EFCC keeps mum over Tinubu’s bullion vans ahead of 2019 election

APC Chieftain, Chief Bola Tinubu briefing State House Correspondents
File Photo of APC Chieftain, Chief Bola Tinubu briefing State House Correspondents after his meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa in Abuja on Monday (30/10/17) 05775/30/10/2017/Callistus Ewelike/NAN

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Thursday declined comments about whether it had launched an investigation to find out how former Lagos governor, Bola Tinubu, came about the bullion vans that drove into his home in February.

Nigerians have mounted pressure on the anti-graft office to open money laundering probe against Mr Tinubu, after the ruling party chieftain was seen on February 22 receiving at least two armoured vehicles believed to be bearing cash.

The development raised controversies because it came a day to the presidential election on February 23.

Mr Tinubu is a senior leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), and a strong ally of President Muhammadu Buhari, who was seeking reelection at the time.

Critics said there was no doubt the vehicles were conveying cash to bribe voters with, especially since such trucks are used in Nigeria almost exclusively to convey cash by banks, government institutions and cash-in-transit firms.

Mr Tinubu’s action was widely deemed contrary to Nigerian anti-money laundering laws, which places a cap of N5 million ( about $14,000) on cash handling by individuals.

The former Lagos governor admitted the next day that the bullion vans were conveying money to his house, but he defended his action as out of public’s interest because he was not a government official.

Transparency deferred

Many Nigerians expected the EFCC to investigate the incident for possible violation of Nigerian laws.

But the anti-graft office has declined to comment on the matter — and there is no evidence it is investigating it.

The first comments from the agency on the scandal came during a tweet meet on Thursday, during which the agency found a convenient opening to circumvent explanation.

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“It is a matter of principle by the EFCC not to discuss in public, issues that border around investigations,” the agency said during the hour-long chat organised by the Tap Initiative in Abuja.

The Tap Initiative, an Abuja-based public policy think-tank, had asked whether or not the EFCC saw potential violations of anti-money laundering regulations in Mr Tinubu’s conduct.

The agency only confirmed that it had secured convictions over vote-buying offences, while several other investigations were ongoing around the same crimes.

It was unclear whether acting-chairman Ibrahim Magu took part in the tweet meet, but EFCC sources told PREMIUM TIMES on Friday night that the responses of the agency came from a senior anti-graft official.

Contributors dismissed the EFCC’s explanation during the tweet meet, saying the agency was reluctant to investigate Mr Tinubu because of his status as an ally of the president.

Martin Obono, the director of Tap Initiative, said the organisation does not engage in partisan commentary about its guests’ submission during a tweet meet, but the citizens have a right to challenge any replies they deem unsatisfactory.

“We have brought the EFCC as a guest on our May 23, 2019, edition of tweet meet, and asked questions that we believe were in the public interest,” Mr Obono said. “But if Nigerians found some of the responses insufficient, they can challenge them to move the conversation forward.”

It was the second time the EFCC would participate in the tweet meet, which Tap Initiative introduced in 2018 to engage public officials for updates on their activities.

Its first appearance came in November 2018, during which the agency similarly declined comments about Abdullahi Ganduje, the Kano State governor who was caught on video receiving wads of dollars in alleged bribes from public works contractor.

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