Diezani Alison-Madueke is currently the poster girl for President Muhammadu Buhari’s war against corruption. Throughout this year, no name has been more associated with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) than the former petroleum minister’s.
The allegations against her are numerous and the figures being mentioned humongous. From Lagos, to Abuja, Port Harcourt, United States and the United Kingdom, the EFCC alleged that Diezani possessed properties and cash that were proceeds of corruption. The scale of it all looked destined to be lost in the figures — until the EFCC took up the gauntlet to pile all of Diezani’s “loot” into a rare opinion piece by two staff of its public affairs directorate titled ‘DIEZANI ALISON-MADUEKE: What an appetite!’
In the piece, the EFCC said a search of one of Diezani’s palatial residences in Abuja “turned up boxes of gold, silver and diamond jewellery, worth several million pounds sterling”. In all, N47.2bn in cash and $487.5m in properties had been traced to the former minister.
Of the lot, the courts have empowered the government to take ownership of a $37.5m (N11.75bn) property on Banana Island, Ikoyi, sums of US$2.74m and N84.5m found in Rusimpex USD account No. 1013612486 domiciled in Zenith Bank Plc, N23.4bn and $5m (about N1.5bn) in various Nigerian banks, N9bn allegedly laundered for her by some bank officials, another N34bn traced to her, and over $100m traced to the accounts of several Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) staff allegedly bribed by Diezani to compromise the 2015 general election. To recover all that Diezani has allegedly stolen and bring her to book, the EFCC will have to convince a court to declare her guilty. Judging by how poorly EFCC has recently fared in court, there are no guarantees that Diezani, if she is guilty — and it’s hard to imagine ALL these allegations are made up — won’t walk away free.
FROM DASUKI TO DIEZANI
Diezani’s ignominious status is one she inherited from Sambo Dasuki, former National Security Adviser. In the early days of the Buhari administration, Dasuki was the poster boy of the anti-corruption crusade. On August 31, 2015, Buhari had inaugurated a 13-man committee to audit the procurement of arms and equipment in the armed forces and defence sector between 2007 and then. The first revelations from the committee were damning.
The committee put total extra budgetary interventions in the period at N643.8bn. It observed that out of 513 contracts awarded at $8.4bn, N2.2 trn and €54,000, 53 were failed contracts, amounting to $2.4bn and N13.7bn. It “discovered” that payments to the tune of N3.9bn were made to a single company by the former NSA without documented evidence of contractual agreements or fulfilment of tax obligations to the FG. Dasuki was accused of awarding “fictitious and phantom contracts” to the tune of N2,2bn, $1.7bn and €9.9m. Also, the former NSA was alleged to have directed the Central Bank of Nigeria to transfer $132.1m and €9,9m to the accounts of Societe D’equipmente Internationaux in West Africa, UK and US for “unascertained and undocumented purposes”. For all these, Dasuki is only three months away from spending two consecutive birthdays in prison. Like Diezani, for him to be punished for his alleged indiscretions, a court must pronounce him guilty. It hasn’t yet happened in almost two years; no one knows when it will — or if it ever will.
Three things are striking about Buhari’s treatment of the Dasuki case. One, when he ordered the ex-NSA’s arrest on November 18, 2015, he was only in possession of an interim report submitted by the probe committee. The committee had yet to complete the full probe. In fact, the committee submitted its final report (the third) in July 2016 — eight months after Dasuki’s arrest (A second report was submitted earlier in January.). Two, Buhari ordered Dasuki’s arrest immediately, on the same day he received the interim report.
Finally, Buhari did a fine job of weighing Dasuki’s alleged crime against the sufferings of IDPs in the north-east. “Interestingly, it was noted that the amount of foreign currency spent on failed contracts was more than double the $1bn loan that the National Assembly approved for borrowing to fight the insurgency in the North East,” Femi Adesina, his spokesman, said in the statement announcing Dasuki’s arrest.
Buhari echoed the same thoughts at his first presidential media chat in December 2015. Asked why his government was ignoring the bails granted by courts to Dasuki, and Nnamdi Kanu, the Biafra campaigner, Buhari readjusted his seat and raised his voice. He wouldn’t hide it that this was a particularly touchy matter for him.
