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Atiku's Running Mate: Amb. Aguiyi-Ironsi leads pack …Ekwueme to head Screening Committee …As money laundering charges unsettles Akitu's Camp, worries PDP

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There are indications that former Defense Minister, Thomas Aguiyi- Ironsi, leads the pack of those from the south east being shortlisted to be running mate to Atiku Abubakar, in the next presidential polls.

This is coming on the heels of ruffled feathers within the Atiku's camp, some parts of the northern establishment, and the PDP, as they struggle to come to terms with the alleged $40 million money laundering indictment of Atiku and his spouse, Jennifer Douglas (Iwenjora), by the United States authorities.

According to our source, even though the Atiku's camp has tried desperately to shift focus from this matter to the economy and perceived inept leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan, it has refused to go away.

Said the source” the issue is giving the party, the north and his camp some worry, the case is still there, now do we want a President who would not be able to visit the US, or who has an unresolved criminal indictment against him and his spouse?”

Ambassador Aguiyi- Ironsi is son of Nigeria's first Head of State, late Major General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, who was overthrown and assassinated during the 1966 upheaval. sources hinted that some of those who will likely make the list are Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, former Information minister, Emeka Chikelu, Ken Nnnamani, and Charles Soludo.

It was learnt that even though Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, in the spirit of the coalition with Atiku, is expected to nominate the running mate, the ultimate decision would be made by the south east.

According to a highly placed source, former Vice President, Alex Ekwueme will head the committee that would screen those shortlisted and come up with what the source called “ a level headed, focused, acceptable candidate who also has the capacity to step into Atiku's shoes come 2015” learnt that the committee is expected to reach a decision on who runs with Atiku , in a few weeks' time, just as groups loyal to some of those interested have intensified lobbying .

Thomas "Tom" Aguiyi-Ironsi is a former Minister of Defense of Nigeria. He was the Ambassador to Togo before former President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed him to succeed Roland Oritsejafor as Defence Minister. Ag uiyi-Ironsi is from Umuahia, Abia State.

While Aguiyi-Ironsi was ambassador to Togo, the choices to replace the outgoing Foreign Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, were reportedly narrowed down to him and Joy Ogwu. However, after Obasanjo fired Oritsejafor, Aguiyi-Ironsi received the job of Defence Minister while Ogwu became foreign minister. The two were sworn in on August 30, 2006.

Said the source “ at a meeting in September held at the Yar'Adua Center in Abuja, attended by leaders from the south east and the north, it was agreed that the south east would get the VP slot in 2011, and the top spot in 2015. As it stands, even though the Ralph Uwechue flank of the Ohaneze has thrown its weight behing President Jonathan, the other half will go with Atiku, because Jonathan has not considered us for 2011 or 2015. “

The source who took swipes at what he tagged “ temporal advantage “ by President Jonathan, said the President would eventually fail.

The FBI report which indicted Atiku and his fourth wife Jennifer Douglas said: “Of the $40 million in suspect funds, $25 million was wire transferred by offshore corporations into more than 30 U.S. bank accounts opened by Ms. Douglas, primarily by Guernsey Trust Company Nigeria Ltd., LetsGo Ltd. Inc., and Sima Holding Ltd. The U.S. banks maintaining those accounts were, at times, unaware of her PEP status, and they allowed multiple, large offshore wire transfers into her accounts.

“As each bank began to question the offshore wire transfers, Ms. Douglas indicated that all of the funds came from her husband and professed little familiarity with the offshore corporations actually sending her money. When one bank closed her account due to the offshore wire transfers, her lawyer helped convince other banks to provide a new account.

“In addition, two of the offshore corporations wire transferred about $14 million over five years to American University in Washington, D.C., to pay for consulting services related to the development of a Nigerian university founded by Mr. Abubakar. American University accepted the wire transfers without asking about the identity of the offshore corporations or the source of their funds, because under current law, the University had no legal obligation to inquire.”

Meanwhile, Atiku Media Office has denied all the allegations against the former Vice-President.It said the report contains allegations that have been recycled over the past few years by political opponents with the intention of damaging Atiku's reputation and truncating his political career.

It also said it is true that over the past eight years, the Abubakars have transferred some funds from their Blind Trust to pay for consulting services to the American University in Washington, DC, faculty and staff salaries of American University of Nigeria, Yola and for the upkeep of his family in the United States.

The Blind Trust was set up in 1999 to manage Abubakar's business interests in a bid to avoid any conflict of interest as a public officer, it said.

“The funds transferred are legitimate earnings of Abubakar from his shares in INTELS, a well known oil services company co-founded by the former Vice-President since the 1980s,” the statement said.


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