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Sadiq Umar

It was a conspiracy against the Local Government Councils, carefully plotted and brazenly executed. Another sordid story of systemic corruption that has characterized official sleaze in Nigeria. Much more so at a time when the President Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressive Congress (APC) led government is vainly relishing in the euphoria of a succeeding anti-corruption war.

At least, that was what it seems like when the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) suddenly constituted itself into a “consultant” in its desperate bid to steal from the recent “windfall” from the over-deductions from the Paris and London Clubs. The money was recently released by the federal government to states and local councils. The release was in response to court judgements compelling the Nigerian Government to refund the sum of $3.1 billion it over-deducted as payment to the Paris Club among other multilateral credit organizations.

Not only was a sum of N19.4billion pilfered from the “largesse” as consultancy fee by the Governors’ Forum, the sum of $86million was also funneled through a phony “legal fees” charges into the Forum’s bank account. But like the proverbial house that is built on quick sand, the whole plot has just crumbled, oozing out odious smell that may take some time to evaporate. Already, the anti-graft agencies are on the trail of the alleged slush fund.

The dramatist personae are running from Villa to National Assembly, seeking a way out of the impending trouble. President of the Nigerian Senate Bukola Saraki, who was allegedly contacted to help intervene is now being probed over the sum of N3billion allegedly shared to him. Aliko Dangote whose intervention was allegedly sought to help prevail on “those in authority” to close their eyes to the offences is said to have rejected an offer N3billion, but may also be quizzed. Governor’s Forum chairman, Abdulaziz Abubakar Yari, the man at the centre of the whole plot allegedly got $3billion from the largesse.

To “democratised” the sharing, a governor from the south east was said to have received $billion from the “loot.” Investigations also show that about $6billion of the amount was allegedly spent on the last Governorship election in Ondo state “to secure the victory for APC.” The story is just unfolding, both the anti-corruption agencies and indeed President Buhari co-travellers in the anti-corruption drive are said to be bewildered at the turn of event. The concern is that the story may well turn out to be the biggest challenge to the anti-corruption stance of the administration, particularly because of the interplay of interest involved. What is not clear is whether the entire membership of the NGF was in the know of the fraud. But the desperate players in the obscene act are now struggling to cover their tracks.

Both Attorney General and minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami and acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu are under intense pressure to back off from further probe of the case. On Tuesday February 14, Zamfara state Governor, Abdulaziz Yari who is the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, met with Acting President Yemi Osinbajo alongside his Imo counterpart, Rochas Okorocha. Also in attendance was Mr. Magu and Mr. Malami.

The sole agenda of the meeting was to get Mr. Osinbajo to help prevail on Mr. Magu to drop the on-going inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the arbitrary payment and receipt of US$86,546,526.65 and N19,439,225,871.11 as “consultants’ fees” and “legal fees” respectively into the Forum’s account.
The outcome of the unusual meeting could not be ascertained, the acting President was believed to have been adequately briefed on the matter, especially, the implications of the revelations to the image of the Buhari government.

Available documents on what transpired suggest official complicity. Our investigations reveal that on November 21, 2016, Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, authorized the release of a sum of $18billion to the Forum via a “Mandate for Payment” to the Governor of Central Bank, Mr. Godwin Emefiele. The letter, with reference: HMF/FMF/CBN/PCO/2016/51, titled, “Re: Paris Club Over Deductions -Mandate for Payment” conveyed the approval of “His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari with reference HMF/FMF/PRE/OB-ODFLO/2016/1 for the refund of over deductions of Paris Club and London Club loans.”

The money was payed into the Guarantee Bank Account number 0023577047 with sort code 058083215 belonging to Nigerian Governors Forum as “consultants fees. Further investigation by News Investigators shows that another approval was made by Mrs Adeosun in another letter with reference no. HMF/FMF/CBN/PARIS/4/2016, dated December 7, 2016. Paragraph 3 of the letter read: “You are also kindly requested to effect payment of the sum of N19,439,225,871.11 (Nineteen Billion, Four Hundred and Thirty-Nine Mllion, Two Hundred and Twenty-Five Thousand, Eight Hundred and Seventy-One Naira, Eleven Kobo), representing legal fee charges, to the account of the Nigeria Governor’s Forum (NGF) as detailed in the attached Annexture 2.”

The letter suggested that the releases required the urgent attention of CBN governor. Earlier on June 22, 2016, Governor Yari had written to the Accountant-General of the Federation requesting for the payments of the money to the Forum’s accounts. What is however curious, is the allusion to President Buhari’s approval of the dubious payment, when in fact the whole transaction was nothing but a fraud concealed to steal from the refund. At the moment, there are moves to obscure the truth about the monumental looting.

Meanwhile, the biggest syndicate in the whole corruption drama was the alleged involvement of Nasir El-Rufai, Governor of Kaduna state of Nigeria’s north central, who last year allegedly brought in one Jimi Lawal, his longtime business associate that has himself been fingered in messy deals in the past, especially during El-Rufai’s tenure as minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Mr. Lawal’s company, it was further gathered, was introduced into the scene as consultant, perhaps as a conduit to legitimize the “consultancy claims”.

Our finding shows, however, that the legal battles that gave judgement to the Nigerian states on the refund was long concluded before Mr. Lawal’s purported entrants into the Paris Club refund litigation. “In fact, what was remaining was the payment the court had affirmed in its judgements,” a source told News Investigators. As it is now, the struggle to obscure the fraud in on.

The Attorney-General is said to be in a dilemma, having been told to mellow down, yet he seems unconvinced and he is now waiting for President Buhari’s return to take a firm position. Efforts to speak with Mr. Yari on the matter proved abortive. Also, calls to the spokesman of the Governors’ Forum, Mr. Barkindo were not picked. Whether Buhari would look the other way as the acting President is being seen to be doing, only time will tell.

Source: The Investigators

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