BY SAHARAREPORTERS, NEW YORK
In a development that points to the ways in which high-level personal relationships are undermining Nigeria’s anti-corruption agenda, the Department of State Services (DSS) has again rushed to the media, using unnamed officers, to deny that Senate President Bukola Saraki was the owner of N310 million stolen by the senator’s security aides from an operator of a bureau de change who was moving the cash. Mr. Saraki has close personal friendships with Director General of the DSS, Lawal Musa Daura, as well as other politically influential people, including a former military head of state.
A source at the DSS said he and other agents were surprised that Mr. Daura, who since taking office has refused to appoint an official spokesperson for the security outfit, would swiftly use unnamed officers to clear Mr. Saraki of ownership of the N310m stolen in November 2015.
One of the DSS agents involved in the robbery, and who used to be attached to Senator Saraki, had recently asserted that the stolen cash belonged to the senator. Mr. Saraki was apparently moving the funds for use in bribing judges shortly after his trial commenced at the Code of Conduct Tribunal in 2015.
An Abuja High Court recently granted bail to the accused DSS agent, named Abdulrasheed Maigari, after the accused agent agreed to drop his claim that the Director General of the DSS, Lawal Musa Daura, was aiding Saraki to subvert the cause of justice. Mr. Maigari recently contacted several media outlets seeking to tell the full story of the ownership of the money he was accused of robbing, claiming he participated in the heist out of “patriotism.”
Shortly after Mr. Maigari began speaking to the media, the Nigerian police arrested him on allegations that he was involved in kidnapping.
The DSS appears determined to erase the uncomfortable fact that Hassan Dantani Abubakar, the man ferrying the cash from the bureau de change to Mr. Saraki’s house, with police escort, has been Mr. Saraki’s “cash-moving” front for close to a decade, according to political and anti-corruption sources knowledgeable about their relationship.
Mr. Dantani Abubakar is also a cousin of former military Head of State, General Abdulsalam Abubakar. The former military ruler, who ended military rule when he handed over to Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999, is also known to own several bureaus de change. Some of the DSS agents assigned to Mr. Saraki told our correspondent that the senator and the former head of state are close friends. One agent said they had driven the senator several times at night to visit the ex-military dictator.
The current DG of the DSS, Mr. Daura, is also chummy with Senator Saraki. Several DSS aides said Mr. Daura, who personally assigns the bulk of Senator Saraki’s security cover, met with the senator at an apartment in the Asokoro area of Abuja especially during the early days of Mr. Saraki’s trial. One source asserted that the purpose of the meetings was to assist Mr. Saraki in his covert operations to sabotage his trial.
Regarding Mr. Dantani Abubakar, from whom Mr. Maigari and other security agents snatched N310 million, a legal expert wondered why the DSS and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had never focused on the obvious money-laundering dimension of the case. “It is incontrovertible that the movement of such a huge amount of money from First Bank was in violation of Nigeria’s extant laws,” said the lawyer.
Curiously, Mr. Dantani Abubakar, who told SaharaReporters that he was out of the country when the robbery took place, was the same persona named by the EFCC in its latest report detailing how Mr. Saraki and his fronts arranged to hijack N3.5 billion out of the N554 billion Paris Club loan refund released by President Muhammadu Buhari. The EFCC exposed how Mr. Saraki, through the help of Robert Mbonu, a former Managing Director of Societe Generale Bank, laundered hundreds of millions of naira through Mr. Dantani Abubakar’s bureau de change in Abuja and elsewhere.
When SaharaReporters first revealed in an exclusive report that Mr. Saraki owned the cash stolen by members of his security detail, the senator denied ever knowing who Dantani Abubakar was. He accused this website of writing a false report.
However, Senator Saraki’s security aides involved in the drama asserted that they robbed the senator’s bureau de change money launderer on November 20, 2015 and stole N310 million that was being transported to the senator. They detailed how they snatched the cash from the bureau de change operator at 5 Nana Close, Maitama in Abuja.
Tracked down by SaharaReporters and speaking anonymously, some of Mr. Saraki’s aides, who are currently on the run, said the senator was in the habit of warehousing large volumes of cash, mainly for use to bribe judges, investigators, and prosecutors in order to scuttle his trial by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for false assets declaration.
The N310 million heist, first reported by SaharaReporters, featured five officers of the Department of State Security (DSS) led by Mr. Abdulrasheed Maigari, the most senior of the DSS officers attached to Senator Saraki. Mr. Maigari hails from Dungo local government area of Taraba State. The other DSS officers involved in the theft were Ibbi George from Adamawa State, Patrick Ishaya from Plateau State, Peter Okoye from Delta State, and Solomon Yunusa from Kogi State. Other participants included four other aides of Mr. Saraki and five serving military officers led by one Captain Hassan Mshelia.
