By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Henry Umoru, Levinus Nwabughiogu, & Omeiza Ajayi
LAGOS—Vice President Yemi Osinbajo yesterday met with the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Magu and other security chiefs in the wake of public interest in investigations into the circumstances that led to the N13 billion cash haul in a National Intelligence Agency, NIA, Lagos safe house.
The meeting came as the Senate also yesterday delved into the rumpus over the Osborne cash haul, bidding to summon Mr. Ibrahim Magu, acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC to furnish more information on circumstances around discovery of the money. The Senate announced yesterday that it would next week through its Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes invite Magu to shed more light on the matter.
However, the possible invitation of former President Goodluck Jonathan before the panel set up by President Muhammadu Buhari to probe the NIA cash haul, was last night, raising dust with his supporters urging him not to honour it in the same way President Muhammadu Buhari opted not to honour summons to appear before the Justice Chukwudifu Oputa panel on human rights abuses during military rule.
That suggestion was, however, carpeted by the South-South Reawakening Group which yesterday pleaded with Jonathan not to soil his hard-earned global reputation as a democrat by honouring the invitation.
Witnesses await summons from panel
It was also gathered yesterday that principal witnesses to be invited before the three man presidential panel investigating the discovery of N13 billion in foreign and local currencies in a National Intelligence Agency, NIA Lagos safe house were yesterday waiting for summons.
It also emerged yesterday that the NIA allegedly collected $289 million in cash from the accounts of the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS) in February 2015. It was also gathered yesterday that the NIA funds were contained in the hand-over notes from the Jonathan administration, passed over to President Buhari, sources close to the development disclosed yesterday.
Sources in the Presidential Villa disclosed that all three members of the panel, set up under the chairmanship of Vice-President Osinbajo, whose other members include Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami and National Security Adviser, Gen. Babagana Monguno (rtd.) met in the office of the vice-president yesterday. Also at the meeting were the Inspector-General of Police, Idris Abubkar, the Director-General of the Department of State Security, DSS, Lawal Daura, Acting SGF, Dr. Habibat Lawan and the Acting D-G, NIA, Ambassador Arab Yadam amongst others.
Magu who met with the team, however, denied that the meeting had to do with the Osborne cash haul.
Magu who was seen coming out from the Vice-President’s office yesterday said his visit was in connection with a meeting of the Assets Recovery Committee.
However, Vanguard could not confirm if the meeting had anything to do with investigations into the Osborne cash haul and probe into affairs of suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Mr. Babachir Lawal.
Among those to be invited are the suspended Director-General of the NIA, Ambassador Ayo Oke, his wife, Mrs. Folashade Oke, the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC and the NSA, Gen. Monguno who is himself a member of the panel. As at last night, Vanguard checks revealed that none of the principal witnesses had been invited.
As at press time last night checks on some of those expected to be invited indicated that invitations were yet to be issued to them by the panel which is expected to round up its assignment in 14 days.
Controversy over Jonathan’s role
Meanwhile claims that President Jonathan would be summoned to appear before the panel to shed light on claims that the money was disbursed to the NIA during his regime was last night raising controversy.
A PDP senator speaking on condition of strict anonymity said he would oppose any move to get Jonathan to the panel on the claim that President Buhari as opposition leader rebuffed several invitations to appear before the Justice Oputa panel on uman rights abuses during the military era.
“If I am Jonathan, I will never before the panel because it is a huge set-up,” the senator said yesterday.
“Buhari and his associates refused to appear before Oputa panel and nothing happened,” the senator said yesterday.
However, the South-South Reawakening Group yesterday urged the former president to honour any invitation extended to him on the issue. The group’s coordinator, Comrade Joe Ambakaderio told Vanguard yesterday that Jonathan might soil his reputation as a statesman by refusing to honour any invitation extended to him.
“He should go there and say what he knows, good or bad, he has a reputation as a democrat and should not soil it with any such anti-democratic tendencies,” he said.
Jonathan was said to have approved the funds sometime in 2013 after the agency then under another management asked for the funds. Intelligence sources told Vanguard yesterday that besides the NIA, other security agencies were also provided with funds by the Jonathan administration at about the same time the NIA got its money.
Yesterday, The Cable, an online news portal reported that the NIA received $289,202,382 in cash from the account of the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS) in February 2015. The money was collected after the elections were postponed.
