By Joseph Ushigiale
The cardinal thrust of the General Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign for president in 2015 was his promise to Nigerians that he would rescue their country from the cobwebs of corruption and return to them, a clean, rejuvenated and corruption free country.
Almost six years down the line, the same regime that swept to power claiming the prize as the first in Nigeria, if not Africa, to perform the feat of unseating an incumbent has itself become trapped in the cobwebs of the same vice it promised to fight ab initio.
Almost on a daily basis, Nigerians hopelessly watch in awe and are continuously reveled with corruption exposé of unimaginable kind. From what used to be the pilfering of a few Nairas by some corrupt public officials and their cohorts, it has been revealed that the kleptomaniacs in Nigeria are having a field day and have graduated to stealing billions of dollars and trillions of Naira with brazen impunity.
Of the several policies put in place by the administration to fight corruption, a particular one specially designed to encourage those with privileged information leading to where stolen monies are stashed called the Whistleblower Policy was pronounced with so much hope, enthusiasm and optimism.
According to the details underlining the policy, a whistleblower whose information is accurate and leads to the recovery of stolen funds stands to be compensated or rewarded with certain per centage of the recovered funds.
However, there is also repercussion for false declarations as the whistleblower risks a jail term of several years for providing false information. So far, the policy has recorded some successes and failures. One of its most celebrated success story is what is now known as Ikoyigate scandal. As the name goes, it represents reliable information provided by a whistleblower which eventually lead to the uncovering and recovery of $43 million stashed at flat 7b of Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos.
But despite some of these successes, the policy has come under severe scrutiny and is today raising lots of questions over the Buhari regime’s sincerity in delivering on the outcome of this policy. For instance, some privileged information passed to government are either swept under the carpet or dismissed as outright lies or completely ignored especially when top government officials of the administration are fingered in some of these heists. Two examples here would suffice.
Samano Whistle Blower
Recently, promoters of a Mexico-based company known as SAMANO SA DE CV accused the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and several other top administration officials including late Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari and former Director General of State Services, Lawal Daura of short changing them of $125m being proceeds of 5% commission promised them for providing useful information on the whereabouts of 48 million barrels of stolen crude oil abandoned in China by oil thieves.
SAMANO in its petition by its lawyers to the federal government claimed that in 2015, it was approached and offered the stolen crude oil for purchase by some unnamed individuals. Seeing that it was stolen crude oil from Nigeria, it said it decided to inform the Nigerians authorities of its existence. Its officials reportedly met with Abba Kyari, Lawan and the current Managing Director of the NNPC, Melee Kyari. The company claimed that the Nigerian officials went to China, sold the crude oil for $2.5b and pocketed the money without remitting 5% proceeds of the sales to its company as earlier promised, an action that has provoked the petition.
However, lawyer for NNPC says he is taking legal action against the company and its officials over attempts to swindle the Nigerian government of over $125 million and accusing it of being a crime syndicate.
Counsel to the NNPC, Afe Babalola & Co., said in a statement recently that the management of the national oil company has already initiated plans to seek redress “for the injury to the Corporation and its officials through series of falsehoods peddled by SAMANO and its agent”.
While investigations on this allegations are still unraveling, it has been discovered that just about the same period the SAMANO incident occurred, a similar allegation also reared its head accusing the two key figures: late Abba Kyari and Lawan of complicity in the disappearance of over N2b looted funds reportedly discovered to be stashed in an NNPC residential address in Abuja.
In a petition addressed to Buhari, Brigadier General Adamu Yusuf (rtd) claimed that following a tip off he received from an associate, he contacted the late Chief of Staff to the President whom he met in person and briefed on the details of the discovery. Kyari contacted Daura who was still at the helms of affairs in the DSS office to investigate.
After successfully confirming the veracity of his information, Kyari promised him and his group 20% of the total value of recoveries as commission for the accurate information provided even though the whistleblower’s policy was yet to be made official. He affirmed that following an intervention of security operatives who stormed the residence under the guidance and directives of Daura, stolen cash and some gold bars valued at over N2b were safely evacuated from the building over a period of three days adding that, Kyari himself confirmed to him that the operation was successful and he would get back to him at the appropriate time.
And similar to the SAMANO case, he was promised 20% commission for his efforts. After waiting for several months without any revert from Kyari, he became apprehensive and alarmed because calls placed to Kyari’s number were now barred. In the same vein, messages sent to Kyari’s number were not only ignored, his previous interactions with Kyari mysteriously wiped off and disappeared fm his mobile phone and at this point, Kyari became incommunicado. The turn of events prompted him to seek self help and bring the developments to the President’s attention. Relying on his military contacts as a retired senior military officer, he reached to General Theophilus Danjuma (rtd) for intervention. Through the instrumentality of Danjuma, he was able to see the President through the National Security Adviser, Babagana Mungono. After explaining his role to the President, he was asked to drop his petition with him. He did and to this moment, nothing has been heard of the matter.
