A special anti-corruption investigator who was recently sacked by the Buhari administration has levelled gruesome allegations of misconduct against some senior government officials.
Victor Uwajeh said he was asked to focus exclusively on opposition politicians in his investigation of undeclared and suspicious properties owned by politically-exposed Nigerians in foreign countries, a demand he said he rejected in principle.
The government has, however, rejected the allegations, describing it as strange and insisting that the investigator was sacked because he failed to disclose that he had active corruption cases against him during the hiring process.
Mr Uwajeh was hired in March to help track questionable properties acquired by former and present government officials in foreign countries. He had boasted of his ability to trace the properties and warned looters who stashed wealth abroad that he was on their trail.
In March he reportedly traced assets allegedly owned by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu and shared the information with some media outlets. Mr Ekweremadu denied ownership of the properties, saying his political detractors were out to erode his integrity.
Mr Uwajeh, a London-based private investigator formerly contracted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, was hired by the Presidential Panel for Recovery of Public Properties led by Okoi Obono-Obla.
Mr Obono-Obla, who was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari in April 2016, had been working to seize local properties traced to some politicians, including David Mark, a serving senator from Benue State and two-term Senate President. Mr Obono-Obla said the properties were illegally acquired and had sought court approval to have them forfeited to the government.
He hired Mr Uwajeh on March 22 to help ramp up his committee’s expropriation of undeclared properties traced to some crooked elements overseas.
But Mr Uwajeh was abruptly fired toward the end of April, with Mr Obono-Obla citing an ongoing fraud trial involving Mr Uwajeh for severing relations with him.
Mr Uwajeh had initially denied all allegations of fraud, saying he was being hounded by Andy Uba, a serving senator from Anambra State. Mr Uwajeh said the senator was after him because he owed him about $9 million for services he rendered to him around 2012 but which the senator had failed to pay back.
In turn, Mr Uba fiercely denied the claims by Mr Uwajeh, whom he accused of forging his signature to endorse a memorandum of the alleged deal. Shortly before he was sacked last month, Mr Uwajeh reportedly evaded court bailiffs in an ongoing case instituted by the Nigerian government.
The presiding judge was compelled to issue an order for Mr Uwajeh to be served by sustituted meanss, which typically involves the use of newspaper to publish the court summon or post the notice at the entrance of his known address(es).
On Tuesday morning, he released a statement saying his dismissal was no longer because Mr Uba wanted him out of his new appointment but because he declined to be used to serve partisan ends of the Buhari administration.
“My refusal to dance to the tune of the government and SIPP led to my disengagement,” Mr Uwajeh said.
He alleged that some administration officials met him in London during this year’s Commonwealth Head of Government Meetings in April, giving him some directives he found unethical.
“After meeting in London on 18th April, 2018 with some officials during the CHOGM, it was evident that I will not bulge in my position not to go against the ethics of my profession by investigating only the opposition,” Mr Uwajeh said. “It was the procedure of the panel to courier documents to me from Nigeria for dispatch to various agencies in the United Kingdom and worldwide.”
Subsequently, Mr Uwajeh said he deduced the mission of the administration and a predetermined direction some officials wanted him to pursue.
“Soon after, I realised that the panel has a mindset towards certain individuals and groups by the documents it sent to me,” he said.
He said the some unnamed government officials in Abuja forwarded some documents to him in London which contained names of Nigerian politicians perceived not to be in good terms with Mr Buhari. The files were to be sent to Serious Fraud Office and Home Office, Metropolitan Police, FBI and EUROPOL.
Amongst those named in the files were Senate President Bukola Saraki, Mr Ekweremadu, Albert Akpan and Stella Oduah, all serving senators.
Others include: Atiku Abubakar, Femi Fani-Kayode, James Manager, Nyesom Wike, Jonah Jang and Patience Jonathan.
Asides Mr Abukakar, who is a presidential aspirant, and Mr Wike, who is the governor of Rivers State, all remaining politicians on Mr Uwajeh’s list are already being separately prosecuted for alleged corruption involving various amounts of public funds.
Mr Uwajeh said he recommended that some “APC members who are high looters” should also be investigated, “but was turned down.”
“This raised a red flag and as a professional I made my complaint immediately and made my position known to Okoi Obono-Obla to transmit to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice,” he added.
“I told him that I will not be a party to one-sided investigation to muscle in the opposition and persecute them. I made my position known that I am ready to expose corruption and recover stolen assets as a professional but will not be involved in the politics of “PULL THEM DOWN” in Nigeria.
“My refusal to work with the APC-led government to humiliate the so-called enemies of government has led me into exile,” he said.
Mr Uwajeh queried the motive behind his dismissal, saying the government knew beforehand that he had cases in court.
“As soon as they arrived Nigeria on the 23rd April, 2018 they drafted a letter to disengage me. They kept the letter and wanted me to change my mind but I refused. On the 27th April, 2018, they sent me a backdated letter of disengagement dated 23rd April 2018.
“In the said letter it was alleged that I had a criminal allegation against me pending in court as the reason for my disengagement which is laughable.
“Any right-thinking person should question why it took the government of President Buhari a full month to know that I had a case in court.
“My refusal has led to sustained assault on my person by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami,” he said.
He also accused Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris of colluding with Mr Uba and other politicians to frame him up, admonishing him to bear in mind that he would vacate the office someday.
The police under Mr Idris “continued to side” with Mr Uba to fraustrate the payment of “my professional fees,” the investigator said, describing the police chief as “an expert in setting people up and twisting issues to incriminate his enemies.”
Police spokesperson, Jimoh Moshood, did not respond to requests for comments. Saliu Isa, a spokesperson for Mr Malami, did not return telephone calls and text messages seeking comments Tuesday afternoon.
But Mr Obono-Obla rejected Mr Uwajeh’s claims that he was sacked because he failed to comply with alleged plot to focus only on opposition politicians in order to suppress them.
“I don’t know where that is coming from because we got information that he was having some issues with the law and some people actually wrote that he was having some issues,” Mr Obono-Obla said in a message to PREMIUM TIMES. “So what he said, I don’t know about that. That cannot be the situation.”
The official said the engagement process for Mr Uwajeh had not even been completed prior to his dismissal.
“No it can’t be correct. I have not given him list. I engaged him, we were yet to finalise before this issue came up. He should look at the letter of appointment. It said that he will sign a memorandum of understanding and that memorandum of understanding had not yet been signed before the issue came up and because of the controversies,” Mr Obono-Obla said.
Mr Uwajeh was then placed “on standby” pending the time his appointment would be finalised. “We had not started working,” he emphasised.
Mr Obono-Obla acknowleged that his committee did not do its due diligence before engaging Mr Uwajeh for such a sensitive and highly consequential position that some could leverage on to blackmail citizens.
“I am surprised when he knows why the letter was submitted was because he didn’t make disclosure that he had an issue with the court and i didn’t know when I engaged him. It was later my attention was drawn by the director of public prosecution that he had a case not because of the reason he is giving. If he said he has a list, let him show the list because I am surprised,” he said.
Mr Uwajeh described himself as a dignified individual, admonishing current administration to ensure a sincerity of purpose in its ongoing efforts against endemic graft.
“I will continue to maintain my dignity even in the face of a gang up against me,” he said. “Nigeria can only move forward when the fight against corruption is not selective but holistic, no matter whose ox is gored.”