Three days after operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission discovered a huge hoard of cash in a Lagos apartment, SaharaReporters has learned that the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ayodele Oke, is now claiming that the funds belonged to his agency.
Mr. Oke’s claim is a bizarre twist in the unfolding drama. Late yesterday, when SaharaReporters called the DG to verify the authenticity of an online publisher’s report that the NIA had claimed ownership of the funds, Mr. Oke said he had not read any report linking the agency to the $50 million in cash the EFCC seized in a raid on an apartment in Ikoyi, Lagos. Mr. Oke told our reporter that he would speak on the matter today saying it was too late in the night and that he had a headache. However, all day today, the DG has not picked up calls from SaharaReporters nor responded to text messages.
EFCC sources said they were now aware that the Director General of the NIA claimed ownership to the huge amount of cash – most of it in US dollars – because the NIA was going to use it for “covert operations.” The EFCC sources said they would not immediately respond to the claim from the NIA since their investigations are still ongoing, adding that a court in Lagos had given them an order to confiscate the funds.
Some EFCC operatives involved in the investigation said they are alarmed by the NIA’s claims because the apartment where they seized the funds had no NIA paraphernalia and that some of the currencies found in the apartment were scattered in the wardrobe. They said the only “covert operation” they could think of would be an honesty test to determine if the EFCC operatives would tamper with the funds
Several commentators have said the latest twist by the NIA might suggest that the owner or owners of the funds are powerful members of the Buhari administration or somebody with close ties to the administration.
A source at the President’s office stated Thursday evening that the EFCC had submitted an interim report to President Muhammadu Buhari on the cash scandal that has dominated local and foreign coverage of Nigeria for more than two days. According to the source, Mr. Buhari instructed the EFCC to lodge the funds in the Central Bank pending the conclusion of investigations.
When the President was informed of the claims that the money belonged to the NIA, the source said Mr. Buhari was “alarmed at such claim saying that he did not expect any Nigerian government agency to keep government funds in a private house, no matter the nature of its operations.”
However, the DG of the NIA, Mr. Oke, reportedly met with President Buhari last night to state his side of the story. During the meeting, he presented documents to back up the claim that his agency owns the money in a project that had been certified, approved and funded by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. Mr. Oke told the President that the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno was fully briefed about the project and its progress. The meeting ended with President Buhari asking Mr. Oke to reapply for fresh funding for the project while the EFCC deposits the funds at the Central Bank of Nigeria for now.
The Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami was said to be present at the meeting however when SaharaReporters reached him on phone this evening he claimed he had not been officially briefed to get involved in the matter. He said he was at the Presidential Villa yesterday to see Mr. Buhari but that his visit had no “official” bearing with the NIA issue.
Also, speaking anonymously with SaharaReporters, a top NIA official denied that the agency had made a formal claim for the haul of cash. He said he had not been able to reach the DG today to “confirm or deny” press reports that the NIA was laying claims to the funds. He asked our reporter to send questions via text messages to enable him to get a response from the DG of NIA. As of press time, he continued to plead that he had not been able to reach Mr. Oke. Even so, he expressed surprise at the swiftness with which a report emerged linking the NIA to the funds.
Meanwhile, two of the whistleblowers who alerted the EFCC to the funds said their lives could be jeopardized, as they had no security protection.