In an all holds bared encounter with me at the time, Yusuf made far reaching revelations about what transpired and was thoroughly exasperated that given the weight of evidence provided by him to the President, no follow up action was taken to bring the culprits to justice.
Providing a vivid insight into how he came about the information that led to the discovery of the stashed funds, Yusuf said he got very reliable information from a friend, Hon. Chuma Nzeribe that money was stashed in Flat 6, Block 1 (NNPC Quarters, Area 11, Garki). Subsequently, his contact in the Villa immediately, who was then the Director of Administration in the CoS’ office, Alhaji Badamasi Gamawa introduced him to late Mallam Abba Kyari (then Chief of Staff to the President).
He said heI met with Abba Kyari and told him he was in custody of privileged information revealing where money was stashed. “I told him emphatically that the people involved who have provided me the information to expose where the money was kept need to be compensated. The Chief of Staff agreed with me totally. In fact, he promised that 20 percent would be given to them. At that time, there was no whistleblowing policy”, Yusuf stated.
Asked if there was a written agreement to that effect, he replied that he did not see any need for an agreement and believed him on the strength that a man in such an exalted position should be trusted and seen to be above board, that he would be full of integrity.
Hear him: “I trusted him believeing that he is a man of integrity, because he is working with a man of integrity (President Mohammadu Buhari). Like in the military, anything that is written about a military officer is what he is and you don’t rise to such an exalted position without people knowing who you are.
“Everybody in the military, once you call my name, one thousand generals will tell you this is how he is. So I didn’t know that this civilian, Abba Kyari has no integrity. He is a man who is the opposite of what he claims to be and I’m highly disappointed by this realization.
“I honestly didn’t have a reason to distrust him, I regarded him as a man of honour and would have looked rather shameful for me to ask him to draw an agreement. If there is no trust, because I know myself, I am straight forward, what I say you can confirm from anybody.
I know that even the people that are aware of the case would not behave like that”, Yusuf stated.
He lamented that Kyari showed his true character only after he had given him all the information. “After getting the information, he mobilized the Director General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Lawan Daura who led the operation to recover the money. I was told it took them about three days to evacuate over N2b denominated in Dollars including gold bars”, Yusuf revealed.
After the successful operation, he said Kyari called and thanked him for providing reliable information which led to the recovery of the money in question which was cash in US Dollars, and gold bars adding that the operation took them precisely three days to evacuate the money. After that, further attempts to reach him to fulfill his promise of compensating those who gave the vital information became very difficult after the evacuation. “He became incommunicado. I could not believe that somebody working with Mr Integrity could easily renege on a gentleman’s agreement willingly agreed to by both parties”, he explained.
When reminded that Kyari could possibly deny any wrong doing since there was no evidence, Yusuf said “there are witnesses that know exactly what transpired. Like I mentioned Chuma Nzeribe (former member of the House of Representatives) as one of them. Another person is Buka Abba Ibrahim a former Director of Finance with the EFCC, Alhaji Gamawa who was a Director in the CoS office, they are all directors and the other ladies.
“One of them had to flee from the country, she went on self exile, because her life was being threatened, she was kidnapped and subjected to all manner of dehumanizing acts. The most painful and shocking part of this is that after the success operation of evacuating the stashed funds, nothing was reported as recovered because it was not reflected anywhere”, Yusuf pointed out.
On why he was so sure that his information was reliable and had indeed led to any recoveries, Yusuf said Kyari himself affirmed that the operation was very successful and that they had indeed ‘found the goldmine and the United States Dollars.
He explained that although Kyari became incommunicado after the operation, he indeed communicated with him when the operation was underway. Yusuf stated that “the only communication he mentioned to me was when the DSS operatives stormed the place and when he confirmed to me that ‘we found the gold mine and the United States Dollars’, afterwards he said he was busy and that he will get back to me at the end of the exercise which he never did”, he pointed out.
Providing deep insight into what transpired, Yusuf revealed that “What happened was that Chuma Nzeribe, because he is deeply involved, he is the one that brought it to me, thinking that being a general, the man should have integrity and treat the matter appropriately and transparently.
