By Jide Ojo
This country has gone to tatters, I dare say. The recent revelations about the mindboggling cases of corruption by some of Nigeria’s civil servants and political leaders show that it will take divine interventions to rescue Nigeria from the shackles of corruption. Today, I want to examine the recent revelation by the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, as well as the planned auction of some of the stolen property of former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Dieziani Alison-Madueke.
Starting with the ICPC story, the commission’s chairman last Thursday, October 28, 2021 said the agency recovered 301 houses from two public officers in the Federal Capital Territory. The revelation was made at the inauguration of the House of Representatives ad-hoc Committee on Investigation of the Operations of Real Estate Developers. The ICPC chairman said while 241 buildings were recovered from one of the suspects at different locations within the FCT, the remaining 60 were recovered on a large expanse of land at another location.
Unfortunately, Owasanoye did not disclose the names of the affected civil servants but lamented the alarming rate at which corrupt public officers were using real estate investment as a vehicle for hiding ill-gotten wealth and money laundering in the country. He accused officials of the Federal Capital Development Authority as collaborators in the scam. The ICPC chairman was quoted as saying that: “Public officers acquire estates under pseudonyms to conceal the illegal origin of funds. This is made possible by the absence of proper documentation, the registration of titles to land and estates in the country, and the non-enforcement of beneficial ownership standards.”
He observed further that: “A tour around Abuja, especially the metropolis and the Central Area, would show a lot of estates that are built up but empty. If they had been constructed with funds that were borrowed at market rates, I don’t think any investor would leave such proprieties empty. One way or the other, they would put them to use. So, it is suspected that some of those estates have been used to launder ill-gotten public funds.”
He revealed that the agency recovered a total of N53,968,158,974.64 after completing the task of the defunct Special Presidential Investigation Panel on recovery of public property in collaboration with the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria to investigate some real estate developers who defaulted in remittance and payment of money due to the government. Owasanoye added that the agency received a number of petitions from stakeholders in the real estate and housing sector, off-takers, prospective buyers and the general public regarding the behaviour and antics of real estate developers within and outside Abuja.
My reflections on this are that the ICPC chairman should have been bold to mention the names of the evil servants being called civil servants. Also, how could just one individual, who is a government employee and not an entrepreneur, amass such wealth while in service to be able to build 241 houses if the much-touted anti-corruption measures such as Bank Verification Number, Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System and Treasury Single Account were to be working effectively? Obviously, these two civil servants are not working alone or in isolation. They possibly belong to a syndicate or a cartel that subvert all Federal Government anti-corruption policies and measures in order to be able to pull off such massive fraud that enabled them to build such an eye-popping number of houses.
Words on the street of Abuja for some time now is that many of the houses in the city are owned by civil servants who often use proxies and pseudonyms for registering their land titles. It is even said that most empty properties on which ‘To Let’ signs are hung in the highbrow and suburban areas of Abuja are actually not meant for rent but are used as a clever ruse to store raw cash in local and foreign currencies which the owners do not want to keep in their bank accounts in order to prevent Nigeria Financial Intelligent Unit and other anti-corruption agencies from flagging such accounts. So what they do is to put prohibitive rent charges on such houses such that not many people will be able to rent or hire them.
It has been suggested that there is an urgent need to clean up the land registry department and agencies across the country as some of their officials have been fingered as colluding with civil servants and criminals after getting huge bribes to circumvent some of the land registry procedures including data capturing. What is needed is the compulsory biometric registration of land titles as is the case with the Bank Verification Number registration procedures. If this is done, irrespective of any attempt to use pseudonyms to register for land titles biometric registration of the face and 10 fingerprints of the landowner will expose their real identities. This is because, once Automatic Fingerprint Identification System software is deployed on the land registry database, the real owners of lands will be known even if they try to cover up their identities. That is how the Independent National Electoral Commission has been detecting prospective voters who illegally decided to register more than once.
Last Wednesday, The Punch of October 27, 2021 had it that the Federal Government had begun the process for the valuation of property belonging to several politically exposed persons, including Diezani. It was reported that the Diezani property located in highbrow Banana Island Foreshore Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos State, includes 18 flats and six penthouses located at Building 3, Block B, Bella Vista, Plot 1, Zone N, Federal Government Layout. Other notable properties listed include those belonging to the late Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, whose houses in the Wuse 2 and Maitama high-end neighbourhoods of Abuja were seized. They include No. 14 Adzope Crescent, off Kumasi Crescent; 19 Kumasi Crescent, Wuse 2; and 6 Umme Street, Wuse 2.
Other recovered items listed are 125 pieces of wedding gowns, 13 pieces of small gowns, 41 pieces of waist trainers, 73 pieces of hard flower, 11 pieces of suit, 11 pieces of invisible bra, 73 pieces of veils, 30 pieces of braziers, two pieces of standing fans, 17 pieces of magic skirts, six packets of blankets, one table blanket and 64 pairs of shoes. The Federal Government had last week begun the process of screening 613 independent valuers expected to manage the sale of the assets alleged to have been illegally acquired, which have now been permanently forfeited to it in about 25 locations throughout the country. The total number of properties marked for auction across the country is 1,620, including cars, houses, phones, laptops, vessels and other valuables. Lagos has the highest number of properties that will be auctioned, including 31 houses and 589 vehicles.
Diezani, who was a minister under former President Goodluck Jonathan, has been in the United Kingdom since 2015 and has refused to return to Nigeria ever since. The Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Abdulrasheed Bawa, stated before the House of Representatives in May 2021 that jewellery worth N14bn was seized from Diezani.
It is sickening and preposterous that the first and only female Minister of Petroleum Resources so far produced in this country is a thief. It is so unfortunate that former president Goodluck Jonathan did not pay the required attention to the activities of his Minister of Petroleum Resources as to enable her to steal the country blind! What vanities! Imagine a woman purportedly buying a set of bras worth a whopping $12.5-million (£8.5-million) and jewellery worth N14bn. What does she need all of that for? Aren’t there poor persons in her household or town that she could use that kind of money to assist? Which dry cleaner will wash that kind of expensive brassiere when they’re dirty and need to be cleaned up? Is it possible for Dieziani to steal that much without working in cahoots with the civil servants in her ministry?
Further posers are: How are we sure Diezani’s predecessors and successors in office are not criminally helping themselves to public funds the way she purportedly did? How do we forestall the reoccurrence of such not only in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources but in other Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government at the federal, state and local levels? With this kind of grand corruption being exposed and reported, is there any wonder why Nigeria perpetually rank low on Transparency International Corruption Perception Index? Much as I commend the anti-corruption agencies for busting these acts of corruption, it should not end there, all the principal actors and their accomplices should be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted in a competent court of law.