Several years ago President Ibrahim Babangida wondered aloud why Nigeria’s economy was still doing fairly well despite all the knocks and bashings it was receiving. Earlier on, somebody had asked the question “is the economy stupid?” To be sincere, I did not quite understand what these guys were saying. But now I know. In Nigeria, everything is an approximation or guess estimate. Nothing is ever definite or precise. I have always wondered why. But now I understand. Who can say with certainty how much money is in banks vaults and how much is outside in personal vaults. Indeed from what we are seeing in Nigeria today, it is a miracle that the country is still standing. From the military to the civilian, this country has been variously raped, ransacked and despoiled.
To be sure, most Nigerians have become resistant to shock. Nothing really shocks us anymore, otherwise there should be a national outcry about recent revelations involving large sums of money in different currencies being found in private residential premises all over the country. Not stories of Boko Haram attacks or suicide bombers, not kidnapping, not armed robbery, not hundreds of young Nigerians dying from cerebrospinal meningitis, a seasonal infection that afflicts Nigeria every year in the hot season especially between January and April. Nothing shocks us anymore. However when I read that $9.2 million and £74000 were found in a house in Kaduna, I was shocked . When Andrew Yakubu, Former GMD of NNPC accepted that the money was his and even went to court to ask that the EFCC should release his money, my shock increased. But when I had a chat with a player in the oil industry, he was shocked that I was shocked because of such a paltry sum. He argued that it was possible for Andrew to own multiples of that amount without stealing. ‘Without stealing?’ I screamed. I asked how and when he explained my shock increased.
This past week, I have been in extreme shock to hear and see that $43 million, $27 million and N23 million were found in a flat at a residential building on Osborne road in Ikoyi, Lagos. Before that we had heard that 47 million Euros or so were found in a Bureau De change office. That I could understand, because the BDC is in the foreign exchange business, though I could never quite understand how a BDC could keep that size of foreign exchange in a building, instead of a bank. But who can tell me how somebody can put $43 million, £27 million and N23 million on the 7th floor of a highbrow building. Beyond shock, I am thoroughly scandalized that in a country with 70% poverty rate, 31% unemployment and underemployment and where over 3 million children are about to die from malnutrition in the North East, someone or some persons can lock up these huge sums of money lying idle in a flat! What a country?
Now I am wondering how many of such buildings in the country have such stacks of cash locked away? We were crying that we had scarcity of dollars which caused the deep depreciation of our currency which led to the doubling of our inflation in one year, and yet we have such foreign currencies in fire safes and in drawers in many buildings in different cities of Nigeria. What a country! When the former British PM said that Nigeria was fantastically corrupt, some Nigerians felt offended. What do we call this? We actually need to invent another word. This is beyond what those who coined the word ‘corruption’ had in mind or ever contemplated.
But I think this particular discovery at 16 Osborne Road in Ikoyi is fortuitous. I believe that God wants to use this discovery to reveal many things about the extent of corruption and official robbery in Nigeria. If we are serious about fighting corruption, this is the best opportunity we ever had. Yakubu claimed his money, the Bureau De change people accepted the Euros were theirs. But in this mind boggling Osborne Rd catch, there is disputed ‘paternity’. It was first alleged that the money belonged to Adamu Muazu, former Governor of Bauchi State, and past Chairman of PDP. Adamu the “fixer” has denied ownership. He however agreed that he built the multi-storey high-brow building and that he had sold the flats to pay back the loan. Can we please check that out and find out how much tax he paid from the transactions?
Then it was rumoured that the Money belonged to Mrs Esther Nnamdi-Ogbue, a former director of NNPC. She denied. Then came a weird claim by the Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA) that they owned the money, and that they have kept it over several years for a sting operation. That to me sounds like a cock & bull story and a friend of mine said he smelt a huge cover up for a very high VIP. Then Femi Fani Kayode came up with a claim that the money belonged to Minister Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. Nobody really knows where he got this information. Then as if latching on this, Governor Nyesom Wike asked that the money be returned to Rivers state, perhaps on the assumption that it was stolen from the coffers of Rivers state government. Rotimi Amaechi has since denied this accusation.
Meanwhile a high court in Lagos ordered a temporary forfeiture to the federal government and President Buhari who has been so busy that he could not attend the Federal Executive Committee meeting last week, wasted no time in directing that the money should be returned to the CBN, perhaps from where it was taken in the first place. No outcry, no outrage!
Can this be the end of the story? I think not. There are many issues begging for questions in this cash haul business. EFCC, DSS, NPF, NIA, DMI must wade fully into this and if they want to retain their respectability, they must just find out who has the money. From where did the money come from? And how did it pass the scrutiny of all the regulatory agencies? Did it come from the banks or CBN? Which authorities authorized the issuance of such large sums of money? Any attempt at cover up will back fire and completely erode any success we have made with the anti-corruption battle. Beyond the security agencies which some people suspect may have conflicting interests in this matter, other groups need to join efforts to reveal the true owner of the Osborne Rd cash. If Nigeria ever had investigative journalists, then they need to step out. Otherwise one needs to be created now. The hordes of anticorruption NGOs need to mobilize and demand that the true identities of the owners of this money be revealed now. The world is marvelled at how Nigerians are redefining corruption. Men and women who were given opportunities to serve the nation turned around to serve themselves and to rape the nation. Who knows how many more buildings across the nation had been turned into illegal private bank vaults!
Unfortunately I belong to the few Nigerians that still can be shocked. I am in utter shock at what is happening to this nation and my heart bleeds that this is the level corruption has climbed in Nigeria. So all I can say in my utter shock and depression is that to unmask the true owners of the Osborne road cash is a task that must be done. And I know that God will help us!
Mazi Sam I. Ohuabunwa OFR