© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Otedola, Adesina…Nigerian billionaires who could’ve hired British firm to foil Buhari’s 2015 campaign
NIGERIA is only months away from another election season, with political campaigns already getting more intense by the week. Yet the events surrounding general elections in 2015 are far from being buried and forgotten.
In March, The Guardian revealed that British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, hired by a Nigerian billionaire, used unethical means to manipulate the presidential election in 2015. Similarly, it has been reported, that CA also influenced Nigeria’s 2007 elections by organising campaigns to weaken opposition parties.
Seven former employees of the company narrated to The Guardian how the company attempted to weaponise information to harm Muhammadu Buhari’s reputation and presidential campaign in 2015.
The report also showed how a disturbing and discriminatory documentary was circulated to instill fear, and how CA worked with Israeli hackers who unlawfully got emails to dig up ‘kompromat’ (compromising information) from Buhari’s medical records.
Behind all this is a rich Nigerian, said to have hired SCL, data analytics company and the parent company of CA. Though his (or her) name has not been revealed yet, The Guardian revealed a few attributes of the billionaire and his/her transaction with CA.
WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THIS NIGERIAN
From reports by The Guardian, the following relevant information can be extracted about the said rich Nigerian:
- He was “a rich Nigerian who supported the [then] incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan”.
- He was a billionaire who was “panicking at the idea of a change of government and who wants to spend big to make sure that doesn’t happen”.
- He was “a Nigerian oil billionaire who wanted to fund a covert campaign to support Jonathan” and wanted total discretion.
- In December 2014, he was introduced to Brittany Kaiser, a senior director at CA, and met with her “just before Christmas” at Washington DC.
- Believing his potential access to Nigeria’s lucrative oil reserves was at stake, he was looking to spend and eventually paid an estimated sum of $2m on the contract.
WHO AND WHO FIT THIS PROFILE?
The fundamental description of the rich Nigerian who hired the British company with the intention of swaying votes in 2015 is that he is a billionaire. According to the Forbes magazine, in 2015 there were 29 African billionaires (in USD), five of which were Nigerian: Aliko Dangote, owner of the Dangote Group; Mike Adenuga, chairman of Globacom Nigeria; Folorunsho Alakija, executive vice chairman of Famfa Oil; Femi Otedola, chairman of Forte Oil PLC; and Abdulsamad Rabiu, founder of BUA Group.
Out of all five, three have the oil industry as their primary source of wealth: Folorunsho Alakija, vice chair of Famfa Oil, a Nigerian oil exploration company with a stake in Agbami Oilfield; Mike Adenuga, who operates six oil blocs in the Niger Delta under Conoil Producing; and Femi Otedola; controlling shareholder of Forte Oil, with more than 500 gas stations across the country and oil storage depots.
Having narrowed down the possibilities, the next logical question is how strong is the connection between these individuals and Jonathan or his administration.
There is very little information available connecting Folorunsho Alakija to Goodluck Jonathan or his administration. She has, for a long time, kept a relatively low profile, and hardly makes comments on the nation’s politics. In 2014, posters of her claiming to contest for the Lagos gubernatorial office were seen in Alausa, but she later denied connection to them.
In July, 2014, the Jonathan administration set up a Victim Support Fund for victims of terrorism and organised a fund-raising event, attended by prominent oil and gas operators including Alakija. Just as Abdulsamad Rabiu, she had committed to donate a sum of N500 million—though there were indications a year later that the pledge was not fulfilled.
She once remarked that her husband, Modupe Alakija, “promised never to leave me so long as I didn’t ‘rock the boat’.” And that is exactly what Alakija has done—not rocking the boat.
He is referred to by Forbes as “an extremely reclusive tycoon”, and just like Alakija, there have been minimal interactions between him and former president Goodluck Jonathan. However, in September 2012, Jonathan’s administration conferred on him the second highest honour in the country, the award of the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON). He was the second Nigerian outside government circle to receive the award.
The following year, Jonathan sent him a congratulatory message as he celebrated his 60th birthday. It is said that Adenuga is wary of getting involved in politics for fear that it may harm his business interests. Unlike other businessmen, he has not in the past come out publicly to support or fund the political ambitions of others. He maintained neutrality both during the 2015 campaign period and following the victory of Muhammadu Buhari.
Femi Otedola is severally reported to have been very close to former president Goodluck Jonathan. According to the BBC, “Otedola is a close ally of President Goodluck Jonathan and a major financier of the ruling People’s Democratic Party”.
In 2011, shortly after he became president, Jonathan appointed him as a member of the National Economic Management Team (NEMT). President Muhammadu Buhari has however reversed the trend of having private sector actors join the team because, according to him, they “steer government policy to suit their own narrow interests rather than the over-all national interest”.
Alongside Aliko Dangote and Olagunsoye Oyinlola, Otedola was reported to have set up a peace meeting between Jonathan and former president Olusegun Obasanjo in 2013. It was said that they were able to convince Obasanjo the lingering feud between him and his successor was not in the interests of the PDP, especially as the race for 2015 was heating up.
Also, Otedola was fingered in the oil subsidy scam under the previous administration. He was allegedly paid a sum of $233 million by the federal government over subsidy claims without delivering relevant petroleum products. He was also alleged to have paid a bribe of $620,000 to Farouk Lawan, chairman of the Fuel Subsidy Probe Panel, to drop his company from the investigation which discovered that a fuel subsidy scam had cost the country $6.8bn.
HONORABLE MENTION: KOLA ADESINA
Though not recognised by Forbes as a billionaire, Kola Adesina, managing director of Sahara Energy and largest shareholder of Auctus Integrated Investment Limited, also deserves a mention. In 2016, his company, Auctus Integrated, was linked to the $115 million (N63 billion) allegedly distributed as bribes to officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by former Petroleum Minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke, during the 2015 general elections.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said it believed the $115 million came from the proceeds of stolen crude oil. Out of that sum, Auctus Integrated company allegedly paid a sum of $17,884,000. Adesina has also been described as a close confidant of Jonathan.
NIGERIAN GOVERNMENT PROBES, THREATENS TO SUE
The Federal Government, in April, set up an in-house committee to investigate Cambridge Analytica’s roles in the 2007 and 2015 elections. Garba Shehu, spokesman for President Muhammadu Buhari, told Reuters that the committee will look into claims that Buhari’s personal data was hacked when he was an opposition candidate.
He also said the government would examine whether any local laws were broken as a result of the company’s actions or if its work “infringed on the rights of other parties and their candidates”. He added that the government may resort to criminal prosecutions depending on the outcome of the investigation.
Attempt by the ICIR to get updates on the investigation from the presidential spokesman proved futile as a text sent to him remains unreturned.