The aides at large revealed to a correspondent of SaharaReporters that Senator Saraki often used a house, 18 Lake Chad Crescent, Abuja, as a warehouse for illegally acquired money. They said huge stashes of cash from First Bank Plc. branch located at Coomasie House in Abuja were often stored in the house. The aides added that the funds were then moved on behalf of the Senate President for use in a variety of special “political assignments” ordered by Mr. Saraki.
The sources said cash was regularly moved from the bank and the house on Lake Chad Crescent to Mr. Saraki’s mansion at 5 Nana Close in Maitama, from which lawyers, as well as judges and their designated representatives, are paid cash to obstruct justice.
According to our sources, Mr. Saraki often used five of his official security aides, supported by five soldiers usually chosen by Paul Ibok, his Chief Security Officer, to move the funds. The aides disclosed to SaharaReporters that, between October and November 2015, there were three cash movements to No. 5 Nana Close.
They said the cash was usually received by Mr. Saraki’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Peter Makanjuola, who also has the duty of distributing it to judicial officers with whom various deals had been struck regarding ways to scuttle the Senate President’s trial. Last week, the EFCC questioned Mr. Makanjuola over his role in laundering some of Mr. Saraki’s alleged loot of the Paris Club refunds.
Senator Saraki’s former aides disclosed one instance in which the senator arranged to deliver N550 million to Justice Alfa Belgore, a former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN). They added that the cash was to enable the former CJN to carry out an illicit assignment of obstructing justice on behalf of Mr. Saraki. On another occasion, DSS officers and soldiers attached to the senator transported N370 million to a venue.
Two of the security agents wanted for the snatching of N310 million told SaharaReporters that the Senate President had 23 DSS operatives attached to him. The senator’s DSS security team, they said, were split into teams A and B, with members of both teams taking turns to provide security for Senator Saraki who lives in an eight-bedroom official residence. The building, known as “White House,” shares a wall with the official residence of the Inspector-General of Police.
Our sources said that, having observed the unrestricted movement of large sums to Senator Saraki’s home, some of his DSS aides also developed an appetite for cash. On November 20, 2015, an aide to Mr. Saraki directed the leader of Team A, Ibrahim Shariff, to call Mr. Maigari, who had been off duty, to return to work for a “special assignment.” On his return, Mr. Maigari was told to join four colleagues and five soldiers to go meet one Ibrahim Kabir, a First Bank employee, to pick up money for the Senate President. They said Mr. Kabir happens to be the account officer for Hassan Dantani Abubakar, Mr. Saraki’s favorite bureau de change operator. One longtime associate stated that Mr. Saraki had been using Mr. Dandani Abubakar to launder funds since the senator’s days as the governor of Kwara State.
Our sources said that, with the increasing scrutiny on him, Senator Saraki had decided against using the DSS officers attached to him to escort cash movement. Instead, the senator asked the management of the bureau de change to make their own arrangement for security escorts to move the cash to Senator Saraki’s home.
However, with their own growing hunger for money, members of Senator Saraki’s security detail had hatched a plot to corner the cash. And they recruited other colleagues as well as Captain Mshelia. Dressed in military fatigue, the security agents positioned themselves near the senator’s home and ambushed the vehicle in which the bureau de change operator was conveying the cash. SaharaReporters learnt that the security officers told those moving the cash that they were under arrest for money laundering. The police officers hired as escorts by the bureau de change operator had to leave the scene when the DSS men showed their identification tags, which gave the impression that they were on legal duty.
Once the policemen left, the DSS officers, including those attached to Mr. Saraki, told the bureau de change operator that they knew of the destination of the cash and that moving huge sums of cash outside the banking system was illegal. The DSS officers then demanded N350 million in order to allow the vehicle to proceed. After a period of haggling, the officers settled for N310 million.
When Mr. Dantani Abubakar was informed of the heist, he reportedly phoned Senator Saraki, according to one security source. Devastated by the development, Mr. Saraki instructed him never to mention his name in connection with the cash. Unaware that those who carried out the theft included members of his security detail, Mr. Saraki thought he was safe from being exposed.
