How Nigeria’s Suspended Intelligence Agency Director Tried To Explain Away $43m Cash Found In Lagos Apartment
BY SAHARA REPORTERS, NEW YORKAPR 20, 2017
SaharaReporters has learned that Ayodele Oke, the suspended Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), facilitated the agency’s acquisition of the swanky Ikoyi apartment where agents of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) recently discovered more than $43 million in cash. Our investigative correspondent learned that the disgraced NIA Director-General designated the apartment as “Operational Clandestine Premises (OCP).”
SaharaReporters also learned that the EFCC and NIA had for long had a cat-and-mouse relationship due to the former’s suspicion that the latter was a cesspit of corruption. The details of the testy relationship are contained in an internal NIA document exclusively obtained by SaharaReporters. Titled “Brief on Critical Infrastructural Development and Covert Operations of The National Intelligence Agency, 2015-2018,” the document was compiled by the DG of the NIA as a last-minute effort to explain away the scandalous haul of cash stashed behind a fake wall in the Ikoyi apartment. A source aware of the scandal alleged that the NIA DG’s wife, Folashade Oke, oversaw the hidden cash. The document was orchestrated as the review of the plans and programs of the NIA to ramp up its “covert and illegal operations” and develop infrastructure.
The document showed that the DG acquired apartment 7B, located at 16 Osborne Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, where the money was found, reportedly for its “Operation Double Shield”. According to the document, Operation Shield was conceived to further the NIA’s aim to develop its illegal network and actualize its operational projects in Lagos. The report revealed that the suspended NIA Director-General undertook the job of finding an Operational Clandestine Premises (OCP) or “Safe House” that would be under the direct control of his office. The document indicated that the NIA, for operational security, considered finding a trusted proxy.
However, several top NIA officers told SaharaReporters that they were not aware of the existence of the apartment as an operational base. One of the officers stated that, if the apartment were an operational base as claimed by their DG, it would not be limited to serving as a vault for hidden cash. He added that the DG managed the funds without the knowledge of other NIA and top government officials, including President Muhammadu Buhari.
The NIA’s ostensible search for a “safe house” led to Apartment 7B, a property owned by Chobe Ventures Limited, a company run by Mrs. Folashade Oke, wife of the suspended NIA Director-General. The NIA’s document described Mrs. Oke as the trusted proxy. SaharaReporters had earlier exclusively reported that the apartment was allocated to the company run by Mrs. Oke.
SaharaReporters also found out that each apartment in the apartment complex built by a former chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has four bedrooms, and the apartments cost N250 million apiece.
In a convoluted and poorly written narrative, the DG’s report tried to defend the choice of a property owned by his wife’s company as a “safe house.” The report stated: “This was arrived at because the company was very close enough to the Director-General and was the only one trusted by the DGNIA. Also, it was obligatory to eliminate the potential risk of a) compromise to the covert operation b) renege and false claim to the OCP once acquired, thereby creating controversy that the agency will not be able to contest in the public space c) possible breach of the Need-To-Know operational principle.”
The document claimed that, in order to address the possible conflict of interest tied to the choice of an apartment owned by the NIA DG’s wife, the agency had made arrangements for the transfer of the proxy facility to the NIA to enable the agency to perfect its interest in the property. “Thus, Chobe Ventures immediately executed a deed of assignment and power of attorney transferring the property to the NIA. Thus, to all intents and purposes, the OCP (proxy facility) has become an addition to the agency’s property profile,” the document stated.
The report claimed that the transfer was the subsisting situation when the NIA decided to move funds to the facility for the completion of the covert operations in Lagos. “It is important to stress that the funds were actually kept in transit to the agency’s original operational office at the six-storey building, Oil Mill Street, Lagos. This was where MEA Directorate of Research operated from before 1986. This operational base has been under comprehensive renovation, but suffered delays. It is now billed to conclude. It was not ready at the time the funds were moved,” the report stated.
A news website, thecable.ng, on Thursday reported that the NIA had in February 2015 received $289,202, 382 million in cash from the account of the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS), a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). The transfer of the huge funds took place after the postponement of the 2015 general elections. According to the website, President Goodluck Jonathan approved the funds for NIA’s “covert operations” and the funds were withdrawn in cash from NAPIMS account at CBN.
An EFCC investigator said the anti-corruption agency believes the monies became one of the main sources of dollar funds disbursed as inducement to traditional rulers and politicians in the southwest by former President Jonathan, who was desperate to win re-election. The agent also said the $43 million hoard of cash in the Ikoyi apartment was most likely remnants from the campaign funds routed through the NIA.
In the wake of the EFCC’s discovery of the funds, President Buhari ordered that Mr. Oke be suspended. The president also decided to suspend Babachir Lawal, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, over allegations that companies linked to him had corruptly benefited from contracts that arose from the Presidential Initiative for The North East. Mr. Buhari asked a three-man committee, headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, to investigate both suspended officials. The investigation is expected to determine the circumstances under which the NIA received huge sums of money in cash and whether there had been a breach of law in extending custody and the handling of such funds. The committee has 14 days to submit its report.
A portion of the NIA report obtained by our correspondent focused on the relationship between the EFCC and NIA. According to the report, both agencies have had a difficult relationship, with the NIA accusing the anti-graft agency of desperation to embarrass it through illegal probes of its finances, especially award of contracts. The NIA claimed that it had held back from taking any public action in reprisal out of concern for inter-agency harmony, respect and need to shield the government’s image from ridicule.
Any public confrontation with the EFCC, said the NIA report, would give the ugly impression that “the system was fighting itself,” “working at cross-purposes” or that of a government agency instituting litigation against another.
