Nigeria’s secret police seized hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and assets in a series of anti-corruption raids targeting senior judges over the past few days, drawing strong condemnation and criticism from the Nigerian Bar association and domestic rights groups. The raids prompted the Nigerian Bar Association to declare a state of emergency, denouncing the operation. Bar Association head Abubakar Mahmoud lashed out at Buhari over the raids, declaring that “we are not under military rule and we cannot accept this unholy event and Gestapo-style operation”
During the nationwide operation involving investigations against 15 judges, police detained seven judges, but subsequently released them on bail the following day (Mon 11th Oct).
In a statement, the Department of States Services (DSS) said it had seized $800 000 in cash during the operation which was launched on the basis of “allegations of corruption and professional misconduct” by a number of judges. The State Security Service said it had been monitoring the judges’ “expensive and luxurious lifestyle” amid complaints they had accepted bribes.
The office of President Muhammadu Buhari, in its first public statement, said all arrests and searches were carried out according to the law, and in a bid to root out corruption. The Statement said that “the recent surgical operation against some judicial officers is specifically targeted at corruption and not at the judiciary as an institution” further describing the President as a committed democrat, though his opponent and critics continue to accuse him of using his very high profile anti-corruption efforts as simply an attempt to sideline his political foes.
One human rights lawyer in Abuja described the arrest of judges on this scale as “unprecedented. Even under military rule you didn’t have judges being arrested this way.”
On the military front, Boko Haram has killed at least eight soldiers in two attacks in northeastern Nigeria while more than two dozen fighters also died, according to the Nigerian military.
The Islamist group ambushed a convoy near Bama, 70km southeast of Maiduguri, resulting in the deaths of an army officer, three soldiers, and three attackers, an army statement admitted, while insurgents also attacked an army position at Logomani, 110km northeast of Maiduguri city, killing another four soldiers The army said at least 22 fighters died in that firefight.
The attacks brought the confirmed official death toll of troops killed over the course of one week to 10, with another 24 others wounded. However, Boko Haram claimed that more than 40 soldiers from the multinational army (Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria) were killed in just one attack last week, undermining claims by the Nigerian Government that Boko Haram is “on the run”.
On Sunday 2 October, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau finally reappeared on the stage, in a video denying military reports that he had been fatally wounded in September. He also insisted that he remained in charge despite the fact that ISIL appointed a new leader of Boko Haram (also known now as Islamic State West Africa Province – ISWA)
In the 40-minute video (released on You Tube), Shekau taunted the parents of the more than 200 Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped in 2014, saying they would see their daughters only if the government agrees to an exchange for detained leaders of the Islamist group. “If you want your girls, bring back our brethren,” Shekau demanded.
Shekau was also quoted saying “to the people of Chibok: You have not seen the worst yet. You have been spreading in the social media that you injured or killed me”.
Earlier during September, Nigeria’s air force had claimed that an airstrike had killed senior members of the group, and that Shekau had been seriously wounded. The Nigerian military has said it killed or critically wounded Shekau numerous times in recent years, often just before someone who claims to be him shoots a video denying it.
“I will not get killed until my time comes,” said the man in the video, addressed to “tyrants of Nigeria in particular and the west of Africa in general”.
Speaking in Hausa, Arabic and English and in dialects spoken in northeast Nigeria, he appeared to be in good physical health, using the video to issue further threats against President Muhammadu Buhari, who has appealed to the United Nations once again for assistance in negotiating the release of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by the group more than two years ago.
The minister of information, Lai Mohammed has been quoted as saying that the government remains in contact with Boko Haram and is doing everything possible to secure the girls safely, while on the other hand, the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign group has condemned what it describes as the government’s inaction towards rescuing the girls and are demanding better action.
“Government needs to be a lot more strategic in terms of how they go about now finding the girls. This has been going on for over two years, we’ve tried so many different approaches, maybe it’s time to start thinking about a different approach”.
Earlier in September, five traders were killed after a Boko Haram ambush of a Nigerian immigration staff convoy travelling to Maiduguri. According to local witnesses, the traders had taken advantage of the official convoy to travel to the capital of Borno State.
On the anti-corruption front in Nigeria, former Nigerian first lady Patience Jonathan has been claiming ownership of bank accounts, allegedly worth $31.5 million, that were frozen in July by the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) in one of their most high profile corruption investigations, prompting anti-corruption groups in Nigeria to demand her prosecution.
The wife of former president Goodluck Jonathan filed her own suit in September, asking the Federal High Court in Lagos to unfreeze five US dollar accounts held at Nigeria’s Skye Bank.
Separately, her lawyer sent a letter to the EFCC claiming that $15 million of the money was a “government payment” for medical bills she had incurred in London during 2013.
Nigerians took to social media to deride her claim, asking if she planned to heal the entire world or was buying eternal life. But some accused the anti-graft commission of subjecting her and others to “trial by media”.
The EFCC has detained hundreds of people in a year-long investigation of tens of billions of dollars missing from the state treasury that to date has not produced any successful prosecutions.
President Goodluck Jonathan left office in May 2015 after being voted out and replaced by President Buhari, who promptly announced that tackling corruption would be at the top of his agenda.
Nigeria’s Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, a civil society group, demanded that the Attorney-General immediately undertake criminal proceedings against the former first lady.
Nigerian media quoted unidentified EFCC officers as saying that all but one of the frozen accounts were set up in the names of Mrs. Jonathon’s domestic workers, though the former first lady was the sole signatory. In addition, a former senior presidential aide, a lawyer and a senior Skye Bank official are among other people named in the corruption case that alleges graft and money laundering.
Despite the popularity in Nigeria of the broader anti-corruption investigations, a public affairs analyst, Jude Ndukwe, has questioned the neutrality of the fight against corruption by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, after the handling of the Patience Jonathan accounts controversy.
