Chairman of the forum of governors elected on the platform of Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr Atiku Bagudu, and a senator representing Enugu west senatorial district, Mr Ike Ekweremadu, are among serving political office holders named to be part of 334 prominent Nigerians who are linked to 800 properties scattered around the city of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
This was revealed by a new report on illicit financial flows which put the value of the properties at N164 billion.
The report, published on Thursday by an American-based non-governmental organisation, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is a product of an investigative research conducted by one of its nonresident scholars, Mr Matthew Page.
According to the report, the prominent public figures otherwise described as politically-exposed persons (PEP), who were found to own these properties, cut across Nigeria’s major ethnic, religious and political divides.
The report noted that about 20 former and serving governors, seven former and serving senators, current and former heads of ministries, departments and agencies of government, commissioners and those described as ‘money changers,’ that is, bureau de change operators, own a significant number of the properties.
Some of the other identified individuals linked to the properties include a former PDP chairman, Mr Ahmadu Ali; former Kwara State governor, Mr Mohammed Lawal; former petroleum minister, Mr Dan Etete; another former deputy senate president, Mr Ibrahim Mantu; former managing director of the acquired Oceanic Bank, Mrs Cecilia Ibru.
Others are former inspector general of police, Mr Tafa Balogun; former chairman of military pension board, Mr Bala Mshelia; former group managing director of Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr Ladan Shehu, and a former head of the petroleum product marketing company, Mr Samuel Okeke, among others.
About the report
The report titled; “Dubai Properties” An Oasis for Nigeria’s Corrupt Political Elites”, according to its author is based largely on private data compiled by UAE-based real estate and property professionals.
Dubbed “Sandcastles data,” UAE-based real estate professionals had in 2016, made the data available to Center for Advanced Defense Studies (now known as C4ADS) as confidential sources. But as credible as the data is, the Centre added a caveat that they do not constitute property deed, which it noted is a form of official documentation strictly controlled in the UAE as confidential information.
“Further, the data, last updated in 2016, show the affiliation of individuals and entities with Dubai property at that moment in time, and, as such, this paper makes no claim that these affiliations have continued past that year. The mention of any individual, company, organisation, or entity in this paper does not imply the violation of any law or international agreement,” the report cautioned.
Some of the individuals’ share of the properties
Described in the report as Abacha man, Bagudu is said to be linked to eight properties on the twelfth floor of Dubai’s capital bay towers development. The properties are said to worth more than $4.8 million in total.
Bagudu’s name has consistently appeared in some of the recoveries of monies stashed abroad by Mr Abacha. Bagudu, incumbent Kebbi State governor, helped Abacha embezzle billions of dollars from government coffers in the mid to late 1990s, according to U.S. court filings.
He has, however, continued to deny all corruption allegations leveled against him, but a 1998 Nigerian government investigative panel described how Bagudu and his accomplices siphoned these funds.
Very recently, Nigeria was reported to be committed to a deal that would give Bagudu about $100 million from funds recovered from his erstwhile boss, Abacha. This was revealed through a report by Bloomberg, which cited court documents.
The report noted that “when provided with an opportunity to comment on his possible connection to property in Dubai, Bagudu did not respond to our message. Similar questions sent to his telephone line and his WhatsApp page was not replied.
Late Mohammed Lawal: He was governor of Kwara State between 1999 and 2003, and was a military governor of Ogun State between 1987 and 1990. Lawal is linked to six properties with a total purchase price of over $2 million. “At least, one of those properties, a villa, was bought in January 2003, while Lawal was still in office.”
Ike Ekweremadu: Currently Nigeria’s longest serving parliamentarian and three-time deputy president of senate, Ekweremadu is said to be connected to eight Dubai properties, with an estimated total value of more than $7 million. “These include a luxury flat in Park Towers bought for $2.2 million and one in Burj Dubai purchased for $1.4 million.”
Described as a career politician, Ekweremadu is also linked to at least two properties in the United Kingdom, which according to the records were purchased between 2008 and 2011 for a total of 4.2 million pound sterling in 2011.
“One of these properties, an upscale flat in central London, is registered in the name of Ekweremadu’s charitable foundation while the second, a detached house in a leafy north London suburb, is owned by a shell company registered in the British Virgin Islands,” the report stated.
The researcher noted in the report that through Ekweremadu’s unnamed spokesman, he denied owning “purported ‘hidden properties’” and has stated “unequivocally that he declared all his assets with the Code of Conduct Bureau as required by law.”
When contacted by our reporter, his spokesman, Mr Uche Anichukwu, said he was unaware of the said report and requested that its link be forwarded to him for reaction. However, as at the time of filing this report, he was yet to respond to the enquiry.
Ibrahim Mantu: A former deputy senate president and an advocate of third term agenda for former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Mantu is linked to 12 of the 800 properties which he was said to have purchased for a total of over 10 million dollars through a front company, TSE Stevedoring Nigeria.
His wife and sons reportedly own 70 per cent of the company. “Through another company, A-Z Properties, Mantu also is linked to a $600,000 flat in the Jumeirah Beach Residences while his son, Musa, is also tied to a comparable flat in the same development.”
