By Samuel Ogundipe and Sani Tukur
Nigeria’s National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, has said he informed President Muhammadu Buhari about the National Intelligence Agency’s covert operation that went awry with the discovery of over N13 billion at an apartment in Lagos last month, PREMIUM TIMES can report.
This newspaper can also confirm that Mr. Monguno knew about the covert operation, took part in its gradual advancement and expressed the satisfaction of not only himself but that of the president over the diligence and professionalism of the NIA personnel executing the intelligence projects.
“Detailed brief of this exercise was rendered to the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces who expressed satisfaction on your agency’s foresighted disposition on development of its critical infrastructure,” Mr. Monguno said in a letter to the Director-General of the NIA, Ayodele Oke.
The May 17, 2016 correspondence —with reference number: NSA/332/S— was written to Mr. Oke as part of the of NSA’s oversight activities concerning the NIA covert operations which was already underway at the time.
Three months earlier, Mr. Monguno had raised a three-member panel to inspect the projects the NIA was undertaking as part of the clandestine operations approved by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
In its report to the NSA on February 29, the team expressed satisfaction with the level of progress on the overt and covert projects, which has a budget of $289 million.
The panel, which Mr. Monguno described in a document as having conducted “a comprehensive inspection of the NIA projects both in Lagos and Abuja,” was led by Adeyinka Famadewa, a brigadier-general in the Nigerian Army with specialities in military intelligence.
The new details now before the presidential committee probing the #IkoyiMoney controversy appear to have clarified the controversy surrounding the source of the recovered funds. They also seem to have rubbished insinuations that Mr. Oke did not brief Mr. Buhari and Mr. Monguno about the projects.
Although Mr. Monguno did not openly deny knowledge of the operations and projects, several presidency sources have suggested that neither the NSA nor the president was briefed about the $289million released to the NIA or the projects being executed with it.
President Buhari also indicated that he did not know about the operation when he suspended Mr. Oke from office and set up a panel to investigate the “circumstances in which the NIA came into possession of the funds, how and by whose or which authority the funds were made available to the NIA, and to establish whether or not there has been a breach of the law or security procedure in obtaining custody and use of the funds.”
Incidentally, the three-man panel, led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, also included Mr. Monguno. Attorney-General Abubakar Malami is the third member of the panel, which was set up on April 19.
The panel has since concluded its sitting and announced that its report would be presented to the president on Monday, May 8.
During his first visit to the NIA Headquarters on May 5, 2016, Mr. Monguno expressed delight at the activities of the external intelligence service and made particular reference to the $289 million operation.
“On the occasion of my maiden visit to the NIA since assumption of official duties as NSA, I am extremely delighted by the warm reception and hospitality shown to me by H.E. Ambassador Ayo Oke, DG, NIA, the quality of works in progress is notably breathtaking but very inspiring also.
“All the facilities being constructed have demonstrated that the NIA is far ahead of its sister agencies in terms of foresight and dealing with 21st Century intelligence issues.
“It is my fervent prayer that the NIA achieve all the goals it has set for itself so that all other institutions of government, particularly the intelligence community, will bring about the desired change for this great country,” Mr. Monguno wrote in the NIA visitors’ book on May 5, 2016.
Mr. Monguno became the National Security Adviser on July 3, 2015.
After conveying the commendations of the president in his May 17, 2016 letter to Mr. Oke, Mr. Monguno informed the NIA DG that “the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) shall, henceforth, take on the task of verifying the current state of the projects and associated records.”
“In the content of these oversight functions, the NIA is hereby required to avail the NSA bi-annual updates on these projects until their completion.”
Presidency sources had earlier told PREMIUM TIMES that Mr. Buhari learnt of the NIA projects during the work of the presidential committee that audited equipment procurement in the military which was led by John Odey, an air vice marshal.
The source said Mr. Oke approached Mr. Monguno and intimated him of the $289 million approved by Mr. Jonathan in 2015 for “the development of critical security infrastructure and covert operations”.
He said the NSA requested a report about the money and what it was meant for.
“When the NIA submitted his report to the NSA, he (NSA) set up a three-man panel to investigate the claims made by Mr. Oke,” he said.
He also said Mr. Oke listed about nine projects that were being carried out by the NIA across the country.
“In the report he presented, the DG said he has already authorised a payment of $98,891.067.57 out of the money as at January 20, 2016, leaving a balance of $190, 311,314.02
“Out of that balance, the DG said the sum of $89,298,792 was cash at hand while the sum of $101,015.55 was in the bank,” he said.
Our source said Mr. Oke provided a detailed breakdown indicating all payments made and outstanding sums, adding, “the calculations based on the tabulation gave an exact balance of the $289 million that was approved by the former president.”
The source said Mr. Famadewa’s panel also submitted its report to the NSA for onward disclosure to the president.
“Upon receiving the report, Mr. President said it is normal and directed the NSA to take responsibility and to also have oversight over the projects,” the source said.
However, another source involved in the investigation told PREMIUM TIMES the N13 billion is part of the $89,298,792 Mr. Oke had reported to President Buhari as cash at hand.
The source, who asked not to be named as he was not authorised to discuss the matter with journalists, said the NIA moved the money from one of its Lagos safe houses to the Ikoyi apartment when the safe house was being renovated.
“The movement (of the money) is a standard procedure in clandestine security operations. It was necessitated by the renovation in the safe house,” he said.
“Unfortunately, inter-agency rivalry made the EFCC ignore the early warning the NIA gave it to abandon the search after it started,” the source said.
A former External Affairs Minister, Bolaji Akinyemi, recently cautioned the federal government on its handling of the current probe.
“External Intelligence operations do not belong into the same security genre as domestic security forces such as the SSS, EFCC and the Police,” Mr. Akinyemi, who was in office from 1985 to 1987 and supervised the NIA’s operations, said in a statement last week.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had on April 12 recovered of $43,449,947, £27,800 and N23,218,000 from an apartment at Osborne Towers in Ikoyi, Lagos.
The anti-graft agency said it acted on information provided by a whistleblower.
A day after news of the recovery dribbled around the country, the EFCC approached the Federal High Court in Lagos for a forfeiture order.
Muslim Hassan, a judge at the Lagos Division of the FHC, granted the anti-graft agency’s request and gave any potential claimant until May 5, else the entire N13 billion would be permanently forfeited to the Nigerian government.
On April 14, according to presidency and security sources, the NIA admitted owning the money, saying it warehoused it in the Lagos apartment for an operation it was conducting.
Our sources said Mr. Oke, the NIA director general, had approached Mr. Magu to request EFCC operatives who broke into the apartment to back down while the operation was still underway, but the EFCC boss refused his request.
Mr. Oke confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that the money belonged to the NIA in an April 14 interview, but declined requests to disclose what it was meant for, saying “You don’t expect me to tell you that.”