Unfortunately, he totally betrayed us by choosing to do the opposite. Chuma went to do the findings and found out that nothing was reflected (Ministry of Finance) after he realised that some money was paid but nobody mentioned that. You can get him now to corroborate what I am saying.”
Asked what he thought was the reason Kyari was avoiding him and how far he wished to push his case, Yusuf said Kyari was avoiding him because “he knows I know the secret of everything and I can say it anywhere. I am ready to go forward and if he wants a one-on-one engagement, I’m ready and if he wants to go to court I am ready. There are other people who are part of this. People are there and there are witnesses who saw that the business transaction of evacuating the stashed funds took place in the address I gave to him for the operation.”
In his resolve to call off Kyari’s bluff, Yusuf said he reached out to his contact within the military for help. “I quickly went to meet with General Theophilus Y. Danjuma, to report to him. Danjuma took it upon himself and went to the villa on this matter.
“Thereafter, Mr President became sick and went abroad and the matter died on that note. Subsequently, when I could not swing it with General Danjuma, we went again and met two committees where I also wrote a petition to a group of investigators who cross-examined all of us on account of our submissions and wrote their reports”, he explained.
Revealing several other steps taken along the way to get to the root of the matter, he said “The Obono Obla Committee (on recovery of looted funds) cross-examined us, all of us were there including Chuma, the lady lawyer was also there and they cross examined everybody and when they finished they said they will get back to us.
“That report has not seen the light of the day because no action has been taken. But I remained resolute and undaunted and continued to remain hopeful. When I eventually pressed further, they said I should write a letter. I did that and since October 2018, nothing has happened”, he lamented.
Yusuf said however that a silver lining appeared in the horizon when he met with the National Security Adviser, Mungono who eventually took him to see the President. “I finally met the President through the National Security Adviser, Major General Monguno (rtd), he was one of my junior colleagues. When I mentioned it to him he said whaaat?
“He decided to take me to see Mr President. I think that was his first year in office and he said he was busy with the budget and he said he would get back to me. Three and half years, four years and I have not heard from him, nobody got back to me”, Yusuf explained.
When asked if he was not surprised that the President whose main thrust is to fight corruption did not take action on his petition, Yusuf said he indeed found it strange but added rather that “I know that he took ill, he was not around and there are many problems on his mind but it is on record that I had made contact with him and even left a document with him. I’m yet to get any feedback as we speak. I don’t believe that all the necessary information reached him. I also believe he will not preside over fraud.”
Yusuf pointed out that “My prayer is this: let an investigation be conducted and let the truth be ascertained. I am too old, too matured to stand before a court and tell a lie. There are living witnesses and the essence of this is to bring shame to the person who is carrying out these abominable acts behind Mr President and trying to tarnish his image. I know without any doubt and I can vouch that Mr President is a man of honour and integrity, that respect I have for him, it is all the more reason why am pursuing this for it to come to limelight.
“Apart from the money, there are also other larger implications in what has just happened. You now imagine the president with his fight against corruption and his anti-corruption drive which means that everybody sees the president as a man who has integrity, the larger implication is why would someone with such a stain be working with the president?
“It baffles me, honestly, it baffles me and there are several allegations against him but whether they fall on deaf ears, or do not get across to the President, I don’t know. The issue is that he is fenced, you cant penetrate through this cabal to see the President and it is a really bad case”, he lamented.
While expressing surprise that even the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) are not interested in the case because, according to him, “I have seen the acting Chairman Ibrahim Magu but he’s not willing to do anything about it; Yusuf said it appears his petition is being swept under the carpet adding that “I don’t know whether it is being done by the Chief of Staff, but what I know is that Mr president is not aware. I am the last person to believe that he will see such fraudulent person close to him and turn his eyes away. I believe they are keeping and shrouding many vital information from him. I believe he is not aware because he is the last man that would preside over fraud.
“Because this is a very dangerous precedent if things like this can happen and be swept under the carpet for so long, you can imagine what greater damage may have been done if things like these don’t get to the president and the president does not know anything.
“I know for sure and believe he does not want to be associated with dubious people that will not let him know what is happening around him and prefer to be running rings of fraud behind him. I have been patient with this matter for four years and it has been swept under the carpet. Abba Kyari and Lawan Daura are behind this because they know what happened”, he affirmed.
Clarifying on Lawan Daura’s involvement in the stolen looted fund controversy, Yusuf stated that Daura executed the job; explaining that “He executed the job by directing his staff to conduct the operation. Abba Kyari and Lawan Daura worked in tandem on this project.”
