FIFTEEN MILLION DOLLAR MYSTERY: MANIFEST OF NIGERIA'S ROT
Nigeria makes world record again, and, again, in an ignoble way. The bizarre drama over the 15 million dollars sitting in Nigeria’s Central Bank vault is just an unbearable suspense for the tired people of Nigeria to endure. How can? How can we not know who has the money? Was it not Ribadu that said it was bribe money, paid to him by a known individual? If so, there ought not to be any doubt where the money came from, unless we agree that Ribadu lied. So, how come that Nigerian elite play this off-the-wall game of the-more-you-look-the-less-you-see on their own people? Since about five years ago, Nuhu Ribadu never spoke with any doubt about the 15 million dollars. According to him, James Ibori gave it to him, as bribe to stop the EFCC investigations against Ibori. Ribadu gave several press interviews to local and international press on the matter. He made himself a hero by repeating that claim over and over. Of course, any Nigeria police officer who could turn down 15 million dollar bribe that he could have taken without detection must be a man from the moon. There could be no credential better than that in an aspiration for the position of the President of Nigeria. But if Ribadu was right, even nearly right, there should not be a doubt as to the ownership of the money. The money should have been returned to Delta State without any need for a court intervention, except for the period it would have been held as evidence of crime. I mean the money should have been handed over to Delta State immediately Ibori left office as Governor. And if there was to have been any legal uncertainty over the matter, it should have been over whether the money was ever that of Ibori personally and, if so, whether the state could confiscate it rather than return it to him. We are not supposed to be entertaining any doubts over the ownership of the money at this time.
Note that from a constitutional law point of view, there is no legal basis for the Federal Government of Nigeria to seize the money belonging to a State Government. Recall the Supreme Court position on the case between the Federal Government and Lagos State Government. Abuja cannot seize the money belonging to Delta. And now an avenue has been opened for all manner of doubts. For there to be any serious doubt as to the ownership of the money, Nuhu Ribadu is being rubbished as a liar and worse. And it is probably correct to think he is, at this point. But it is not just Ribadu that is damaged. His then deputy, and now the man at the helm of affairs at the EFCC, Ibrahim Lamorde, is equally completely tarnished. He was the one, after all, who carried the money from one point to another in the now unlawful chain of custody. And there is no gainsaying that the entire EFCC is equally rubbished. Ribadu did and said most of what he did and said about this money in his capacity of or in relation to his work as the boss of the EFCC, and in the context of fighting corruption. With that, therefore, goes in smoke the entire experiment called the EFCC and its war against corruption, because as is evident here, the EFCC appears to have perpetrated the biggest fraud on the Nigerian nation, and nearly got away with it.
To summarize the recent development: Delta State Government found itself in an extremely dangerous and embarrassing situation. It came forth to ask to have back the money. In so doing, it is admitting that its former governor committed a crime of trying to use state funds to bribe a federal government official. No state government wants to make this admission unless there is a quarrel between the incumbent Governor and his predecessor, which is not the case with Delta. It is a humiliating position for a state government to be in. That would take away any pretension that James Ibori was a good Governor or that he served the people of Delta well. Also, it would directly contradict Ibori’s sworn affidavit denial that he gave bribe to Ribadu to save his neck. The only way to save face for Delta was to argue that the money was from Ibori but for a different purpose than bribery. But what purpose, then, if not bribe?
Any independent observer must call this whole sordid thing the ultimate shame of the nation. How come that we cannot answer simple questions even when every element is in our favor? Fifteen million dollars ought not to be a small amount to obtain, possess, and move around. What bank account housed the money before it was obtained? Now that Delta State wants that money and is eager to prove that the money belongs to it, how come it remains difficult to identify the banking transactions surrounding that money? Any country that cannot solve this simple puzzle is not worthy to be a member of the international community of states. It should be just a colony to be administered by other states.
