The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has launched a fresh investigation into the alleged diversion of N4.4bn from the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency into the accounts of top officers of the Nigerian Air Force.
To this end, the EFCC transfered the immediate past Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh (retd.), and a former Director, Finance and Accounting at NAF, Air Cdre S.A. Yushau, from its Abuja headquarters to Lagos last week.
It will be recalled that as part of efforts to ensure improved security in the Nigerian maritime sector, NIMASA, on August 26, 2013, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the NAF with a view to providing effective air surveillance and monitoring of the nation’s coastal waters.
As part of the MoU, the Air Force was supposed to carry out aerial surveillance, reconnaissance, search and rescue, tactical airlift, enforcement and provide intelligence reports to NIMASA, which would aid in the fight against piracy, illegal bunkering and pipeline vandalism.
Badeh, who was the Chief of Air Staff at the time, signed on behalf of the NAF, while Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi, who was the Director-General of NIMASA, signed on behalf of the maritime agency.
In furtherance of the MoU, billions of naira was said to have been transferred from the bank account of NIMASA to the Air Force.
EFCC has, however, alleged that its investigations revealed that the money was diverted to private accounts.
A detective at the EFCC, who did not want his name in print, said, “We brought Badeh and Yushau to Lagos to answer to fresh allegations. The MoU that was signed by Badeh was for NAF aircraft to patrol the creeks to prevent pipeline vandalism and illegal oil bunkering
“As part of the agreement, money was transferred to the Air Force in two tranches – N1.4bn and N3bn – but the money was mostly in dollars. But the money was not used for that purpose.
“Rather, the MoU was a conduit pipe to siphon money from NIMASA to Air Force account and then to companies in which they had interests or their wives were directors or signatories.”
Giving further insight into how the fraud was perpetrated, the detective alleged that the NAF top chiefs set up some small oil companies under the pretext that the companies were supplying aviation fuel to military aircraft.
Money was then paid into the bank accounts of these companies but the fuel was never delivered.
The source added, “The money that was transferred from NIMASA to the Air Force was for maintenance of the equipment and the fuelling of the aircraft but the money, which was mostly in dollars, went straight into the accounts of Bureau de Change operators.
“The money was changed from dollars and then returned to the Air Force men.
“They then set up dummy oil companies, which made it look as if the companies were rendering services. They made it appear as if the companies were supplying aviation fuel to the NAF, which is not true.
“Investigations revealed that the companies were opened in readiness for money to be paid into their accounts. We discovered that in these companies, these officers have interest in it or their wives are directors or signatories to the accounts.”
The source said this was probably why piracy in Nigeria continued to increase despite the MoU.
The EFCC had already arraigned Akpobolokemi on 13 counts of alleged N754.7m theft and had also been arraigned alongside nine others on 30 counts of alleged N3.4bn fraud before Justice Saliu Saidu of a Federal High Court in Lagos.
He was arraigned along with five others on 22 counts of alleged N2.6bn fraud before Justice Ibrahim Buba also of the same court.
There is also a pending 40 counts of alleged N34bn fraud against him.
The source said Akpobolokemi and some others in NIMASA could not claim to be ignorant of the deal involving the Air Force officers.
He added, “We believe that the Air Force was giving kickbacks to NIMASA people. Anytime money was transferred, they usually went back to the Air Force to collect their own share. Investigations are ongoing and we will unravel the transactions.”
Apart from Badeh and Yushau, some others, who are being investigated by the EFCC are the immediate past Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Adesola Amosu (retd.); the Chief of Accounts and Budgeting of the NAF, Air Vice Marshal J.B. Adigun; and Air Commodore O. O. Gbadebo, who was the Director of Finance and Budget at NAF and also Yushau’s successor.
Meanwhile, the former Aide de Camp to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, Col. Ojogbane Adegbe, has reportedly informed the EFCC that he carried out his duties in accordance with his oath of office.
Adegbe is currently being interrogated by the anti-graft agency in connection with an alleged N10bn given to chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party on the instructions of Jonathan.
A source, privy to the interrogation, confided in one of our correspondents, in Abuja, on Sunday, that the former ADC explained to his interrogators that he had cause to receive and pass over sealed parcels and documents from the Commander-In-Chief to individuals.
The source said, “The ADC told EFCC operatives that part of his schedule of duty includes to collect and hand over documents and sealed parcels from his Commander-In-Chief to individuals.
“He also stated that he was not in the habit of opening such parcels to view their contents before an onward transmission to whomsoever such parcels were addressed to. He said doing otherwise would be a betrayal of the confidence reposed in him.
“He also told them that as a serving military officer, he was bound by his oath of commission into the Nigerian Armed Forces and would not divulge official secrets which he swore to keep.”
All attempts to reach the EFCC spokesperson, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, on Sunday for comments on the fresh probe of Badeh and the update on the interrogation of Adegbe, proved abortive as his mobile indicated it was switched off.