Kebbi State Governor, Atiku Bagudu, and the senator representing Enugu West Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Ike Ekweremadu, are alleged to be among serving political office holders linked to 800 properties in Dubai, United Arab Emirates(UAE).
Bagudu and Ekweremadu were named as part of 334 prominent Nigerians, including politically exposed persons, who own properties valued at N152bn ($400m) in the UAE.
The linking of these prominent Nigerians to the properties was contained in a report published by an American-based non-governmental organisation(NGO), Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, on its website on Thursday.
Titled “Dubai Properties, An Oasis for Nigeria’s Corrupt Political Elites,” the report, according to its author, Matthew Page, is based largely on private data compiled by UAE-based real estate and property professionals.
Bagudu is the Chairman of the Progressives Governors Forum, which is a forum of governors elected on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress(APC), which rode to power on the promise to fight corruption. This is also in spite of the anti-graft stand of the current administration of the President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Federal Government and the UAE had in 2017 signed the Judicial Agreements on Extradition, Transfer of Sentenced Persons, Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal Matters and Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal and Commercial Matters, which include the recovery and repatriation of stolen wealth.
Other legal instruments between Nigeria and UAE were the Agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters; Agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance in Civil and Commercial Matters and the Agreement on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons.
Described in the report as the Gen Sani Abacha’s money man, Bagudu was linked to eight properties on the 12th floor of Dubai’s capital bay towers development valued at more than $4.8m in total.
Bagudu, who is in his second term as the Governor of Kebbi State, reportedly helped Abacha to launder billions of dollars stolen from Nigeria. A Bloomberg report few weeks ago had shown that the governor signed a deal with the Federal Government that he would be given $100m from the funds he helped Abacha to loot from Nigeria. The report relied on court papers filed by the United States Department of Justice.
Ekweremadu, a former deputy senate president, was allegedly linked to eight Dubai properties, with an estimated total value of more than $7m (N2.66bn). The properties include a luxury flat in Park Towers bought for $2.2m (N836m) and one in Burj Dubai purchased for $1.4m (N532m), including other properties in the United Kingdom.
The report alleged 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 bureau de change operators, own a significant number of the properties.
Other prominent Nigerians who allegedly own properties in Dubai include a former Peoples Democratic Party chairman(PDP), Ahmadu Ali; former Kwara State governor, Mohammed Lawal; former petroleum minister, Dan Etete; a former deputy senate president, Ibrahim Mantu and a former managing director of the defunct Oceanic Bank, Mrs Cecilia Ibru.
Others are a former Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun; former chairman of Military Pension Board, Bala Mshelia; former Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation(NNPC), Ladan Shehu, and a former head of the Petroleum Product Marketing Company, Samuel Okeke, among others.
The report also identified possible use of fronts by prominent Nigerians, including former Delta State governor, James Ibori, adding that 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 $3.8m (N1.44bn), according to Sandcastles data,” it noted.
A breakdown indicates that 156 politically exposed persons own 226 properties in Dubai; 13 known Nigerian law enforcement agency suspects own 216 properties; 50 PEP-linked business persons own 91 properties while 14 security sector leaders own 71 properties.
The report further linked 69 properties to 35 governors; 16 properties to 45 lawmakers; 25 properties to 16 heads of departments/agencies; 24 to 15 ministers; 13 to NNPC staff members; 13 properties to five Presidency staff and one property to a judge totalling 800 properties.
“The 800 Dubai properties linked to Nigerian PEPs are estimated to be worth well over $400m. This equals roughly two-thirds of the Nigerian Army’s annual budget and over three times the annual budget of the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission,” the report said.
According to the report, the PEPs’ appetite for Dubai property was so voracious that a burgeoning group of middlemen now specialise in selling Dubai property to recently elected politicians and newly appointed officials.
It described some of the salesmen as scam artists seeking to con naive legislators keen to convert some of their ill-gotten gains into offshore real estate.
It added: “One former legislator from Kaduna State, for example, lost tens of thousands of dollars to one such hustler.”
Responding to the allegations, Bagudu dismissed the report, saying it had no substance. The governor, who spoke through one of his aides, Yahaya Sarki, described the report as “one of those online reports which have no substance.”
In his own reaction, former Deputy President of the Senate Ike Ekweremadu, said, “I have said this before, let anybody who finds any property listed against my name that is not in my asset declaration form which I duly submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau take such a property.”