When asked if he knew the owner of the flat from where the money stashed money was found, he said the flat belonged to former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Bello Adoke. He affirmed that “Adoke owns the building, that Block 6, Flat One and that money maybe be part of the Malabu oil case. I think it is better you also interview Hon. Chuma Nzeribe, he is there. If you want him to come over I can call him right now.
On the possibility that Kyari could deny promising him and his cohorts 20% commission because the whistleblowers policy was not in place then? Yusuf retorted: “Then why did he make the promise? He didn’t need to make the promise if he didn’t mean it. As a gentleman, I’m surprised that several years after he couldn’t come and see me. This is really not all about money.
Everybody will die and be buried without money. Nobody will be buried with money.
“It is obvious what you are saying but whatever he says since it was not written there is every possibility that he is going to deny it. I have nothing to gain to come up and tell lies against anybody. It is not in my character. I have never done it. I served the nation for 34 years and retired as a Brigadier-General in 2006. It is on records that I retired voluntarily”, he vouched.
On the way forward to bring closure to the matter, Yusuf said “Let them do the needful. We have played our own part and some people sat on it against national interest. That was why we brought it to the attention of government so that they can do the right thing for the entire nation, not for a few people to corner the money. It is painful. If it is a country like China, they deserve death penalty and nobody has done anything.”
The Burden of Proof
Now let us critically analyse each of these whistleblowers submissions and the responses by those fingered in these deals beginning with the SAMANO case.
Chief Afe Babalola (SAN) counsel for the NNPC in response to information given concerning 48m barrels of stolen crude oil abandoned in China, said it was impossible for such a huge amount of oil to be taken from the corporation when the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) only allocated Nigeria 1.6mbpd as its quota.
Industry insiders believe that this position is inaccurate and is meant to hoodwink the general public. According to those who are familiar with workings in the oil and gas sector, the fact that OPEC allocated Nigeria 1.6mbpd did not mean that Nigeria had no capacity to produce more. The source said, Nigeria in fact has capacity to produce as many million barrels as it so desires regardless of the allocated quota, arguing that the oil in question was categorized as stolen and therefore had no records in the corporation’s inventory.
There is also the question of who is in the dock and why hire a high profile lawyer to defend the corporation when the corporation was never mentioned in the entire transaction. Some legal minds believe that the current NNPC helmsman, Melee Kyari who was named alongside Daura and late Kyari is not only dragging the name of the corporation into the matter but also using its resources to defend a matter that involves him as a person which is wrong.
Some argue that, under such a circumstance, the President ought to have asked Kyari to step aside until he is cleared of all the allegations surrounding the whereabouts of proceeds from the 48m barrel of stolen crude oil.
Now, did the late Kyari receive vital information from Yusuf which culminated in an operation led by Daura to recover N2b and some gold bars from an NNPC residence? This answer can only be provided by late Kyari and Daura. However, going by Yusuf’s account, there is a strong possibility that such information existed, it was exchanged and verified to be true and evacuation was
effected. To begin with, there was someone who superintended over this money over a period of time. This person was the lead whistleblower who leaked the secret to other collaborators for the simple reason that this lead whistleblower had no concrete high profile contact to pass the information to which is why Yusuf came in.
Where is this person? Yusuf revealed that after the successful operation, the lead whistleblower came under strong suspicion by private interests and was eventually arrested and threatened with death to divulge to them how the authorities discovered there was money stashed in the apartment. Eventually, the lead whistleblower fled the country so as not to get killed and has not returned to this day.
The next question is: why were these whistleblowers promised commissions when no whistleblowing policy was in place then and who could have possibly made such a promise? First, remember that the policy as it is today is an incentive. Therefore, the whistleblowers were promised commissions as part of incentive to motivate them to cooperate with the authorities in the recoveries. At the time the policy was yet to be pronounced by the administration, the only person who could make such a commitment without question, was Abba Kyari given the enormous powers he wielded in the presidency.
So why did he reneged on the commitment? The reason is simple: Kyari and cohorts never intended to declare any recoveries ab initio. Kyari only sent both SAMANO, Yusuf and their cohorts on wild goose chases because nothing was ever going to come out of it.
Kyari knew fully well that honoring the 5% promised SAMANO amounting to $125m out of $2.5b sales proceeds and another 20% to Yusuf and his group amounting to N400m deducted from the N2b allegedly recovered would levy a heavy burden of paying in $2.375b and another N1.6b into the consolidated account.
As it stands now, with no commission paid out, there is no evidence that neither money nor stolen crude oil was recovered in Nigeria and China. The burden of proof now lies with the whistleblowers because as trusted aides to the President, they would do no wrong.