Giving and misgivings – Battling with fraud amid benevolence
(Fourth in the series of an address delivered at the Rotary Foundation dinner/dance at the MUSON Centre, Marina, Lagos on 8th February 2020)
According to the front-page report by Gambo Dori in “Daily Trust” newspaper of January 28, 2020:
“The ALDAN (Advanced Local Dairy Development in Nigeria) programme is largely funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The representatives of the Foundation emphasised that the project constitutes one of their largest investments in the country at a time when the dairy sector is in dire need of such boosts. The programme will run in five States of the Federation – Kano; Kaduna; Jigawa; Bauchi and Adamawa. It is expected to reach 60,000 dairy farmers in 15,000 dairy households. It is to be implemented in partnership with private sector companies with the support of the Federal Ministries of Agriculture and Rural Development; Health; Women Affairs and Social Development and the governments of the implementing States. Also, it is expected to galvanise the consolidation of the federal government’s intention to settle the nomadic cattle herders (potential Rotarians!!), so as to improve their access to water, fodder, drugs and vaccines. This will help to boost milk and meat yield for the overall good of the nation.
This should improve the economic wellbeing of the herders and firmly integrate them into the firmament of the national economy. In the long run, this is the vital antidote needed to curtail the nomads versus farmers’ endless feud.”
Furthermore, as if to underscore his eligibility for consideration as a potential worthy Rotarian,
“The Minister of Agriculture, Sabo Nanono made a brisk appearance and when introduced made an impassioned speech calling for due recognition to be accorded to the hitherto neglected dairy industry. He told us that he regarded his appointment into the Ministry of Agriculture as a personal crusade to uplift the dairy industry to its proper level.
Though he had been known more as a notable in the corporate world, he had actually been a farmer all his adult life and had raised cows for over 40 years. This long association with cows is an advantage that has given him deep insight into the dairy industry. He is therefore personally committed, and is fortunate to find himself in a Government that is focussed in pursuing those tested policies that would bring succour to the dairy industry.
He assured that the Federal Government would work to consolidate all existing policies into one policy to transform the sector. He asserted that the nomads might be said to own the cows but truly cows are national assets because they make contribution to the GDP of up to 17 percent of the total. It is therefore in our overall interest to guard and nurture the dairy industry and raise it to world class.”
The problem that confronts us as a nation overflowing with Rotarians is that while we clearly owe Bill and Melinda Gates a debt of eternal gratitude, how are we expected to cope with the front-page report of The Nation” newspaper of January 26, 2020 with bold headlines: “Governor, seven others in trouble over alleged N6.5 billion fraud”
“A serving governor is topping the list of suspects being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission of Skye Bank, Mr. Tunde Ayeni, retired Air Vice Marshal Salihu Atawodi and four others.
The alleged fraud was perpetrated by the defunct Presidential Implementation Committee on Maritime Security (PICOMSS), which was headed by Atawodi. About N4.9billion cash was said from PICOMMS accounts without any specific project in mind.
The serving governor was alleged to have received N1, 475, 144,199.15 of the withdrawn cash for the purpose of lobbying members of the House of Representatives to convert PICOMS into an agency. The name proposed was Maritime Security Agency. The governor was chairman of the House Committee on National Security, Intelligence and Public Safety at the time and he was said to have convinced Atawodi’s PICOMS to part with the cash. The sum received was such a top secret that a former Speaker was given a “ridiculous N1million” as his share.
Some former members of the House of Representatives who benefitted from the bribe-for-bill cash from the governor might be invited for questioning, the Nation gathered last night. Sources said the governor was initially cooperating with the EFCC on the investigation, only to stop honouring the invitation of the anti-graft agency two days before he was declared elected by the Supreme Court. He currently enjoys immunity from prosecution by virtue of his office, but he may still face trial after his tenure. The remaining seven key suspects are expected to be arraigned in court soon.
They include Mrs. Winifred Atawodi; Aeroconsult Limited, Xanatos Limited and a daughter of the ex-PICOMMS chairman, Eleojo who is under investigation. The EFCC has already blocked the following amounts in Mrs. Winifred Atawodi’s accounts: N141, 611, 736.8 and $228, 428.16. Another N200million has been placed on Post No Debit (PND) in First Mutual Micro-Finance Bank traced to Purple Pepper Farms Limited allegedly owned by Atawodi’s daughter (Eleojo). About five hectares of land worth N245million have been seized from the Atawodis. The EFCC has also uncovered how $6.12million was invested by the Atawodis in Midland Corporate Investment Limited account with Sun Trust Savings and Loans Real Estate Limited.
From the cash, AVM Atawodi allegedly transferred $408,000 to an auto firm in the United States called Hennessy Cadillac for exotic vehicles including a Rolls Royce. About $808, 851 was located in Wells Fargo Bank 2 in the name of United International Enterprises. Detectives have identified a house allegedly owned by Atawodi in Lot of the 17th District of Fulton County in Georgia at 3266 Ferncliff Lane, Atlanta Georgia 30324. Despite the seizure of the passports of the Atawodis, one of the daughters has applied to travel abroad for medical treatment in order to sell the house in Atlanta.
