By Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief, Dapo Akinrefon & Wahab Abdulah
…Insists money is its own; says it’s normal safe house practice worldwide
…Discloses NIA boss had one-hour pre-raid talks with Magu
…Adds Magu ignored warning not to raid NIA safe house
…Wike urges prayers; insists money belongs to Rivers
LAGOS—Indications emerged last night that the National Intelligence Agency, NIA, will officially apply to reclaim the $43 million, £27,000 and N23 million recovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, from a building on Osborne Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, according to sources.
The NIA had earlier laid claims to the money, amid counter-claims by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State that the money belonged to his state.
This came on a day Minister of Information & Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said looters of public funds were now burying money in cemeteries and in deep forests.
Mohammed, who stated this in a statement issued by his spokesman, Segun Adeyemi, yesterday, also said the whistle-blower policy had led to the recovery of looted funds in many currencies that might not have been discovered, describing it as an effective tool for fighting corruption in Nigeria.
The minister’s revelation came as Governor Wike asked Christians in Rivers State to pray aggressively for the state in its efforts to recover the N13 billion discovered in a building at Ikoyi, Lagos, by the EFCC, last Wednesday.
This is even as Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, yesterday asked President Buhari to address the nation on the real ownership of the N13bn.
According to the source, President Muhammadu Buhari was aware that the money was NIA’s and had even inspected some of its covert operations on which part of the money was spent.
NIA boss spoke with Magu
On why the money was kept in a building in a residential area, the source said: “Such monies are kept in safe houses in residential areas so as not to arouse suspicion. It is the practice everywhere in the world.”
The source said NIA operatives avoided a shoot-out with EFCC operatives to avert embarrassing the government.It also confirmed that the Director-General of NIA had a conversation that lasted about one hour with acting EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Magu ,prior to the invasion of the house but was ignored.
Money not Rivers govt’s
The source also dismissed claims by Governor Wike that the money was that of Rivers State government’s money.
On burying of looted funds in cemeteries and deep forest, Mohammed said the whistle-blower policy of the government had also shown the depth of support among Nigerians for the fight against corruption.
He, therefore, thanked Nigerians for the enthusiasm and commitment that they had shown in helping the government tackle the hydra-headed monster of graft through the useful leads they have been providing to appropriate government agencies.
He said: “Since we launched the whistle-blower policy, we have received immeasurable support from Nigerians. Yes, there is monetary reward for any information that leads to recovery of looted funds, but from what we have seen, most Nigerians who have come forward with useful leads were driven by patriotism rather than reward.
“Nigerians, fired by a fervid resolve to help banish corruption from their country, have daily inundated the offices of the appropriate government agencies with valuable information. We have been told how looters have resorted to burying stolen funds in their backyards, in deep forests and even in burial grounds.
“Thanks to whistle-blowers, it is now clear that a rapacious few have pillaged the nation’s wealth through a vicious orgy of corrupt practices.
‘’Thanks to the useful information provided by Nigerians, it is now obvious that more funds are in the possession of looters than are available to government at all levels to meets its obligations, including paying workers’ salaries, providing social amenities, upgrading infrastructure and ensuring the security of lives and property.
“As the looters continue to run helter-skelter, many of them are even abandoning their booty at unusual places, including airports. We want to assure Nigerians that we will not abandon this policy for whatever reason. Instead, we will continue to re-jig it to make it more effective as a tool for fighting corruption.”
Mohammed said the recovered looted funds were safe, adding that as soon as the necessary reconciliation process and litigation in some of the cases were concluded, the government will give a full account of the funds to Nigerians.
Meanwhile, Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, who had at the weekend laid claim to ownership of the N13 billion found in a building at Ikoyi by the EFCC, yesterday asked Christians in the state to pray fervently to God to intercede for the state to recover the money.
