How the Nigeria High Commission in Malaysia Defrauded its Citizens: EFCC Attention Please!

By Mr Olawepo John

Sometimes on January 19, 2010, two Nigerians, Luqman Abdul Salam and Abdulalhi Bolajoko Uthman were arrested and detained for alleged involvement in terrorist acts. These Nigerians, whose innocence is presumed as they were neither tried in any competent court nor pronounced guilty for the alleged offence, were subsequently deported to Nigeria sometimes in March, 2010.

Before their deportations were effected, series of meetings were held between the Malaysian government and their Nigerian counterpart that was ably represented by some staff of the Nigeria High Commission in Malaysia.

Simultaneously, other meetings were also held with the families of the detainees. As findings revealed, some of these meetings involved the representatives of Nigerians in Diaspora Organization, Malaysia (NIDOMY).

When it had dawned that Luqman and Abdulalhi will be deported, subsequent deliberations were to focus on how to obtain flight tickets for the detainees and their families and how to get them safe landing on arrival in Nigeria. This was after the Malaysian government had realized that the alleged case of terrorism could not be substantiated, hence, the need to use some other avenues to dispose of the case as earlier as possible. That was a wise decision as the initial global publicity which the arrest had earlier gathered was turning against the Malaysian government as emergent facts were exposing the arrest as one of such that was based on false claims.

Of note and importance to the objective at hand, was the meeting which held on March 8, 2010 at the premises of the Nigeria High Commission in Malaysia. In attendance were the wives of Luqman and Abdulalhi, a friend and relative whose identities could not be authenticated. Also, in attendance were some NIDOMY officials. Matters related to the imminent deportation of Luqman and Abdulalhi were raised. In this particular meeting, the families were reliably informed by the Nigeria High Commissioner that the Nigerian Government will take up the responsibility of their ticketing expenses as well as those of their husbands. The said amount was around 14815 American Dollars. The provision for the family members' tickets was as reportedly argued by the High Commissioner; on the ground that since they were on dependent-visas, then, the latter's deportation automatically qualifies them for immediate extradition as well. The events which culminated into this was after a series of deliberation and exchanges of correspondence were transacted between the High Commission and the Nigeria Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

On March 10, 2010, it was authoritatively learnt that the Nigeria High Commission Malaysia received from the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, approval for the issuance of the flight tickets. As earlier promised, the approval covered the detainees and their nuclear family members with whom they were legally residing in Malaysia. It was in this meeting that Chief Peter J.E. Anegbeh, the Nigerian Higher Commissioner to Malaysia, cleared the air that the detainees were not on the Nigeria list of wanted persons as rumoured by the Malaysian government. When the news of this development filtered into the knowing of the Nigerian populace in Malaysia, they were full of praises for the Commission whose image has nosedived before this unfortunate development.

The much expected deportation which took place some days afterward, commenced with Luqman Abdul Salam, who, was deported to Nigeria on March 13, 2010. Abdulalhi Bolajoko Uthman's own was effected the following day, that is, on March 14, 2010. Respectively, both arrived Nigeria on March 14, and 15, 2010.

Based on the purported ticketing arrangement by the High Commission, the wives and children were expected to join the deportees some days later. Two weeks afterward, this could not take place. People started to wonder what could have gone wrong with the High Commission's arrangement. Were they playing games? people begun to wonder. As there was no positive news from the High Commission, people started suspecting a foul play. However, no genuine effort could be made to challenge the concerned authorities as nearly everybody was either afraid of being tagged agent provocateur or being named as one of the wanted persons.

After a month had also gone without the purported ticketing arrangement being honoured, it was then that it dawned on people and the families of the deportees that the Commission has abandoned the affected people to sort out themselves.

Following this depressing development, people started making spirited effort to source for alternative means through which the flight expenses could be taken care of. Much could not be raised from the immediate Nigerian community in Malaysia. As findings reveal, this was mainly due to the fear that anybody could be arrested without trial based on the Malaysian Internal Security Act, ISA, on whose ground those guys were arrested, detained and deported.

As the hope of raising fund to secure the flight tickets was fading day-after-day, one Malaysian citizen who was not in the scheme of things volunteered to secure the travelling tickets for Luqman's family. The man who was reported to have soft for Luqman as a trustworthy fellow and unique Nigerian was among the Malaysian citizens who felt unhappy that their government was merely prosecuting Luqman based on cooked allegations.

