Some of Senate President Bukola Saraki's aides involved in the November 20, 2015 theft of N310 million being transported to the senator have disclosed why they stole the cash. The aides snatched the cash from a bureau de change operator at 5 Nana Close, Maitama in Abuja.
Tracked down by SaharaReporters and speaking anonymously, some of Mr. Saraki’s aides, who are currently on the run, said the senator was in the habit of warehousing large volumes of cash, mainly for use as bribes to judges, investigators and prosecutors to ensure the scuttling of his trial for false assets declaration by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
The theft, first reported by SaharaReporters, featured five officers of the Department of State Security (DSS) led by Abdulrasheed Maigari, the most senior of the DSS officers attached to Senator Saraki. Mr. Maigari hails from Dungo local government area of Taraba State. The other DSS officers involved in the heist were Ibbi George from Adamawa State, Patrick Ishaya from Plateau State, Peter Okoye from Delta State, and Solomon Yunusa from Kogi State. Other participants included four other aides of Mr. Saraki and five serving military officers led by one Captain Hassan Mshelia.
The aides at large revealed to a correspondent of SaharaReporters that Senator Saraki often used a house, 18 Lake Chad Crescent, Abuja, as a warehouse for illegally acquired money. They said huge stashes of cash from First Bank Plc. branch located at Coomasie House in Abuja were often stored in the house. The aides added that the funds were then moved on behalf of the Senate President for use in a variety of special “political assignments” ordered by Mr. Saraki.
The sources said cash was regularly moved from the bank and the house on Lake Chad Crescent to Mr. Saraki’s mansion at 5 Nana Close in Maitama, from which lawyers as well as judges and their designated representatives collect the cash to obstruct justice.
They said Mr. Saraki regularly used five of his official security aides, supported by five soldiers usually chosen by Paul Ibok, his Chief Security Officer, to move the funds. The aides disclosed to SaharaReporters that, between October and November 2015, there were three cash movements to No 5 Nana Close.
According to them, the cash was usually received by Mr. Saraki’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Peter Makanjuola, who also has the duty of distributing it to judicial officers with whom various deals had been struck regarding plots to scuttle the Senate President's trial.
In one instance, the aides disclosed, N550 million was delivered to Justice Alfa Belgore, a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, to carry out an illicit assignment of obstructing justice on behalf of Mr. Saraki. On another occasion, DSS officers working with soldiers took the sum of N370 million to a venue. According to the wanted DSS operatives, the Senate President had 23 DSS operatives attached to him. The DSS officers are split into two teams (A and B), with both teams taking turns to provide security for the Senate President, who lives in an eight-bedroom official residence. The building, known as “White House,” shares a wall with the official residence of the Inspector-General of Police.
Our sources said that, having observed the unrestricted movement of large sums to Senator Saraki’s home, some of his DSS aides also developed an appetite for cash. Thus, on November 20, 2015, an aide of Mr. Saraki directed the leader of Team A, Ibrahim Shariff, to call Mr. Maigari, who had been off duty, to return to work for a “special assignment.” On his return, Mr. Maigari was told to join four colleagues and five soldiers to go meet one Ibrahim Kabir, a First Bank employee, to pick up money for the Senate President. They said Mr. Kabir happens to be the account officer for Hassan Dantani Abubakar, Mr. Saraki’s favorite bureau de change operator. One longtime associate stated that Mr. Saraki had been using Mr. Dandani to launder funds since the senator’s days as the governor of Kwara State.
Our sources said that, with the increasing scrutiny on him, Senator Saraki had decided against using the DSS officers attached to him to escort cash movement. Instead, the senator asked the management of the bureau de change to make their own arrangement for security escorts to move the cash to Senator Saraki's home.
However, with their own growing hunger for money, Senator Saraki's security details had hatched a plot to corner the cash. And they recruited other colleagues and Captain Mshelia. Dressed in military fatigue, the security agents positioned themselves near the senator’s home and ambushed the vehicle in which the bureau de change operator was conveying the cash. SaharaReporters learnt that the security officers told those moving the cash that they were under arrest for money laundering. The police officers hired as escorts by the bureau de change operator had to leave the scene when the DSS men showed their identification tags, which gave the impression that they were on legal duty.
Once the policemen had left, the DSS officers, including those attached to Mr. Saraki, told the bureau de change operator that they knew of the destination for the cash and that moving huge sums of cash outside the banking system was illegal. The DSS officers then demanded N350 million in order to allow the vehicle to proceed. After a period of haggling, the officers settled for N310 million.
When Mr. Dantani was informed of the development, he phoned Senator Saraki, who instructed him never to mention his name in connection with the cash. Unaware that those who carried out the theft included members of his security detail, Mr. Saraki thought he was safe from being exposed.
Shortly after SaharaReporters reported the heist, disclosing that the cash belonged to Mr. Saraki, the senator’s spokesman, Yusuf Olaniyonu, issued a statement denying the senator’s ownership of the stolen money. “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,” Mr. Olaniyonu claimed in a statement.
Mr. Olaniyonu also told SaharaReporters that the police had issued a statement on the matter. But when SaharaReporters demanded where to find the said police statement, he said we should check a ThisDay report, which he claimed contained the police statement.