Wike made the call during Easter Church Service at Saint Peter’s Anglican Church, Rumuepirikom. He said the church has a responsibility to pray that God should touch the Federal Government to return the money to the coffers of Rivers State, since the money was the property of the state government.
He said: “We need the prayers of the Church , because there is nothing that prayers cannot do. Pray that God should touch the government of Nigeria, so that they will return the money to us. What we are interested in is for the money to come back to us.”
Governor Wike stated that contrary to the false propaganda being peddled by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, he had not declared war on the Federal Government, stressing that Rivers State government was simply requesting the return of funds belonging to the state.
“ I cannot declare war on the Federal Government. Anybody bringing in Buhari’s name should leave Buhari and face his own problems . The issue is who kept the money at the Ikoyi residence. The money was kept there by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi. No amount of blackmail, no amount of distraction will stop us from getting our money. “
He noted that between 70 and 80 per cent of APC campaigns in 2015 were sponsored with funds sourced by Rivers State government under the leadership of Rotimi Amaechi.
He said the selective nature of the war on corruption in the country will not help in efforts to stamp out graft and develop Nigeria, wondering why anti-graft agencies often recoiled in the anti-corruption war when supporters of the government were involved.
Vicar of Saint Peter’s Anglican Church, Rumuepirikom, Venerable Israel Omosioni, prayed God to grant the request of Rivers people for the recovered funds to be returned to Rivers State government.
He said with the execution of projects across the state by Governor Wike, additional funds would assist the governor achieve more for the people.
The church resolved to start the prayers, which would be sustained till the funds were returned.
SERAP tasks Buhari
Similarly, SERAP, yesterday asked President Buhari to address the nation on the real ownership of the N13bn recovered fund.
SERAP said the President needs to clarify the issue, following controversy that now surrounds the funds.
SERAP in a statement signed by its Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, called on the President to also ensure legal backing for his government’s whistle-blower policy.
The group said: “Clearing the doubts surrounding the real identities of those behind the Ikoyi cash haul would demonstrate that the President values transparency over secrecy.
“This will further encourage more people to blow the whistle on governmental corruption and enhance the public’s right to know.
“The government’s increasing reliance on whistle-blowers’ tips to fight corruption has to be backed by some level of transparency and accountability in the real identities of those claiming recovered cash.
“Democracy abhors secrecy, and for Nigerians to be able to hold elected leaders accountable, they must have access to information such as on the real identities of those behind the Ikoyi cash haul.”
SERAP also said giving the whistle blowing policy a legal backing would ensure protection of the whistle-blowers “from any retaliation and attacks.”
“The policy of giving whistle-blowers some percentage of recovered loot would seem to be a game changer in the fight against corruption but this government now has to squarely address the significant risks that those who blow the whistle face by urgently working with the National Assembly to ensure the necessary legal backing that would ensure protection against reprisals and attacks.
“The government should ensure that the National Assembly expedites the process of passing the whistle-blower Bill, as ensuring that the bill is passed without further delay would recognise the necessity of whistle-blowers and the value they add to the anti-corruption fight by reporting otherwise unknown corruption-related information.
“It would also ensure that whistle-blowers are fully protected from any retaliation and attacks they may experience, and that the government fully appreciates the information they provide,” SERAP stated.
Desist from politics, PDP tells NIA
The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, yesterday charged the National Intelligence Agency, NIA, and other security agencies in the nation to desist from partisan politics.
Reacting to the controversy surrounding the over $43 million found in a house in Ikoyi, Lagos, the party faulted the reported claim of the NIA that it owned the huge amount in various denominations.
The party said in a statement by Prince Dayo Adeyeye, National Publicity Secretary, in Abuja yesterday: “The latest drama in town is the circus show of the discovery of huge sums of money of various currencies and denominations on daily basis without any trace of the owners .
‘’The most absurd of this charade is the macabre dance on the so called $43,449,947, £27,800 and N23,218,000 purportedly recovered at an apartment in Osborne Street, Ikoyi, Lagos.
