One of the first things the Muhammadu Buhari regime did was to give the curious instruction that banks should not accept deposits in foreign currencies. I found it curious at that time but it would seem the move was driven by a whistle that had not become as popular as the current concept where everyone virtually carries one. The instruction was later rescinded or relaxed but it would seem that people who had such funds saw the handwriting on the wall and promptly stayed away from banks. Banks would have blown the whistle on them had they shown up with such humongous deposits. Houses and forests, graveyards, as Information Minister, Mr. Lai Mohammed, said the other day, became the unsolicited abode of those funds. Government might have become hard-pressed to get the funds, which may be why it introduced the whistle-blowing policy. The unfolding revelations have been unprecedented, although the curious twist lies in the fact that the monies being discovered have almost all become orphans. No one seems to be claiming to be the owner, except, perhaps, the sting operations that unearthed tons of hard currency in the abode of some judges, some of whom have been let off the hook by courts. There have been no less than five cases of funds found in private residences, some of which the owners are in court battles to recover, just as those found in public places have been abandoned by their owners as orphans. At the Kaduna airport, a huge sum of money was curiously abandoned by those who ferried it there. At Legico Plaza in lagos, a hefty sum was also found, abandoned. Such reports also came from Abuja and Lagos airports. But the latest one, which almost passed off as abandoned, is the humongous amount found at a flat in Ikoyi, $43.4 million, £27,800 and N23.2 million were abandoned in the flat. I really felt for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) operatives who must have spent hours counting money that would not find its way to their pockets, but would rather enrich a certain whistle-blower that would never be known.
The embarrassing discovery of cash in hard currency must have lowered Nigeria’s rating and paraded it as a laughing stock in the comity of nations. Some high court judges, a former managing director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and other unidentified people have turned their houses into banks. The Ikoyi cash saga has several twists to it. Many of those are in the public domain. Attempts by political opponents to settle scores quickly followed the discovery. Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, literally shouted himself hoarse in denial when his former friend-turned-political rival, Nyesom Wike, renewed their unfinished political battle, alleging that the stash was part of the money Amaechi took from the coffers of Rivers State government when he held sway as governor. Amaechi has since denied that he owned the funds. Vague attempts were made to link former President Goodluck Jonathan but it met a dead end when the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) said it owned the money. But it came late, given that Justice Musliu Hassan had granted the motion by the EFCC that the money should be forfeited to the Federal Government until the rightful owner showed evidence. The matter will be argued on May 4, 2017, which implies that the NIA has to get its legal team to convince the judge.
The Central Bank of Nigeria has put a rather confounding spin to the saga. For me, the declaration by the apex bank that it has no record of such funds being released from its coffers brought a ridiculous twist to the already ugly story. If, as the NIA says, the money was approved by the former President for covert operations, did the funds come from the mint directly? Do foreign currencies meant for government use circumvent the apex bank? Investigations into the fund is bound to unearth cockroaches hiding in some cupboards. The matter is like the drops of water from the lose portion of a thatched roof; it comes in droplets and yet fills the whole room. The move by the NIA has leakages but we have no power to adjudicate. Such questions arise as to why President Buhari is not in the know of the funds and its purpose, since he is the President and Commander-in-Chief and the buck stops at his table
I was at this point on this piece when the cheery news came that Buhari had suspended the Director-General of the NIA and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). He set up a three-man panel, headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbanjo, to look into the infractions leading to the abandonment of the fund and the alleged crime by the SGF on contract awards in the North East. He gave the team 14 days to come up with results of the investigation. All those loose ends will now be tied up, given that Osinbanjo, who came into office with credibility as his biggest credential, would not fritter it away on this matter. As a senior advocate, his legal training will help in getting to the root of the matter. On the matter of SGF, there seem to be an irony. The government had earlier, in accordance with the advice of the Attorney-General of the Federation, declared that the SGF did nothing wrong. What has the President seen to make him order a second look at the matter? To further compound it, the Attorney-General is on the Osinbajo panel investigating the matter, which is why it would be unlikely that he would go against his previous stance. Maybe new facts have emerged. The point must be made that the President has taken a step in the right direction. Those suspended have not been judged but they must step aside in order not to use their office to impede investigation. It would seem that the sleeping lion in President Buhari has woken up.
N.B. : This piece should have been published last week.