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Investigation: Probe begins amid claim of threats to Obazee’s life, lives of his family members

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Investigation: Probe begins amid claim of threats to Obazee’s life, lives of his family members

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Whereas Nigerians are rejoicing because of the political will mustered by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to unearth the rot at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), recover stolen funds and stabilize the naira and the nation’s economy, details have emerged on how some powerful vested interests are desperately working against Mr. President’s patriotic intentions.

Chief among those allegedly sabotaging the President’s efforts are the management of CBN, suspended CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele and his foot soldiers, jealous yet selfish professionals who want to be part of the probe team, powerful Presidency officials bent on recommending the next CBN governor to Tinubu, prominent members of former President Muhammadu Buhari’s regime, who fear about the backlash of the probe, as well as eminent Nigerians who benefitted from the CBN loot and who may be asked to cough up what they stole, among others.

Investigations have revealed that the Private Investigator, Jim Obazee and members of his household are also facing death threats from faceless vested interests.

Latest reports have equally indicated that some unscrupulous presidential aides, in connivance with the leadership of the CBN, are frustrating Obazee from seeing the President for weekly briefings on the ongoing probe as directed by the President.

Efforts by our reporter to contact the Private Investigator on the developments proved abortive. Obazee couldn’t be reached on his phone and also didn’t reply to the text message sent to him.

It was reliably gathered, however, that President Bola Tinubu scaled veritable hurdles deliberately placed on his way by the new cabal in The Presidency to frustrate his decision to appoint the former Executive Secretary of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria, FRCN, Jim Obazee, as CBN Special Investigator.

It was learnt that fear has gripped some top officials of the CBN, Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and those of several other Government Business Entities (GBEs), as well as some highly placed Nigerians on the ongoing probe of the apex bank. They are said to have been reaching out to powerful politicians in The Presidency to save them and their organisations from being exposed by the Special Investigator.

Sources told First News that the humongous frauds allegedly perpetrated under the immediate past CBN Governor, Emefiele, in many of these GBEs, which are now already being unearthed by the Obazee-led Committee would shock Nigerians to their bone marrows.

First News gathered that the vested interests of the cabal in The Presidency was part of the reasons the cabal made frantic efforts to discourage President Tinubu from giving the job to Obazee. The cabal had planned to impose their own preferred candidate for the job on the President. But the President outsmarted them and insisted on Obazee who met his criteria of being apolitical and an experienced financial technocrat. President Tinubu took the bull by the horn and beat the cabal in their own game.

After about five weeks of unsuccessfully searching for Obazee’s contact, as he was being surreptitiously blocked from reaching him by the powerful persons within Aso Rock, who lied to him that Obazee was not in Nigeria and could not be reached, Tinubu was said to have decided not to leave anything to chance any longer. He decided to personally get involved in the process by reaching out to persons outside The Presidency to ascertain the whereabouts of the financial technocrat. He was said to have contacted a former Minister (names withheld), who immediately provided him with Obazee’s phone numbers.

It was learnt that after Tinubu contacted Obazee, he fixed an appointment with him for an interview for the job one late night when all Presidency staff and others at Aso Rock Villa would have closed from work and gone home. Indeed, members of the new cabal at Aso Rock were said to be unaware that President Tinubu had already succeeded in contacting Obazee and invited him to Abuja for the interview. On the appointed day, which fell on a Friday, it was learnt, President Tinubu personally led the three-man team that interviewed Obazee at Presidential Villa for the job at about 10:00pm. After the interview, the President, there and then, gave Obazee his letter of appointment same night.

It was gathered from Presidency sources that Tinubu decided to issue Obazee his appointment letter immediately after the interview because of his suspicion that if he should defer it till Monday, the appointment letter might never see the light of day. The President also ordered Obazee to immediately hit the ground running. Also aware of the bureaucratic inhibitions and bottlenecks that may hinder Obazee’s performance of his duty as CBN Special Investigator, President Tinubu directed him to be personally reporting to him in his office at Aso Rock Villa on weekly basis until the end of his assignment.

This development has however created panic in the minds of Emefiele along with his cohorts and former colleagues at CBN. They have all become “very jittery” at the turn of events, a reliable source at the apex bank said.

CBN MGT’S HOSTILITY, RESISTANCE

On the day Obazee first visited the CBN to commence his investigations, he was not only barred from gaining entry into the premises by security men who claimed they were ordered “from above” not to allow him and his team in, he was also said to have been resisted by the current management of the apex bank.

The appointment of the Acting CBN Governor, it was learnt, was influenced by the new cabal at Aso Rock, and from whom he’s said to have been taking instructions on the running of the apex bank.

Obazee was, however, not deterred. First News further learnt that having failed to stop Obazee from accessing the CBN to commence his investigations, the powerful forces within and without Aso Rock Villa resorted to media attacks on his person and even threatened his life and the lives of members of his family.

