• Friday, May 24, 2024
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$9.3m arms scandal reopens debate on Boko Haram sponsorship

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Former governor of the old Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa, has for the second time in a month accused President Goodluck Jonathan-led Federal Government of attempting to smuggle the nation’s $9.3 million to illegally acquire arms in South Africa for the dreaded Boko Haram Islamic sect.

The All Progressives Congress (APC) at the weekend condemned what it described as  “obvious attempt” by the PDP-led Federal Government, working with some members of the National Assembly, to cover up the smuggling of such a huge amount of money to South Africa on a private plane, saying the cover-up plans will fail because the issues involved transcend Nigeria.

The former governor who currently doubled as the chairman, Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), and national chairman, People’s Redemption Party (PRP), had told BD SUNDAY that at least $10 billion unaccounted missing money between the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) under Sanusi Lamido Sanusi may have been Federal Government’s contribution to the Boko Haram insurgents.

According to him, the seizure of the money by the South African government because it was not aware that its counterpart in Nigeria was coming to buy arms in South Africa discredits the explanation given by government officials that the seized $9.3 million was to acquire new arms for the country’s Military in its campaign against insurgence, insisting rather that the money was meant to shop for new ammunition for Boko Haram fighters who had recently suffered defeat and loss of arms to the now determined Nigerian Military.

Musa said: “They are trying to replace some of the arms that the Boko Haram fighters lost recently to the Military. Government’s explanation is not tenable. The fact that the South African government seized the money and later said they were not aware that the Nigerian government wants to buy arms in South Africa exposed the truth to those who care to know. If the money was indeed meant to acquire arms for the Nigerian Military, the host nation would have been aware of it. This is a ‘back door’ deal. It is only terrorists that follow undiplomatic channels to buy arms. Nigeria is a sovereign state and the whole world knows that the country is currently involved in warfare and therefore, cannot be buying arms through undiplomatic channels. Nigerians must not allow them to go away with this. The insult is too much. They behave in such a manner that brings reproach to all Nigerians. Imagine South African government, seizing illegal money from Nigeria. I have said it before and I will say it again: government maybe seriously involved in the funding of Boko Haram,” he alleged.

The former governor, who absolved the President of Christians Association of Nigeria (CAN), Ayo Oritsejafor, of any wrong doing, told BDSUNDAY that Nigerians should be careful how they situate the Warri-born pastor with the $9.3 million arms scandal until proper investigation is carried out in order to ascertain whether his alleged involvement was beyond the ownership of the jet that carried the bills to South Africa.

“We all must be careful how we drag Ayo Oritsejafor into the mess. He may not even be aware that his jet is being used to loot the nation’s resources in the name of buying arms for the military. It is not a crime to lease your jet to clients. We should not conclude or even insinuate until proper investigation is done. National Assembly with the responsibility of checks on the Executive are at the moment not doing their job. They have not been able to rise above partisan politics,” he said.

Yinka Odumakin, publicity secretary of the Pan-Yoruba Socio-Group, Afenifere, told our correspondent that while there may be reservation on while Ayo Oritsejafor’s private jet was used to transport $9.3 million out of the country; it was the duty of the security apparatus to tell Nigerians why such a huge transaction was done in cash.

According to Odumakin, who was a delegate at the just concluded National Conference, the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) was in the best position to explain why such a transaction should be done in cash; whether it was underhand deal without any official channel.

He also exonerated Ayo Oritsejafor from the scandal, explaining that: “If you buy ‘okada’ (motorcycle) now and you give your ‘okada’ to somebody to ride, what is your business should the police catch the person doing illegal business with the ‘okada’? he asked, adding that the people that went to buy the arms were the ones to explain how huge bills can be moved to South Africa.

Commenting on the walk out by opposition lawmakers in the lower chamber of the National Assembly following the refusal of the leadership of the House to endorse the motion moved by opposition members over the held $9.3 million, he said the problem with Nigerian politicians was politicising every issue that requires patriotism and diligence to pursue to logical conclusion.

Members of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) in the House of Representatives had staged a walkout on the last Tuesday after a stalled debate on the controversial $9.3million seized by the South African government.

The lawmakers said they believe the Federal Government has some explaination to make and were urging members not to sweep the matter under carpet. Attempts to debate the motion failed after a voice vote called by Emeka Ihedioha, the presiding deputy speaker, went in favour of the majority, who opposed the debate.

But Yinka Odumakin said: “The reason we are where we are now in the fight against Boko Haram is because politicians are playing politics with it. It is the same thing we are seeing here. Thorough investigation is what we need. Walkout is not the proper solution. Some politicians are not interested in knowing the truth. All they want is to make noise and sound serious in the eyes of undiscerning Nigerians. They are there for political reasons,” he said.

Sunnie Amojor, a cleric and president of the Total Man Fellowship, told BD SUNDAY that though Oritsejafor has already said he was not involved in the shady deal, at the level he is (being CAN’s president), Nigerians expected him to be able to discern whenever his private jet is about to embark on a journey that will not bring glory to God.

“He has said he did not know anything about the money; but it was indeed a wrong move he made which has brought reproach to the Christian community. The jet was supposed to be God’s. With his action, Oritsejafor was trying to be God over God’s property,” he said.

Amojor, who is also a facilitator with the Institute for National Transformation (INT), however, noted that once one gets to certain height in any area of life, one will definitely interact with people on a different level.

