Panic and confusion have gripped officials at the Code of Conduct Bureau after records relating to Bola Tinubu asset declaration suddenly disappeared from the storage facility that has held them for years.
Heralding the latest in desperate larcenies of incriminating documents that have been the lifeblood of Nigerian politics for decades.
The disappearance could frustrate ongoing corruption investigation into Bola Tinubu asset by the EFCC, Nigeria’s frontline anti-corruption outfit, which has apparently ignored the embattled politician’s political ties to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Three officials familiar with the matter said that the bureau started looking for Mr. Tinubu’s asset filings after the EFCC requested copies as part of an ongoing investigation into the former Lagos governor’s financial and material possessions. Several offices have been rummaged at the bureau as officials scrambled to produce the documents for EFCC’s use — all to a dead end.
“We have searched for the case file everywhere because we want to comply with the lawful request made by the EFCC,” a top management official at the bureau. “We have not been able to find the documents either at the main head office or the annexe office in Asokoro.”
Another official who interacted with one of the mid-level staffers tasked with finding the documents the matter had become “terribly embarrassing” and a cause for unending worry at the bureau, which is the primary anti-corruption agency in charge of collecting and keep assets of schedule government officials before and after assumption of office.
“We cannot find the asset documents at all,” the official said. “We cannot even find photocopies that we can certify for the EFCC.”
Mr. Tinubu was the governor of Lagos from 1999-2007. Officials said he declared his asset when he assumed office and when he concluded his second term in May 2007.
Anti-graft agencies had previously investigated and charged Mr. Tinubu on the basis of the documents in 2011, but the Code of Conduct Tribunal, which primarily hears cases brought by the bureau, dismissed the matter on technical grounds, leaving the merit of the case floating for nearly a decade. No further charges had been preferred against the ruling party chief ever since.
But as he prepares to seek Nigeria’s presidency in 2023, anti-corruption officials said they’re now convinced by “institutional memory” that Mr. Tinubu’s asset filings were incriminating and must revisit the matter to prevent “another rogue” from assuming power in a country still reeling from decades of infamy.
“His asset declaration form will not be the only reason for us to arrest and charge him,” an EFCC official said under anonymity over the weekend. “But our detectives and lawyers working on the case said it is likely to be seriously incriminating.”
Both CCB and EFCC officials who spoke with the Gazette for this story urged strict protection of their identities, citing especially their active engagement status and a lack of clearance to speak to journalists on a matter still under investigation. The officials’ personal details have been withheld in accordance with the Gazette’s policy on anonymous sources.
A spokesman for the CCB did not return a request seeking comments on the missing files. An EFCC spokesman also declined comments.
Although the EFCC has yet to escalate the disappearance of Mr. Tinubu’s asset filings to the presidency, concerns have nonetheless been flaring amongst top officials of the CCB, an official said. While some officials believed the document might have been stolen by an intruder, others blamed “an inside job” for the development, citing its security.
“Tinubu’s file is one of the VVIP files that is kept with either the chairman or someone he trusts immensely,” an official said. “So claiming that it was stolen from an outsider at the time the EFCC is requesting for it is just so convenient.”
The official said an internal investigation has yet to commence about the disappearance, but the EFCC might be forced to report the CCB, which is a department under the federal cabinet secretary’s office.
“We don’t know how many palms have been oiled to make a sensitive document disappeared from our vault,” the CCB chief said. “We are not going to blame Tinubu for it because he did not come in here to snatch it from us, some people were used.”
The EFCC first wrote to the CCB requesting Mr. Tinubu’s asset declaration details in September, according to a letter obtained by the Gazette and published last week, but the anti-graft agency was forced to repeat the request when the asset fraud office could not produce Mr. Tinubu’s case file.
Since then, the CCB has not been able to comply with EFCC’s request, effectively stalling the case, according to officials at CCB and EFCC.
Still, anti-graft officials said they are treating the file drama more as a temporary setback for concerned agencies than a day of reckoning averted for Mr. Bola Tinubu himself.
“We take all corruption cases very seriously,” an official said. “So we will find a way out of every setback that we are likely to encounter before the prosecution stage.”
Anti-graft officials also emphasised that Mr. Bola Tinubu’s asset filings, while potentially incriminating enough, will not be the only ground for his arraignment, which they said Mr. Buhari has not commented on despite Mr. Tinubu’s attempt to quash the matter.
“We have other petitions bordering on his corruption,” an official said. “We are proceeding with every lead we have because we have not heard anything from the presidency to the contrary.”
The president has powers to stop a criminal trial as all law enforcement institutions are under his absolute control, but a presidency official said Mr. Buhari might be reluctant to wade into the matter because of the weighty allegations against Mr. Tinubu.
“The president still respects Bola Tinubu as a strong ally,” the official said under anonymity. “But the allegations against him are weighty and if they are not thrashed out now another government may eventually be forced to do so in future.”
Although no official memo has been circulated in respect to the charges against Mr. Tinubu, there are strong indications that his infamous bullion vans on the eve of 2019 elections and his involvement in the movement of suspicious funds from Lagos treasury into Alpha-Beta Consulting might be his undoing.
“We have a petition from a group in Abuja that we should investigate the bullion vans,” an official said. “It is possible that both the bullion vans and the case with Alpha-Beta will complement each other if the matter goes to trial.”
A bad hand
A spokesman for Mr. Bola Tinubu did not return a request seeking comments about his principal’s missing files.
The former Lagos governor has long denied all claims of corruption as a handiwork of his political detractors, and he was even more confident of not facing any charges following his undisputed role in bringing Mr. Buhari to power. Respected political analysts said Mr. Tinubu, through funding and resources, led the efforts to make Mr. Buhari appealing to Nigerians who have rejected him at the poll as an ethnic and religious partisan.
Whereas he expected a great degree of influence under Mr. Buhari’s government, Mr. Tinubu has been left largely disappointed, and, in some cases, deliberately slighted by those with domineering influence on the president.
In 2018, Remi Tinubu said her husband was “trashed” after Mr. Buhari assumed power in 2015, with the president allowing those who did not play any crucial role in the election to have a say in his government instead.
Still, Mr. Tinubu supported Mr. Buhari’s reelection, with the grapevine saying it was based on a mutual understanding that Mr. Buhari would hand over to the Lagos politician because it would be the turn of Southern Nigeria to nominate the next president in 2023.
People close to Mr. Tinubu said that it was on the back of Mr. Buhari’s assurances that he opened a campaign office in Abuja last year.
But as politics gradually shifts towards 2023, the president’s people now appear to be coming after Mr. Bola Tinubu in order to frustrate his ambition, said political analyst Felix Adebija.
“The EFCC has powers to investigate and charge Bola Tinubu if he is found wanting of financial crimes,” Mr. Adebija said. “But the process, in this case, could be as important as the substance of the case itself.”
Mr. Adebija said Mr. Bola Tinubu wields enough influence to dismantle the 2013 accord to produced the APC, and it would be a shame to destroy the party after producing one president.
“From feelers, we know Bola Tinubu has been dealt a bad hand in the recent revalidation exercise of APC membership, going after him with EFCC could push him towards the edge and make him pull out his political structure,” the analyst said. “In that respect, APC will easily collapse and it will be a shame that a party that has become one of the largest in Africa is asphyxiated after producing just one president,”
Credit: The Gazette