A United States legal scholar and an official of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) have provided answers suggesting that Nigeria could successfully request the extradition of Nigeria’s former Minister of State for Defense, Musiliu Obanikoro, who is currently a resident in the US.
The responses from Rutgers law professor, Roger Clark, and DOJ spokesman, Peter Carr, came in response to inquiries by SaharaReporters into Mr. Obanikoro’s legal status with regard to US extradition laws. Both experts’ responses revealed that Mr. Obanikoro is susceptible to extradition should the Nigerian government follow appropriate legal procedures to request for it.
Mr. Obanikoro was again propelled into public attention on Tuesday when agents of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) searched several properties belonging to him and his family. SaharaReporters confirmed that EFCC agents went into Mr. Obanikoro’s posh Ikoyi estate in Lagos State and seized expensive wristwatches, vehicles, and other valuable items.
SaharaReporters first broke the news of Mr. Obanikoro’s involvement in the infamous Ekitigate scandal—detailing how the former minister anchored the rigging the 2014 governorship election in Ekiti State in favor of Ayo Fayose of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Mr. Obanikoro, who was as one of the masterminds of the plot, was caught on a leaked audio recording inducing Brigadier General Aliyu Momoh with the promise of promotion and cash once the officer helped deliver the state for the PDP candidate.
It was later learned that the cash Mr. Obanikoro used to bankroll Ekitigate, which included bribing polling officers, the military, and other political leaders, came from then National Security Adviser (NSA) Sambo Dasuki. Mr. Dasuki, it is now known, illegally diverted security funds to the tune of at least $2.1 billion during his tenure at the Office of the National Security Adviser. Some of the stolen funds went to Mr. Obanikoro and other PDP henchmen for the purpose of rigging elections for the party.
Mr. Obanikoro fled Nigeria in 2015 shortly after the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Since leaving Nigeria, Mr. Obanikoro has been spotted in several places in the United States. Recently, SaharaReporters obtained graduation photos of Mr. Obanikoro, who had completed a graduate degree in history at Oglethorpe University in Georgia.
Questions have been raised as to whether Mr. Obanikoro is eligible for extradition from the United States owing to speculation that he holds American citizenship. A SaharaReporters investigation, published in 2007, included the data page of Mr. Obanikoro’s US passport issued on June 16th, 1995.
The name on the passport carries obvious similarities to the name Mr. Obanikoro uses today. At that time, the former minister was going by the name Muhammed Musiliu Olatunde Onikoro. The 2007 SaharaReporters investigation noted that Mr. Obanikoro’s election forms for Lagos State governor used the name Mohammed Musiliu Olatunde Onikoro.
Further, a SaharaReporters inquiry confirmed that Mr. Obanikoro worked at the Little Flower Children Service in Brooklyn, New York under his passport name, Olatunde Onikoro, in the 1980s. According to Mr. Obanikoro’s biography on his former campaign website, he also worked in Houston, Texas in the Adult Probation Department following his studies at Texas Southern University.
SaharaReporters contacted an international legal expert, Roger Clark, to seek legal clarification on United States laws as they pertain to the extradition of people who, like Mr. Obanikoro, hold American citizenship. Mr. Clark is an expert on international criminal law and a professor at Rutgers University School of Law in the United States.
Asked whether the United States government would extradite an American citizen to a foreign country where they had allegedly committed a crime, Mr. Clark stated that “the United States has no problem extraditing its nationals provided there is a treaty.”
Mr. Clark added that some countries in Western Europe are reluctant to extradite their own citizens, but added that “common law countries” do not usually have a problem assuming legal processes are followed.
According to Mr. Clark, common law countries including Nigeria will often fall under the same treaty that outlines reciprocal and mutually agreed on rules for extraditing their nationals. The legal expert pointed out that the treaty was signed into force in 1935 when Nigeria was still under colonial control by Great Britain and that it remains in effect today.
The treaty provides a litany of crimes that qualify for extradition, including fraud, fraudulent conversion, obtaining money or goods by false pretenses, forgery, offenses against bankruptcy law, and bribery.
Numerous investigative reports by SaharaReporters and other media indicate that Mr. Obanikoro may have violated several of these laws, including evidence connected to his role in the Ekitigate plot. Sources speaking to SaharaReporters in December 2015 revealed that money stolen by the former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki has been traced to several companies under the control of Mr. Obanikoro. The sources disclosed that the ill-gotten money was either used for Ekitigate bribes or laundered by Mr. Obanikoro for personal use.
SaharaReporters also discussed the issue of extradition with Peter Carr, an official at the United States Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ is the primary federal criminal investigation and enforcement arm of the US government and would play a significant role in any extradition process.
In an email to SaharaReporters, Mr. Carr explained that “within [existing] statutory and treaty framework, US practice is, generally, to extradite its citizens, assuming that the requirements of the treaty are met.” He added, “The fact of dual nationality with Nigeria would be irrelevant in this context.”
Article 8 of the extradition treaty “specifies that extraditions will comply with the laws of the requested country, i.e., the place where the fugitive is found,” Mr. Carr further stated in his email to SaharaReporters.
An interview with Mr. Obanikoro was published today on news website Premium Times where he dared the Nigerian government to extradite him from the US. In the interview he said “they [Nigerian authorities] will never attempt any extradition. I, Musiliu Olatunde Obanikoro, am inviting EFCC to petition America to extradite me to Nigeria. The whole world would now see their charade for what it is.”
Mr. Obanikoro then complimented the US judicial system saying “in Nigeria, you’re either on this side or the other side. But this American system is unbiased. They’re neither for me nor for them. So, let them bring the tissue of lies that they have put together and submit everything to serious judicial scrutiny and let us see whether it will fly. I am inviting them to do that.”
Mr. Obanikoro’s latest comments follows a barrage of Tweets following the EFCC raid of his posh Ikoyi residence. In his Twitter rage Mr. Obanikoro again stated his confidence in the US justice system and accused the EFCC of spreading rumor and that President Buhari was a despot.
SaharaReporters could not reach Mr. Obanikoro for comment on this report.