“Technically, if you see the type of atrocities those people committed against the country, if they jump bail…,” he answered. “The former President just wrote to the Governor of Central Bank and said give N40 billion — 40 billion to so, so, so, and you give him bail to go and see a doctor in London, when you have 2 million people in IDP camps. Half of them don’t even know their parents. What kind of country do you want us to run?”
THE UNRESOLVED MULTI-MILLION-NAIRA GRASS-CLEARING CONTRACT
These three reasons are exactly why it is hard to comprehend Buhari’s hesitation to take decisive action on Babachir Lawal, the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). Of the SGF’s many sins, there has been attention — deservedly so — on one: the award of a N570m contract by Lawal’s Presidential Initiative on Northeast (PINE) to Josmon Technologies Ltd, a briefcase company, to cut grasses in Yobe State. Curiously, Josmon made cash deposits of N10m into the account of Rholavision Engineering Ltd, Lawal’s company, 20 times from March and September 2016. This particular N10m-in-20-places transaction is particularly suspicious because Section 10 of the Money Laundering Act 2011 (as amended) mandates banks to report single corporate transactions beyond N10m; the pattern of the payment suggests a premeditated attempt to evade the notice of the law.
But there’s a bigger allegation against Lawal: PINE could not account for N2.5bn meant for IDPs. Meanwhile, Lawal’s only public defence was that he resigned from Rholavision much earlier, in 2015 rather than 2016; he has offered no tangible defence for the rest of the N2.5bn other than accusing the senate of trying to pull him down. Lawal also said the senate didn’t seek his testimony before inviting him. When he was eventually invited, he simply vanished.
A panel set up by Buhari in April came up with a report on May 7 — same day the President travelled abroad for medical treatment. Buhari took formal delivery of the report on August 23; almost two weeks after, nothing has been done on the report, which also covered the probe of Ayodele Oke, suspended Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), who reluctantly admitted ownership, on behalf of the agency, of the sums of $43.4m, £27,700 and N23.2m found by the EFCC at a private residence in Lagos.
Where is the swiftness with which Buhari ordered Dasuki’s arrest? And why isn’t Lawal’s alleged offence receiving similarly expedited action? Why hasn’t Adesina issued a press statement on the content of the probe report? If Lawal and Oke have been found innocent, they should be reinstated. If guilty, they should also go the Dasuki way. Being political appointees, both men can be immediately prosecuted in court. But unlike the case with Dasuki and Diezani, Buhari does not need to await a conviction before serving them as deterrents to other corrupt elements in government; the message will be well-received once he permanently strips them of their offices.
Like Tam David-West, the widely respected former Petroleum Minister, said in May, “a lot of people around Buhari are very corrupt and until he kicks them out of his government, the country cannot move forward”. David-West knew what he was saying.
In late 2015, for example, there were grumblings in a certain parastatal because a minister had withheld a certain percentage of its allocations. In this same Buhari government! Last week, Isah Mishau, the senator representing Bauchi Central at the National Assembly, accused Ibrahim Idris, the man Buhari picked as Inspector-General of Police (IGP) in June 2016, of collecting bribes, “ranging from N10m to N15m” from commissioners of police, state mobile commanders and Special Protection Units (SPU) commanders, for favourable postings. Buhari didn’t seem to take notice of it, or he was simply uninterested.
To enhance the credibility of his anti-corruption war, Buhari must not spare corrupt people within his own administration. Caveat, PDP apologists: this is not a piece to latch on to in disparaging the anti-corruption efforts of the current government. The corruption that took place particularly during the Goodluck Jonathan administration is monumental; the arrest and prosecution of looters, if done within the provisions of the law, is welcome. It is incredibly important, for the present, that past looters are brought to book. But it is more important, for the future, that current looters do not escape justice in the name of sanctifying the APC government. Unless anyone thinks the present is more important than the future, Buhari must seek out the Diezanis and Dasukis in his government, and make sure they also suffer the fate of yesterday’s looters.
Soyombo, Editor of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), tweets @fisayosoyombo