Senate President Bukola Saraki has said that the controversy surrounding the recovery of N13.3 billion ($43.3 million) from an apartment in Ikoyi, Lagos, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has been poorly managed by the anti-graft agency and the parties involved.
He also said the EFCC has a responsibility to tell Nigerians who the money belongs to, as it had become embarrassing that up till now there was no clarity on the ownership of the money.
Saraki’s remarks on the cash discovery were made last night on Arise News Night, a current affairs programme on Arise News Network, a THISDAY sister broadcast station, just as it was gathered that the EFCC has obtained a warrant from a court to search all the apartments in Osborne Towers where the cash was discovered.
The Senate President said what was presently going on was not good for the image of the country, and the National Assembly, as a last resort, might step in if the parties involved are unable to resolve it and tell Nigerians what is going on.
“I believe this is something simple that the organisation (EFCC) should manage, even before the speculation started coming out. The circus has to come to end as to whether it belongs to individuals, companies, agencies or a state government.
“We, however, believe they will sort it out and eventually tell Nigerians who owns the money. Nigerians deserve to know. The circus must stop,” he said.
He said Nigerians should not see the anti-corruption campaign of the present administration as the fight of President Muhammadu Buhari, but should be seen as a Nigerian fight, as it can only be won when viewed as an institutional issue rather than a personal one.
“I believe progress will be made faster if the process is transparent. Those are ways to strengthen institutions. When the process is transparent up to the investigative stage, people will not believe that it is because of this person that so, so, person is being prosecuted.
“Corrupt people are very patient, but with a transparent process, the fight against corruption will be won.
“On our part, we are doing all it takes to strengthen institutions. We have four bills before us, one is with the Constitution Amendment Committee, one has been taken back by the executive,” he said.
When asked if it was a failure of law enforcement that the EFCC did not monitor the Ikoyi apartment, Saraki said: “I would rather not comment and prejudge them because they might come before us.
“But clearly, Nigerians must know, to save us this embarrassment. I believe they should come out and tell us who owns the money. I believe an agency like this should monitor and clear this mess.”
Also speaking on the face-off between the executive and the National Assembly, Saraki said he has often explained that the relationship between the two arms of government was cordial, and was far better than it was in 2016.
“What we have now is very cordial. If you look at the confirmation of nominations from the executive, we have cleared over 90 per cent. If you look at the national budget, the process is much better than in 2016. In a few weeks, we will be done with the process.
“I think people just sensationalise situations. The fact that one person’s nomination was rejected does not mean there is controversy between the executive and the House.
“We don’t define democracy based on individuals. We follow processes, and that is exactly what we have done. By virtue of our presidential system of checks and balances, there is bound to be one off frictions. That is what democracy is all about,” he added.
When the Arise anchor, Charles Aniagolu, reminded him that the executive recently set up a reconciliatory committee to look into the frosty relationship between the Senate and the executive, Saraki said he was not aware of any committee, as there was no need for it.
“But I don’t think that the committee was set up because we rejected one person. There are many nominees we have rejected, and been re-presented or replaced.
“But we can’t define our democracy based on individuals. There is a process; the process is transparent. The president sent a name and the nominee has been rejected. That is it, we’ve played our own part; and I don’t think the executive is basing the relationship on the rejection of one nominee.
“I’m not aware of the committee, I think it was announced after a cabinet meeting, but since then that has not happened.
“May be on second thoughts, I think the question to ask is, is the committee really necessary? Besides, when the relationship was not as good as this, when we had major issues such as the budget (last year), we didn’t have a committee.
“So this can’t define the relationship between the executive and the Senate based on one nominee, because we are addressing more important issues.
“Also, I think the word face-off is very strong to use, because of the rejection of one nominee, I think there are one or two issues there but they can’t define the relationship,” he stressed.
On why it was taking the National Assembly long to pass the 2017 budget given that the lifespan of the 2016 budget will end on May 5th, the Senate President said he was glad that there was significant improvement in the way the legislature and executive had worked together on the budget.
“I am very sure that by the time we come back from our break on April 25th, the budget will be passed. That is the time we have in place. We are checking with various committees to see that everything is in order.
“Most of the agencies have defended their budgets, so what all the committees are doing is compiling all the reports. The plan is that when we come back on the 25th (of April), that week we should go into the final consideration of the budget.
“What the Appropriation Committees are doing is to just check that the committees have done their work properly. What we are presently doing is just the house keeping part that it going on,” he explained.
Saraki also spoke on the National Assembly’s budget, stating that it was distinct from the federal budget.
“On the National Assembly budget, we hope to change the way it’s been perceived, because in the past, not much was known about the National Assembly budget.
“But when I came in, I said we were going to change that and make it transparent. We hoped that we could have done it in 2016, but in 2015, unfortunately, we did not settle down as a united Senate as quickly as we could.
“But now that everything is fine, the National Assembly’s budget will be transparent. Nigerians will know what every member receives.
