The cumulative effect of the verdict of the Northern District Court of Illinois, in the US causing the forfeiture of the $460,000 belonging to Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, as proceeds of narcotics and money laundering, which are serious crimes in Nigeria, is that he cannot contest the 2023 election, because he is already tainted with the grave consequences.
These were the conclusions of Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as he weighed in on the issue on Thursday, even while the camp of the former Governor of Lagos State, dismissed the matter as a “storm in the teacup, without anything to it.
Just as Tinubu, spoke through Festus Keyamo, the Director General of the All Progressives Presidential Congress Campaign Council (APC-PCC), Atiku, conveyed his position through Danie Bwala, spokesman of the PDP Presidential Campaign Council (PDP-PCC).
Emphasising, while appearing on Politics Today, a Channels Television current affairs programme, Keyamo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), had asserted on Wednesday, that the $460,000 which Tinubu was made to forfeit to US authorities was tax deductibles that should ordinarily accrue to the government.
His words: “These processes are mere presumptions. They found money in his (Tinubu) accounts and they said he needed to come forward. In that affidavit of Kevin Moss, they said they interviewed Mobil and Mobil said this man is a treasurer in Mobil. Mobil said the funds are not for them.
“They confirmed his status not as a criminal but as a respected employee of Mobil. It is in that affidavit. After all the rigamarole trying to find out whether the accounts where the money came from are linked to drugs, they came to the conclusion that the deposits he made — what these bankers called investments — they said he had not paid tax on these interests. That is all. Look at paragraph 38. They said it is tax. They took what belonged to them. They even begged Tinubu not to return. Just allow us take what belongs to us and go. They were begging him. It was not punishment, it was no indictment, it was just forfeiture.
“The deposits he made there (in banks) were what bankers call investments. He kept the money there and he was getting interests. They (US government) said he had not paid tax on those interests. That is all and guess what? The banks are supposed to deduct the tax from source.
“Out of the 10 accounts, it was only one account – the one in Heritage Bank – that they took $460,000 as tax on interest that he benefited on the investment he made in those accounts. In fact, all the money in Heritage Bank was not taken; they took only $460,000 as tax.”
But in a quick riposte on Thursday on the same programme, Bwala, though acknowledging that there was actually no conviction, because Tinubu took advantage of a provision in the US laws not to contest the forfeiture, the further implication did not absolve him of the criminal taint.
Disclosing the interest of the PDP in the matter, he said, it was important that people like Keyamo, were not allowed to deceive Nigerians, hence the need for the party to join issues, distill facts and reel out the truth on the issue, adding that many of the perspectives the APC spokesman gave on Wednesday, were false.
First, dismissing the issue of timeliness, he said it did not matter whether the incident took place hundred years ago, they must be raised each time Tinubu put himself out for public office, as Nigerians needed to know the full details of the full background of the man angling to lead them.
Hear him: “If you’re vying for a public office, you must be willing to be scrutinised. The reason is that the man who would be President of Nigeria – that’s why they have security vetting – must be somebody that the nation must have an idea of his life from when he started to where he is today, so that he doesn’t become an object of blackmail or national security threat. So, the fact that it happened after 30 years is a non issue.”
He also dismissed the argument that under statute of limitation, the matter could not be raised in Nigeria because it was handled in a foreign land, saying it held no water, adding that money laundering and dealing with narcotics were criminal offences both in the US and Nigeria, adding that the reason why Tinubu escaped conviction and punishment, was because he co-operated with the prosecutor’s offer that the matter should not go to court under the Non Conviction Based Recovery.
He explained: The way they operate, if they want to prosecute you on a crime that investigation suggests that they are going to spend a lot of money and whatever the crime they’re targeting, they may not be able to get the whole of it before the end of the trial, but because, the idea is to recover as fast as possible the proceeds of crime, they now apply the forfeiture proceedings.
“Forfeiture is a civil proceeding, yes, it is not a criminal proceeding, but the elements argued before the civil courts, are elements of crime. It is just the proceeding that is civil, but the procedure upon which the prosecutor would convince the judge that these assets are proceeds of crime, are criminal elements. Yes, Tinubu was indicted, but was he convicted criminally, the answer is no.
“Under Non Conviction Based Recovery, there are three types of pleas. There is a plea of guilt, there is not guilty and there is no contest. If Bola Ahmed Tinubu at the time had decided to contest it, if it went into trial and the elements were proven, it might lead to his prosecution. What most defendants do in the US is that they don’t want a situation in which they would be further exposed. So, they can afford to let go of the assets. That’s why they enter what they call non-contest. What it means is that I’m not guilty, but I’m also not contesting it, so whatever you see, you carry.
“Nigerians must know, it is the moral issue that the nation is confronted by. Somebody who has not denied, but has in fact, co-operated with the government of the US about the proceeds of crime traceable to his account, with three documents, an affidavit setting out the facts and what the prosecutor was setting out to achieve, a verdict, the finding of court, based on the affidavit, which established a probable cause under the relevant laws that those assets that they were seizing were actually proceeds of crime.
“Once that is done, the judge must say that the defendants must be put on notice. Who are the defendants. If you look at that proof of service, which is another document, you’ll see United States of America as plaintiff and Bola Tinubu as the defendant. The owner of that account and the account are like two Siamese twins. Does account number come to court. The owners of the account come to court and Bola Ahmed Tinubu, did not contest. He in fact co-operated. This is why he cannot separate himself.”
Again, dismissing Keyamo’s further argument that forfeiture did not amount to punishment, he countered by saying that anything that rightly belonged to someone, but being forfeited in that manner, was clear punishment. “Why are you forfeiting it? Because investigation proves a link between you and that item and that that item is linked to narcotics. So, narcotics and money laundering are criminal offences,” he said.
Questioning the issues further, he said, Keyamo, who prided himself as a prosecutor, should have told Nigerians how much Tinubu was earning at the time to have such amount in his account, if it was actually not the proceeds of money laundering and narcotics. “How much was Tinubu earning. How much was his salary. Even if you multiplied it with a number of years, the prosecutor would say, is it enough to have that large sum of money in your account?
“For the Nigerian people, the issue is not just about the source of the money, yes, the source is important, but for the Nigerian people, there is still a cloud about drug-related offences and drug-related activities with somebody who wants to be the number one citizen of the country. I tell you why. This idea of drug and narcotics is a terrible thing all over the world. If somebody has that questionable character as a President, it will embolden people who are into those activities. That is why the person has to come out clean.
Bwala, also reminded Keyamo, that he had not reversed his conclusion on Tinubu presenting a dubious certificate with which he contested elections as a governor, adding that even though the court dismissed the matter because on technical ground, the APC spokesman, had failed to tell Nigerians that those conclusions he made on the certificate case, were now false.
On the argument that his link to the matter was like a director appearing in a case to defend his company, Keyamo, must be reminded the APC spokesman that Abdulrasheed Bawa, the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), was convicted by the court and ordered to be sent to prison, not because he actually committed the offence directly, but because he was the alter ego of the anti-graft agency, saying it was in the same manner, Tinubu should take responsibility for the money found in the account.
In all he said: “I’m afraid that the conclusion of this case is that from the eyes of the law, especially if you look at the constitutional provisions beside it, Bola may be disqualified from contesting if that matter goes to court. Narcotics and money laundering, whether in America or in Nigeria, is a criminal offence.”