The NIA remarked that, in March 2016, the EFCC had begun a stealthy audit of NIA accounts, notably MEA Research Library Account No. 0020142861012. According to the intelligence agency, the EFCC’s action was unknown to it and the National Security Adviser (NSA). The NIA alleged that the action taken by the EFCC was in contravention of Paragraph 12 Sub-sections (1) and (2) of instrument No. 1 of the National Security Agencies Decree 1986.
“What was most intriguing was the fact that EFCC ‘cooked up’ bogus figures and made illegitimate entries into the NIA account in order to justify its illegal action. In the end, it took the kind intervention of the NSA to stop the EFCC in its tracks vide letter No. NSA/A/225/C of 19th April 2016 addressed to the acting Chairman of EFCC,” said the NIA document.
The EFCC’s action to freeze the accounts of all the companies handling projects for the NIA, added the intelligence agency, caused a four to six-week delay in the execution of the projects and, in certain cases, additional costs imposed by the sliding naira value. “The import of EFCC action remains a mystery although informed references can be made as to its motive,” noted the NIA.
Despite the claims made by the NIA DG’s report, several NIA officials told our correspondent that the nature of the NIA’s operations and the poor quality of the agency’s leadership made the NIA susceptible to suspicious expenditures. One NIA officer claimed that Mr. Oke was not well trained in intelligence operations, and should not have been appointed to head the NIA, adding, however, that former First Lady Patience Jonathan insisted on his appointment for “personal financial reasons.” According to this source, the NIA had officers who were better suited to take up the DG post when the former DG, Olaniyi Oladeji, retired in 2013. However, the source claimed that Mr. Oladeji, who was close to Mrs. Jonathan, assured her that Mr. Oke was the most trustworthy official to continue “settling her.” The NIA source added that the former First Lady then influenced Mr. Oke’s appointment as the successor to Mr. Oladeji.
The NIA’s report authorized by Mr. Oke maintained that the agency has always been willing to render an account of its expenditure. It added, however, that it was sometimes restricted by the consequences of making disclosures that could lift the veil on its covert operations and expose its illegal network.
“The attendant implications and risks could irreparably damage the image of the agency, particularly with friendly intelligence services worldwide and ultimately undermine national security and the Federal Government of Nigeria,” the NIA observed in its report.
While many of the items contained in the NIA report fall in the tangible and verifiable category, others fall under less classifiable strains.
Covert operations, explained the document, “can employ a wide variety of means, each of which raises different ethical questions. Covert operations must be kept secret to be effective and this means that they cannot be subjected to the usual processes of public considerations.”
As at January 2016, the report said the agency had a sum of $89 million, described as “cash at hand,” for the improvement of its critical infrastructure and covert operations. This, the NIA claimed, was contained in its account statement submitted to the NSA. Projects funded from the critical infrastructure funds included the construction of a conference center and associated infrastructure at the NIA’s headquarters in Abuja, physical security upgrades of Gates A and B at the headquarters, remodeling and equipping of OSINT Center, Retreat Center, Abuja, construction of link road between Conference Center and OSINT Center, staff housing development in Lokogoma, Abuja, establishment of cyber task force, as well as the training and equipment of intercept equipment.
The agency also claimed to have sent 22 operatives on training programs to make them certified hackers. Ten of these had already completed the program, while the others were currently overseas undergoing the program.
According to the NIA, a three-man assessment team appointed by the NSA and headed by a Brigadier-General had verified its various projects after visiting project sites in Lagos and Abuja on February 20 and 21 February 2016.“On the completion of its assignment, the verification team submitted its report, dated 29 February 2016 to the NSA, who in turn, forwarded same to the President, Commander-in-Chief,” the NIA document stated.
On May 17, 2016, the NSA wrote a letter conveying the President’s satisfaction with the improvement of the agency’s critical infrastructure as well as the directive that the Office of the NSA should henceforth be responsible for verification of the NIA’s current projects and associated records.
However, EFCC sources told SaharaReporters that the anti-corruption agency tracked several NIA operatives who had massively enriched themselves from funds diverted from the Nigerian treasury under President Goodluck Jonathan. Some of the operatives were found to have built hotels and purchased luxury vehicles from funds reportedly stolen from a lavish security budget meant to support the fight against the Islamist insurgency group, Boko Haram.
One EFCC source added that his agency decided to ignore Mr. Oke, the DG of NIA, when he rushed to their office claiming that the anti-corruption agency was compromising a covert operation by breaking into the apartment where they found the stash of cash. According to the EFCC source, their investigators have so far found no credible evidence that the NIA was using the hoarded cash for any legitimate covert operation. Instead, he said, there was significant evidence that the apartment in Ikoyi was used as an illegal warehouse for public funds embezzled in the most brazen manner.
The EFCC also argued that, apart from the irresponsible and careless manner in which the cash was stored, they also found paraphernalia of the Goodluck/Sambo campaign in the apartment. They claimed that if the DG of the NIA was waiting to finish the renovation of an official building in Lagos to warehouse the funds, nothing stopped the intelligence agency from keeping the cash in a CBN vault in Lagos.
A PDP youth activist, Deji Adeyanju, yesterday lent credence to the suspicion that the stashed funds were part of the illegal campaign war chest from former President Goodluck Jonathan’s failed reelection bid. In a series of tweets, Mr. Adeyanju praised President Buhari for firing Mr. Oke, claiming that the embattled NIA boss sabotaged President Jonathan’s campaign funds by diverting funds meant for the campaign and hiding them at the Lagos apartment.
Mr. Adeyanju also stated that after Femi Fani-Kayode, a senior campaign spokesman for the Jonathan campaign,was arrested for illegally receiving part of the security funds budgeted for the fight against Boko Haram, Mr. Oke offered to give Mr. Fani-Kayode $1m to use to bribe his way out of trouble. He said Mr. Fani-Kayode rejected the offer.