed attempt by Wike to divert attention from the mess he has created in Rivers State.
“This latest outburst by Wike is typical of him. We are aware that Wike first tried to float the fake news of Amaechi’s ownership of the recovered $43 million and the Ikoyi house in the social media using his minions and lackeys, spending huge sums of Rivers money on the failed project…
“For clarity and emphasis, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi is not the owner of the $43million and the Ikoyi apartment in which the money was recovered from…”
He however challenged Wike to go to court if he has any shred of evidence that the money belongs to Rivers State and was kept in the Ikoyi apartment.
In the same vein, the Director-General of Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside, has questioned the sanity of the Rivers governor for making the wild allegation.
“Not too long ago, Wike apparently suffering from overdose of self-delusion said he had awarded road projects in faraway Benue State and had mobilised contractors to site. The same Wike has also accused the Inspector General of Police of plotting to assassinate him through the new CP in Rivers State.
“We thought these were jokes taken too far. But the clownish governor has surprised himself with another tales by moonlight in trying to link his former boss and benefactor to the unclaimed money. I think we need to check the sanity and mental status of Governor Wike. Time and time again, he is bringing ridicule to the office he occupies and embarrassing the people of Rivers State, who are known to be intelligent, responsible and decent in upbringing.”
The Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) has equally accused the federal government of plotting to shield the real owner of the sums recovered by the EFCC to prove to Nigerians that its activity was not lopsided by naming and prosecuting its true owner.
The umbrella organisation of all political parties and association in the country dismissed the claims that the money belongs to NIA
In a statement signed by its Secretary General, Chief Willy Ezugwu, CNPP maintained that if it was found that the money and the apartment truly belonged to Amaechi, the cash should be returned to the River State treasury.