This developed spurred some sections of the Nigerian community who had been following the case since the arrest was effected to intensify efforts in soliciting fund needed to defray the flight bills of Abdulalhi's family members. After networking with some individuals in Nigeria, a non-governmental organization took up the challenge, so, Abdulalhi's family members were able to make it back home.

With the circumstances that surrounded how the flight expenses were taken care of, some curious minded members of the Nigerian diasporic community in Malaysia who earlier had been raising the theory of a possible foul play summoned the courage to investigate what had happened to the money that was released by the Nigerian government. In the bid to do this, they reached out to those from who first-hand information could be sourced. A lead which raised weighty doubt on the initial claim that it was the Nigeria High Commission that took care of Luqman and Abdulalhi's flight expenses, was in the process of the investigative effort stumbled upon. This was to become a curtain raiser which led to the eventual revelation on how the money was diverted and shared among some top ranking officers within the Commission.

After a brainstorming section in which they pieced together available fact at their disposal, the investigative team made further contacts which enabled them authenticate the identity of those who paid for Luqman and Abdulalhi's flight expenses.

As was realised, it turned out to be a bogus claim, the Nigeria High Commission's declaration that they were responsible for Luqman and Abdulalhi's flight expenses to Nigeria. The Commission that claimed to have obtained the tickets was not even aware of the day and time Luqman and Abdulalhi were to be deported. The High Commission got to know of these details some few hours when the guys were to be taken to the airport. It was after this information got to their knowing that the Commission sent a delegation to receive these guys at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport where their flights were scheduled to take off.

When asked by the deportees why the Commission representatives had merely joined them at the airport, the delegation exposed itself by replying that it was not quite long that they knew of the day and date of their deportation. The simple question to be asked, is, had the Commission procured the tickets as claimed wouldn't the take off time and date be boldly written on the tickets? May be, it was not written on the tickets they bought. Even, on arrival in Nigeria, the deportees had a little delay with the immigration who also alleged that the time of their deportation was not communicated to them.

Without wanting to make any assumption that may jeopardise the effort of the investigative team, categorical questions were asked from the appropriate persons, if the officials of the Malaysian government uttered any categorical statement on who paid for the ticketing expenses. The response was in the affirmative, hence, making it to be established beyond any reasonable doubt, the fact that this was taken up by the Malaysian government. So, it was at this point that it became a stark reality that the approved and released fund had been siphoned.

Since the approval issued by the Nigerian government covered the family of the detainees, then, as it was with the ticketing expenses of Luqman and Abdulalhi which was embezzled, same was the case with their family's approved and released flight expenses.

Still not satisfied with the outcome of the investigation, attempt was made to unearth how the embezzlement card was played and who plaid what role.

Further investigation revealed that while the approval of the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was being expected, it was well known by Chief Peter J.E. Anegbeh, the Nigeria High Commissioner to Malaysia and members of his Commission's kitchen clique that, a similar arrangement was being put up by the Malaysian government. This was neither communicated to the stakeholders with whom the case was being prosecuted nor the Nigerian government which was processing the request forwarded to it by the Commission.

So, when the approved money was released by the Nigerian government for the ticketing expenses of the entire family members, the delay tactics approach was used by the conspiring officers to get their ulterior aim achieved. It was learnt that signals that things will work in their favour manifested when the Malaysian government provided for Luqman and Abdulalhi's tickets. Also, it was expected that those of the families would also be provided for by the Malaysian government as it was their calculation that they would be deported with their husbands. This was their expectation, but, things never turned out as prospected.

While the Commission's expectation of the official deportation of the families lasts, some concerned individuals who felt there was no need for the families of Luqman and Abdulalhi to stay back in Malaysia without their husbands took up the initiative to take care of their flight expenses. With this, things worked out in favour of the officials who were involved in the plot to siphon the money that was meant to procure the travelling tickets for the affected persons.

Another factor which made it easy for the plot to be successfully hatched was that the arrest, detention and deportation of these guys was overshadowed by the tension which late Yar'Adua's health generated. So, it was part of the embezzlement game plan that in so far some stakeholders in the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs are carried along, the moribund state of affairs will make it difficult to get such fraud detected.

On this note, well meaning Nigerians' intervention is being solicited to get the EFCC to launch an immediate investigation into this case of abuse of public trust being perpetrated by the staff of the Nigeria High Commission in Malaysia. The leadership of Jonathan is taken to task on this matter as failure to act on time will send negative signals to the genuineness of his government's much professed zero-tolerance for sleaze.

Mr Olawepo John, researchers can be reached through [email protected]