ASO ROCK CABAL, CBN ACTING GOVERNOR MOVE AGAINST OBAZEE, STARVE TEAM OF FUNDS

First News Learnt that in order to ensure that Obazee does not succeed in his assigned work of probing the apex bank and the GBEs, the Aso Rock cabal allegedly instructed the Acting CBN Governor, Mr. Folashodun, to starve the Special Investigator of the necessary funds by not releasing any money to him to function and to completely cripple his team of investigators. It was learnt that Obazee has been relying on improvisations to carry on with his official job.

THE MAN OBAZEE, HIS ANTECEDENTS

Recall that before Obazee’s recent appointment as CBN Special Investigator by President Tinubu, he had served as the Executive Secretary of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN) for over six years. His career is marked by his bold pursuit of accountability and transparency. He is known for exposing corrupt practices by high-profile persons in Nigeria’s corporate and financial sectors.

Obazee was the financial expert engaged by the government of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan to interview Emefiele when he was about to be appointed as CBN Governor. With his recent appointment as CBN Special Investigator by President Tinubu, Obazee has also become the only Nigerian engaged twice by the Federal Government to investigate the CBN. He first carried out the daunting task during the leadership of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi at the apex bank, where he was said to have unearthed monumental corruption.

In 2016, Obazee’s recommendations led to the dismissal of the heads of some popular religious organisations in Nigeria who had violated the Corporate Governance Code which outlines a 20-year term for the heads of such organisations.

Obazee-led FRC also suspended Atedo Peterside as the Chairman of IBTC in October 2015, citing infractions in the bank’s financial statements. Due to these infractions, FRC asked Stanbic IBTC to restate and reissue its 2013-2014 financials, asking the bank to pay N1billion fine and sacking its other senior officials.

Obazee’s recommendations also led to the sacking of the former CBN Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, in February 2014, after the ex-apex bank’s boss alleged that some management staff of the NNPC under President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration diverted billions of dollars. Obazee had treated Sanusi’s allegation as a reflection of financial misconduct and recommended his sack, which was later approved by President Jonathan.

Owing to his competence, Obazee worked with both former Presidents Jonathan and his successor, Muhammadu Buhari. This financial technocrat has also now been found worthy by President Tinubu who has appointed him, against strong opposition by those with vested interests in and outside the government, as Special Investigator for CBN and other GBEs.

A reliable Presidency source told our correspondent, “It takes a lot of political will and determination for President Tinubu to get Obazee for the job, as a lot of roadblocks were placed on the way of the President on the matter, especially by those working with him at the Presidential Villa and their collaborators outside. The President had to go extra miles to get Obazee for the tough job. And for the Special Investigator to start his work at the CBN, his life was threatened when they found him too stubborn to be compromised. They threatened his life and those of his family. The CBN management was very hostile to him, but he has forged ahead in his work.

“Nigerians will be very shocked at what Obazee and his team have discovered and uncovered at the CBN. Nigerians will be stunned by the various humongous recoveries and revelations that will come out from the ongoing probe of the CBN by the Special Investigator. This is why they have been fighting tooth and nail against Obazee.

“These same corrupt Nigerians have been the ones behind the opposition to Tinubu and ECOWAS’ moves against Niger’s military junta and they are planning to go further to throw the government into disarray so that the Tinubu administration will be frustrated and eventually abandon the ongoing probe of the CBN and the GBEs. But I assure you, the outcome of the probe will shock Nigerians because of the humongous amount of looted funds the Special Investigator and his team will recover.”

With the work of the Obazee-led team of investigators, according to financial observers, the massive scale of corruption under the Emefiele-led CBN that will be unearthed will leave Nigerians spell-bound.

BUHARI’S NON-CHALLANCE

Recall that last year, the Department of State Services (DSS) after wide-ranging investigations, submitted a security report on the monumental fraud allegedly perpetrated at the CBN by Emefiele to former President Muhammadu Buhari, who for reasons best known to him, refused to act on it.

Buhari even turned deaf ears to the cries by civil society organisations in the country that Emefiele should be probed and prosecuted based on the DSS report. All efforts to get him to move against the former CBN governor were to no avail.

COTER-LED 259 ANTI-CORRUPTION GROUPS’ PETITION TO BUHARI AGAINST EMEFIELE

Apparently pained by Buhari’s nonchalance to act on the DSS report, a coalition of 259 anti-corruption groups, Coalition for Transparency and Economic Reforms (COTER), petitioned the then president to move against Emefiele by ordering him to step aside from the office of the CBN governor and make himself available for questioning by the secret police on the various allegations levelled against him. The group, COTER, which was at the vanguard of the forces urging the past administration to recover the stolen funds at the CBN and use them to improve the lives of Nigerians and the nation’s economy, had in its petition also listed some of the alleged frauds committed by Emefiele. But Buhari refused to budge, despite all the pleas and outcries.

