Tukur Buratai, Chief of Army Staff
  • Nigerians call for arrest, prosecution of top security chiefs

By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA

Reactions have continued to trail the revelation that a Niger Republic businessman, Aboubakar Hima, defrauded the Federal Government in a multi-billion naira defence contract scam.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had recently declared wanted the Nigerien citizen over a case of alleged criminal conspiracy, contract scam, misappropriation of public funds, money laundering and fraud to the tune of $394m, £9.9m and N369m.

Hima, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Societe D’Equipment Internationaux (SEI), is alleged to have received the sums for the purchase of equipment for the Nigerian Military.

According to the EFCC, there were discrepancies in the supply of the equipment. A source in the anti-corruption agency revealed that Hima failed to honour several invitations from the commission and has been evading investigation. After several failed attempts by the EFCC to track him down, he was subsequently declared wanted.

Another source in the EFCC revealed that five buildings belonging to the Nigerien, including those located in the chic

District of Maitama, Abuja, have been seized by the commission. He also disclosed that several bank accounts belonging to the businessman were also frozen.

The acting Head of Media and Publicity of the commission, Tony Orilade, who confirmed the story to Business Hallmark, said Hima is accused of a series of fraudulent transactions in the range of 394 million dollars, 9.9 million pounds and N369 million.

“Aboubakar Hima is a 46-year old Nigerien citizen. He can speak Hausa and French languages fluently but has limited English proficiency. His last known apartment is Block A, Flat 3, No.5 Sapele Street, Garki II, Abuja”.

He appealed that anyone with useful information about Hima’s whereabouts should contact the commission through any of its offices nationwide, phone number 08093322644 or the nearest police station or offices of other security agencies.

Meanwhile, Nigerians have expressed shock and disbelief over the revelation that a non-Nigeria could have so brazenly carried out such monumental fraud and at such levels. According to Otunba Abiola Oloke, Director of Investment at GroFin, Nigerians should put the government under pressure to conclude the investigation and bring the entire matter to a logical end and not allow it to be swept under the carpet.

“If you, as a Nigerian want to supply pots and pans to IDP centres, the system will demand CAC registration, audited accounts, FIRS registration, PENCOM registration, NSITF, et cetera.

“But a Niger Republic citizen, whose company is not even registered in Nigeria, defrauded the Nigerian Military of those humongous amounts. Those involved should be prosecuted and made to return the loot”, he said.

Another respondent, Barrister Uchenna Leonard, a lawyer based in Lagos, said the revelation was not too surprising, bearing in mind the fact that numerous financial scandals have continued to plague the affairs of government under the present administration.

“Imagine that former President Goodluck Jonathan was harassed and called names for trying to purchase arms from the black market to prosecute the war against Boko Haram.

“Yet a semi-illiterate Fulani who could not speak good English scammed the government of billions of naira. The present government reeks of corruption. He couldn’t have achieved the heist without the active support of people in power. He and his collaborators in government and the military should be prosecuted”, Uchenna demanded.

Efforts to get the reaction of Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), proved abortive as calls made to his phone were not answered.

Meanwhile, BH checks revealed that Hima is not new to controversies. According to findings, between 2011 and 2019 when Niger Republic fought a grueling battle with militants, he made tons of money from the estimated US$1 billion that that nation spent on buying arms.

A source in the Nigerien Army who did not want his identity revealed, disclosed that about a third of the money was funneled into private pockets.  He said that the Inspection Générale des Armées, an independent body that audits the armed forces, found problems with contracts amounting to over $320 million out of the $875 million in military spending it reviewed.

According to him, the Inspection Générale auditors said more than 76 billion West African francs was lost to corruption, which is about $137 million at the current exchange rate.

“They discovered that much of the equipment sourced from international firms – including Russian, Ukrainian, and Chinese state-owned defense companies – was significantly overpriced, not actually delivered, or purchased without going through a competitive bidding process.

“Auditors found a total shortfall in arms deals signed by Niger’s Ministry of Defense, of 76 billion CFA, or $137 million”, he said.

Also, a leading arms expert and author of “The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade, Andrew Feinstein, said the rigged bidding process, fake competition, and inflated pricing in the deals was astounding.

At the center of the network of corruption are two Nigerien businessmen who acted as intermediaries in the deals: Aboubacar Hima, and Aboubacar Charfo, a construction contractor with no previous experience in the defence sector.

Auditors allege that the two men rigged bids by using companies under their control to create the illusion of competition for contracts.

In one deal facilitated by Hima in 2016, Niger’s Ministry of Defense bought two Mi-171Sh military transport and assault helicopters from Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-owned defense company. The purchase, which also included maintenance and ammunition, cost Niger 55 million euros, or $54.8 million – an overpayment of about $19.7 million, according to the Inspection Générale. The auditors noted that the prices had been inflated by fraud and corruption.

Nigerien auditors visited Moscow early 2020 in search of information about the helicopters and other purchases that had been facilitated by Hima on behalf of Niger’s defense ministry. But the auditors were left in the dark about the terms of the deals as Rosoboronexport refused to provide any information, telling the Nigerien government auditors that the agreements were “confidential.”