Sunday Aborisade, Abuja
The Senate Public Accounts Committee has launched an investigation into the $289m (N56bn) paid in cash by the Central Bank of Nigeria to ex-Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ayodele Oke.
The panel is probing the Federation Account from 2015 till date.
Officials of the CBN, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and NIA appeared before the panel on Thursday to defend their roles in the transactions.
The SPAC Chairman, Senator Mathew Urhoghide, told the officials that they were being probed following an audit query from the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation alleging that the money was not properly approved for payment by former President Goodluck Jonathan and others.
He also said there was no clear indication that the NNPC got the mandate to pay Oke the money in cash, because such an arrangement was contrary to the nation’s extant rules.
The issue became public knowledge when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, acting on a tip-off in 2017, discovered N13bn in foreign currencies in an Ikoyi apartment in Lagos.
It was later discovered that Oke and his wife, Folasade, allegedly kept the money there.
Further investigations revealed that the money was part of the $289m released to Oke by the CBN on the orders of the NNPC, which claimed to be acting on a presidential mandate.
Oke and his wife reportedly travelled out of the country for medical treatment when the money was discovered.
But the EFCC declared them wanted and preferred charges against them.
The anti-corruption body said the couple were declared wanted in connection with the $43m, £27,800 and N23.8m cash recovered from an apartment on Osborne Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, in April 2017.
One of the counts read, “That you, Ambassador Ayodele Oke and Mrs Folasade Ayodele Oke, between August 25, 2015 and September 2, 2015 in Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this court directly converted $160,777,136.85 property of the Federal Government of Nigeria to your own use which sum you reasonably ought to have known formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful act to wit: criminal breach of trust and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 15 (2) (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act 2012 and punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act.”
The Senate panel said under Oke, the NIA was said to have collected $289,202,382 in cash for special operations from the account of the National Petroleum Investment Management Services at the CBN in February 2015.
The panel said the documents before them from the office of the AG indicated that the CBN paid Oke $289m in cash without proper approval from Jonathan.
Uroghide said the records made available to them had shown the transactions were against extant laws.
He questioned the NNPC’s decision to order the CBN to release such an amount of money to the NIA without a presidential approval.
But the NNPC claimed that the Presidency gave the approval to pay $289m to the NIA on February 16, 2015.
The chairman, however, said there was no document before the committee stipulating that Jonathan approved the release of the money to Oke.
He also said they discovered from the documents made available to them that it was the NNPC that advised the CBN to pay the money in cash.
Urhoghide said based on the audit query from the Auditor General for the Federation, the NNPC granted a request from the NIA to pay Oke $289m in cash and that the NNPC complied by directing the CBN to pay.
The representative of the NNPC, Godwin Okonkwo said before journalists were sent out of the investigative hearing, confirmed Urhoghide’s assertion but insisted that his agency acted based on properly issued approval before paying the money.
He said, “We complied with the request from the NIA based on presidential approval. It is not true that we said the money should be paid to the DG but to the NIA as an institution.
“I’m not defending the NIA for requesting the money to be paid in cash but considering the circumstances, which is for security purposes.
“The NNPC obliged because we are not in charge of security. If they request payment in cash and say it is for security, the NNPC cannot say no, and that it must be transferred through electronic means to a particular account.
“If anything happens afterwards, the NNPC will not be held responsible. It is the man who insisted that the money be paid in cash that would answer. “
Urhoghide further asked why the NIA should insist on cash payment when the procurement of the security equipment would be purchased outside the country but the NNPC representative said he was merely carrying out a directive to pay.
Urhoghide agreed with the submission of the Auditor General for the Federation in his audit query that there was no way the President would have directed the NNPC to pay $289m in cash to the NIA.