Ahmadu Ali: A former chairman of PDP, Ali; his wife, Marian Ali, and his son, Mamman Ali are linked to 11 of the identified properties. Seven of the said properties are worth about $4 million while the other four are said to be worth an estimated $2 million.
The report added; “Ali also owns two high-end London properties: a $10 million house near Hampstead Heath and a $1.3 million flat in Marylebone.84 Ali did not respond when given an opportunity to comment on the aforementioned allegations or his family’s possible connection to property in Dubai.”
Cecilia Ibru: The former bank managing director, her family and associates are linked to dozens of properties in Dubai as recently as 2016, according to the report. They include eight apartments in the Park Towers development purchased for a total of $4.3 million; a flat in Dubai Marina now worth about $500,000, and four commercial properties.
These are apart from $1.2 billion in stolen cash and assets forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria following her plea bargain with Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigeria’s anti-graft agency, after she pleaded guilty to three of 25-count of fraud brought against her.
The forfeited assets then had included 12 homes in the United States; four homes in South Africa, 28 shop fronts and seven residences in Dubai; 41 properties in Lagos, and eight houses in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city.
Use of fronts
Meanwhile, the report also identified possible use of fronts by prominent Nigerians including former Delta State governor, Mr James Ibori.
According to the report, about four political associates of the former governor were found to have ties to properties in Dubai. “One is linked to four Dubai properties, purchased for a total of $3.8 million, according to Sandcastles data. Another is affiliated with a two-bedroom flat on the 21st floor of the DAMAC Residenze, which, according to the developer, “comes with all the trappings of an indulgent lifestyle,” as well as “uninterrupted panoramic views of the ocean.”
The report further noted that the official reportedly purchased the apartment for over $1.5 million and also bought a flat in another development for $500,000.66.
“A third Ibori ally is linked to a two-bedroom flat on the 23rd floor of the DAMAC Residenze that he purchased for over $1.3 million. Yet another is tied to four luxury flats in Dubai, purchased for just over $2 million in total,” the report added.
There is also a businessman involved in technology and petroleum sectors, Shehu Badamasi, who is said to have created a Dubai property empire worth over 120 million dollars. He is said to have accomplished this despite being well-known to Nigerian law enforcement.
The report noted that Badamasi asserted that he and his companies do not, as of February 2020, own any Dubai real estate. “When asked to clarify whether he owned property prior to 2016—the period covered by the Sandcastles data—he did not deny owning it.”
The businessman was said to be known to the EFCC having been allegedly arrested, at least twice, for alleged criminal conspiracy, fraud, and diversion of credit facility worth roughly N17.7 billion.
“Badamasi appears to have owned Dubai property through two firms he controls. Through Nujuum Ventures, he was linked to 89 properties. He also holds an 11 per cent stake in Secure Electronic Technology (formerly the Nigerian Sports Lottery) through Nujuum. Badamasi’s other major corporate vehicle is Tanzila Petroleum, a petroleum products trading company. Through Tanzila, he was affiliated with 25 Dubai properties, purchased for a total of 25.7 million dollars,” report said.
With her worsening poverty rate, which is said to be as high as 52 per cent, Nigeria was recently dubbed world’s poverty capital. However, in spite of this frightening stigma, a handful of the country’s elites have been found to control huge wealth stashed away in foreign lands both in cash and assets.
The report recommended strict response from the country’s anti-corruption agencies, noting that “ignoring this phenomenon would ensure that Dubai property remains an attractive conduit for illicit financial flows from Nigeria for decades to come.”
It added that failure to act appropriately will enable the outflows to “drain government coffers, drive up borrowing, and put further pressure on the naira, Nigeria’s perennially struggling currency.”
Speaking on the development, the spokeswoman for one of Nigeria’s anti-corruption agencies, Independent Corrupt Practices and other Offences Commission (ICPC), Mrs Rasheedah Okoduwa, said the agency is determined to recover as much loot as possible.
She said the agency would study the report and consider its review for possible action.
“We will look into it and take appropriate action,” she said.
Okoduwa’s counterpart at the EFCC, Mr Tony Oriade, neither picked his call nor replied text message forwarded to his mobile line.
Dubai’s ‘uncooperative’ stance
But the report has identified as a possible clog in stopping illicit outflows to the Middle East, Dubai government’s poor commitment to financial regulations.
The report noted; “For politically exposed persons (PEPs) with ill-gotten wealth, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is an alluring destination for investing their gains. Although certainly not the only place to stash money, Dubai—dubbed the commercial capital of the Middle East—exercises minimal oversight and has few legal or logistical obstacles to transferring large amounts of cash or purchasing property.”
Dubai authorities are said to be beyond reprimand by the western world, especially following the city’s relationship with both Europe and America.
“Western governments are constrained by their complex and cozy relationships with the UAE. The United States, United Kingdom, and many European governments enjoy close ties to Emirati leaders, underpinned by decades of close diplomatic and military cooperation. Strong financial and institutional links—not to mention robust defense equipment sales—have also helped cement ties. Compared to its neighbors, the UAE is a relatively stable and reliable Western partner in the Gulf region. Constrained by its own strategic imperatives, the international community lacks leverage—or even backroom influence—over Emirati decision making. This makes it difficult to apply coordinated and sustained pressure on Emirati officials on sensitive issues like Dubai’s role in facilitating illicit financial flows,” the report added.