Also, there has been the not surprising high drama from a man know as Chibuike Achigbu who now says that it was his money, his contribution to the party, that was given to Ribadu to “wash” before it would reach the hands of the intended PDP beneficiary. Before dismissing this man, one must pause and begin to unravel the magnitude of the danger at hand. First, how is it that in a country of many poor people, a country of absolute lack of amenities in our hospitals, our schools, etc, people would play with 15 million dollars in such an unprecedented and cavalier attitude? This is real money for goodness sake. This is money that could change things and improve the lives of the Nigerian people wherever you put it in the legitimate public expenditure. These men must have been messing around with much larger amounts that some feel they could abandon this one.
The impunity is staggering. It is conceivable that the allure of owning 15 million is strong enough for anybody to step forward and claim any such abandoned amount. But it is a different thing when a supposedly successful businessman opens himself up to scrutiny in a futile attempt to obtain the abandoned money. How come Achigbu was able to contribute that much to PDP? How many other people in his position have been similarly contributing to the PDP. Is this how the Nigerian businessmen make money? Has the PDP been raising funds by laundering money through various businessmen? Does that explain the fuel subsidy scam? Was it that PDP actually conspired with some oil marketers to steal money in form of fuel subsidy and then turn around and contribute a chunk of that to PDP? Is that why the Government would never be able to prosecute any alleged fuel subsidy thief, because they would point to the PDP as the ultimate culprit?
Central to the new round of drama is the revealed involvement of Chief Andy Uba. In fact, Senator Uba has made a statement, which now makes it impossible to dismiss any of the other theories as baseless. The Senator was quoted by Elombah.com as saying: “When I was in the Presidency, my house in the Villa was a convenient place for many top people in Nigeria to come. Probably, Chief Ibori didn’t want to go to the EFCC office to hand over the money and so decided to use my house. All I know about this matter is that Chief James Ibori brought some money to the then EFCC chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu. The details of the transaction were undisclosed to me at the time. The money was handed to Mallam Nuhu Ribadu who invited his then Director of Operations, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, to fetch it.”
This is shocking revelation at best, but more realistically, it is an admission of crime. There is something interesting about Senator Uba’s admission. As for the story of Ibori’s possible involvement in bribing Ribadu, Ibori is already in jail and he could be forgotten for now. But what about Uba? What the Senator said is a sufficient basis for him, Ribadu and Lamorde to be arrested and prosecuted for taking bribe and for conspiracy and aiding of bribe. But how come Uba felt safe and free to make these admissions?
The answer to the above question lies in one premise. And that is; Nigeria is too corrupt to fight corruption and Nigerian officials; particularly the anti-corruption agencies are the main purveyors of corruption. It is either that the money was never a bribe, or if it was, Ribadu must have accepted it in the presence of a witness (Senator Uba) and aided by Lamorde. But if it was not a bribe, what was it? If it was payment to PDP or, according to another theory, a contribution to Obasanjo’s third term, then why were Ribadu and the EFCC in the center of it? Or is it correct that Ribadu and the EFCC were nothing really other than an instrument in the hand of President Obsanjo to exercise dictatorial or autocratic powers under the guise of a civilian regime? How did Ribadu and the EFCC come to be the vehicle through which money was to ever be passed on to the PDP or Obasanjo for any purpose?
Before you dismiss the notion that Ibori gave the money to Ribadu on behalf of Obasanjo’s third term, consider the fact that the same Ibori was said to have largely financed Yar’Adua’s presidential campaign. How did he do that, if there was not a well-established process of raw cash exchanging hands? Ibori did not sign a check to Yar’Adua. So, how did he execute the financing of the latter’s campaign? Obviously through such meetings in the house of Senator Uba. To understand why and how Ribadu and the EFCC could have become a conduit, consider that Obasanjo was using the EFCC to blackmail Ibori and the payment was Ibori’s attempt to settle with Obasanjo. A logical way to effect such payment would be to pay directly to the head of the agency used to blackmail him, but in the presence of Obasanjo confidant to verify that the payment occurred. (Paying the money to Ribadu in the presence of Andy Uba was just like paying it to Ribadu in the presence of Obasanjo).
