Two associate directors of the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) have been suspended for initiating investigations against Atiku Abubakar and Bola Ahmed Tinubu, documents seen by PREMIUM TIMES have shown.
The two NFIU officials, Mohammed Mustapha, the associate director, Intelligence and Investigation, and Fehintola Salisu, associate director, Compliance and Analysis, were suspended in August, about five months ago, for writing memos to local and foreign authorities after initiating probes against the two top political figures.
The Director of NFIU, Modibbo Tukur, appointed in January 2019 to head the unit for a five-year tenure, stated in a January 13, 2021 letter that the two officials bypassed his authorisation to initiate probes against the two men who are believed to be planning to run for the presidency in 2023.
Mr Mustapha and Ms Salisu are the remaining legacy staff members of the NFIU in the directorate cadre of the country’s foremost financial intelligence body.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the other four associate directors only joined the unit after the re-establishment of the unit through the new NFIU Act which came into force in 2018.
But Mr Tukur said their suspension was “to protect the new FIU from series of abuses they have been committing.”
“The two staff (members) were involved in acts inimical to the interest of the unit as they indulged in insubordination and disobedience of lawful authority,” he stated in the letter responding to a petition sent to the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC).
Petition against Tukur
A law firm, C. Chris Ekemezie & Associate, had last year sent a petition to ICPC accusing Mr Tukur of various infractions including alleged “unexplainable” suspension of two of the agency’s staff members.
The petitioner alleged that the two staff members were suspended “for trying to profile a politically exposed person from his (Mr Tukur’s) state.”
Mr Abubakar, a former Nigerian Vice-President and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 general elections, hails from Adamawa State as Mr Tukur.
In the build-up to the 2019 elections, the Federal Government, through the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, threatened him with investigations for his alleged roles in the collapse of Bank PHB.
Although the touted investigations appeared to be later jettisoned, it is not clear if it was the same case the NFIU officials attempted to reopen in 2020.
Atiku’s case and the NFIU
Mr Tukur levelled other allegations against the two senior officials, but initiating investigations against Mr Abubakar appears to be the driving force for the suspension of the top NFIU operatives.
“It is important to state that his causing an investigation of Atiku Abubakar has absolutely nothing to do with his departmental briefings,” Mr Tukur stated.
According to him, Mr Mustapha wrote to the Inspector-General of Police and the Chair of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Mr Abubakar without authorisation in violation of his standing directive.
“Prior to this incident, I had issued memos and emails to staff and also issue (sic) several repeated verbal warnings that staff should desist from writing Heads of MDAs without formal approval of the Director/CEO,” Mr Tukur stated.
He added, “He was suspended because he independently wrote a request to both Inspector General of Police and the Chairman EFCC on former Vice President Atiku Abubakar without any form of approval or authorisation from the CEO NFIU who was on duty too.
“Herein attached as Annexure 3 are copies of the letters he sent without approval to these organisations.”
Ex-VP visits Buhari
Mr Tukur claimed he did not know of the investigations until he was alerted from the Presidential Villa when Mr Abubakar was trying to book an appointment with President Muhammadu Buhari over the matter.
“Sir,” Mr Tukur wrote to the ICPC Chair, Bolaji Owasanoye, “I only got to know of Mohammed’s action when I was informed at the Villa that Atiku Abubakar is seeking for an appointment with the President to report me for causing his investigation without reason.”
On Ms Salisu’s role in the former Vice-President’s case, the NFIU Director said: “she claimed to have minuted the request on the investigation of Atiku Abubakar to Mustapha AbdulRahman (Mr Mustapha) who went ahead to write IGP and the EFCC Chairman directly, all without approval while I was actively on duty as the Head of Agency.”
Tinubu’s case and the NFIU officials
Mr Tukur also alleged that Mr Mustapha sent a request to the United States of America based on an old Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) case against Mr Tinubu.
In 2011, the CCB, under the then President Goodluck Jonathan-led government, accused Mr Tinubu of breaching Nigeria’s code of conduct law by operating foreign accounts while serving as Lagos State governor between 1999 and 2007.
