A former president, Goodluck Jonathan, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele; and anti-corruption chief, Ibrahim Magu are amongst some high-profile personalities that are expected to be questioned by a presidential panel investigating the mysteries surrounding the over N13 billion recovered from an apartment in Lagos last Wednesday.
The panel will also question the suspended Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, NIA, Ayodele Oke, and his predecessor, Olaniyi Oladeji.
The owner of the building where the money was found and the EFCC official who led the operation will also be questioned by the three-man panel, which was convened on Wednesday, PREMIUM TIMES understands.
The National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, who is also a member of the investigating committee is also expected to brief the committee on what he knows following reports that Mr. Oke briefed him on the NIA operation prior to the discovery of the money.
President Muhammadu Buhari named Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to lead the committee, with Attorney General Abubakar Malami and Mr. Monguno being the remaining two members, the presidency said in a statement.
The constitution of the panel came as the presidency announced the immediate suspension of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, and Mr. Oke for their respective roles in the grass cutting scandal and the over N13 billion recovered in Lagos respectively.
“The president also ordered a full-scale investigation into the discovery of large amounts of foreign and local currencies by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in a residential apartment at Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos, over which the National Intelligence Agency, NIA, has made a claim,” presidential spokesperson, Femi Adesina, said Wednesday.
Mr. Adesina’s statement appears to indicate that the presidency has already accepted the NIA’s argument that the money belongs to it.
The investigative panel was tasked to unravel the “circumstances in which the NIA came into possession of the funds, how and by whose or which authority the funds were made available to the NIA, and to establish whether or not there has been a breach of the law or security procedure in obtaining custody and use of the funds,” Mr. Adesina said.
In a separate probe, the same committee is also to look into the allegations against Mr. Lawal in the grass cutting scandal.
Operatives of the EFCC, acting on a tip-off on April 12, said they found $43,449,947, £27,800 and N23,218,000 hidden inside an apartment at Osborne Towers, Ikoyi.
The funds were valued at over N13 billion based on prevailing exchange rate set by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
But the development, which could have been another success in the ongoing campaign against graft, became problematic for the Buhari administration following conflicting reports about the ownership of the money.
A day after news of the recovery gripped the country, the EFCC approached the Federal High Court, FHC, to secure a forfeiture order.
Muslim Hassan, a judge at the Lagos Division of the FHC, granted the anti-graft agency’s request and gave any potential claimant until May 5, else the entire N13 billion would be permanently forfeited to the Nigerian government.
On April 14, Mr. Oke told PREMIUM TIMES the NIA concealed the money in the apartment for undisclosed operations the foreign intelligence office was conducting.
Our sources said Mr. Oke had approached Mr. Magu to order EFCC operatives who broke into the apartment to back down while the operation was still underway, but the EFCC boss declined his pleas.
But the security chief would not comment on the purpose of the fund, telling this newspaper: “You don’t expect me to tell you that.”
On April 15, Governor Nyesom Wike said the money belonged to Rivers State, having allegedly been plundered by his predecessor, Rotimi Amaechi.
“We have facts to prove that the said money belongs to the Rivers State Government,” Mr. Wike said. “The Federal Government must return our money.”
But Mr. Amaechi, now Minister of Transport, strongly denied the allegations and threatened to sue those who publicly accused him of being the owner of the money.
The uncertainties notwithstanding, President Buhari directed that the money be returned to the CBN and ordered preliminary findings into the matter.
Why Osinbajo’s panel may question Jonathan, Emefiele, others
Sources close to the panel told PREMIUM TIMES its members commenced work on Wednesday afternoon and identified some key individuals whose information would be useful to their work.
The panel, which has two weeks to conclude its activities, will invite the individuals for the unique insight they might have on the matter.
On his part, Mr. Jonathan is expected to be questioned over claims that he approved the operation for which the NIA allegedly obtained the money.
Presidency and security sources told PREMIUM TIMES on April 14 that Mr. Jonathan approved the funds for the 30-year old secret service agency after its immediate past boss, Mr. Oladeji, alerted him to the need for some “crucial and covert security projects”.
Since the presidency said the person who authorised the funds for the NIA would be crucial, it indicates that Mr. Buhari might not have prior knowledge of the operation.
A source said should Mr. Oke’s reported stance that Mr. Jonathan approved the money be found to be true, then the former president would have to be questioned.However, the former president may not be summoned, our sources said, as the committee members will arrange to meet with Mr. Jonathan, who left office in 2015, at the former president’s preferred point.
The panel will also summon Mr. Emefiele, who has led the CBN since 2014.
The apex bank is believed to have released the money to the NIA as a way of making the funding of the ‘covert operation’ entirely secret, PREMIUM TIMES understands.
The recovered funds had the packaging and inscriptions of the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company on them, indicating that they might have come directly from the CBN. The dollar denominations were also itemised with serialised bar codes.
But the CBN already cast doubts about its connection to the money.
“I cannot say if the notes the NIA is claiming came from the CBN,” its spokesperson, Isaac Okorafor, told PREMIUM TIMES over the weekend.
Mr. Oke and Mr. Olajide will be grilled by the committee to explain the NIA’s roles.
Although Mr. Olajide left NIA since 2013, and handed over to Mr. Oke, security sources told PREMIUM TIMES he initiated the clandestine projects and forwarded the proposal to Mr. Jonathan for approval.
The two security chiefs are expected tell the committee about the project in detail, sources said.
Sources also said the panel will take testimonies from Mr. Monguno, even though he’s a member. This is largely due to claims by NIA sources that the NSA was briefed on the project and knew about the money.
Mr. Magu will be invited alongside his subordinate who led the operation for their respective roles in the recovery, our sources said.
One of the most widely-asked questions centred on the owner the apartment where the money was recovered in particular and the Osborne Towers itself in general.
Shortly after EFCC announced the recovery, media reports mentioned a former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Adamu Mu’azu, as the owner of the building and possible owner of the funds.
But the former Bauchi governor has since denied being the current owner the property, even though he acknowledged he built it.
“I acquired the land and jointly developed it using a bank loan, I obtained about nine (9) years ago,” Mr. Mu’azu said. “However, all the flats have been sold to prospective buyers in order to pay back the loan.”
For this reason, our sources said, the panel intends to invite the owner of the apartment. But it is not immediately clear if the members have identified the owner as at Wednesday night.