Perhaps the most difficult thing Nigerians are struggling to come to terms with about the recovered N13 billion is the fact that the money actually belonged to the National Intelligence Agency —and for covert operations.
As PREMIUM TIMES reported on April 14, two days after the anti-graft EFCC announced the recovery of the cash haul, the NIA Director-General, Ayodele Oke, had claimed ownership of the funds on behalf of his agency, although, he didn’t disclose what it was meant for.
This newspaper later published excerpts of letters between Mr. Oke and the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, which clarified uncertainties over whether the NSA, and by extension President Muhammadu Buhari, knew about the operation beforehand.
This revelation counters widespread speculation that the money might be part of unspent campaign funds from 2015 elections.
A three-man investigative panel set up by Mr. Buhari to unravel other crucial questions about the operation was slated to submit its report last Monday. But that didn’t happen because the President left Nigeria on Sunday for a follow-up of his ongoing medical treatment.
The constitution of the panel, led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, also compounded Nigerians’ curiosity as they wondered why the administration decided to probe an operation its key officials had prior knowledge of.
The national security dimension of the controversy also makes it even dicier.
Hence, PREMIUM TIMES decided to construct a blow-by-blow account of the NIA’s $289 million covert operations:
• 2013-2014: The NIA proposed upgrade to its operation in order to bring it up to speed with modern day intelligence gathering techniques.
The upgrade was first proposed by Olaniyi Oladeji, Mr. Oke’s immediate past predecessor in the NIA. Mr. Oke took over the project after Mr. Jonathan appointed him on November 7, 2013.
He continued working out the modalities for the project before eventually submitting the final proposal to Mr. Jonathan in February 2015.
• February 14, 2015: Mr. Oke wrote a memo —Reference Number: T/S.8/5/Vol. 16— to the former President Goodluck Jonathan titled: National Intelligence Agency Critical Security and Infrastructure Requirement.
Mr. Oke requested for $289, 202, 382 to “upgrade and professionalise agency operations” in order to “engender an effective clandestine communication systems central to the working of an intelligence service”.
The NIA DG listed 12 high-level security projects that would run from 2015 to 2018.
• February 16, 2015: Mr. Jonathan granted approval for the projects.
In documents seen by this newspaper, Mr. Jonathan asked the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, to release the requested sum to the NIA via a presidential directive dispatched by Matt Aikhionbare, Mr. Jonathan’s Senior Special Assistant (Administration).
A copy of the directive, with reference number: PRES/88-3/MPR/782, was sent to Mr. Oke’s office.
A few weeks later, the NIA received the huge cash from the Central Bank of Nigeria.
The security agency then began several covert and overt projects at strategic locations across the country.
PREMIUM TIMES has withheld details of the projects for security reasons.
• January 2016: The NIA gave progress reports on the projects and a detailed breakdown of its expenses to date in a letter to NSA Monguno.
The breakdown included the total amount approved to the agency, how much had been paid to contractors for ongoing projects, the total cash at hand and the balance in the bank. The breakdown was rendered in U.S. dollars.
Mr. Oke also told Mr. Monguno that his agency was willing to avail the NSA with audited reports of the foreign intelligence office’s expenses if utmost secrecy can be guaranteed.
Mr. Oke said this would prevent the possibility of blowing the cover of its operations if the information was provided to other officials outside the NSA or NIA.
“The NIA is keen to render an account of expenditures in the overarching interest of accountability and stewardship,” Mr.Oke said.
But “the attendant implications” of allowing other parties access to NIA finances “could irreparably damage the image of the agency, particularly with friendly intelligence services worldwide and ultimately undermine national security.”
Mr. Oke said Instrument One of the NIA gave only the NSA the permission to inspect NIA projects as the coordinating body for national security departments.
• February 29, 2016: Mr. Monguno’s three-man panel that inspected the NIA projects submitted its report and expressed its satisfaction with the way the $289 million operation was being implemented.
• May 5, 2016: Mr. Monguno visited the NIA Headquarters for the first time since he assumed office in July 2015 and wrote in the visitors’ book:
“On the occasion of my maiden visit to the NIA since assumption of official duties as NSA, I am extremely delighted by the warm reception and hospitality shown to me by H.E. Ambassador Ayo Oke, DG, NIA, the quality of works in progress is notably breathtaking but very inspiring also.
“All the facilities being constructed have demonstrated that the NIA is far ahead of its sister agencies in terms of foresight and dealing with 21st Century intelligence issues.
“It is my fervent prayer that the NIA achieve all the goals it has set for itself so that all other institutions of government, particularly the intelligence community, will bring about the desired change for this great country,” Mr. Monguno wrote in the NIA visitors’ book on May 5, 2016.
• May 17, 2016: The NSA informed the NIA that President Buhari had been briefed about the ongoing projects and that the president expressed his gratitude to the NIA personnel.
• April 12, 2017: The EFCC recovered $43,449,947, £27,800 and N23,218,000 from an apartment at Osborne Towers in Ikoyi, Lagos.
• April 13, 2017: The anti-graft office approached the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court to seek forfeiture of the money.
• April 13, 2017: President Buhari ordered that the money be returned to the CBN.
• April 19, 2017: Mr. Oke was suspended from office.
• April 19, 2017: The Osinbajo’s panel was set up to investigate the “circumstances in which the NIA came into possession of the funds, how and by whose or which authority the funds were made available to the NIA, and to establish whether or not there has been a breach of the law or security procedure in obtaining custody and use of the funds.”
The panel was given 14 days to conclude its findings.
• April 24, 2017: Mr. Oke appeared before the panel.
• April 25, 2017: The House of Representatives raised a committee to investigate NIA’s involvement in the recovered funds.
• April 25, 2017: A former Minister of External Affairs, Bolaji Akinyemi, advised President Buhari to exercise caution in exposing the NIA to external investigation.
“External Intelligence operations do not belong into the same security genre as domestic security forces such as the SSS, EFCC and the Police,” Mr. Akinyemi said.
As minister between 1985 and 1987, Mr. Akinyemi oversaw the activities of the NIA before the agency was restructured and placed under the supervision of the Office of the National Security Adviser.
• May 8, 2017: The report of Osinbajo’s panel was slated for submission to Mr. Buhari. But the president was flown abroad for further medical treatment on May 7.
. May 21, 2017: Acting President Osinbajo’s spokesperson said Mr. Oke remained suspended. Laolu Akande urged for patience explaining that “when time comes the outcome of the panel would be made manifestly public and Nigerians would be satisfied.”
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