“By the time the budget is passed in the next few weeks, we will make it public and it will be to our advantage, because we hear statements like National Assembly members are the highest paid, because what people do is to take the budget and divide it by 469 members and arrive at our salaries.
“But by the time we present the budget and by the time people see what goes to salaries of aides, what goes to capital, what goes to management, what goes to running costs, and what goes to actual salaries of legislators, the commentary will stop after they see the breakdown,” he said.
However, when Saraki was reminded that there is the widespread perception that Nigerian legislators collect humongous salaries estimated at $189,000 per annum, which is 116 times above Nigeria’s GDP per capita, he dismissed the notion, stating: “Those figures like I explained are arrived at when they have taken the bulk budget of N115 billion and divided it by 469 members and come with a figure of $189,000 per annum.
“When we release the detailed budget, you will see what is the salary, you will see what is allowances, you will see what is the cost of running the offices, you will see what is management, you will see the cost of legislative studies, you will see the cost of the capital budget.
“So you will now be able to actually know how much a legislator earns and how much he is even paid to run his office, which he has to retire. But because over the years, it has never been made public, people have concluded that legislators earn a lot more and they are not going to make it public.
“Then again, if you look at other countries like the UK or US, in the US, a senator gets close to $1 million to $2 million to run his office, but nobody adds that to his salary. But because we have not broken down our budget, this has caused the misrepresentation.”
He also explained that the allowances of legilators are determined by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).
EFCC Searches Osborne Towers
Meanwhile, the EFCC, THISDAY gathered, has obtained a warrant from a court to search all the apartments in Osborne Towers, where the N13.3 billion was discovered.
According to sources in the commission, the EFCC at the weekend wrote to all the occupants of the building notifying them that its operatives will carry out a search of all the apartments.
THISDAY learnt that the reason for the search arose from the suspicion that there might be more cash hidden in another apartment at Osborne Towers, other than Flat 7B.
A source revealed that the whistle blower who blew the lid on Apartment 7B, had also informed the commission that another apartment has cash stashed in it.
The whistle blower, the source said, is believed to be a young graduate who works in the building.
It was for this reason that the commission went to court to obtain a warrant to search all the apartments in the building.
THISDAY gathered that upon receiving the letter of the EFCC, several occupants of the building were very co-operative at the weekend and allowed the operatives to carry out a search of their flats.
According to the source, about 21 flats in the building had already been searched by Monday, including the penthouse and three flats belonging to the former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu.
Fayose Blasts Buhari, Amaechi Threatens Lawsuit
But even as the EFCC went about its investigation, the fireworks arising from the accusations and counter-accusations over the N13.3 billion continued over the Easter holidays, with the Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, describing as absurd the claim by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, that looters have resorted to burying stolen funds in their backyards, forests and burial grounds.
This is just as the Minister of Transportation Chibuike Amaechi has written to a former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, and Lere Olayinka, media aide to Fayose, giving them a seven-day ultimatum to retract their allegations that he owns the money discovered in the apartment, failing which he would sue them for defamation.
Also, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State has demanded that the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, and Fayose must apologise to Amaechi for linking him to the Ikoyi billions.
Fayose, in statement issued on Monday by Olayinka, said looters in the Muhammadu Buhari administration, especially those being compensated for funding the election of the president in 2015, have buried their own loot in the State House with presidential protection.
The Ekiti governor wondered if it would be “wrong for other supposed looters that do not have presidential protection like their All Progressives Congress (APC) counterparts to bury their loot in cemeteries, possibly for spiritual protection”.
“Nigerians can no longer be fooled with stage-managed loot recoveries, with no traceable owners, especially when the loot is traceable to close associates of the president and his cabinet members.
“Obviously, this so-called anti-corruption war has become a laughing stock with N49 million found in Kaduna airport, N448 million discovered in a shop in Victoria Island, Lagos, and N13 billion found in Ikoyi, Lagos, neither having owners nor the identities of owners of the properties where the money was found known,” he said.
Fayose maintained that it was either the monies belong to members of Buhari’s government or was being planted by the government to sustain its “fake anti-corruption fight” in the minds of the people.
He said: “Enough of the stage-managed and fake anti-corruption war aimed solely at opposition figures, especially presidential hopefuls in the 2019 elections.”
The Ekiti governor stated that two different laws were now being operated in the country, with one law for the APC and those who decamp to the party and the other for the opposition, especially those perceived as having presidential ambition.
“The narrative they push daily is that only those in their government are saints while other Nigerians, including those in the National Assembly, judiciary, opposition politicians and the civil servants are rogues while only Buhari’s appointees are saints.
“To worsen matters, the cluelessness of the APC government in the last two years has plunged the country into debt without anything to show for it.
“The cabal in the presidency is also taking advantage of the president’s state of health, which is as a result of his age to oppress Nigerians.
“Nigerians must therefore keep their eyes on the ball and not be carried away by the orchestrated distractions aimed at preventing them from seeing how the APC-led government has failed woefully,” he said.
