GODWIN ISENYO a PUNCH Correspondant, paid a visit to the poor community in Kaduna State where operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission found over N3bn in a house allegedly belonging to a former General Manager of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
When 30-year-old Ibrahim Alfa first heard that over N3bn was discovered by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in a house somewhere in Kaduna State, he rolled his eyes in disbelief. When he was later told the said sum was found in a house located inside his poor community in Sabo Tasha, Alfa, who holds a Higher National Diploma in Electric Engineering, screamed expletives.
Our correspondent found Alfa on Chikun Street, by the popular Y Junction along the Sabo Expressway, in Sabo Tasha, Chikun Local Government Area of the state. There, Alfa sat outside his one-bedroomed apartment he shared with his friends, talking about his future, which was far from being as bright as the afternoon sun.
“I am short of words. How can one believe that such amount of money was found here, in a place where there is no regular electricity supply, water supply? To think that a man of such immense wealth has something to do with this community without contributing anything is, to say the least, disheartening,” Alfa said.
Chikun Street has since become popular following the discovery by operatives of the EFCC, on February 9.
Following a tip-off by an informant, operatives of the agency stormed a house in Sabon Tasha, allegedly belonging to the former Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Dr. Andrew Yakubu. The anti-graft agency said it found the sum of $9.7m (N2.96bn) and £74,000 (N28.19m), a total of over N3bn hidden in a fireproof safe inside the house.
Yakubu was NNPC GMD between 2012 and 2014 before he was relieved by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan for alleged corruption and insubordination. He had worked with the NNPC for over 30 years.
Chikun LGA has an estimated population of over 360,000, with Sabo Tasha and Angwan Sunday having about half of the estimated population.
Alfa said, “As you can see, I am going to the next compound to fetch water from a borehole. This is as a result of the government’s inability to provide for us. Yet we have somebody who hid money in foreign currencies in our area. This country is sick. Look at the poor drainage system, bad road network and lack of hospital facilities. Many of the residents are not happy with the man (Yakubu) for what he did. People in this community are angry. They wished the money was shared among them. He could not even touch anybody’s life in this community.”
An unexpected find in squalor
Last Friday, a statement from the EFCC spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren, noted that “the surprise raid of the facility followed intelligence which the commission received about suspected proceeds of crime believed to be hidden in the slums of Sabo Tasha area of Kaduna.”
Uwujaren said the caretaker of the house, one Bitrus Yakubu, a younger brother to Andrew Yakubu, disclosed that both the house and the safe where the money was found belonged to his brother, Yakubu.
The EFCC spokesman further said on February 8, Yakubu had reported to the commission’s zonal office in Kano and made a statement wherein he allegedly admitted ownership of the recovered money, claiming it was a gift from unnamed persons.
The discovery by the EFCC has sparked outrage among Nigerians, especially Yakubu’s poor neigbours.
A resident of the area, 30-year-old Celestine Musa, said members of the community were woken up by the unusual presence of operatives of stern-looking EFCC operatives.
Musa said he was shocked that such huge sums could reside in such a poor community where many like him where struggling to eke out a living.
The house where the money was recovered was a stark difference to the amount it carried for months. But for the EFCC revelation, nothing pointed to the fact that N3bn was stashed somewhere in the unimpressive house with drab painting.
Directly opposite the building were shops, where a grinding machine for tomatoes, pepper and other stuff was displayed. To the extreme right was a firewood seller, displaying a hip of firewood.
Our correspondent gathered that the compound, where the money was recovered, had two two-bedroomed flats, self-contained apartments and a room-and-parlour. Two window-sized air conditioners were said to be in the room where the currencies, reportedly stored in an anti-fire safe, were discovered.
When SUNDAY PUNCH visited the house where the money was uncovered, it was learnt the older sister of the former GMD, a retired nurse fondly called “Mama,” resided there with other tenants.
The house is said to be one of the many properties owned by Yakubu. Interestingly, the unimpressive building in question is a kilometre away from the 29, Bourbillion residence of the ex-GMD by Narayi High Cost Junction, an upscale neighbourhood in the state.
However, unlike the largely attractive houses in Narayi, Sabo Tasha has all the trappings of squalor and poverty. The area does not boast of a government primary or secondary school. The less-than-a-kilometre road is untarred and driving during rainy season, according to residents, is hellish.
“It is unfortunate that such an amount was recovered on my street where there is no good road. In fact, I am shocked and angry about the whole situation,” Musa added.
For Mr. Paul Okoye, a 70-year-old welder, said the discovery felt like a scene from a bad movie.
The septuagenarian noted that it was outrageous to trace such an amount of money in “hard currency” to a community lacking in life’s simple comforts.
He said, “Take a look at the deplorable condition of the road in the area. It is only a wicked person that can hide over N3bn in the midst of squalor. Personally, I have decided to refrain from commenting on this matter because it could give me a heart attack. We are hungry and dying of poverty, yet somebody kept such a huge amount of money and can still sleep well with his two eyes closed. It is the height of wickedness. It is unfair.”
A 50-year-old carpenter, who is also a motorbike rider, Mr. Godwin Odoh, echoed the same views.
Odoh has five children. He said he prayed to God to assist him and his family, since the likes of the ex-GMD could not assist the poor in their midst. “I have been living in this area for decades, and I never imagined that that amount of money could be kept in the area, not to mention the type of house where it was found,” he said.
Similarly, a 33-year-old seamstress, Comfort Ojei, whose shop is opposite Yakubu’s house, said she was shocked at the EFCC’s findings.
“It is obvious that we lack the basic amenities of life in this area, such as good roads, functional health care facilities, as well as schools, yet our neighbour was hiding dollars while we were suffering and dying of hunger. We are not happy at all,” the mother of two said.