The case was eventually dismissed by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
Accusing Mr Mustapha of violating procedure, the NFIU Director said his approval as the CEO of the agency was not sought before the move to initiate a probe against Mr Tinubu was initiated.
He stated, “Significantly, after his suspension, it was discovered that he initiated a request to the U.S on Bola Ahmed Tinubu which he extracted from an old case of CCB.
“Again, he did this without my approval and authorisation.
“The problem here Sir is that as the CEO, he is supposed to formally seek my approval before sending out any requests for investigation as doing otherwise after my circulars and instructions to staff amount to insubordination.”
Disclosure of Onnoghen’s case
Mr Tukur also justified Mr Mustapha’s suspension on the grounds that he was being investigated by both the State Security Service (commonly called the Department of State Service, DSS) and the EFCC for different alleged offences.
According to him, while the SSS is investigating the suspended official for allegedly leaking the details of the case against then Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, to the public, the EFCC is questioning him for opening an account for the FIU without approval.
Mr Onnoghen was suspended from office in January 2019 following the charges instituted against him at the CCT.
He did not return to the top judicial office until he finally exited in April 2019.
Mr Tukur said, “Secondly, Mohammed (Mr Mustapha) is officially under investigation by EFCC for opening a bank account in the name of THE FIU without approval.
“I did not know about this case until the EFCC wrote a request for his release for investigation signed by Mr Ibrahim Magu. I was not the person that reported him to the EFCC because I didn’t know about it.
“Furthermore, Mohammed (Mr Mustapha) is officially under investigation by DSS for alleged leakage of Justice Onnoghen’s case details to the public when the Attorney General formally gave an order on the case.
“I was not the Director when the issue took place.
“Herewith attached is a list from DSS including his name, requesting to release him for investigation.
“Both the EFCC and DSS investigations were still ongoing when the present case that led to his suspension happened.
“It is important to state that his causing an investigation of Atiku Abubakar has absolutely nothing to do with his departmental briefings.”
The probe of judges, federal lawmakers
Aside from Ms Salisu’s alleged involvement in Mr Abubakar’s case, Mr Tukur also accused her of bypassing his approval in initiating investigations into the personal bank account of judges and National Assembly members “without any tangible or justifiable reasons” in 2019.
He stated that the letter was written by Ms Salisu to banks requesting the personal details of the public officers “created serious problems for the Presidency, the CJN and the Senate President.”
He added, “It took the personal intervention and guidance by the Vice President, the Senate President, the CJN and the AGF to resolve the issue.
“The politicians were particularly furious because they had their cases then pending at the various Election Petition tribunals.
“The conclusion then was that we were inciting disaffection from the judiciary to get back at the entire government. I queried Fehintola after which she was warned.”
Suspended NFIU Officials decline to speak
Our correspondent reached out to Mr Mustapha and Ms Salisu via their separate telephone lines on Thursday, but they declined to speak on the matter.
“I can’t speak on the matter, it will not be fair for me to do so,” Mr Mustapha said.
On her part, Ms Salisu said, “It is an official matter and the process is still going on,” adding, “I cannot speak on the matter because I have no authority to do so.”
NFIU Director, Tukur, denies other allegations
Aside from the alleged arbitrary suspension of the two officials, the petitioner also accused the NFIU Director of “acting outside the purview of the powers given to the NFIU”, violation of federal character principle in appointments and placements in the unit, blackmailing Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAS) for financial support, and breach of code of conduct for public officers.
But Mr Tukur denied all the allegations with explanations, saying they were “false, maliciously formulated to achieve a mischievous end.”
He added that the allegations “are borne out of mischief, fabrication, unfounded and a product of a fertile imagination.”
Chris Ekemezie, whose law firm, C. Chris Ekemezie & Associate, sent the petition against Mr Tukur, told our reporter the ICPC had dismissed its complaints.
“They wrote to us this January, saying our petition is unmeritorious. But we are considering what our next line of action we will take,” Mr Ekemezie said.
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