By OBINNA EZUGWU
From being a very close ally of President Muhammadu Buhari upon his election victory in 2015 to being arrested on the president’s orders in June 2016, Mohammed Umar, a retired air commodore in the Nigerian Air Force and son-in-law of the late ex petroleum minister, Rilwan Lukman, is a cat with nine lives; an evasive security chief with evidently unrivaled capacity to play the system and get around every situation. He has become the rope used finally to tie Ibrahim Magu, the hitherto powerful chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on the noose.
Umar who retired from the Air Force in 2014 to stupendous and largely unexplainable wealth, had been head of the Air Force’s Holding Company, the Air Force Properties Limited and Air Force Chief between 2010 and 2012, and had retired to own numerous expensive properties in high end locations in Abuja, Kano and Kaduna, and owner of private jet company, EasyJet Limited, among other possessions; this, with a fairly rich history of alleged involvement in corruption.
About 23 years ago, before the birth of the fourth republic in 1999, Umar as a young officer of the Air Force whose salary could not afford a car, was said to have already acquired for himself a private jet, and was living on such stupendous wealth that confounded several his colleagues in the Force.
It was not surprising therefore that upon the formation of the EFCC in 2003 by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, Umar was said to have been one of the first military officers to be arrested by the anti graft agency and detained for salary and procurement fraud in the Air Force.
However, his trial was later handed over to the military, and he was let off the hook after being compelled to make refunds. He subsequently returned to the Force, retiring in 2014 to own six companies, including a private jet company with a fleet size of 10 aircraft, it was said. This is in addition to being one of Abuja’s biggest property owners.
“Many top government functionaries live in his houses in Abuja,” a security source had noted during his investigation in 2016. “He also has properties in Dubai and London.”
Ibrahim Magu would later become one of the alleged occupants of Umar’s many mansions, and that was the beginning of the trouble that has eventually brought him down.
But despite his rich history of alleged corruption, by 2015, Umar was already an ally of President Buhari, having apparently won the president over. And so close was he to the then new Nigerian leader who rode to power on the high horse of anti corruption, that he was soon named as a member of a panel constituted by him to investigate mismanagement of public funds meant for the war against Boko Haram during the administration of his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan.
And with a cache of information on Nigeria’s security contracts during the Jonathan years, Umar soon became a key figure in the president’s investigative committee on arms procurement.
However, as opposed to putting his position to intended purposes, Umar allegedly deployed it to profitable use, turning the panel, allegedly into a blackmailing and extortion cartel; a development that soon caught the attention of the Department of State Security (DSS) then led by Lawal Daura.
Daura, it was said, met with President Buhari and tabled reports suggesting that Umar had been busy using his name and other top officials of the administration to intimidate, extort and blackmail individuals and businesses as well as launder money.
Daura’s report led to Buhari ordering Umar’s arrest in June 2016. The DSS arrested him and raided his Abuja home on June 19, during which discoveries of classified documents from the president’s office, details of government transactions from the Central Bank of Nigeria, and details of bank transactions belonging to the Office of the National Security Adviser, among other things, were made.
This in addition to other properties, including 13 luxury cars: One Range Rover, two Rolls Royce, two Bentleys, one BMW 7-series, one Mercedes 550, one Lexus Sports, one Audi R8 and one Porsche Panamera GTs were seized.
Apparently, Umar, prior to this time, had cultivated a relationship with the then new EFCC acting chairman, Ibrahim Magu. The DSS in a report to the senate then led by Senator Bukola Saraki, to prevent Magu’s confirmation as substantive chairman of the EFCC, accused Magu of living in a N40 million-mansion paid for by Umar.
“In December 2010, the Police Service Commission (PSC) found Magu guilty of action prejudicial to state security – withholding of EFCC files, sabotage, unauthorised removal of EFCC files and acts unbecoming of a police officer, and awarded him severe reprimand as punishment,” the report had said.
“Magu is currently occupying a residence rented for N40m at N20m per annum. This accommodation was not paid [for] from the commission’s finances, but by one Umar Mohammed, air commodore retired, a questionable businessman who has subsequently been arrested by the secret service.
“For the furnishing of the residence, Magu enlisted the Federal Capital Development Authority to award a contract to Africa Energy, a company owned by the same Mohammed, to furnish the residence at the cost of N43m.
“Investigations show that the acting EFCC chairman regularly embarked on official and private trips through a private jet owned by Mohammed.
“In one of such trips, Magu flew to Maiduguri alongside Mohammed with a bank MD who was being investigated by the EFCC over complicity in funds allegedly stolen by the immediate past petroleum minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke.
“Furthermore, the EFCC boss has so far maintained a high-profile lifestyle. This is exemplified by his preference for first-class air travels. On 24 June, 2016, he flew Emirate airlines first-class to Saudi Arabia to perform lesser hajj at the cost of N2.9m. This is in spite of Mr. President’s directive to all public servants to fly economy class.
