•’Nobody knew NIA’s cash was hidden in private residence’
•No, I informed NSA of cash, Oke insists
By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor
As the committee set up by the Presidency to investigate the circumstances surrounding the placement and subsequent discovery of $43m said to belong to the National Intelligence Agency, NIA, at a private apartment on Osborne Street, Ikoyi, Lagos, continues its work, pieces of information coming out from the committee suggest that a flurry of claims and counter claims have been the order of the day.
The three-man Committee, headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, is investigating the claim by the suspended NIA DG, Ayo Oke, that the money belongs to the agency, as well as certain financial allegations against the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, David Babachir Laval, who is also suspended.
Whereas Mr. Oke, sources close to the Committee disclosed to Sunday Vanguard, insists that the current National Security Adviser, General Babagana Munguno, was duly informed of the cash, when he took over as the NSA, the counter claim from the NSA’s office is that what actually happened “is significantly different from that claim.”
Cash in private residence? NIA didn’t inform anybody
A top government functionary, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard last night, explained that in the first instance, Oke did not brief the NSA at all about the existence of such funds, the total of which was put at $289m, or the projects it was meant for when the Buhari administration took office in May 2015, even though the money had been released in March of the same year.
The NSA’s office, it was learnt, only got its first knowledge of the existence of such funds during the work of the presidential committee that audited the Defense Equipment Procurement in the Armed Forces. The Committee had observed certain payments from the CBN to the NIA and raised questions drawing the attention of the NSA, the source disclosed.
The top official explained what happened thus: “When the suspended DG of the NIA discovered that that Committee was raising questions and to forestall the NSA from “blowing the cover,” he then gave his first report to the NSA on the existence of such funds and warned that the Committee’s job does not cover the activities or the spending of the NIA.
“The Presidential Committee on Audit of Defense Equipment Procurement, in the course of its assignment, came across information that the NIA received a huge sum of money in early 2015, from the former President. Based on this, the NSA carried out a preliminary investigation during which the NIA claimed the money was released for some projects aimed at commencing the Agency’s 30th anniversary, which was in January 2017.
“Subsequently, a team was constituted to ascertain the situation”, the source said
The first concern raised was the huge nature of the funds, considering the purposes for which it was released.
Continuing, the source said “this was how the NSA and the Presidency got to know about the cash for the first time and not that the embattled NIA boss ever told anyone about it. It was at that point that the audit committee raised by the Presidency raised the red flag.
When the NIA boss was compelled to explain what was happening, “he still did not inform anyone in the Federal Government or presidency that he kept $43m of the said funds in cash in a private apartment anywhere in Lagos or any part of the country.
“This is the issue: the NSA was not told that NIA had this lump cash stashed away in the place it was eventually discovered by EFCC.
It was also learnt that the projects for which the former President approved the funds totalling $289m included two in Lagos whose cost were put at about $28m, which is way less than the $43m cash found in the Ikoyi apartment.
“It is completely untenable to stash away agency money in a private apartment instead of keeping it with the CBN or inside the NIA head office where the money would be well-secured and its disbursement well protected,” a top security official said last night.
I informed NSA of cash – Oke
However, Ambassador Ayo Oke, has maintained that he duly informed the current NSA, who is also a member of the Committee.
When he appeared before the three-man panel, which also includes the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, Oke was said to have been unruffled, saying that he did his best and had left the rest to God, but presented heaps of documents apparently to buttress his position.
Sunday Vanguard was made to understand that “Oke gave a spirited defence of his career and said there was no ill-motive behind the cash.
“At the end of it all, Oke was heard saying ‘I did my best before the committee. I have left the rest to God.”
Sunday Vanguard has been informed that Oke’s testimony before the Committee suggests that there was a first briefing in his “handover note in 2015”
The funds were said to have been itemised as ‘$289million intervention fund’ approved and released to the agency by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration in November 2014.
In addition, he was said to have informed the Committee that there was a second briefing in January 2016 in a said memo to the NSA where further details about the funds were reportedly given.
Sunday Vanguard was informed that it was based on the second briefing that the NSA, being the super intelligence officer that he is, set up an audit team, said to have been headed by a Brigadier-General, which was said to have inspected the supposed projects for which the funds were released.
The report of that audit team was reportedly submitted in February, 2016.
In May, 2016, the NSA was said to have presented a report to President Muhammadu Buhari on the NIA’s projects and exercises.
It was learnt that the President was said to have been pleased with the agency’s work.
However, what Sunday Vanguard was able to decipher in the emerging intricate web of disclosures as the Osinbajo Committee continues to investigate the matter is that the area of culpability appears to be moving in the direction of the propriety of keeping government funds in a private residence.
Although the NIA’s position, as laid out by Oke before his suspension was that the private apartment was a safe house, a known practice in the intelligence community, the Osinbajo Committee is set to unravel the propriety or otherwise of the circumstances that led to the placement of the cash where the EFCC discovered it. The 14-day schedule set for the Committee lapses this week.