“The government is at crossroads as the Whistle-blower and the EFCC are now shying away from telling Nigerians who owned the monies because undeniable evidence links the monies to the proceeds from the sale of turbines by the former governor of Rivers State and now Minister of Transport, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi. ‘’It has also been revealed that part of that proceeds was used by Mr. Amaechi to prosecute the campaigns of the APC in 2015.
“The claim by the Director-General of the Nigeria Intelligence Agency, NIA, that the agency owns the stolen money “found” in a private residence is another bad comedy by this failed APC Administration.
Minister of Transport Rotimi Amaechi at the weekend denied ownership of the money.
We are, therefore, warning all agencies of government in the country to excuse itself from partisan politics to forestall individuals in government manipulating their operations, especially, a sensitive agency like the NIA and thereby leading the Nation into a Gestapo State that it’s fast drifting into.’’
The PDP faulted the claim of President Muhammadu Buhari in his Easter message, that he had worked hard to meet the expectations of Nigerians in the last two years.
The opposition party said the present administration had made living more difficult for Nigerians, as the economy had worsen from a single digit inflation rate to the current 17. 26 per cent.
The party said: “We read with rude shock and utter dismay, the President Muhammadu Buhari’s Easter Message to Nigerians and of particular interest is the Paragraph that said.
“In the almost two years of this administration, we have worked hard to meet the expectations of Nigerians by improving security, especially in the North-East, sustaining the campaign against corruption and have taken steps to revitalize the economy”. Really?
“These comments from Mr. President are to say the least untrue and an insult to the intelligence of Nigerians who have been at the receiving end of his government’s mismanagement in the last two years.
“We cannot end this analysis without mentioning the comatose state of our economy in the last two years of this APC Administration. The immediate past PDP Government of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan grew Nigeria’s GDP from $270.5 billion in 2009, and handed over a Nigeria that had grown to become the fastest growing and largest economy in Africa and the 24th largest economy in the World, with a GDP of $574 billion.
“In May 2015, the PDP also handed over a single digit inflation rate but today, Inflation Rate in Nigeria is at a double digit of 17.26%.
‘’The recession we are experiencing today in the Country is as a result of the failure of the APC led Administration to properly manage our economy. The Buhari Government is indeed clueless and had no
economic plan until March 2017 when it launched the so called Recovery
Plan. The economy is at a standstill.
“Major infrastructural development that began with the previous administrations of the PDP have been
abandoned. Power Generation dwindled from over 5,000MW in 2015 to the present all time low of less than 2,000MW. The only project of note that this government has ever commissioned is the Abuja- Kaduna railroad which was 99 percent completed by the PDP administration.
“Against this backdrop and more, we are at a loss in reconciling President Muhammadu Buhari’s Easter message that he has met the expectations of Nigerians to the grim reality we have painted above.
There is nothing to show by the APC led Government and we challenge the President and his team to articulate the two years achievement of this Government point by point and let Nigerians compare with previous PDP administrations.
On the anti-Corruption war, PDP said, “The War on corruption like other policies and programnmes of the
Buhari led APC Administration has failed as well. As we have mentioned in our previous statements, any war on corruption that is selective and targeted at humiliating only leaders and other members of the opposition is a total failure.
“The entire anti-corruption war of the APC since inception is just in the media with only one conviction. Many of the Cases in Courts have been set aside and suspects discharged and acquitted while others are in EFCC and DSS detention centers without trial against their fundamental human rights as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Nigerians may also recall the several allegations of corruption made against prominent APC members that the Anti-graft Agency has not attended to. The Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crime
Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu has been rejected twice by the Nigerian Senate because of damning corruption allegations against him made by another agency of government .
“The same with the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, the Secretary to the Government of the
Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal and a host of other government officials against whom very serious allegations have been made. None of them have been subjected to the usual interrogations and investigation.”