Dubai, the United Arab Emirate (UAE) city, known for its ultra-modern architecture, luxury shopping and lively nightlife scene, is arguably the most preferred haven for Nigerian home buyers with unexplained and questionable wealth.
As a city, Dubai is one of the most spectacular destinations in the world and this is reflected in its iconic architecture, magnificent skylines and beautiful coastline. But the lure of the city to the corrupt home buyers goes beyond these fantastic attributes.
Other reasons abound for the choice of Dubai by these home buyers populated by the political elite otherwise called politically exposed persons (PEPs) who cut across ethnic nationalities and religious persuasions in the country.
By simple definition, PEPs are current or former political elites who are inherently at higher risk of carrying out illicit activity due to their position of power, meaning that people in this class would not like their activities to be easily seen or known.
By design or default, Dubai is a welcoming destination for any unexplained wealth the PEPs amass. They find the emirate city a place where they can relax and enjoy such gains away from the prying eyes of anti-corruption agencies, journalists, and civil society watchdogs.
Another strong reason the PEPs choose to ‘invest’ in Dubai is that, generally, Nigerian elites face few obstacles transferring large quantities of cash to Dubai. Banks or other money transfer agents in both Nigeria and the UAE do not appear to be reporting large or otherwise suspicious transactions by PEPs to national authorities.
Until 2016, when the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (now known as C4ADS) acquired the data of a private database of Dubai real estate information (dubbed the ‘Sandcastles’ data), there had been a dearth of specific information about Nigerian PEPs’ properties in Dubai.
Apart from the snapshot offered by the Sandcastles data, Dubai property records remain opaque and inaccessible—both to international law enforcement and the general public and so the PEPs have been getting, and may continue to get away with their illicit trade.
For these and other reasons, about 800 properties in Dubai property market valued at N145 billion are linked to the Nigerian political elite, according to the report compiled by Matthew T. Page of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Publication Department).
The politically exposed Nigerians appearing in the Sandcastles data fall into eight broad categories, including state governors; state governors’ allies; heads of ministries, departments, and agencies; individuals already investigated or convicted by anti-corruption agencies; petroleum sector officials; security sector figures; legislators, and suspected proxies.
An break-down of the 800 properties linked to these PEPs shows that suspected PEP proxy has 226; known Nigerian law enforcement agency suspects, 216; PEP-linked businessperson, 91; security sector leader, 71, and governors, 69 properties. Legislators have 45 properties linked to them; Department/Agency head, 25; minister, 24; Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation official, 19; Presidency staff member has 13 while a judge has just 1.
Analysts argue that if these 800 properties were built in Nigeria, besides the multiple jobs they would create, the houses would provide homes for close to 5000 persons, given an average of six persons per family. That would also have reduced the country’s yawning housing demand-supply gap.
To understand what the N146 billion used to acquire the 800 properties could do in Nigeria is to place it side-by-side with allocations to critical sectors in Nigeria’s 2020 budget (now being reviewed downwards to reflect current economic realities).
N146 billion is well over 50 percent of N262 billion allocated to the ministry of Works and Housing in the 2020 budget which got the highest sectoral allocation. This means that the money that have been illegally taken away and ‘invested’ in property in Dubai is more than the budget for housing or works.
Aliko Dangote, President/CEO, Dangote Industries, is committing N73 billion to the reconstruction of the 35-kilometre Apapa-Oshodi Expressway in Lagos. It follows that the N146 billion politicians have ‘invested’ in property in a foreign land can reconstruct 70 kilometres of roads in Nigeria.
According to the report, this money equals two-thirds of Nigeria Army’s annual budget and over three times the annual budget of the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
“It is not doubtful that Nigerian politicians have ‘invested’ that kind of money in Dubai,” Ebun-Oluwa Sadiq, a Dubai-based Nigerian realtor, confirmed to BusinessDay. He explained that Nigerians are known for buying choice properties in very expensive locations in Dubai.
According to him, a good number of properties in Palm Jumeirah Island, Dubai Marina, Jumeirah Golf Estate, which are the equivalents of Banana Island in Lagos and Asokoro in Abuja, are owned by Nigerian politicians. “These are very expensive locations that somebody on salary income cannot dream of,” Sadiq affirmed.