“Magu has fostered a beneficial relationship with Mohammed who by his confession approaches clients for possible exploitation, favours and associated returns.”
Following the DSS report, however, Magu’s EFCC swung into action against Umar, eventually securing, in March 2017, temporary forfeiture of Umar’s five properties located in the upscale areas of Maitama and Asokoro in Abuja, as well as Kaduna and Kano to the Federal Government.
Others included a six-bedroom duplex with two-bedroom ‘boys quarters’ located at 14 Vistula Close off Panama Street, Maitama which he allegedly bought for N700m; a castle with a swimming pool and a mosque located at 1853 Denf Xiao Ping Street, Asokoro Extension which he allegedly purchased at N860m and renovated at the cost of N66m in 2012.
Also involved are: a four-bedroom duplex with a ‘boys quarters’ located at Road 38, Street 2, Ministers’ Hill, Mabushi which he allegedly bought at a cost of N500m; a three-bedroom duplex and a three-bedroom guest chalet located at 8 Kabala Road Unguwan Rimi, GRA, Kaduna State allegedly purchased at the cost of N80m while between N75m and N80m was spent on the renovation; a six-bedroom duplex with ‘boys’ quarters’ and a two-bedroom guest chalet located at 14 Audu Bako Way, Nasarawa GRA, Kano State.
Umar was also allegedly diverting about N558 million monthly from the Air Force account. At a court hearing on EFCC’s case against Umar in February 13, 2017, the agency’s witness, Air Commodore S. A. Yusahau (retd.), a former Director of Finance and Accounts, narrated how Umar used NAF funds to acquire the properties.
“I receive all money of the Nigerian Air Force and disburse it as authorised by the defendant. The Nigerian Air Force received its funds to the tune of N4bn monthly,” he said.
“Of the N4bn, the actual figure used in paying staff salary was between N2.3bn and N2.4bn. Out of the remaining N1.6bn, N558.2m was usually set aside for upkeep of the defendant (Umar), while N120m was for the office of the DFA (Director of Finance and Accounts).”
He alleged that the N558.2m that was set aside for the upkeep of the Chief of Air Staff’s office was always converted to its dollar equivalent and taken to Umar in his house.
Nailing of Magu
The effort by the EFCC against Umar failed to convince the DSS and indeed, at the same time, several other allegations were being made against the EFCC chairman, not least that he was handing out properties recovered from corrupt individuals to cronies.
In November 2017, Buhari, in a bid to get to the heart of the issues, inaugurated a three-member committee headed by Olufemi Lijadu, who later became Chairman of Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), with Mr. Mohammed Nami, the current Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) chairman and Mrs. Gloria Bibigha, an accountant in the office of the Auditor General of the Federation as members to audit all assets recovered by agencies of the government from May 2015.
Meanwhile, Buhari also got reports from a number of foreign agencies to the effect that Magu lacked professional knowledge of carrying out investigations and was in the habit of leaking to the media information that compromises investigations just for public praise.
The committee went to work and on 11th September 2018, submitted its report in which several questions were raised about assets recovered by the EFCC boss, even as discrepancies between amounts claimed to be recovered loot by Magu and the actual sum transmitted were discovered. Still, there were discoveries of lack of due process in the disposal of recovered assets.
The Attorney General of the Federation and Justice Minister, Abubakar Malami who received the report later addressed the media, noting that in summary, the recovered funds by the three-man committee is N769 billion cash within the period under review.”
Malami to whose office Magu is supposed to report but didn’t, had all he needed to nail him. But in the meantime, Magu believing he had Buhari’s backing continued to act in manners that not only embarrassed the president, but also went against the law, such as allegedly raiding the Minna home of former head of state, Abdulsalami Abubakar and freezing the account of former Army Chief, General Theophilus Danjuma.
On June 20, however, Malami sent a memo to Buhari with details of Magu’s alleged corruption and misconduct. The memo alleged, among other things, that Magu had misappropriated and re-looted funds recovered from corrupt people and kept the proceeds to himself and cronies.
Malami also recommended that he should be sacked. The president thus charged Justice Ayo Salami led Presidential Investigative Panel on Anti-corruption to grill Magu based on Malami’s allegations. And last week, the EFCC boss was arrested and is now facing the panel, even as he has since been suspended from office as acting chairman of the agency, and replaced rather coincidentally with one Mohammed Umar, not the former Air Force chief.
Interestingly, still featuring on the list of Magu’s sins was that he rented a house of N20 million annually paying N40 million upfront, with the sum said to have been paid by Commodore Umar. Magu was also accused of living a lavish lifestyle and more recently hiring a private jet owned by Umar to Dubai during the lockdown in clear violation of the rules with the excuse that he went to do an investigation.