Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president, has been captured on tape acknowledging his role in a complex scheme that for years took advantage of federal contracting expenditures.
Mr. Abubakar could be heard narrating how he took charge of setting up onshore shell businesses to serve as a conduit for cornering significant sums from public works contracts for himself and former President Olusegun Obasanjo, designating some for further distribution to political allies and organizations, in the recording heard by Newsmen overnight and verified by voice recognition experts.
“What happened was when we came into office and I advised the president against open corruption,” Mr Abubakar said. “I told him to give me three people you trust and I will prepare three companies in which they will be subscribers or rather the directors.”
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Mr. Abubakar claimed that Mr. Obasanjo later proposed candidates, including politician Andy Uba and businessman Oyewole Fasawe, who was at the time the president’s special tasks aide.
A third candidate was reportedly no longer alive.
According to reports, Mike Achimugu, who was for a long time regarded as one of Mr. Abubakar’s closest colleagues, recorded the tape, which lasts for about four minutes, in June 2018. On Sunday afternoon, Mr. Achimugu posted the recording to his YouTube channel and other social media sites.
It wasn’t immediately obvious why Mr. Achimugu and Mr. Abubakar had a falling out or why he disclosed the information in the last weeks before the presidential election on February 25 in which Mr. Abubakar is running once more as the nominee of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party. Additionally, he was unavailable for comment when asked why he chose not to release the tape prior to the 2019 elections, in which Mr. Abubakar was running as the primary opposition candidate.
The chat appeared to be the clearest sign yet that Mr. Abubakar may not have shared all the information he had regarding the corruption allegations that have followed him for years. He has evaded both domestic and international prosecutors as well as members of the public by merely dismissing charges of involvement in corruption and directing everyone to hunt for proof of his guilt.
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The release of the audio could undermine the former vice president’s long-standing denial that he was above unethical behavior in public service, even though it may be too soon to predict how anti-graft authorities in Nigeria and abroad, who have failed for decades to link Mr. Abubakar to corruption, will proceed moving forward.
Because the two leading candidates for president, Mr. Abubakar and Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress, have long struggled with negative perceptions of corruption, analysts have lamented how little attention has been paid to endemic corruption in the lead-up to the presidential election.
The campaign of Mr. Abubakar is reportedly keeping a strategic silence on the issue in the hopes that it won’t acquire traction among voters, according to background material obtained by The Gazette. A spokesman for Mr. Abubakar did not respond to a request for comment.
According to Mr. Achimugu, Mr. Abubakar unwittingly confessed to his involvement in federal contract racketeering on June 18, 2018, in response to social media rumors that the former vice president had taken up to N100 million in cash bribes from Plateau’s ex-governor Joshua Dariye, who had been convicted of the crime.
According to court documents from the trial, Mr. Dariye claimed to have given Mr. Obasanjo and Mr. Abubakar N100 million apiece from his plunder.
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Mr. Achimugu claimed that as he developed a plan to refute the accusations, he emailed Mr. Abubakar first and then gave him a call.
Then, Mr. Abubakar described how he warned Mr. Obasanjo against “open corruption,” recommending that they be more covert in their participation in dubious activities by using special-purpose vehicles that would facilitate their use of third parties to defraud the public through contracts that were frequently inflated.
“An SPV is a special-purpose vehicle. It is a company they incorporate to carry out certain activities,” Mr Abubakar said on the tape. “So that if there is any contract that we give they will act like consultants and they are given a fee. That fee is what we use to fund the party.”
Mr Abubakar specifically stated in the audio that Mr Obasanjo “gave me the name of Fasawa, Andy Uba”, as well as another politician from Borno State whom he said died in a plane crash to serve as fronts.
“I now incorporated companies and put them as subscribers. One of the companies was Marine Float,” he said.
Further admitting to receiving the N100 million bribe from Mr. Dariye, which was paid straight to Marine Float, one of the three businesses he created, the 76-year-old politician also acknowledged receiving three more bribes.
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“When the governor sent donations, he sent it to Marine Float. It stayed in Marine Float. One of the subscribers of Marine Float was Otunba Fasawe. That was where the N100 million when to. It did not go to Atiku Abubakar. It went to Marine Float. Marine Float was a special-purpose vehicle,’’ Mr Abubakar further said. “That was the way I handled it.”
The EFCC later “very thoroughly” investigated the Marine Float accounts, according to Mr. Abubakar, but they “discovered nothing” connecting him to their illegal practices.
On Sunday evening, it was unable to get in touch with Mr. Obasanjo’s spokesperson for comment.
Mr. Fasawe was unavailable for comment, and Mr. Uba turned down a request for one.
In the middle of the 2000s, the federal broadband contract crisis that enveloped Mr. Obasanjo’s administration had both Mr. Fasawe and Mr. Abubakar at its center. William Jefferson, a serving member of the United States at the time, was jailed as a result of the charges. While looking into the case, American authorities claimed to have discovered cash bribes in Mr. Jefferson’s refrigerator that were thought to have originated from a Nigerian racket; nevertheless, Mr. Abubakar was never charged specifically.
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An anti-corruption panel Mr. Obasanjo established in Nigeria found Mr. Abubakar guilty of public graft, but the findings were summarily overturned by the political climate at the time because Mr. Obasanjo was fervently trying to prevent his lieutenant from succeeding him in retaliation for thwarting his attempt to extend his tenure in office beyond the constitutionally required two terms of eight years.
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