“A pastor like Ayo Oritsejafor will definitely have connection with people in power. As pastors, we should not allow the resources God have put in our hands for mission work to be used for any other thing except for mission.

“Another angle we may want to look at it is the cost of maintaining the jet, which may have tempted Oritsejafor to lease the jet to the highest bidder. The cost of parking a plane for instance, is a lot of money. When a plane is parked for two weeks without making money, the owner will have to source for money elsewhere to continue to keep the plane in the airport. The cost of maintaining and parking a plane is a cause of concern for many plane owners,” he said.

The cleric further said that whichever angle public and religious analysts may want to look at the Oritsejafor’s jet scandal from, the fact that is obvious is that the Warri-based pastor is seriously involved in illegality that must not be swept under the carpet; calling for independent investigation to unravel the mystery of the $9.3 million still in the custody of South African government and all those involved.

“What actually happened is illegal. The matter should be investigated by the National Assembly. Whether Ayo Oritsejafor is the CAN president or not should not be an issue. The fact that he is a man of God highlights the very reason he should be careful the kind of people he leases his plane to.

To a certain extent, he might be liable; unless there is a contract or legal backing that covers him from that. All the private jet owners in the country lease their jets out; it is not only Oritsejafor who is in the business. Nigerians will also want to know if there is law at the moment that allows private jet owners to hire their jets out for whatever reason. We also need to look at Nigerian government legislation concerning private jet ownership. If current aviation legislation does not make it mandatory for private jet owners to hire jets out as it is the norm now, something drastic should be done about it before it becomes another avenue of siphoning money out of the country,” he said.

A senior pastor of a popular Christian denomination who craved anonymity for fear of stepping on the toes of leadership of his church, said the CAN president should honourably resign “for lying to Nigerian Christians” because he had told the Christian community that his private jet was for the sole purpose of gospel evangelism following widespread criticism when he acquired the jet.

The cleric, who wondered how private jet purportedly bought for the ‘work of God’ finds its way into the hands of corrupt politicians for a mission that may be against the interest of the country, said Nigerians should not allow Oritsejafor explain away his alleged involvement with a wave of the hand; emphasising that he must tell Nigerians the background investigation he did on the company before he hired out the jet to them.

“Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor has already admitted that the controversial jet is his and that he doesn’t know anything about the $9.3 million. The second thing he must do is to resign his position as CAN president because he has not only lied to the Christian community; he has also un-scripturally redefined the work of God. It is sad that today many people claim they are ministers of God, whereas they are all in the rat race to keep their lavish lifestyle,” he said.

The private jet in question was seized last weekend by South African authorities with a stack of $ 9.3 million in cash reportedly meant for arms deal.

Oritsejafor’s Word of Life Bible Church confirmed the ownership in a statement last Tuesday. The church said the pastor has a “residual interest” in Eagle Air, a company that manages the aircraft, insinuating that the pastor had no control over the use of the aircraft. “The aircraft was leased to, and is operated by Green Coast Produce Limited since August 2.”

Eagle Air also explained in a statement that the aircraft was in turn hired from it by one John Ishyaku and therefore, would not be liable for any alleged infractions either in Nigeria or South Africa after the hire.

Two Nigerians and an Israeli were caught with the money purportedly meant for buying and supplying weapons to the Nigerian intelligence services.

Last week, South African authorities dismissed the Nigerian Government’s explanation about the purpose of the seized funds on flawed discrepancies. The Federal Government had said it had submitted relevant data and transaction details to the South African authorities, insisting that the seized funds were not laundered or smuggled for any clandestine reasons.

APC, in a statement issued in Abuja by Lai Mohammed, its publicity secretary, insisted that the Jonathan administration and all concerned must come clean on the circumstances surrounding the ferrying of the huge funds to South Africa, including why a government that has spent millions of naira to promote a cashless policy decided to transport 90

blocks of $100,000 each to another country in violation of that

country’s laws.

‘’The resort to ‘procedural error’ is not enough to explain this irresponsible and illegal action, neither is it enough to explain why a duly-constituted government will behave like a rogue government or even like insurgents who will be shopping for arms in the open market. ‘Fortunately for Nigerians, South Africa’s National Prosecuting

Authority (NPA) has said the issue is still under criminal investigation, meaning all attempts to sweep the scandal under the carpet, as the Jonathan Administration is used to doing, will fail,’’ it said.

APC said it was calling “on all well-meaning Nigerians as well as Civil Society Organisations to ensure that the circumstances surrounding this scandal are unravelled in the interest of Nigeria and her people.”

Meanwhile, the romance between the Presidency and certain leaders of churches in the country has been flayed. Critics allege that such affinity runs country to true teaching of Jesus Christ.

A critic who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “Most church leaders today have redefined Christianity. For them, Christianity is all about flamboyance and exhibition of wealth. Their own brand of Christianity does not accommodate detachment from the world and its allurement. That is why you see them fraternising with governments at all levels, even to the point of giving their pulpits to government functionaries to do electioneering campaign. The bible teaches us that there must be a clear difference between the church and the world; between those who serve God and those who do not, but we are not seeing that in Nigeria. Every church leader wants to be seen with the President, governor or minister. The question to ask is, if it is proven that Pastor Oritsejafor indeed leased out his jet on the prompting of the Presidency, how many other pastors may have been doing some questionable deals with government? It appears that some clerics are really being compromised and negatively influenced by politicians.”

NATHANIEL AKHIGBE & Kehinde Abdulsalam