BUSINESS AND ECONOMY
Abuja (AFP) - Nigeria's former chief of defence staff bought property including a $5.5 million mansion with air force money, passing off his fraudulent withdrawals as staff salaries, a court heard Wednesday.
Retired air chief marshal Alex Badeh is on trial at a federal high court in Abuja, accused of diverting 3.97 billion naira ($19.8 million, 18 million euros) for his own use.
The 59-year-old, arrested as part of a wide-ranging anti-corruption campaign by President Muhammadu Buhari, denies 10 counts of fraud, criminal breach of trust and money laundering.
The finance director under Badeh when he was chief of air staff at the time of the alleged offences in 2013 said he exchanged 558.2 million naira for dollars every month on his boss' instructions.
The money was part of some four billion naira set aside for monthly salaries for air force personnel, retired air commodore Salisu Abdullahi Yushau told the court in evidence.
The withdrawals were accounted for "as salaries because the disbursement was done along with salaries", he said.
Yushau, who retired in December 2013, said he bought properties with the money for Badeh and his son, including a mansion in the upmarket Maitama district of Abuja worth 1.1 billion naira.
Former president Goodluck Jonathan appointed Badeh chief of defence staff in January 2014 at a time of growing dissatisfaction at the military's handling of the Boko Haram insurgency.
Badeh vowed a swift end to the conflict but his time in office saw the Islamist militants run riot in three northeast states, seizing swathes of territory.
Nigerian troops seemed unable -- and were often unwilling -- to fight back, with complaints about a lack of weapons and even bullets compared to the better armed militants.
On Badeh's watch, Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 girls from their school in Chibok, in Borno state, northeast Nigeria.
Former national security advisor Sambo Dasuki is currently facing a separate trial over his alleged diversion of billions of dollars in weapons procurement cash using fictitious defence contracts.
Trial judge Okon Abang adjourned Badeh's case and remanded him in custody until March 23 to allow the defence time to prepare cross-examination.
We got money from PDP, say Udenwa, Falae, Fani-Kayode
A former minister has sneaked out of the country as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) closes in on the suspected architects of an alleged N3.145b fraud, The Nation learnt yesterday.
Six chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Goodluck Support Group (GSG) have been named in the investigations.
The cash, meant for the funding of the campaign of former President Goodluck Jonathan was drawn on the orders of the Presidential Villa and paid into a coded account tagged Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Library.
The account was said to have been deployed by the Presidential Villa (allegedly on Dr. Jonathan’s instructions) and the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) for “strategic assignments”.
Some of the key suspects, including some bureaucrats, have offered to return the funds, even as the EFCC plans to invite some of those implicated for interrogation “any moment from now”.
According to sources, the former minister left the country on Sunday, her destination unknown – as at press time.
A source, who spoke in confidence “in order not to jeaopardise the investigation”, said: “The EFCC has been on the case for some time and one or two of the suspects at a point came to make statements. But one of the former ministers who was also connected with the matter has jetted out.
“The ex-minister left the country quietly on Sunday. No one can say her actual destination and whether or not it was a routine trip abroad or a self-imposed exile.
“The reality is that there is no hiding place for any former public officer. Wherever a suspect is, the EFCC will repatriate such a person.”
It was confirmed last night that the N3.145billion was drawn from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) following directives from the Presidential Villa.
The cash was wired into the coded account.
It was learnt that after the withdrawal of the cash from CBN, an account was provided by the Director of Finance of the PDP Presidential Campaign, former Minister Nenadi Usman, for disbursement to beneficiaries.
Another source added: “The CBN released the funds based on orders from the Presidential Villa. Some documents on the withdrawal have been obtained by the EFCC.
“From the preliminary investigation, MEA was a coded account used by the Presidential Villa and the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) for strategic assignments, including funding of the re-election campaign of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan.
“After the cash was moved to MEA account, it was moved into the account of Joint Trust Dimension Nigeria Limited, which was allegedly provided by ex-Minister Nenadi Usman.
“In fact, some of the bureaucrats connected with the withdrawal of the funds from the CBN have not been comfortable. Some suspects have actually offered to return the cash quietly to EFCC.
“I am aware that some persons have made statement to the EFCC on what they knew about the deal. But most of the beneficiaries have not been quizzed. They will soon be invited by the EFCC for interrogation and how to return the money.”
