There is increased pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari to probe one of his key allies, Kebbi State Governor, Atiku Bagudu; a PDP chieftain and former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi and all Nigerians fingered in the Pandora Papers, the latest leaks of financial documents in the world.
Pandora Papers released this week have exposed the secret wealth and dealings of world leaders, politicians and billionaires including influential Nigerians.
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Aside from Bagudu and Obi, a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, serving and former lawmakers, a pastor and many other high-profile citizens have been mentioned in money laundering cases, flouting “extant laws and legislations” as they hide their assets in the notorious secrecy jurisdictions.
With the latest leaks, civil society groups and other critical stakeholders in the country are calling on President Buhari to direct relevant agencies to probe all those mentioned in line with his administration’s stance on corruption.
The investigation is part of the global International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)-led Pandora Papers project.
The project saw 600 journalists from 150 news organisations around the world including from Nigeria’s Premium Times sieving a trove of 11.9 million confidential files, contextualising information, tracking down sources and analysing public records and other documents.
Bagudu in the storm
Governor Bagudu, who chairs the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF), is currently in the eye of the storm over the controversial wealth he allegedly got through late General Sani Abacha, a former Head of State.
There have been reports on how Bagudu used phoney companies to siphon and move funds allegedly stolen by Abacha but the governor has denied the stories.
In the latest leaks, Bagudu was said to have dispatched a delegation to Singapore in search of a new haven to shelter funds, which is a target of ongoing forfeiture proceedings by the United States Department of Justice.
It was reported that huge funds, warehoused offshore, are part of billions of dollars Bagudu helped the Sani Abacha family to steal from Nigeria in the 1990s. His brother, Ibrahim was also fingered in scandal. At the moment, Bagudu is one of the three governors close to the presidency.
Because of his closeness to the presidency and the chairman of the APC National Caretaker Committee, Mai Mala Buni, Bagudu is playing a key role in the politicking for the emergence of the next national chairman of the ruling party and who picks the presidential ticket of the party.
The Kebbi governor has not responded to calls and a text message by one of our reporters.
However, in a written response to Premium Times, Bagudu’s lawyers said the governor used legal processes in all his dealings.
Obi, ‘Mr good governance’, in corruption scandal
According to the leaks, former Governor Obi allegedly contracted Acces International, a secrecy enabler in Monaco, France, to help him incorporate an offshore entity in one of the world’s most notorious tax havens noted for providing conduits for the wealthy and privileged corrupt political elites to hide stolen cash.
The former governor, who served as running mate to PDP presidential candidate in the 2015 general elections, Atiku Abubakar, also allegedly paid Acces International to provide nominee directors for the company.
These directors are residents of tax havens paid to sit on boards of companies to hide the identities of real owners of offshore firms, the report perused by the Premium Times, showed.
Acces International officials, who reportedly took briefs from Obi and or his representatives, headed to the British Virgin Island where they contracted a local registered agent – Aleman Cordero Galindo & Lee Trust (BVI) Limited (Alcogal) – to set up Gabriella Investments Limited for the former governor.
When contacted, the former governor told the Premium Times that he was unaware that the law expected him to declare assets or companies he jointly owned with his family members or anyone else.
“I don’t declare what is owned with others. If my family owns something I won’t declare it. I didn’t declare anything I jointly owned with anyone,” Obi said.
‘Use lead, go after them’
The Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and Head of Transparency International (TI) Nigeria, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, told Daily Trust that the naming of some Nigerians on the Pandora leaks was disturbing.
“The failure of the government to investigate and prosecute issues raised in the Panama Papers has emboldened these individuals. There is a need for the government to investigate these discoveries irrespective of the political affiliation of the individuals.
“Our expectations and next steps on this matter are that the government empowers the Code of Conduct Bureau with staff and resources to properly carry out investigations on asset declarations.
“Multinational companies, lawyers and accountants who enable individuals to launder money should also be fined and sanctioned to deter others,” Rafsanjani, who is also the Chairman, Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), said.
He posited that the nation’s anti-graft agencies should coordinate with their counterparts in other countries and exchange information to enable proper prosecution of these cases.
Also speaking, the Executive Director, Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa (PAACA), Ezenwa Nwagwu, a lawyer, told Daily Trust that the Pandora and previous leaks confirm what Nigerians and others already knew that the ruling class was a huge drain on the nation’s common patrimony, as they abused public trust for private gain without consequence.
“Sadly, we are likely going to see this same government blow some hot air as those before it did, since it is obvious, they read from the same textbook, even if they take action which does not go beyond a court action.
“Our Judiciary and a section of the media are good comfort for the corruption,” he said.
In his social media post, Barrister Audu Bulama Bukarti urged President Buhari to constitute a special probe panel.
The post reads: “How Governor Bagudu hid his portion of the Abacha loot exposed by the #PandoraPapers.
“If Buhari were ever serious about fighting corruption, he would institute a special panel on the #PandoraPapers. Peter was exposed yesterday. Today, Badugu. More coming.”
Reach out to EFCC, justice ministry – Presidency
When contacted to comment on the Pandora Papers and what they planned to do, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said, “Before you come to the Presidency, I will advise you go to the EFCC and the ministry of justice because they are responsible.
“Let them advise and let us know what they are saying.”
The law should take its course – APC
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) said whoever was found guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction for stealing the nation’s money should not be spared.
The party said those found guilty on the issue of Pandora papers should be sanctioned in line with the provisions of the law.
The Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Yekini Nabena, told Daily Trust in a telephone chat yesterday that no one found guilty of corruption including APC members should be spared.
Efforts to get the reaction of the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Kola Ologbondiyan, were not successful.
As of the time of filing this report, Ologbondiyan did not reply to text messages sent to his mobile number.
ICPC, CCB study leaks, EFCC silent
The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) said the leaks were being studied.
Spokesperson for the commission, Azuka Ogugua, said in a text message, “ICPC is the secretariat for the Inter-Agency Committee on Stopping Illicit Financial Flows from Nigeria. As a commission and as a committee, we are studying the report and our findings will determine our reaction.”
Contacted to find out what the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) intends to do, the commission’s spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, did not respond to Daily Trust’s enquiry.
But sources at the anti-graft agency disclosed that the commission would have to wait for the Presidency’s directives on the issue before taking any step.
A senior official of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak, said the bureau was still studying the paper.
“We are yet to understand the proposal what it is. Of course, if anything is found, we will act. There is no time limitation on criminal offences,” he said.