Shortly after SaharaReporters reported the heist, disclosing that the cash belonged to Mr. Saraki, the senator’s spokesman, Yusuf Olaniyonu, issued a statement denying the senator’s ownership of the stolen money. “We want to say categorically that Dr. Saraki is not the owner of the stolen money. He does not know the owner who is said to be a bureau de change operator. The police that investigated the robbery incident and the SSS, which issued a statement on it, can confirm that there is no link between the Senate President with the ownership of the money,” Mr. Olaniyonu claimed in a statement at the time.
However, Mr. Olaniyonu’s claim that Senator Saraki did not know the operator of the BDC has been debunked by the latest EFCC report sent to President Muhammad Buhari on Mr. Saraki’s theft of N3.5 billion from the Paris Club loan refund .
When the issue first broke, Mr. Olaniyonu also told SaharaReporters that the police had issued a statement on the matter. But when SaharaReporters demanded where to find the said police statement, he directed us to a report in ThisDay newspaper, claiming it contained the police statement.
However, the newspaper merely quoted Wilson Inalegwu, Federal Capital Territory Commissioner of Police, as saying: “In the course of the investigation, we were able to get the names and identities of some of them (the suspects). Unfortunately, two of the DSS operatives are attached to the Senate President.”
Every step of the way, Mr. Saraki made valiant efforts, abetted by the DG of the DSS, to prevent the money from being linked to him. Mr. Dantani Abubakar said the robbery took place at 5 Nana Close, off Mississippi Road in Maitama. He also claimed that the robbers dropped off his employees on the outskirts of Abuja.
His version of events, however, was disputed by Mr. Saraki’s DSS aides, who told this online newspaper that there was no need to have treated the staff of the bureau de change roughly, as there was no resistance from Mr. Dantani Abubakar’s “boys.” After taking the cash, the aides said, they left for Mr. Maigari’s house in Keffi, Nasarawa State, where they shared the loot before returning to work at Mr. Saraki’s home.
During our earlier investigations, Mr. Dantani Abubakar confirmed to SaharaReporters that he is a nephew of General Abdulsalami Abubakar (ret.). Some of Mr. Saraki’s DSS aides disclosed that the senator frequently called on the ex-head of state at his Lake Chad Crescent mansion.
Six days after the theft, both Mr. Maigari and Mr. Ibbi were arrested around 8:30 pm, as they prepared to accompany Senator Saraki to see President Muhammadu Buhari. After their arrest, Mr. Saraki’s other aides detained in relation to the heist, requested to see the DSS Director-General, Mr. Daura, to explain why they conspired to steal the money. Mr. Daura declined the request, but sent a DSS officer to tell them that the matter would be resolved internally. He sent firm instructions through the officer that the arrested officers could make statements, but they must ensure that such statements did not link the stolen cash to Mr. Saraki in any way. Two of the detained officers said they wrote choreographed statements dictated to them by investigators as they’d hoped for a soft landing.
Mr. Daura’s friendship with Senator Saraki has dictated extraordinary efforts by the DSS to distance the senator from a scandal that has the Senate President’s fingerprints all over it. Some of Mr. Saraki’s aides still on the run disclosed that, on at least four occasions, the DG of the DSS secretly met with the senator after the latter’s corruption trial had begun at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. The first of the clandestine meetings took place at Barcelona Apartments in Abuja. On two other occasions, Mr. Daura and Senator Saraki met at night at the Senate President’s official residence. SaharaReporters has constantly reported that the DSS boss, Mr. Daura, was providing strategic support to the Senate President to help him frustrate his trial.
A statement issued by the DSS on December 6, 2015, was carefully tweaked to give the public the misleading impression that the stolen cash belonged to Mr. Abubakar, owner of the bureau de change. The statement also failed to provide details of the purported robbery and avoided mentioning that the DSS officials involved were attached to the Senate President. Signed by a shadowy Tony Opuiyo, the DSS statement said: “The Department of State Services (DSS) wishes to inform the general public that the Service has arrested two (2) out of five (5) of its staff involved in the robbery and sharing, on November 20th, 2015, of the sum of three hundred and ten million naira (N310m) belonging to a Bureau De Change operator in Abuja. While three (3) of the DSS staff are now at large, the Military Authorities have commenced a detailed investigation of five (5) of its personnel involved in the crime.” It added that preliminary investigations revealed that Mr. Maigari conspired with four colleagues to steal the money.