Another neighbour, Samuel Koro, told SUNDAY PUNCH that he had once approached the Zango-Kataf-born Yakubu for assistance when he was still NNPC GMD. But Yakubu told him that he had no money.
“I had gone to meet him (Yakubu) for N20,000 for payment of my rent, but he said there was no money. Operatives of the Department of State Security guarding him then simply shoved me aside. So, when I heard of the EFCC discovery, that sad encounter flashed through my mind. He was not friendly with us at all,” Koro said.
However, like the saying goes, different strokes for different folks.
Mrs. Habibat Ifijeh, a trader, whose provision store is attached to the building where the money was uncovered, described the former GMD as a kind man who had touched many lives.
“All I can say is that the man is a gentleman. He assisted (my family) with our rent. We are tenants in his house and whenever we couldn’t afford the rent or didn’t have money to pay, he would simply tell us to ‘just forget it.’ I feel bad but I don’t know why he decided to keep the money here. Let the court judge him,” she said.
What we want FG to do with recovered money — Residents
Mr. John Ibekwe, whose one-roomed apartment is not far from the house where the money was recovered, said a fraction of the money would help his family and that of three generations after him.
Ibekwe said, “I am struggling to fend for my family. I cannot afford to pay the school fees of four of my children. I am approaching 48 and the future is still bleak for me and my family. Why should only one man have N3bn in his house when many in the country are suffering? In the past, they said ‘no food for lazy man’; now we work and their is still no food because of bad leaders. My heart bled when I heard of the discovery. We are all here and right under our nose was hidden dollars and nobody knew. Our leaders are wicked.”
Youths in the community are angry at Yakubu, noted Musa. “It is shameful. Only God knows what would happen to him if they should get hold of him. I pray he doesn’t come to this area because he will be lynched,” he said.
Ibekwe urged the Federal Government to use the money recovered for the benefit of the common man in the community and across the state.
“The Federal Government should ensure the recovered money is properly accounted for. Government should identify capital projects to utilise the money for. If the money recovered from looters are judiciously utilised, many Nigerians would be willing to join forces with the government in the fight against corruption in the land,” he said.
Ojei said the former GMD did not help his neighbours. “We want the recovered money shared. We want government to reconstruct our roads, build schools for our children and provide electricity and water for the community with the recovered money. During the rainy season, this road is not motorable,” he said.
Another resident, who refused to give his name, said, “Apart from the bad road which you see and at the same time feel, we don’t have good schools and other social amenities in this area. We can use such money to fix our roads, schools and health facilities. He should simply forfeit the money to the government. Let the government use this to show us that the law is working. We don’t want a situation whereby a court will give him a meagre amount like N100m as fine and ask him to go and sin no more.”
What N3bn can do for Kaduna State, Nigerians
The sum of N3bn recovered from Yakubu would have provided about two percent of the Kaduna State government’s 2017 budget put at about N214bn (made up of N83.46bn in recurrent spending and N131.45bn in capital expenditure), which would have gone a long way to provide several social infrastructure in the community and the state.
Last year, the governor of the state, Nasir el-Rufai, lamented that over 4,000 primary schools in the state were in various stages of disrepair.
Also, the state government is struggling with the school feeding programme; the amount would have fed the estimated 1.9 million primary school pupils in about 4,300 primary schools in the state for one month.
It would also have provided thousands of jobs as the state’s feeding programme is expected to directly create 17,000 jobs for catering vendors and others who would work for them.
The Executive Director, Centre for Creativity and Leadership Development, Kaduna, Abdullahi Ali-Dogo, said the amount could have done more for the state and development of its infrastructure.
“Some of the things the money can provide for this community include a good road network, well-equipped hospital and a borehole for every household. This will go a long way in reshaping the community. I believe the major problems of that community are bad roads and lack of educational facilities. A fraction of that amount can get all the streets there tarred; provide well-equipped health care centres, potable water, as well as primary and secondary schools where children of the poor would be adequately catered for and the children would not have to pay school fees for three years.”
An economist and a former employee of African Development Bank, Yakubu Aliyu, said the recovered N3bn would have provided the country valuable foreign exchange that could also support its external reserves.
“In a way, the continued depreciation of the naira could be linked to such kind of leakages, people holding on to foreign currencies like the dollar without putting it to use. When you convert the money at the parallel market rate, it is closer to N5bn (than N3bn). Many states in Nigeria do not take much in a month from the federation account. So, in effect, a state government could have used that amount to pay salaries, contractors and fund security in a whole month,” Aliyu said.
The economist further said the amount would have also funded capital projects in the country.
He said, “The entire start-up capital of Emirates Airlines, which is now among the top five airlines in the world and employs a staff of over 50,000, was about $10m in 1985. Imagine what that amount could do for many Nigerians two to three decades down the line if it is used to start a profitable venture.
“Also, take the Central Bank of Nigeria/Bank of Agriculture anchor lending to farmers that has now sparked off a real agricultural revolution across the country. The loan per farmer is N250,000. With such an amount stashed away by the former NNPC boss, the scheme could reach about 20,000 farmers. Imagine the huge multiplier effect on food production, stimulation of rural economy and farmers’ incomes. The effect on poverty reduction will be monumental.
On February 14, the Federal High Court sitting in Kano ordered for the temporary forfeiture of $9.8m and the £74,000 recovered from Yakubu to the Federal Government, as had been requested by the anti-graft agency.
Ali-Dogo urged the Federal Government to follow China’s example in punishing looters of public money. “Let’s go the China way, anybody that steals government money or is proven by law to be corrupt should face the death penalty,” he said.