A human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has absolved the federal government of blames in the $15 million secret arms fund seized by the South African authorities.
In a statement Tuesday, Mr. Falana questioned the perceived illegitimacy of a transaction done through a bank.
South Africa’s Asset Forfeiture Unit of the National Prosecuting Authority, NPA, had confiscated two tranches of cash ($9.3 million and $5.7 million) within a space of three weeks alleging they were proceeds of illegal transactions.
The Nigerian government had responded with fury explaining that the funds were meant for arms purchase to fight the Boko Haram sect and warning the South African government of its investments in Nigeria.
According to City Press, a South African newspaper, Sambo Dasuki, Nigeria’s National Security Adviser, NSA, personally authorized the $9.3 million arms contract by issuing an end-user certificate, alongside a “shopping list” for helicopters, unmanned aircraft, rockets and ammunition.
“It is interesting to note that the NSA has not said that it was the Federal Government that transferred the controversial fund to South Africa. Neither has the NPA indicted the Federal Government for the alleged criminality associated with the transaction,” said Mr. Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
“In fact, the NPA has not questioned the legal status of both companies. What is being investigated by the NPA is the legitimacy of the receipt of $5.7 million by Cerberus Risk Solutions of South Africa whose license to deal in arms had expired before it entered into the contract. In actuality, it was the Standard Bank through which the fund was transferred which reported the ‘suspicious transaction.’
“And the NPA promptly applied for and obtained an order of the High Court for the seizure of the fund. Both companies – Cerberus Risk Solutions of South Africa and it’s Nigerian counterpart, Societe D’Equipments Internationale are yet to challenge the interim order for the confiscation of the fund.”
Mr. Falana said that contrary to the mismanagement of information by the office of the NSA, the Federal Government did not place any direct order for the importation of arms from South Africa.
“The fact that the NSA signed the End-User certificate for the arms importation is not a license for the companies involved in the deal to breach the laws of South Africa,” he said.
“In other words, the Israeli and two Nigerians who were arrested last month for smuggling the sum of $9.3 million and the Nigerian company involved in the transfer of the $5.7 million to South Africa are not public officers. As independent contractors they were awarded contracts for the supply of arms by the Federal Government and paid accordingly.”
According to Mr. Falana, it was the negligence of the “suspects” that led them to deal with companies not authorized to trade in arms in South Africa.
“By the way when was the responsibility of purchasing weapons for the armed forces of Nigeria transferred from the Ministry of Defence to the office of the NSA?
“However, since the Federal Government cannot be held vicariously liable for the alleged criminal activities of the suspects the office of the NSA ought not to have embarrassed the nation by giving
the erroneous impression that Nigeria had breached the law of another country.
“As a sovereign entity the Federal Government can place orders for the purchase of arms either from another government or from independent arms dealers. But when the office of the NSA decided to award contracts to private corporate bodies for the supply of arms it could not have clothed them with immunity or license to breach local or foreign laws.”
Mr. Falana called on the federal government to stop grandstanding over the “criminal enterprise” and apologise to Nigerians as well as call the NSA to order for dragging the country’s name through the mud.
“Instead of exposing Nigeria to further ridicule the Federal Government should stop accepting responsibility for the alleged criminal actions of the suspects indicted in the alleged laundering of the sum of $15 million,” said Mr. Falana.
“Having regard to the facts and circumstances of this shameful episode there is substantial evidence to prove that the suspects breached the terms of the deal for the supply of the arms.
“To that extent the Federal Government is perfectly entitled to sue them with a view to recovering the entire contract sum of $15 million. Notwithstanding their inexplicable negligence the suspects should be advised to contest the order of the High Court which authorised the seizure of the fund. To show that there was no mens rea to breach the law of that country the NSA may wish to testify for the suspects.”