Mr. Maigari and Mr. Ibbi were detained at Kuje Prison. Mr. Saraki’s security aides who remain on the run told SaharaReporters that five soldiers are also in detention at Kuje Prison in connection with the theft. In April 2016, the police charged the soldiers to court for robbery. Curiously, the soldiers are being tried separately from the DSS officers because the DSS refused to hand over Mr. Maigari and Mr. Ibbi to the police for prosecution, claiming the DSS did not trust the police. However, the sources said the real motive was Mr. Daura’s determination to handle the prosecution internally to ensure that Mr. Saraki’s connection to the stolen funds is suppressed from the trial.
Representatives of the detained DSS operatives said the DSS first charged them to court in April 2016, after media reports revealed that the money stolen belonged to Mr. Saraki. They were charged to court after the DSS discovered they were planning to demand their freedom through the filing of a fundamental rights enforcement suit before an Abuja High Court.
Late last month, Justice Othman Musa of the Federal Capital Territory Court in Jabi, Abuja, granted bail to the two detained DSS operatives. A senior DSS sources claimed that the DSS was negotiating with Mr. Maigari and Mr. Ibbi to end their prosecution if they would cease any further disclosures on Mr. Saraki’s ownership of the stolen funds. “They [the suspects] have been engaged in a conversation. The DSS will pay up their salaries up to date and ease them out of the service and quietly withdraw the robbery charge against them if they can keep quiet and stop talking to SaharaReporters about the case,” said the source.
A relative of one of the DSS suspects told SaharaReporters that the judge, while granting them bail, warned the suspects “to be careful and to watch their backs.” However, a few weeks after they were granted bail, the police arrested Mr. Maigari regarding an alleged case of kidnapping. News of his arrest emerged in a press statement issued by a police spokesman, Moshood Jimoh. Curiously, Mr. Jimoh served as Chief Security Officer (CSO) to Mr. Saraki during the senator’s tenure as Kwara State governor. Mr. Maigari’s arrest came as he approached media outlets to tell the full story of the N310 heist. When the opportunity presented itself while in police custody, Maigari revealed to Vanguard newspaper that he was the DSS officer that led the robbery gang that took Saraki’s N310million.
Representatives of the DSS suspects said they recently discovered that Sunday Agaba, a man who took part in the stealing of Senator Saraki’s N310 million, and who was described as a bureau de change operator, is actually a retired Army officer. The police shot Mr. Agaba as they arrested him.
After SaharaReporters first reported the theft of N310 million, Mr. Maigari and Mr. Ibbi were removed from the underground cell at the DSS where they had been kept and allowed for the first time to meet with their respective families. It was during such interactions that the detained DSS operatives realized that they had been branded armed robbers. They vowed to give a full account of the heist if they were prosecuted along with the soldiers.
SaharaReporters learnt that Mr. Dantani Abubakar was listed as a witness in the case. However, during cross-examination, he claimed he was forced to come for the trial. When SaharaReporters contacted Mr. Abubakar shortly before this report was written, he claimed to have a hazy recollection of what went on with the bullion van on the day of the incident. However, he insisted that the stolen money belonged to him.
According to the accused DSS operatives, the stolen money was recovered from them in full. However, the DSS told the court that it recovered only N96 million.
Justice Abubakar Umar of Federal Capital Territory High Court 8, Abuja, withdrew from presiding over the trial of Captain Mshelia and others, citing undue pressure from unnamed persons. Captain Mshelia and his gang members remain in prison custody at Kuje.
As SaharaReporters reported in the past, the theft of Senator Saraki’s N310 million was not the only time the senator’s laundering of hordes of cash had tempted his aides to steal from him. A group of aides at his house in Ilorin last year stole cash worth N110 million from his bedroom in Kwara State.
Since Mr. Buhari came to office in 2015 and Mr. Daura became the DSS boss, the security agency has been involved in shielding Mr. Saraki and other politically powerful money launderers from exposure and investigation. Under Mr. Daura’s directive, the DSS wrote scathing reports to the Nigerian Senate in order to stop the confirmation of Ibrahim Magu as the substantive chairman of the EFCC. In its reports to the Senate, the DSS claimed that one Stanley Lawson a former NNPC official, who assisted former Petroleum Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke to launder funds of $25 million used to purchase Port Harcourt-based Meridien Hotel, was helping the government.
Mr. Daura and President Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, were reportedly key in facilitating the trouble-free return of former Delta State Governor, James Ibori, into Nigeria after the ex-governor served out a 13-year jail sentence in the UK for money laundering. In fact, Mr. Daura gleefully told the press that he met with Mr. Ibori to welcome him to his fatherland after UK authorities sent the disgraced Mr. Ibori back to Nigeria. A DSS source said Mr. Daura approved some security agents to serve former Governor Ibori as his official protection since the ex-governor’s return.