Four days after PREMIUM TIMES revealed that the Minister of Defence was part of those who stole Nigeria’s wealth under dictator Sani Abacha, President Muhammadu Buhari is yet to comment.
Bashir Magashi was one of the ministers President Buhari swore in last month after the new ministers were screened and cleared by the Senate and the State Security Service (SSS).
Before the story was published, PREMIUM TIMES reached out to presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, who refused to respond to enquiries.
On Friday, this reporter called Mr Shehu again on the matter. He replied with a message “text please”.
A text message was promptly sent to him on Mr Buhari’s knowledge of and action on the minister’s past.
Two days later, Mr Shehu is yet to reply to the message.
The Minister’s Past
On August 28, this newspaper published exclusively how Mr Magashi, a retired major-general, stole public funds during Mr Abacha’s junta and banked it abroad, a method typical of both Mr Abacha and others who stole under him.
At least $550,000 of the funds stolen by Mr Magashi was later detected by former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s investigation of the now infamous ‘Abacha Loot.’
About $3 billion of the Abacha loot has been recovered out of at least $5 billion estimated by Transparency International.
Is Buhari aware or not?
A presidency official, who asked not to be named because he has no permission to grant media interviews, said, “I can tell you that there is no way the president would have ignored that kind of matter to appoint him if he were made aware.”
But if it is true that the president had no knowledge that Mr Magashi once forfeited looted funds, after Wednesday’s report, Mr Buhari’s attention would have been drawn to it.
It also means the SSS, charged with vetting appointees to top government positions, again failed to do its job well.
The Nigerian secret police had also failed in 2015 to detect that the NYSC certificate presented by former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, was fake.
Like the SSS, the Senate which also had the opportunity to vet ministers before their confirmation also failed to discover Mr Magashi’s corrupt past.
The minister himself has declined to comment on his past.