The paper quoted Wilson Inalegwu, Federal Capital Territory Commissioner of Police, as saying: “In the course of the investigation, we were able to get the names and identities of some of them (the suspects). Unfortunately, two of the DSS operatives are attached to the Senate President.”
Every step of the way, Mr. Saraki made valiant efforts, abetted by the DSS boss, to prevent the money from being linked to him. Mr. Dantani, the owner of the bureau de change, said the robbery took place at 5 Nana Close, off Mississippi Road in Maitama and claimed that the robbers dropped off his boys on the outskirts of Abuja. His version of events, however, was disputed by Mr. Saraki's DSS aides, who told this online newspaper that there was no need to have taken them, as there was no confrontation between them and Mr. Dantani's boys. After taking the cash, the aides said, they left for Maigari's house in Keffi, Nasarawa State, where they shared the loot before returning to work with Mr. Saraki.
Mr. Dantani also told SaharaReporters that he is a nephew of the former military head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar. Mr. Saraki’s DSS aides disclosed to SaharaReporters that the ex-head of state and the Senate President are very close friends, adding that they had accompanied him numerous times on his visits to Abubakar at his Lake Chad Crescent mansion.
Six days after the theft, both Mr. Maigari and Mr. Ibbi were arrested around 8:30 pm, as they prepared to accompany Senator Saraki to see President Muhammadu Buhari. After their arrest, the wanted aides narrated, they requested to see the DSS Director-General (DG), Lawal Daura, to explain why they stole the money. Mr. Daura declined the request, but sent a DSS officer to tell them that the matter would be resolved internally. He sent firm instructions through the officer that the arrested officers should make statements, but ensure that such statements should not link the stolen cash to Mr. Saraki in any way. As such, the detained officers wrote choreographed statements dictated to them by investigators.
Mr. Saraki's aides on the run disclosed that Mr. Daura and the Senate President are intimate friends and that, on at least four occasions, he secretly met with the senator after the latter’s corruption trial had begun. The first of the clandestine meetings took place at Barcelona Apartments in Abuja. On two other occasions, Mr. Daura and Senator Saraki met at night at the Senate President's official residence. SaharaReporters has constantly reported that the DSS boss, Mr. Daura, was providing strategic support to the Senate President to help him frustrate his trial.
A statement issued by the DSS on December 6, 2015, was carefully tweaked to give the public the misleading impression that the stolen cash belonged to the bureau de change operator. The statement also failed to provide details of the purported robbery. Signed by Tony Opuiyo, the DSS statement said: “The Department of State Services (DSS) wishes to inform the general public that the Service has arrested two (2) out of five (5) of its staff involved in the robbery and sharing, on November 20th, 2015, of the sum of three hundred and ten million naira (N310m) belonging to a Bureau De Change operator in Abuja. While three (3) of the DSS staff are now at large, the Military Authorities have commenced a detailed investigation of five (5) of its personnel involved in the crime.” It added that preliminary investigations revealed that Mr. Maigari conspired with four colleagues to steal the money.
Currently, only Mr. Maigari and Mr. Ibbi are in detention at Kuje Prison, awaiting trial. The others are at large. Representatives of the detained operatives said the DSS first charged them to court in April 2016, after media reports revealed that the money stolen belonged to Mr. Saraki. They were charged to court for planning to demand their freedom through the filing of a fundamental right enforcement suit in Abuja.
Mr. Saraki's security aides who remain on the run told SaharaReporters that five soldiers are also in detention at Kuje Prison in connection with the theft. In April, the police charged the soldiers to court for robbery. But curiously, the soldiers are being tried separately from the DSS officers because the DSS refused to hand over Mr. Maigari and Mr. Ibbi to the police for prosecution, claiming it did not trust the police.
Representatives of the detained DSS officers said they recently discovered that Sunday Agaba, a man who accompanied them to steal and was described as a bureau de change operator, is actually a retired Army officer. He was shot by the police as they arrested him. When SaharaReporters blew the lid on this, both Mr. Maigari and Mr. Ibbi were removed from the underground cell where they had been kept and allowed for the first time to meet with their respective families. It was during such interactions that they realized they had been branded, armed robbers. They disclosed that if they were prosecuted along with the soldiers, they would give the exact narration of the alleged robbery incident.
SaharaReporters learnt that Mr. Dantani was listed as a witness in the case. But on cross-examination in April, he claimed he was forced to come for the trial. When SaharaReporters contacted Mr. Dantani shortly before this report was written, he claimed to have a hazy recollection of what went on with the bullion van on the day of the incident. However, he insisted that the money stolen belonged to him.
The DSS operatives being prosecuted claimed that the stolen money was recovered from them in full. However, the DSS told the court that it recovered only N96 million.
The DSS operatives are due to appear again at the Federal Capital Territory High Court 18 when judges return from vacation.
Mr. Saraki too is on vacation with his entire family in Ibiza, Spain. The theft of N310 million was not the only time Mr. Saraki’s money laundering had provoked aides to steal from him. A group of aides at his house in Ilorin recently stole cash worth N110 million from his bedroom in Kwara State.