The online news portal reported that the funds were approved for NIA’s “covert operations” by President Jonathan and subsequently withdrawn in cash from NAPIMS’ account at CBN.
It could not as at last night be confirmed if the Osborne cash was part of the amount allegedly obtained from NAPIMS.
While NIA sources claim that The Presidency was briefed on the cash, other sources have disputed the claim. It was believed that they were for the investigation into the allegations of corruption against Lawal and Oke.
Senate to invite Magu
Speaking with Vanguard yesterday, a member of the committee, Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West), said the EFCC boss would be invited to come and explain who the rightful owner of the money is, adding that Nigerians were eager to know. He said the anti-graft agency must not operate in secrecy, especially in a very sensitive situation.
“Yes, we are going to invite the EFCC once we resume next week, the agency must tell us the real owner of the money.”
Adamawa gov, Bindow, at Aso Rock
Meanwhile, 24 hours after Lawal was suspended, Governor, Jibrila Bindo of Adamawa State visited the Presidential Villa ostensibly on account of the development given that Lawal is from his state.
It also emerged that Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Mr. Babachir Lawal in compliance with his suspension from office did not show up in the SGF building yesterday.
Meanwhile, activities progressed as normal at the Office of the SGF yesterday after Wednesday’s presidential decision to suspend Lawal from office. Vanguard’s visit to the office at about 10 a.m. indicated that normal business of the day went on unhindered. An official who spoke off the record to our correspondent said following the presidential directive, the most senior Permanent Secretary in the OSGF had effectively taken control to ensure that there was no vacuum.
“As it is now, the Permanent Secretary, Ecological Fund Office, Hajia Habiba Lawal is the most senior among them and she is in charge for the time being. So, life goes on as usual”, he said.
Makarfi’s PDP dismisses Osinbajo panel as ruse, demands independent inquiry
Also last night, the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led faction of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday demanded an independent enquiry into the Osborne cash haul as it dismissed the Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo-led three-man investigative panel into the matter.
The party spoke in reaction to the suspension of Mr. Babachir Lawal as Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), and Ayo Oke, Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA).
The faction in a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Prince Dayo Adeyeye said the President ought to have done the right thing by arresting Lawal immediately. He said:
“We are alarmed at the suspension of the SGF at a time that Nigerians and the international community are excitedly enjoying the theatre of the absurd playing out with the recovery of huge sums of money without owners,” he said.
“Now the APC-led Federal Government suddenly realised the corruption allegation levelled against the SGF; and instead of arresting and detaining him as the government has been doing to PDP members and other Nigerians, he was rather suspended and a committee set-up to investigate him. This is to say the least, double standard.
“Some Nigerians have applauded the suspension as indicating a new commitment by President Buhari to fight the anti-corruption war without fear or favour but we are constrained to point out that it is another ruse to deceive Nigerians and dress up the failed anti-corruption war in a new garb.”
“We are at a loss why the President would set up a panel comprising members of his cabinet to investigate other senior, very powerful members of the same executive,” he said.
“Where is the transparency in that? Not that we doubt the integrity of the vice-president (for whom we have the utmost respect) and other panelists but it appears the matter is being settled within the government closet without the transparency, independence and impartiality necessary in a situation like this. Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to have been done.
“This is especially important given the fact that we recently travelled this road when the President asked the Attorney-General to investigate the SGF (on this same matter) and Magu, the acting chairman of the EFCC. That investigation cleared the SGF of all wrong-doings in the grass-cutting scandal as stated above.
“It is amazing that the President who swiftly accepted the recommendations of the Attorney-General would now suddenly set-up another panel comprising the same Attorney-General to investigate the matter again.
“The pertinent question is whether the President has now realised that the initial investigation by the Attorney-General was not thorough or a cover-up to protect a fellow cabinet member.”
“Against this backdrop, we are constrained to express our lack of confidence in the new panel headed by the Vice-President,” he said.
“Instead, we demand an independent commission of inquiry comprising eminent Nigerians of proven records of integrity, independence and competence.
“This is the only way by which we can have confidence that a thorough and impartial investigation will be conducted and by which the President also can reassure the general public that there are no sacred cows in his government for whom there are different set of rules. The present situation amounts to the government being the judge in its own cause. We do not believe that justice can be served that way.”