Four days after SaharaReporters revealed that agents of the Department of State Security (DSS) assigned to Senate President Bukola Saraki had stolen N310 million from funds an operator of a bureau de change was transporting to the senator, a DSS source has told our correspondent that the heist was led by Abdulrasheed Hamidu Maigari and George Mwatapwa Ibbi, two top members of the senator’s security detail. Mr. Hamidu became part of the senator’s security detail shortly after Mr. Saraki was elected President of the Senate.
“He [Mr. Hamidu] was the one who organized other participants in the robbery, including the soldiers,” the source said. In addition to the DSS agents, seven soldiers also took part in the operation. SaharaReporters had exclusively disclosed that the agents and soldiers ambushed the owner of a bureau de change and forced him to hand over N310m out of the funds he was going to deliver to Mr. Saraki.
Mr. Hamidu, who hails from Dungo local government area in Taraba State, is a younger brother to Uba Maigari Hamidu, the deputy governor of Taraba State during former Governor Jolly Nyame’s administration.
The high-profile robbery took place on November 20, 2015, but both the DSS and Mr. Saraki worked in tandem to conceal the identity of the robbery suspects in order to spare the embattled senator from further public embarrassment. After SaharaReporters broke the news, Mr. Saraki’s media team quickly reached major newspapers and bloggers in Nigeria to ensure that the senator’s involvement in the scandal was concealed.
In addition to the political cost to Mr. Saraki, the revelation that the stolen cash belonged to him bolstered reports about Mr. Saraki’s penchant for bribing judges in order to scuttle his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
SaharaReporters had recently revealed that Mr. Saraki had pressured officials at the Central Bank of Nigeria to pay him and another senator a sizeable hush amount after the two senators stumbled on information that former President Goodluck Jonathan and former National Security Adviser (NSA), Colonel Sambo Dasuki (ret.), had made numerous illicit withdrawals of funds at the CBN. Since our publication, a source at the CBN as well as a security detail confirmed the hush payment and named Senator Andy Uba, a close ally of Mr. Saraki’s, as the other recipient of the hush funds.
A note released by a CBN official and published by SaharaReporters showed that Mr. Dasuki withdrew more than $600 million from the CBN between the first week of February and the last week of March 2015. Mr. Jonathan, through the former NSA, diverted the illegally withdrawn cash to fund his futile reelection campaign.
The latest revelation that Mr. Saraki was using bureau de change operators to launder funds is consistent with findings made by police investigators who have probed the senator’s record as a state governor.
In a press release, Mr. Saraki denied ownership of the funds stolen from a bureau de change, claiming that the DSS and the police had reached the same conclusion after investigating the heist. According to him, law enforcement investigators had determined that the funds belonged to an unnamed bureau de change operator.
Also, the Senate President sent a press statement to a few Nigerian editors where he admitted that the assailants were members of his security detail. Curiously, none of the media houses ever reported that fact, suggesting that they acted on Mr. Saraki’s plea to conceal that information.
A DSS source punctured Mr. Saraki’s denial, telling SaharaReporters that the police were not involved in the investigation of the high-profile heist until much later. “The Director General [of the Department of State Security], Lawal Daura, kept the police away from the case. Also, you can see that the police are yet to issue a statement relating to the incident apparently because they were working to a predetermined outcome,” said the source.
When SaharaReporters reached the spokesman to the Senate President earlier today, he stated that the Commissioner of Police in charge of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja was directly handling the investigation. He also claimed that the police had issued a statement, but when our correspondent prodded him to provide a link to the statement, he referred us to a report written by Thisday newspaper, claiming it contained the police statement.
But a look at the report by Thisday pointed to a possible cover-up by the DSS and the Senate President. Thisday newspaper reported the FCT Commissioner of Police, Wilson Inalegwu, as stating, “In the course of the investigation, we were able to get the names and identities of some of them [the suspects in the heist]. Unfortunately, two of the DSS operatives are attached to the Senate president. The police contacted the Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the Senate president. But rather than sending the operatives to the police for interrogation, he sent them to the DSS office.” See full Thisday report here.
In fact, another source who initially briefed SaharaReporters on the theft disclosed that the only reason the DSS made a public statement was because the operator of the bureau de change has close links with a former military head of state.
Mr. Saraki’s spokesman, Yusuph Olaniyonu, sent us a statement (see below) after we had spoken to him today. The statement had only been shared with select newspaper editors before now.
N310m Robbery: Again, Count Me Out
Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki today (Tuesday) dismissed claims by the online medium, SaharaReporters, that he was the owner of the N310m said to have been stolen during a robbery operation involving some military and State Security Service (SSS) officials.
In a statement by his Special Adviser (Media and Publicity), Yusuph Olaniyonu, Saraki said the stolen money did not belong to him and that he did not know the owner, who is said to be a Bureau De Change operator.
“The Senate President was in Paris attending the Globe COP 21 Conference for Legislators on the Climate Change when we read the Sahara Reporters version of the report on a statement issued by the spokesperson of the SSS.
“The initial reaction of the Senate President when his attention was drawn to the SaharaReporters story in Paris was that the owners and their sponsors of the online medium simply wanted to draw him into a needless controversy and therefore they should be ignored. However, on his return to Abuja Monday night when many of his friends and well wishers expressed concern over his silence on the report, it became necessary for him to make clarification on it.
“We want to say categorically that Dr. Saraki is not the owner of the stolen money. He does not know the owner who is said to be a Bureau de change operator. The Police that investigated the robbery incident and the SSS, which issued a statement on it, can confirm that there is no link between the Senate President with the ownership of the money.
“Unfortunately, two of the suspects in the case are said to be part of the men attached to the security team of the Senate President. As anybody could confirm, the SSS selects its officers who are attached to top officials. In most cases, the principal does not select who work in his security team.
“In fact, the first time the Senate President heard about the incident was when the Commissioner of Police, Abuja, requested the Aide-in-Camp to get his permission for the SSS agents to report to his office in connection with an on-going investigation on a robbery incident.
“To further put a lie to the claims by SaharaReporters, Dr. Saraki hereby requests that the security agencies involved in the investigation should make further public clarification on the case so as to enlighten members of the public.
“The Senate President just like any interested Nigerian followed the police investigation as it progresses, believing that justice will be done at the end of the day.
“The report by SaharaReporters is another case of manipulation and distortion of facts and situations to achieve some sinister purposes. This online medium is, with every false reports it publishes against the person and office of the Senate President discrediting itself and making it clear that it is not worth believing by reasonable members of the public,” the statement added.
Special Adviser to the Senate President