Sunday, March 26, 2023

AUDIO: Atiku busted for using Fasawe, Andy Uba to corner billions in federal contracts as Nigeria’s vice-president

The conversation appeared to mark the most potent indication yet that Mr Abubakar might not have disclosed all he knew about the corruption charges that have dogged him for years.

• January 9, 2023
Atiku Abubakar (Credit: Ahmed Oluwasanjo Peoples Gazette)
Atiku Abubakar (Credit: Ahmed Oluwasanjo/Peoples Gazette)

Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has been caught on tape admitting involvement in a steep conspiracy that exploited federal contracting outlays for years.

In the recording heard by Peoples Gazette overnight and authenticated by voice recognition experts, Mr Abubakar could be heard narrating how he took charge of establishing onshore shell businesses to serve as a conduit for cornering vast amounts from public works contracts for himself and former President Olusegun Obasanjo — designating some for onward distribution to political allies and organisations.

“What happened was when we came into office and I advised the president against open corruption,” Mr Abubakar said. “I told him to give me three people you trust and I will prepare three companies in which they will be subscribers or rather the directors.”

Mr Abubakar said Mr Obasanjo subsequently nominated individuals that included businessman Oyewole Fasawe and politician Andy Uba, who was serving at the time as the president’s special duties aide. A third nominee was said to be deceased.

The audio of roughly four minutes was said to have been recorded in June 2018 by Mike Achimugu, who was for a long time known as one of Mr Abubakar’s closest associates. Mr Achimugu made the recording public on his YouTube channel and other social media pages on Sunday afternoon.

It was not immediately clear why Mr Achimugu fell out with Mr Abubakar, or why he leaked the material in the last weeks of the February 25 presidential elections in which Mr Abubakar is standing again as the presidential candidate of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party. He also could not be reached for comments about why he failed to disclose the audio before the 2019 elections in which Mr Abubakar was also the main opposition candidate.

The conversation appeared to mark the most potent indication yet that Mr Abubakar might not have disclosed all he knew about the corruption charges that have dogged him for years. He has managed to slip away from local and foreign prosecutors and members of the public by simply denying involvement in corruption allegations while charging anyone to look for evidence of his culpability.

Whereas it might be too early to foretell how anti-graft authorities in Nigeria and overseas who have failed for decades to tie Mr Abubakar to corruption might proceed going forward, the audio’s release could blunt the former vice president’s longstanding rebuttal that he was above sharp practices in public service.

Analysts have decried how endemic corruption has received little attention ahead of the presidential poll because the two frontline candidates, Mr Abubakar and Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress, have long grappled with poor corruption perceptions.

A spokesman for Mr Abubakar did not return a request for comments, which appeared to jive with background information received by The Gazette that said the campaign was maintaining a strategic silence on the matter with the hope that it would fail to gain traction among the electorate.

Specifically, Mr Achimugu said Mr Abubakar unwittingly owned up to his involvement in federal contract racketeering following a social media buzz on June 18, 2018, during which claims circulated that the former vice president accepted up to N100 million in cash bribes from Joshua Dariye, the convicted former governor of Plateau.

Mr Dariye had reportedly stated in court filings at trial that he gave Messrs Obasanjo and Abubakar N100 million each from his loot.

Mr Achimugu said as he drew a strategy to defend the allegations, he contacted Mr Abubakar, first via email, and subsequently a callback.

Mr Abubakar then narrated how he advised Mr Obasanjo against ‘open corruption’, suggesting at the time that they should be more opaque in their involvement with questionable activities by deploying special-purpose vehicles that would aid their use of third parties to fleece the public through contracts that were often inflated.

“An SPV is a special-purpose vehicle. It is a company they incorporate to carry out certain activities,” Mr Abubakar said on the tape. “So that if there is any contract that we give they will act like consultants and they are given a fee. That fee is what we use to fund the party.”

Mr Abubakar specifically stated in the audio that Mr Obasanjo “gave me the name of Fasawa, Andy Uba”, as well as another politician from Borno State whom he said died in a plane crash to serve as fronts.

“I now incorporated companies and put them as subscribers. One of the companies was Marine Float,” he said.

The 76-year-old politician further admitted to having collected the N100 million bribe from Mr Dariye which was paid directly to Marine Float, one of the three firms he registered.

“When the governor sent donations, he sent it to Marine Float. It stayed in Marine Float. One of the subscribers of Marine Float was Otunba Fasawe.  That was where the N100 million when to. It did not go to Atiku Abubakar. It went to Marine Float. Marine Float was a special-purpose vehicle,’’ Mr Abubakar further said. “That was the way I handled it.”

Mr Abubakar said the EFCC later probed Marine Float accounts “very well” but still “found nothing” linking him to its fraudulent activities.

A spokesman for Mr Obasanjo could not be reached for comment on Sunday evening. Mr Fasawe was not available for comment; while Mr Uba declined a request seeking comment.

Mr Fasawe and Mr Abubakar were both at the centre of a federal broadband contract scandal that engulfed Mr Obasanjo’s government in the mid-aughts. The charges later saw the jailing of William Jefferson, at the time a serving member of the United States. American authorities said they found cash bribes believed to have come from a Nigerian racket in Mr Jefferson’s refrigerator while probing the case, but Mr Abubakar was never specifically charged.

In Nigeria, an anti-corruption panel instituted by Mr Obasanjo found Mr Abubakar culpable in public graft, but the findings were summarily neutralised by the prevailing political atmosphere at the time when Mr Obasanjo was desperate to stop his lieutenant from succeeding him as retaliation for thwarting his attempt at elongating his tenure in office beyond the constitutionally-mandated two terms of eight years.

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