‘Ghost Of Corruption, Narcotics Trafficking, Tax Evasion’ Allegations Hunt Atiku, Obi, Tinubu – Report
With just less than a month to the presidential election on February 25, 2023, the three leading presidential candidates have begun to unravel under the litmus test of due process, accountability and transparency.
Under the weight of expectations and political rivalry during campaigns, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the governing All Progressives Congress, APC; Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and Peter Obi, the underdog and candidate of the Labour Party, LP, have been doing the electorate real good by throwing allegations of corruption and questionable leadership traits at themselves.
At the centre of the accusations are alleged narcotics trafficking, money laundering and tax evasion, all punishable under the Nigerian law once proven.
“These are serious allegations that impact negatively on national security, corruption and transborder criminal activities,” General Secretary of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP, Chief Willy Ezugwu, told THEWILL.
“Men and women who constitute threats to national security must not be allowed to be nominated as candidates by political parties at any election.”
The allegations of corruption against Atiku, narcotics dealing and financial embezzlement against Tinubu and illegal off-shore investment and tax evasion against Obi had been swirling for some time until the parties, in the face of stiff rivalry, recently elevated them to taint the other and unfit for the office of president. The three top candidates however continue to deny any wrongdoings in their dealings and business affairs.
APC vs ATIKU
A fortnight ago, the Presidential Campaign Committee of APC gave 72 hours ultimatum to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to arrest, interrogate and prosecute Atiku for what the party referred to as offences against Code of Conduct for Public Officers, Offence of Money Laundering; Offence of Criminal Breach of Trust and Criminal Misappropriation; and Offence of Conspiracy.
Spokesperson for the governing party’s PCC and Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, sued Atiku at the Federal High Court in Abuja on January 20, 2023. In the suit marked FHC.ABJ/CS/84/2023, Keyamo joined Atiku along with the EFCC, ICPC and the CBC as defendants.
He submitted that Atiku be compelled to make information available to the agencies, “in respect of a certain bank account belonging to a company named Marine Float and other accounts of two undisclosed companies, which information he disclosed to a certain close aide of his, called Michael Achimugu”, bank accounts that “were used as ‘Special Purpose Vehicles’ to secretly divert and misappropriate public funds between 1999 and 2007” when he served as Nigeria’s vice president.”
The background to Keyamo’s allegation is the testimony by Atiku’s one-time boss, ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo, who accused him of corruption in his book, My Watch. In chapter 36 of that book, which was devoted to discussing corruption and money laundering, Obasanjo linked the former Vice President with a company called iGATE and William Jefferson, a former US lawmaker, who was later jailed by American courts for 13 years over corruption.
Obasanjo linked Atiku to the alleged misappropriation of $20 million, which the administration was supposed to deploy for Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF), and another $125 million to fund PTDF during the 2003 fiscal year.
In his reaction, Atiku repeatedly denied the allegations, which also cropped up during the 2019 polls when he was the presidential candidate of the PDP, running against incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari. In one of his engagements with journalists during the past polls, he quipped: “These allegations remain allegations and I have never been probed because I did not commit them.”
It is for this reason, too, he said, he had often travelled to the United States of America during elections when these accusations often come up, to prove his innocence. He said he made his money legitimately through investments such as in Nicotex, an oil servicing firm, farming, housing and other commercial endeavours.
He denied appropriating the $145m to himself, money he said, was kept in the bank and recycled into PTDF projects.
In his response to the fresh charges by the APC campaign council, a PDP campaign council spokesperson, Senator Dino Melaye, flayed the petition by Keyamo to the security agencies, saying “Tinubu is the one that has been indicted already in a certified court indictment,” adding, “He is the man that has faced the Code of Conduct before.”
On the pending court case filed by Keyamo when the security agencies ignored his 72-hours ultimatum, an Atiku personal aide, Phrank Shuaibu, said on Friday that he would not comment as doing so would amount to subjudice.