Instead, the military took over Emefiele’s security with the provision of almost 70 combat-ready soldiers to protect him, thereby shielding him from arrest by the DSS which had hitherto invited him for questioning to no avail.

DSS’ HANDING OVER OF SECURITY REPORT ON EMEFIELE TO TINUBU & EX-CBN GOV’S SACK AND ARREST

After Tinubu was sworn in as President on May 29, 2023, this same security report, it was learnt, was dusted by the DSS and re-submitted to the new administration, which recently suspended Emefiele from the office of CBN governor and subsequently appointed an acting governor in his stead.

This action by President Tinubu against Emefiele gave the DSS the green light it very much needed to move in and arrest the suspended CBN governor in his Lagos home and fly him to Abuja, where he’s currently being detained to answer questions on the various allegations leveled against him, including that of illegal possession of firearms for which he’s already being prosecuted in court. But from the DSS report, the current charges against the former CBN governor are just a tip of the iceberg. He still has a lot of questions to answer with the DSS and that informed the secret police’s decision to re-arrest him even after a court granted him bail.

THE DAMNING DSS REPORT ON EMEFIELE

According to the DSS report, Emefiele was unilaterally operating a separate foreign reserve accounts holding $47billion on behalf of the country without the knowledge of the Federal Government. The report said he craftily masterminded the creation of two foreign reserve accounts for the country.

The report further revealed that he was also running no fewer than 527 private bank accounts with public monies running to several billions of naira stashed in them without the government being in the know.

These allegations, among several others, against Emefiele are contained in the aforementioned security report submitted by the Department of State Services to former President Muhammadu Buhari in January this year.

The report which was handed over to Buhari by the DSS Director-General, Yusuf Bichi, in January, contains more damning evidence against the suspended apex bank boss on a series of fresh allegations.

DSS had earlier accused Emefiele of allegedly aiding and abetting terrorism, insisting that he must be prosecuted for the alleged crimes.

According to the DSS, preliminary investigations revealed Emefiele’s involvement in various acts of terrorism financing, fraudulent activities and economic crimes of national security dimension.

But the already embattled Emefiele continued to employ all means to escape arrest and interrogation by the DSS. He even had to delay his return to Nigeria after a trip abroad. He was also said to have engaged some close associates of the then President Buhari to help him prevail on the DSS to let him off the hook. He was also alleged to have been employing propaganda through organized public protests and demonstrations by Civil Society Organizations, CSOs, all in a bid to stop his investigations by the DSS.

A nephew and close confidant of the then President Buhari, Mamman Daura and the then Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, were said to be the arrowheads of the highly influential and powerful politicians pressuring the DSS DG, Yusuf Bichi to let go of Emefiele, resulting in the inability of the secret police to interrogate the apex bank boss on the allegations leveled against him while Buhari’s tenure lasted.

First News, however, learnt that unknown to Emefiele while he was out of the country, the DSS interrogated and obtained documentary evidence from his deputies at the apex bank, external auditors to the bank and managing directors of 27 commercial banks regarding the monumental allegations of corruption and fraud being leveled against him by the secret police regarding forex allocations and other corruption allegations.

It was in the course of these widened investigations that the DSS unearthed 12 fresh allegations against Emefiele, First News was told.

It was gathered that during interrogation, the CBN external auditors, who have been working for the apex bank in the past six years, “gave evidence under caution” to DSS interrogators and provided documents to back their claim that Emefiele paid them to prepare “doctored audit reports” which the Federal Government under Buhari was inadvertently relying upon.

It was also learnt that during investigations, the DSS discovered that the controversial Ways and Means approval requested by the then Finance Minister was actually in the region of N23.7 trillion as against the N7.3 trillion presented to the National Assembly.

Some of the new allegations Emefiele was then being investigated for by the DSS include the N3.6bn COVID-19 palliative funds given to Nigeria by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) two years ago to cushion the effects of the pandemic.

Emefiele, it was learnt, did not inform the Federal Government about the IMF palliative, but allegedly diverted the money into a private account in China. The demand for acknowledgement letter by the IMF from the then Finance Minister let the cat out of Emefiele’s bag. The embattled CBN Governor was however said to have told the Finance Minister that he invested the money for the country.

The then Finance Minister was said to have demanded for about $700m out of the IMF palliative to enable her ministry to “offset staff salary.”

The remaining $3billion, it was gathered, is still being kept in a bank in China without the Federal Government being aware of this development.

Also, the much-vaunted Single Treasury Account (TSA) under Buhari, it was learnt, has been discovered by the DSS to be a phantom device by Emefiele to deceive the Federal Government and all Nigerians. “There’s nothing like TSA account. Only Emefiele knows what he means by this,” a DSS source said.

