Security agencies have been urged to dig deep into the roots of allegations of misconducts levelled against the Minister of Trade, Investment and Industry Okechukwu Enelamah, and others, including Pascal Dozie, Ahmed Dasuki, Gbenga Oyebode, Babatunde Folawiyo, Mohammed Sanni Bello and Victor Odili, for allegedly colluding with multi-national communication outfit, MTN Nigeria Limited, in illegally repatriating the sum of $13.93b (N39. 82tr, at the Central Bank of Nigeria’s exchange rate of N305). This is even as the global anti-corruption body, Transparency International (TI) urges President Muhammadu Buhari to demonstrate transparent leadership by asking the embattled minister to “step aside pending when investigations into his involvement are completed.” The alleged repatriated MTN money represents more than half of the Nigerian Foreign Exchange Reserves, which as of September 29, 2016, and according to the Central Bank of Nigeria, stood at $23, 86bn. Similarly, the amount in question is enough to fund the budget of the country at N6.86tr for the next four years while it is also more than the budget of the all the 36 states in Nigeria, inclusive of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Speaking to The New Diplomat, Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-corruption, Professor Itse Sagay, said it is a worrisome trend and which the security agencies must prove beyond every reasonable doubt.
According to him: “If it can be established that money was illegally repatriated by him outside the country; in other words without the permission of the appropriate bodies like the minister of finance or other relevant agencies then it is a crime, so it all depends on if it is true or not, it is a criminal offence for you to transfer money out of the country illegally. He must have the appropriate approval in order to do that, if it was done without the necessary approval, then a crime has been committed.
“If it is proven that he did it and illegally, then his position in this government is untenable,” said Sagay, who spoke in similar vein with the founder and national coordinator of the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), Dr. Frederick Fasehun, as well as, former governor of Kaduna State and leader of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), Alhaji Balarabe Musa. The former governor said it is worrisome that such a huge accusation is levelled against a key figure of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration while calling on the security agencies to investigate the allegations.
Speaking to The New Diplomat, the Regional Coordinator of Transparency International for West Africa, Dr. Samuel Kaninda said: ‘’ The right thing to do is for the Minister to step aside for now because that is the appropriate thing in order to allow for thorough investigations. That would also allow him the opportunity to clear his name. And one would also expect that if he does not do that then the President should demonstrate transparent leadership by asking him to step aside pending when he clears his name because the sums are quite substantial and these are the issues affecting development generally.”
The organisation’s meeting with President Buhari in London during the meeting convened by former British Prime Minister David Cameron is that there are expectations on both sides between Nigeria and the TI on issues of tackling corruption. The TI had also written to the President listing measures necessary to clean up Nigeria’s image with respect to her global perception on issues of corruption and transparency. The body believes that there is a need to deal with corruption, tackle transparency, reform the energy sector, open and transparent public sector conducts, citizens participation in issues of tackling corruption, etc and participatory democracy and good governance.
However, the first step, according to Musa, is for the government to take a step further and investigate the matter even further. “If proven, the government should make sure that they are punished. It is not surprising, everybody is stealing, what is surprising is that the leadership is not doing anything about the allegation,” the former governor charged.
Stressing that it is hardly in the habit of public officials in the country to resign their positions and thereby paving ways for a thorough investigation into the allegation of misconduct against them, Fasehun tasked security agencies to leave no stone unturned in their investigations, no matter whose horse is gored. “It is worrisome, but the security operatives must intervene to prove that the accusations are genuine or not. Once the security agents have intervened and it has been proven that the accusations are genuine, and then appropriate steps must be taken,” he said.
“Nigerians don’t resign, it is not in our habit to step down while we are being investigated, but, let us not embarrass him while the case is still being investigated” Fasehun added.
It will be recalled that Mr. Dino Melaye, Senator representing Kogi West at the National Assembly, blew the lid on the alleged repatriation, in a motion he presented on the floor of the Upper Chamber. Melaye also reeled off the names of individuals, including that of the Minister of Trade and Investment, who he alleged were complicit in the act.
MTN was incorporated in Nigeria as a private limited liability company on November 8, 2000, after obtaining its operating license, but alleged that the telecommunication giant did not request for the certificate of capital importation from its bankers, the Standard Chartered Bank, within the regulatory period of 24 hours of the inflow.
The senator disclosed the CBN was not notified of this inflow by Standard Chartered Bank within 48 hours of receipt and conversion of the proceeds to naira as required by regulations. According to Melaye, the sum of $117.6 billion was also brought in by MTN between 2001 and 2003 in three different tranches. “Since inception, MTN had sought the collaboration of influential and unpatriotic Nigerians to assist them in looting our external reserves. These Nigerians including a serving Minister who MTN used in moving $13.92 billion out of Nigeria which is over 50 percent of our External Reserves floated and incorporated offshore SPVs in Cayman Island, Mauritius and British Virgin Island,” he said.
Melaye alleged that Elenemah, owner of CELTELCOM Investment Limited with address at No. 608 St James, Denis Street, Port-Lewis, Mauritius, purportedly claimed to invest in MTN on February 7, 2008, got certificate of capital importation and filled form A on the same date, closed his investment in Nigeria after receiving dollar payment for repatriation to New York same day. “Minister of Industry, Trade and investment, Dr. Okechukwu Elenemah requested to invest in MTN as a foreign investor in our economy even though he’s a Nigerian, and the document was signed on February 7, 2008, “Melaye insisted.
The Senator also disclosed that the offshore entities were offered shareholders loan and their repayment to the extent of repatriation of proceeds of dividends back to MTN International, South Africa, through the entities and operators of Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) brought on board as Directors of MTN communications.
Melaye’s allegations prompted the Senate to open an enquiry into the probe mandating its committee on Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions to carry out a holistic investigation into the case.
Senator Bassey Akpan, who seconded the motion, offered that the content of the motion cannot be set aside. “As a people-centered Senate, we must be able to check this kind of excesses,” Akpan said, adding that the issue is a violation of an Act of the National Assembly.
In his comment, the Senate President Bukola Saraki, said the allegations are very serious that they must be investigated. “There is no doubt about the content of the motion and it must be investigated”, Saraki said.
However, Enelamah has since distanced himself from any misconduct. A statement by the Director of Press, Federal Ministry Investment, Trade and Industry, Mr. Greyne Anosike, explained: “Our attention has been drawn to a statement credited to a serving Nigerian Senator on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, September 27, 2016, making a number of allegations against the improper remittance of funds out of Nigeria.
We are compelled to make clear that: “Enelamah served as the CEO of Capital Alliance Nigeria Limited (CANL) between 1998 and 2015. CANL is a wholly owned subsidiary of African Capital Alliance (ACA), an Africa-focused private equity firm with investments in carefully selected companies within and outside Nigeria, including MTN Nigeria.
“A fund managed by ACA, alongside other minority shareholders, invested in MTN Nigeria through Celtelecom. Dr. Enelamah was never the “owner” of Celtelecom as alleged by the Senator; neither was he ever a Celtelecom shareholder. Instead, he was a director of the company, representing the ACA managed the fund.”
In the defence of the minister, the ministry stressed that: “Investors do not have responsibility for remittance of proceeds from the company they are invested in. Therefore, at no time was Dr. Enelamah in a position to transfer funds out of Nigeria on behalf of MTN Nigeria, and at no time did Dr. Enelamah transfer any funds out of Nigeria on behalf of MTN Nigeria.”