PDP Vs TINUBU
In a swift response to the mudslinging APC threw at its candidate, the PDP, fought back. Party’s National Publicity Secretary, Hon. Debo Ologunagba, stated that a recent revelation in the United States of America showed “Tinubu forfeited the sum of $460,000, which was confirmed and found to be proceeds of trafficking in narcotics; an international crime for which Nigeria, being a signatory to International Convention on Trafficking in Narcotic is obliged to enforce.” He said the effect of the conviction and forfeiture of the sum shows that Tinubu is ineligible and not qualified to contest for the Office of the President of Nigeria as required by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
Quoting from the Constitution, PDP said “Section 137 (1) (d) of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) provides that: (1) “A person shall not be qualified for election to the office of President if… (d) He is under a sentence of death imposed by any competent court of law or tribunal in Nigeria or a sentence of imprisonment or fine for any offence involving dishonesty or fraud (by whatever name called) or for any other offence, imposed on him by ANY COURT or tribunal or substituted by a competent authority for any other sentence imposed on him by such a court or tribunal.”
Similarly, a national newspaper had last year ran a story of allegation of corruption against Tinubu deposed by one Oladapo Apara, an accountant who claimed he co-founded Alpha Beta with the APC presidential candidate.
Apara, who had petitioned the EFCC to probe Tinubu, claimed that a firm in which the aspirant had 70 per cent controlling shares through cronies was used to collect taxes on behalf of the Lagos State Government which pays 10 percent commission to Tinubu. He alleged that between 2002 when Tinubu was still governor and 2018 when he had emerged the godfather of Southwest politics, the 10 percent commission had grown to $3.48 bn.
Tinubu has reportedly denied receiving any form of kick-back from the Lagos State Government, while Alpha Beta said it has terminated the appointment of Apara. Both Tinubu and Apara have since settled their dispute out of court with the latter now endorsing his presidential bid.
The APC candidate said he made his wealth from legitimate means, foremost of which were during his employment as Treasurer of Mobil, a transnational oil company, and as an auditor at Deloitte during which, he said, he earned $1.8 million in wages and allowances.
On the drug allegations in the US, spokesman Keyamo said dismissively that the forfeited funds were part of a civil forfeiture and not a criminal one.
On Thursday, however, a Tinubu protégé and organising secretary of the APC in Lagos State, Comrade Ayodele Adewale, stirred another round of controversy and pubic searchlight on Tinubu’s transparency when he told a national television that the bullion vans stashed with cash allegedly used for vote-buying and spotted at Tinubu’s Bourdillon Road, Lagos home in 2019, “missed their way to have come there.”
Adewale, who was a Chairman of Amuwo Odofin Local Government in the state, said; “On the bullion van or no bullion van and all of that, I think that matter has been put to rest. There was no money in the bullion van. The bullion vans that even came missed their way to have come there. I was in that house on that very day and it was not on an election day. The bullion vans missed their way to get there.”
His remarks has unsettled party leaders in the state considering that Tinubu had addressed the bullion van matter previously, saying the money was not for vote-buying but for his personal use. It has also ignited an earlier public scrutiny in the form of protesters in Abuja in July 2020, who called on the EFCC to detain him.
OBI’s TAX EVASION PROBLEM
The former two-term Governor of Anambra State, trader and businessman catapulted his candidacy into the top three spots in the presidential race on the back of the populist pan-Nigeria ‘Obidient Movement.’ He got mud stained after it came to public knowledge that he was among a group of global fat cats involved in money laundering, tax evasion and off-shore investments. An investigation by an international consortium of investigative journalists exposed how the rich hide their wealth to evade taxes in what has come to be known as the Pandora Papers.
The leak, which was published on October 3, 2021, exposed the secret offshore accounts of 35 world leaders, including current and former presidents, prime ministers, and heads of state as well as celebrities and the super rich, including Peter Obi.
The exposè showed that in 2010 when Obi was still governor of Anambra state, he set up an off-shore company in the British Virgin Islands, managed by his daughter and ran a foreign bank account for the purpose of avoiding tax payments. Though not illegal, the sharp practice has come under intense scrutiny with some countries now seeking to criminalise it.
The investigation showed that while still governor, Obi was still holding a position as director at a UK-registered company, Next International, and did not declare his interest. He however, resigned his position as director 14 months later into his tenure as governor.
Also, accused of a conflict of interest after investing $20m of state funds in a brewery he had interest in while still serving as governor, Obi initially denied ties to the company until he was challenged by a prominent journalist Kadara Ahmed with evidence in an interview. He however still denies allegations that he derived any personal benefit from the investments, disclosing that the investments have benefited Anambra over the years.
With the three leading candidates heading into what appears to be the country’s most unpredictable election in decades, the tempo of mudslinging is expected to increase as the candidates, their parties and their supporters intensify campaigns and advocacy.
(This report contains information from THEWILL excluding adjusted headline)