The EFCC has also been alerted by some foreign collaborating anti-fraud agencies of plot by the daughter to sell the house. Investigation revealed that PICOMMS was set up between 2008 and 2012. It was disbanded in 2013. The committee was expected to guarantee safety on the sea and waterways. Findings by detectives revealed that AVM Atawodi, his friends and immediate family feasted on the resources allocated to PICOMMS including donor agencies funds. Others funding PICOMMS were the Office of National Security Adviser (ONSA), NIMASA, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Ministry of Defence (MOD).
A document obtained by The Nation indicated that on 12th November, 2010, AVM Atawodi made PICOMMS to issue out contracts for Maritime Domain Monitoring System for Maritime Surveillance at a cost of $32,337,163.00 to Xanatos Company Limited linked with a former Chairman of Skye Bank, Mr. Tunde Ayeni. “The fraud was detected in the course of reviewing how funds were disbursed from PICOMS to Xanatos Company Limited and other beneficiary companies. Xanatos Company Limited made a lot of questionable payments obviously from the contract sum.
One of the companies was AUSWEE Investment Limited where Atawodi, his wife and children are directors. Checks on AUSWEE acronym revealed as follows A(Amana); U(Uneku-the daughter); S(Salihu); W(Winifred Abiodun Atawodi-wife); E(Eleojo-another daughter); E(Ebi-another daughter). But one Roland Uhuago, who is an associate of AVM Atawodi, was used as a front for AUSWEE. From the statements of accounts of PICOMS in Polaris Bank, Union Bank and ECOBANK, there were many cash withdrawals and cash movement lodged in Sun Trust Savings and Loans through a former director of the finance firm, Mr. Mohammed Jibril. About $5million was invested on behalf of the Atawodis by Jibril.
“During that period, about N4.9billion was withdrawn in cash in 2011 which they claimed they used for an unclear purpose. We have seized the passports of AVM Atawodi and some members of his family to restrict their movement to the country pending the commencement of their trial. Based on the depth of investigation, EFCC has blocked the accounts of Mrs. Winifred Atawodi’s with N141,611,736.8 and $228,428.16. Another N200 million has been placed on Post No Debit (PND) in First Mutual Micro-Finance Bank traced to Purple Pepper Farms Limited allegedly owned by Atawodi’s daughter (Eleojo).
About five hectares of land worth N245million have been seized from the Atawodis. The land was bought from Hilton Hotel and the relevant agency in the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) has confirmed it.” On the involvement of ex-Governor Idris Wada of Kogi State, the brief on the case indicated that his company Aeroconsult Limited was awarded a contract for the construction of a hanger in Benin Airport for the sum of N2,780,649,450.00 described as an inflated rate.
“Aeroconsult also sublet their contract to Olutoyi Estate Development and Services Limited in which N700 million was given to the company. From the inflated total cost of the hangar, about N550 million was given to AUSWEE. And from the N500 million, about N484 million was transferred to Vector Integrated Services Limited owned by Atawodi. This company has an account with Union Bank where Mrs. Winifred Atawodi was a manager before she retired. The withdrawal from AUSWEE to Vector Integrated Services was from Atawodi. And from Union Bank, some of the cash were moved into the account of Vector Integrated Services Limited in Fidelity Bank.”
A top source in EFCC said: “When we invited the former Governor of Kogi State, Capt. Idris Wada for interrogation, he insisted that the contract was well-executed. But we detected evidence of transfers to AUSWEE which suggested that the hangar contract was inflated. The ex-governor and Aeroconsult have more questions to answer, especially when fresh transfers were made in 2018 and 2019 to AVM Atawodi.”
Regarding the serving governor, the source added: “The N1,475,144,199.15 was converted to dollars and handed over to the governor when he was a member of the House of Representatives. The owner of the Bureau De Change used by PICOMMs, Sharif Shanono has been quizzed and he has provided evidence of transactions. We also observed that on 21/12/2011, about N250 million was transferred from PICOMMS account to Saab Global Links Limited account 1012330930 belonging to Shanono.
“We were on the case before the governor’s election was validated by the Supreme Court. In fact, he was to appear before our detectives two days to the Supreme Court judgment but he stayed away to await the verdict and avoid being detained.
“While going through records, detectives were able to confirm how a paltry N1million was given to a former Speaker of the House of Representatives. Now that the governor has immunity, we have to wait till 2023 when he completes his tenure before resuming his investigation and trial. We are likely to invite some former members of the house who benefitted from the bribe-for-bill cash. The bill was titled, “Maritime Security Agency Establishment Bill (MASECA) 2010 to change PICOMMS into an agency. So far, seven out of the eight suspects implicated in this fraud may face trial.”