Although his private jet was used to illegally ferry $9.3 million cash to South Africa, the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Ayo Oritsejafor, did no wrong, the presidency has said.
The Senior Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan on Public Communication, Doyin Okupe, stated this on Sunday in Abuja while addressing journalists.
“Oritsejafor has no business in this matter,” he said. “It is true that he owns the aircraft but there are over 200 private Nigerians who have jets. Apart from those who use it frequently, some give it out to get some money and defray some of the costs. If you put your jet down, you pay money and parking charges every day.”
The presidential aide reiterated Mr. Oritsejafor’s statement that he had given the aircraft to a private company to manage.
“He gave the private jet to a company to manage. The company is handing it and these people gave out the plane that is available. What has this to do with Oritsejafor?
“If I have many cars at the airport and decide to give one to car hire services. And he decides to carry somebody having Indian hemp, will you link it up with the man who gave it out?” he said.
Mr. Okupe claimed that anyone criticising Mr. Oritsejafor’s role in the shady deal was not giving due respect to the office the latter holds as CAN president.
“Most Nigerians do not also respect the sensibilities of other people,” he said. “Oritsejafor is the President of CAN and head of all Christians in Nigeria who is representing at least 50 per cent of people in this country. When it comes to a man like that, people should be cautious and circumspect.”
The presidential aide also claimed those linking Mr. Oritsejafor, a well known ally of President Jonathan, to the scandal were being mischievous and only playing politics with the issue.
“The linking of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor is the most unfortunate thing,” he said. “To put the very respectable, responsible, honest and sincere President of CAN in this matter is the extreme of mischief. It just shows you what Nigerians do; they go to any extent to politicize everything and every day.
“What bothers me here is the manner with people want to bring down Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor on this matter. It is pure absurdity.”
Mr. Okupe also defended the federal government’s handling of the saga, saying all information about it could not be disclosed because of the security implications.
“The Nigerian government cannot share all information about the issues because it is a security matter. It is an issue which we cannot just bring to public domain,” he said.
“I am surprised that Nigerians want to discuss security issues openly and publicly when a war is still going on.
“These are very serious national security affairs and running a government is not the same thing as running a Shoprite, where everything is on the table and on display.”
Despite that moving cash of such magnitude) into a foreign country, including Nigeria, is illegal, and despite South Africa’s insistence on holding on to the money due to the illegality, Mr. Okupe insisted the transaction was not “shady.”
“There is nothing shady about the South African deal and the Office of the NSA (National Security Adviser) has done very well.
“Because at the appropriate time, they came in that, ‘yes, this money belongs to us and this was what it was meant for.’ That explanation itself was okay. There is no hanky panky on this matter,” he said.
After the $9.3 million cash was seized, another $5.7 million was also seized by South African authorities as it was to be wired by a South African firm to Nigeria.
The Nigerian government has said that like the first, second sum was also to purchase arms from South Africa; and that it was being returned because the private company it paid the money to was not duly registered in South Africa.
Despite criticism from Nigeria and abroad that further trailed the second transaction, Mr. Okupe said it was a normal deal.
“A company was mandated to do a national security assignment for the Federal Government of Nigeria and because of the extant laws in South Africa, that company was unable to deliver its contractual agreement with the Nigerian government.
“The company now wants a refund, which is normal”, Mr. Okupe said.
Since the scandals broke, the federal government and Mr. Oritsejafor have come under heavy criticisms for their roles in the shady deals.
Some of those who have criticised both parties include a former CAN President and Catholic Cardinal, Olubunmi Okogie, and the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC.
The APC, apart from asking the federal government to come clean on the deals, also asked the government to disclose the identity of the two Nigerians that were in the cash-stuffed private jet.
There have been reports that an ex-Niger Delta militant and ally of President Jonathan, Asari Dokubo, was one of the two Nigerians.
Mr. Okupe did not disclose the identity of both men.