The DSS, it was further gathered, while grilling bank chief executives in January, also unearthed an allegation that the former CBN boss directed all commercial banks’ managing directors to give him N30bn each every year as his own “pocket money.” Only a newly established bank (names withheld) allegedly paid Emefiele the least sum of N5bn. The bank MDs involved, it was learnt, wrote statements and provided the DSS with documentary evidence.

This was part of the reasons Emefiele, on January 18, 2023, through a CSO, approached an Abuja High Court presided over by Justice Belgore to obtain an interim injunction to restrain the DSS from obtaining information from the CBN and the commercial banks regarding forex allocations in the past six years.

But unknown to Emefiele, the DSS had already obtained a comprehensive list of all those involved in the forex distribution deal, including some highly placed Presidency officials and which was included in the security report on the CBN boss submitted to former President Buhari.

All these allegations against Emefiele contained in the DSS report are within the purview of the ongoing work of President Tinubu’s Special Investigator.

ANALYST SPEAK ON SPECIAL INVESTIGATOR’S TASK

Commenting on Tinubu’s appointment of Obazee as CBN Special Investigator, a public affairs analyst and commentator, Shehu Bashir, wrote, “The special investigation will definitely have a lot to reveal. The investigation exercise will dig deeper into “offshore” agencies which are ordinarily supposed to ensure compliance with maximum revenue collection by these agencies and where necessary, report omission or commission against any such defaulting agency. For example, what went wrong and why did some law enforcement agencies “choose to look away” when the CBN and its team of “elewele” were engaging in terrible corrupt practices, selling dollars to cronies at lower rate for the bureau de change black marketers and their villa cabals to feast on our economy?

“What were the anti-corruption agencies looking when “low profile” individuals were metamorphosing into trillionaires through insider trading and arbitrage? Why didn’t these agencies speak up against that and why wasn’t anyone in the CBN indicted or prosecuted over that naira “confiscation” policy that almost plunged us into anarchy? Was there a deliberate conspiracy to look away as Nigeria’s resources were being stolen while the proceeds of financial crimes were being used to establish real estates and banking businesses?

“Fellow compatriots, I do not know if you know what is coming, but you must all brace up for the mother of all battles against the enemies of Nigeria who have hitherto held this nation by its jugular. I do not envy this team of investigators because the task is huge. But I am optimistic that the exercise will bring a good report that will help us reposition so many things in our polity.

“This assignment is coming at the very right time. The scope of the assignment will be wide and it will be ubiquitous in nature. It is a fact that governance is a process and the process to redeem a bad situation will not come by providing a solution to a problem you do not know. For government to solve the lingering socio-economic hardship in the country, it has to do a reset from the root because a surface palliative may end up being frustrated by the unconscionable and inhumane capitalists. We can only hope and pray that the team does a thorough job without any iota of compromise.

“This is where the work begins and this is why the campaign for its success must be louder than the ones we had during electioneering. The setting up of this special investigation is one thing bringing the good intention of the Tinubu administration to the people. The public will need aggressive campaigns to grab and assimilate its importance. The general public must be adequately informed of what the government intends to achieve on this and why the public must jealously guard and support the investigation activities. This is not an ordinary tooth removing procedure; this is a urological procedure on what has been stunting our growth as a nation. It is very complex and it is very complicated but it is a very necessary step to take. The investigation will help expose so many things with the hope of helping to revive our dying economy and breathe a new life of prosperity into it.

“There is no doubt that the entire fabric of our system has been bastardized – from poor human resources management to natural resources mismanagement to compromise in security enforcement – nepotism, under-employment, over-employment, conspiracy, corruption, embezzlement, forex round tripping, arbitrage, insider trading, conversion of government assets to personal use, etc.

“Our focus therefore should be on the investigators and the investigation in general. It is a fact that if this investigation is diligently carried out without fear or favour, Nigerians will laugh to a working country again – our four refineries will be back to full working capacity with attendant adequate supply of petroleum products at affordable prices, our currency will be back to one naira to one dollar in single exchange market, our agricultural sector will pick up to turn Nigeria into the food basket of the world and our nation will be fortified against domestic insecurity and external aggression.

“I am keen and more particularly interested in what comes out of this investigation and how the recommendations of the findings will be implemented. I have always asserted that when we solve the problem of corruption in Nigeria, more than 90% of our problems are solved. This is a very good step in the right direction.

“Regardless of what role each of us is asked to play or not asked to play in this administration, we must remain patriotic and be hopeful that things will get better very soon. I am personally convinced as ever that when Nigeria is working, we will all work to success and walk to glory. The hope of the success of this country is on our renewed patriotism.”