Why did Ribadu turn around and claim that the money was bribe? Again, the logic would be that Obasanjo rejected Ibori’s contribution, as not being enough or that there was more mileage to gain in making an example of Ibori and edging him out of the system for threatening Obasanjo in more insidious manna – by allegedly sponsoring militants in the Niger Delta. And Ribadu felt there was more mileage in using the situation to make himself a national hero and shore-up his ambition for the ultimate office.
Whichever way we head in this inquiry, the story of this wicked 15 million dollars is bringing out the truth about the nature of the EFCC to the open. EFCC is the biggest fraud ever in the history of Nigeria. It is a much greater fraud than the oil subsidy scandal. What happened in 1999 with the second coming of Obasanjo was clear. A past head of a junta, with a mind cast firmly in dictatorial traditions, returned to power in Nigeria. His obsession was to control all apparatuses of politics and the opposition elements, even from within his own party. That dictator also understood the mentality of the international community toward Nigeria. Corruption and international money laundering were the main worries of the international community about Nigeria. The dictator conceived in the EFCC a golden bullet to shoot at the twin monsters. The EFCC gave the world an impression of Nigeria’s seriousness about combating corruption. Yet, it was, in the hands of the dictator, a modern witch-hunt to track and decimate opposition elements and control dissent.
The EFCC was never interested in fighting corruption. The evidence of this assertion is too obvious to need any details. Under its watch, there was the Siemens’s scandal, which went unpunished. Under its watch there was the Halliburton/KBR/NLNG scandal, which went unpunished in Nigeria even though there were convictions in America. Under its watch, there was the Daimler Benz scandal, which went unpunished in Nigeria despite the fact that prosecutions and fines occurred in America on the same scandal. Under its watch, there was the Obasanjo’s third-term money laundering scandal, which went without any investigation or prosecution despite confessions. Under the EFCC’s watch, the Nigerian stock market was abused into submission and nothing happened. Under the EFCC’s watch the fuel subsidy scam was conceived, formulated and perfected, and nothing happened. In fact, the EFCC was never to fight corruption. That was the work of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC). The EFCC was to fight specified economic crimes, particularly money laundering. But what happened? The EFCC jumped into corruption arena because that was were its targets (political opponents of the President) would be caught and where bribe would come from politicians to enrich the officers of the EFCC and even the PDP coffers. What a perfection of a system of fraud!
And what does this stranded 15 million dollars tell us about Nuhu Ribadu? I hate to admit it. But it simply tells us that Ribadu is a crooked and corrupt police officer who robbed the country and lied to the people. His claims to heroism are a pure farce. The so-called 15 million dollars bribe he rejected is nothing really other than an opportunistic exploitation of mass euphoria calculated to position himself as future President of Nigeria. His silence in the past two weeks over this mysterious 15 million supports this view of him. But the danger and harm posed by Ribadu go far beyond 15 million dollars. If he lied about this money, then nothing he ever said could be taken at its face value. To accuse a person of giving bribe is such a serious offense. It requires clear and specific factual premise. You must not have a doubt about the person that gave the bribe. You must not have a doubt as to the purpose for which the bribe was given. So, how come there is so much ado about the ownership of the same 15 million dollars Ribadu told the world was bribe given to him by Ibori? Indeed, Ribadu never bothered to tell the nation that the money was not brought to his office. He went to the house of a mutual friend of him and Ibori to receive the money, and called his deputy to come and take it to his office. What an impunity!
The doubts remain. Who gave the money? What was the purpose for which the money was given? To whom was the money given – To Ribadu or to Lamorde, for themselves or for another? What was the involvement of Senator Uba, if not because Obasanjo had interest in the money and needed his right hand man on the spot to confirm and witness the payment? Why was it necessary for his house to be the delivery point? If Ibori meant to give the bribe to Ribadu, why did he not go to Rinadu’s office or house to deliver it? Why would anyone who wanted to bribe somebody, chose to do it in the presence of a third party? Who needs a witness to him giving bribe? What the hell went on in that rotten place? And what the hell is going on now? Nigerians need to know.
Written By Emeka Ugwuonye, Esquire.