He also called on the international community to hold Nigeria accountable on the recovered N13 billion cash found in that Ikoyi apartment, warning: “This must not be swept under the carpet.”
However, as Fayose lambasted the Muhammadu Buhari administration, Amaechi, in the letter written on his behalf by his lawyer, Mr. Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), gave Fani-Kayode and Olayinka seven days to retract their posts on the social media and apologise to the former governor for dragging his name into the controversy over who owns the billions of naira retrieved by the EFCC last week from the Ikoyi residence.
The letter to Fani-Kayode read in part: “The attention of our client has been drawn to your tweet posted on your twitter timeline @realFFK, where you claimed that ‘the $43 million is Rotimi Amaechi’s. He owns the flat it was found in too. NIA story is fake news! NIA does not keep cash in minister’s flats’.
“This story as uploaded by you is to your knowledge blatantly false, malicious and is aimed at impeaching the credit of our client, a two-time speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, a two-time governor of Rivers State and current Minister of the Federation.
“Our client neither owns the cash nor the house where the cash was found and your story and claim are unfounded.
“Your twitter rant of 14/04/2014 at 04:16 was viewed by your 316,000 followers, re-tweeted 1,209 times and made a favourite by 434 followers as at the time of writing this letter today (April 14, 2017) at 7.15 p.m. and the list is increasing by the minute and same has satisfied all the conditions needed for a successful defamation case against you.”
Amaechi’s lawyer gave Fani-Kayode seven days to issue an apology in five national dailies and on his twitter handle, failing which the transportation minister shall proceed to court seeking N500 million from him as damages.
Reacting to the letter, Fani-Kayode said he was yet to receive the letter or court processes from the minister but was ready to meet him in count.
A terse statement by his media aide Jude Ndukwe said: “We have been inundated with calls concerning a threat by Rotimi Amaechi to sue Chief Fani-Kayode for defamation over the $43 million issue. We are not (losing) any sleep over this matter. We have not received any court processes or letters from Amaechi, but when we do so our lawyers will respond vigorously and appropriately.”
Amaechi’s letter to Olayinka followed a similar pattern but demanded N750 million for defamation for each of the two tweets he released on the matter, totalling N1.5 billion.
Following in the same path, the APC in Rivers State has demanded an apology from the state governor, Wike, and Fayose for linking Amaechi to the Ikoyi haul.
In a statement issued in Port Harcourt on Monday, the state chairman of the party, Dr. Davies Ikanya, described the allegations as “mischievous, wicked, diabolical, evil and a desperate attempt to run down an innocent man whose only crime is that he led APC to defeat a party that prides itself as the largest political party in Africa”.
He said: “It is on record that apart from the Abuja residence of Amaechi he has no other single plot of land in any part of this country, so linking him to the ownership of the contentious Ikoyi estate and the huge sum found in it was nothing but an invidious plot to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it.
“It is sad and shameful that a frustrated and disgraceful group with Wike and Fayose as the key actors should attempt to tarnish the hard-earned reputation of Amaechi just because he collaborated with other patriotic Nigerians to oust a regime that is now exposed as the most corrupt ever in the history of Nigeria.
“We sincerely sympathise with Wike, Fayose and Fani-Kayode in this failed plot which has once again exposed them for their lowly type of life, even as we wish to remind them that one day we all shall stand before God Almighty to give account of the type of politics people like them are promoting in Nigeria devoid of integrity and ideology.
“For the avoidance of doubt, we wish to state that Amaechi has nothing to do with neither the Ikoyi estate nor the huge sums of money discovered there by EFCC.
“We urge Nigerians to ignore the antics of the likes of Wike, Fayose and Fani-Kayode.
“Now that the revealing facts before the public domain disassociates Amaechi from this, we hereby request these three rabble-rousers to formally apologise to Amaechi for this false accusation within two weeks or we may be left with no other option than to brief our lawyers accordingly.”
APC also called on Wike to carry out his threat to go to court to compel the federal government to return the money to the Rivers State Government.
“We urge Wike and his confused government in Rivers State to carry out their threat to sue the federal government, if by the end of seven days the contentious huge sum is not returned to the Rivers State Government or else they should hide their ugly faces in shame if they should fail to do as threatened,” the party said.
It also urged the federal government “for once to take the continuous threat from Wike against the Buhari administration seriously and call him to order to avoid this confused undemocratic mind from aborting our hard earned democracy abruptly”.
The APC state chairman added: “It is unfortunate for Wike to state that the Ikoyi $43 million was part of the proceeds of the Rivers State gas turbines sold during the administration of Amaechi, knowing very well that the money realised from the sale was duly lodged in the coffers of the Rivers State Government and budgeted accordingly.
“Nigerians can now attest that Amaechi stands as the most vilified, persecuted politician in Nigeria for his bravery, patriotism and commitment to work for a better future for our country,” he pointed out.