“I wish to state that in as much as citizens are not against president Buhari’s supposed fight against corruption, our concern is that the anti-corruption war should be made all-encompassing to cover suspects from all parties and ethnicity” Ndukwe said, claiming that such actions could be seen as a “political witch-hunt” if only members of the opposition party and officials of the former administration are the sole targets.
“The fight must also be done within the ambit of the law and not through the whims and caprices of members of the current government, as is current the case…. our laws require that nobody’s bank account can be frozen without a court order but this is not the case in Dame Patience Jonathan’s matter”, casting doubt on the impartiality of the crackdown on corruption.
Former President Jonathan himself has previously been implicated in former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki’s corrupt dealings regarding Defence arms procurement. Dasuki was arrested in 2015 for allegedly stealing more than USD2 billion which had been budgeted to purchase weapons to enable the Nigerian military and Air Force to more effectively fight Boko Haram. Dasuki’s lawyer, however, has claimed that Dasuki, as NSA, simply carried out former President Jonathan’s instructions.
President Muhammadu Buhari has openly stated that Jonathan will face the law should he be found guilty of corruption.
Adding to the uncertainty surrounding ownership of the Skye Bank frozen funds, four Nigerian companies involved in the money laundering case linked to the former First Lady subsequently pleaded guilty before a Federal High Court, sitting in Lagos.
The companies — Pluto Property and Investment Company Limited; Seagate Property Development and Investment Company Limited; Trans Ocean Property and Investment Company Limited; and Avalon Global Property Development Company Limited — pleaded guilty to a 15-count charge (conspiracy and fraud) laid against them by the EFCC.
The companies were arraigned alongside a former Special Assistant to former President Goodluck Jonathan on Domestic Affairs, a former presidential aide, and a former senior Skye Bank official, all of whom pleaded not guilty before the court.
However, Patience Jonathan in a statement signed by her counsel, disowned the representatives of the companies, claiming they were mercenaries recruited by the EFCC to plead guilty so that her funds
The EFCC has alleged that the 3 individuals accused had, between November 2013 and June 2015, used the 4 different companies to commit the offences.
The accused were alleged to have conspired to retain over $15 million, which sum they reasonably ought to have known formed part of the proceeds of crime, in contravention of the provisions of section 18 (a) of the money laundering prohibition Act, 2012.
The former first lady was quoted as saying that the accusations against her, and the conduct of the Federal High Court in Lagos, have shown clearly that the EFCC was bent on denting her image and trampling on her fundamental human rights, claiming that “this is an irony. I was the one who went to court for the repatriation of my confiscated money when I realised that the EFCC and its co-travellers were playing politics with this issue after I had come out publicly to say that the said money belongs to me and that I have all evidence to prove the sources of my money. Up till this very moment, EFCC has refused to interrogate or invite me for questioning. It is clear that these agents of the EFCC have been stage-managed and tutored to come to court to complicate the case as a strategy to confiscate my money.”
Mrs. Jonathan reiterated her respect for the sanctity and integrity of the judiciary as the bastion of hope for every citizen of the country. She however expressed disappointment that her well-earned image was being maligned in the court of public opinion through the “tissues of lies being churned out by the EFCC in respect of the matter”.
Mrs. Jonathan restated that she was not a director, shareholder, promoter and/or participant in any of the four companies now under trial, and that she was the sole signatory to all the said accounts, contrary to the accusation that she used her driver and cook as proxies.
She also denied ever receiving any monies from any unknown sources into her accounts and that the accounts were opened in order to facilitate her travel overseas particularly for medical treatment, sundry purchase for herself and her late mother, Mrs. Charity Oba (Mama Sisi).
In Lagos, the Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED) called on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to invite the former first Lady for formal questioning over the $31.4m fraud, declaring that the fact that the ex-first Lady had claimed the ownership of the money should be enough to commence her arraignment in court.
He said further that any attempt to treat Patience Jonathan as a “sacred cow” would send the wrong signal to the public.
According to the Director, in a hard hitting statement, “CHRICED has been following with keen interest the ongoing legal battle between the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and former first lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, over the unexplained $31.4million traced to her company accounts. It is disturbing that in spite of the weight of the indictment against her, the former first lady has continued to grandstand, just as she has been trying to use the judicial process to arm twist the EFCC and frustrate its ongoing inquest. Without prejudice to the right of the indicted person to seek redress through the judiciary, we call on the EFCC not to roll over and allow corruption to have a field day”.
“It is our considered view that in the face of these clever-by-half stratagems to tie its hands, the anti-graft agency must remain resolute in bringing all perpetrators of corruption to justice. We insist that the EFCC must stand its ground by ensuring that all those who plundered the Nigerian treasury, no matter how highly placed, are brought to justice. In the case of the former first lady, it would be dangerous for the anti-graft commission to give the impression that it is scared of taking on the big names who have been indicted.
“As far as we know, the aides of the former first lady whose names were allegedly used to open the fictitious accounts in which the said $31.4 million was found, are currently being questioned by the EFCC. It therefore amounts to treating the former first lady as a sacred cow to allow her to walk free, while fellow indicted persons with no name recognition have been arrested…. the fact that she has claimed ownership of the funds in question is sufficient grounds for her invitation to explain the source of such a huge amount of money. At the end of the investigations, the former first lady should be quickly charged to court and made to face justice.
“CHRICED also believes that Nigerians who are currently enduring the biting pains of the current economic recession should be able to see that it was mostly caused by the greedy actions of people like Patience Jonathan who choose to line their pockets from the nation’s common wealth. It is the actions of these inconsiderate few that have put the country in its current dire straits.”