The beneficiaries include a former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode (N840m); a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation and leader of the Social Democratic Party, Chief Olu Falae (N100m); a former Minister of Finance, Nenadi Usman(N36.9m); a former Imo State Governor, Chief Achike Udenwa and a former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Viola Onwuliri(N350m) and Okey Ezenwa(N100m).
One of the beneficiaries, who spoke in strict confidence, said: “The cash was actually N2billion as reported to the campaign directorate.
“When ex-Minister Nenadi Usman briefed us, some of us insisted on knowing the source(s) of the funds. In fact, somebody asked repeatedly whether or not the cash was from public funds but she told us that the money came from some private individuals. She disclosed some names behind the so-called “donation.”
“Having heard that the cash was donated to the campaign, we decided to use it for that purpose. None of us knew that the money came from the CBN and it was also disbursed through a company’s account which Nenadi Usman said she had been using for her campaign.
“Now, we are just realizing that the N3.145billion was drawn from the CBN. It is just unfortunate. Some of us would have rejected the cash if we knew it came from the apex bank.”
The Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, on Tuesday ordered occupants in all houses that had been built by Lekki Gardens to vacate their apartments.
He also ordered integrity tests to be carried out on the buildings to ascertain their fitness.
The governor, who visited the site of the five-storeyed collapsed building, which killed 35 people in Lekki, said he was displeased with what he saw, hence the need for immediate action.
Ambode, who spoke at the Lagos House, Ikeja, shortly after his inspection of the site and other buildings owned by Lekki Gardens, added that after the tests, buildings found to be defective would be demolished.
He stated that the developer would take the responsibility for the relocation of occupants of the buildings.
He said, “The state government will undertake stability tests on all other buildings constructed by the developers in the state, whether occupied or not, to ascertain their structural stability. The developers will pay the cost of the tests. Any building found to be defective will be demolished.
“Also, the state government intends to carry out an audit of all structures in Lagos to ascertain whether they have planning approval or not. The details of this initiative are being finalised and you will be briefed in due course.
“Let me reiterate that Lagos is open to business, but everybody must comply with the state’s laws and regulations. Our main concern is to continue to improve on the ease of doing business and uphold the rule of law at all times. Those who choose non-compliance and defiance will henceforth face the full weight of the law.”
He stated that since the tragedy occurred, his administration had taken steps by ordering the immediate sealing of the construction site and cessation of further construction, among others.
“In addition, some government officials have been relieved of their duties. I want to assure you that there will no longer be any sacred cows,” he said.
The governor added that he had established a five-man committee under the chairmanship of Dr Moses Ajayi, a past President of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners and Association of Professional Bodies of Nigeria to examine the Urban and Regional Planning Law of the state as it affected the Lagos State Building Control Agency and make recommendations for changes that would ensure effective service delivery.
Culpable engineers to face suspension
The Nigerian Society of Engineers has commenced investigation to ascertain the involvement of its members in the construction of the five-storeyed building which collapsed in Lekki, Lagos.
It said any of its members found culpable would be suspended, adding that a detailed report on the true situation of the incident was being prepared by one of its committees.
The President, Nigerian Society of Engineers, Otis Anyaeji, spoke on the sidelines of an event in Abuja on Tuesday.
He said, “We have a Failure Analysis Committee that commenced work when this incident happened and we are expecting a report on the matter.
“If we get a report involving any member, we have a machinery to deal with such, both here at the NSE and also at the Council for the Regulation of Engineering. What we do when issues like this come up is that we handle the ethical and professional malpractice aspect. Anyone found culpable stands the risk of suspension.
“However, there are too many people involved in building constructions and most of these accidents are as a result of unqualified personnel in the sector.”
Group warns against punishing innocents
The Association of Real Estate Developers of Lagos State has urged the state government to embark on proper investigations into the Lekki Gardens building collapse to avoid punishing innocent persons.
Speaking during its emergency meeting at Ebute-Meta, Lagos, on Tuesday, the Chairman of AREDOLS, Mr. Nureeni Akinsanya, said proper probe into the matter had become imperative for the government to get the real cause of the collapse.
He called for a forensic investigation, saying such would put an end to cases of building collapse in the state.
He said, “It is pertinent to commend actions taken by the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, but we are also requesting proper investigations into the issue in order not to punish innocent persons.”
Akinsanya and the Secretary of AREDOLS, Mr. Mutairu Olumegbon, stated that the association was ready to work with the government in the area of monitoring of buildings under construction in the state.