Abba Kyari, the increasingly controversial Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, is at the center of another unwholesome saga that is likely to reinforce further the view that the Buhari administration’s anti-corruption stance is a ruse. This time, an investigation by SaharaReporters found that Mr. Kyari has been fiddling with the finances of the Nigeria High Commission, London, where the country’s resources are being dubiously deployed for questionable or illicit purposes. Also involved in the costly financial mess are Adah Simon Ogah, Nigeria’s acting High Commissioner, and Omolayo Akinfala, a special assistant to Aisha Buhari, the president’s wife.
Our investigators found that the High Commission, under Mr. Ogah, frequently authorized payments from revenue generated by the High Commission for medical treatment of senior political officials visiting the United Kingdom. The funds disbursed for such medical payments come from revenues the High Commission generates through fees for passports, visas and other consular services. The use of such funds for medical payments is an anomaly as medical bills for government officials are already provided for in the Presidency budget.
Nigerians resident in the UK are unaware that they paid Mr. Kyari’s medical bill when the president’s chief aide was treated at Wellington Hospital, St. John’s Wood, London, in December 2016. This happened at a time the government blamed its failure to issue passports to UK-resident Nigerians on a lack of funds.
A letter signed by Mr. Ogah and addressed to Professor Paul of Wellington Hospital provides a confirmation of the role of the High Commission in Mr. Kyari’s treatment. Dated December 1, 2016 and titled “Letter of Guarantee In Respect Of Alhaji Abba Kyari,” Mr. Ogah’s letter stated: “I write to confirm that the Nigeria High Commission, London, United Kingdom, will guarantee the payment of all medical bills of Alhaji Abba Kyari, Chief of Staff to the President, Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Mr. Kyari’s case, however, is just a tip of a massive iceberg of seedy financial and administrative practices at the Nigerian High Commission in the UK. Our investigators discovered the equally improper case of Mr. Akinfala, a special assistant to Mrs. Buhari, whose employment contract with the Mission was recently renewed by the Acting High Commissioner. Curiously, Mr. Akinfala remains on the High Commission’s payroll despite being based in Nigeria and paid by the State House. He also receives financial perks whenever he visits the UK with Mrs. Buhari.
On August 3, 2016, Ibrahim Sule Dan’Agundi, the Head of Chancery (HOC), signed a letter approving Mr. Akinfala’s application for contract renewal with the High Commission. A day earlier, on August 2, an originating letter had recommended that Mr. Akinfala be considered for a one-year contract extension.
Protocol documents dated December 19, 2016, and obtained by SaharaReporters showed arrangements for the arrival of Mr. Akinfala and one other person from Lagos to London. The document revealed that the High Commission spent its financial resources on foreign travel allowances for which there are budget allocations for the Presidency covering the President, his household, and staff.
Our inside sources in the UK, and Abuja revealed that the High Commission spends a minimum of £7,000 for hospitality on each of Mrs. Buhari’s trips to the United Kingdom. Last year alone, Mrs. Buhari visited the UK at least seven times. The finding was confirmed by a High Commission document dated July 28, 2016, and signed by Ibrahim Sule, Minister Counselor/Head of Chancery. “The Mission was also informed that Her Excellency and members of her entourage would be staying at the vacant house/official residence of High Commissioner. In this regard, given the above scenario, there is the need for the Mission to provide hospitality to the First Lady and members of her entourage. To this end, I wish to kindly recommend to His Excellency to consider and approve the sum of £7,000 to carry out the hospitality expenditure for the wife of the President, members of her family and entourage,” stated the latter. The request was approved the same day.
Apart from feting Mrs. Buhari and aides as well as treating officials like Mr. Kyari like royalty, the High Commission also engaged in a variety of contract scams, notably through payments to contractors for jobs not executed or those executed at grotesquely inflated costs. Documents exclusively obtained by SaharaReporters show that the sum of £14,100.80 was paid to a company, Savanna Construction Limited, for what was described as “call out report on 31 air-conditioning units in the High Commission building”. The curious transaction was captured in a letter dated July 19, 2016, and signed by S.U. Kpohraro, Chief Security Officer (Admin). The Head of Chancery (HOC) signed the approval, which was granted the same day.
Despite the substantial payment, our investigators discovered that there was no work executed at the building that matched the quoted job. Nigerians who work in or visit, the building, told our investigators that the high numbers of air-conditioning units do not exist and that none of the existing units were ever serviced. They spoke about the unbearable heat in the High Commission building during summer periods.
Savanna Construction Company also got the contract for the supply and erection of new scaffolding as well as the dismantling of an older one. The contract, which cost £9,600, was detailed on July 15, 2016, document signed by Mr. Kpohraror. Savanna also got paid £7,440 for another bogus job, taking care of the High Commission’s blocked toilets. Our sources revealed that similar scams were used to pay for the provision of cleaning, security and other services by dubious suppliers hired by the High Commission and top officials of the Nigerian Mission hire.
Our sources disclosed that Mr. Dan’Agundi, Head of Chancery, has been the beneficiary of regular and unlawful cash payments from locally recruited High Commission staff, who are either due to retire or should have been retired long ago. Our investigators found that some of the employees in this category were employed in the 1980s. Many of them are stuck in the old, inefficient and corrupt ways of providing services, a development that is blamed for the frustration of Nigerians who require consular services.
One source pointed to the case of one Mr. Salihi, a local staff in the Education and Welfare section. The Mission fired Mr. Salihi on account of his poor communication ability and general inefficiency. Strangely, Mr. Ogah reversed the decision, re-hiring Mr. Salihi without explanation.
“It is a depressing and horrifying experience for Nigerians who have cause to interact with the Nigerian High Commission in the UK, either when approaching the High Commission for consular services such as immigration queries (visa passport issuance/renewal, travel certificates) or other services such as trade and investments enquiries as well as tourism and general business information for Nigeria,” a Nigerian entrepreneur in London said. He added, “The inept staff are never interested in offering services without monetary inducement. As a matter of fact, they purposely make the official process cumbersome and frustrating so as to increase the possibility of financial and other types of inducement.”
Some disaffected staff told SaharaReporters that the rogue employees operate with the full knowledge and approval of the acting High Commissioner Mr. Ogah, who reportedly runs his own individual racket. They accused Mr. Ogah of running the High Commission’s cash and petty cash payments like his personal Automated Teller Machine (ATM). They said Mr. Ogah uses the guise of “contingency allowance” to embezzle funds.
Mr. Ogah is officially entitled to £3,000 monthly for domestic servants in his personal residence, £1,000 monthly for the upkeep and maintenance of his office, £200 per trip for contingency, while all his utility and medical bills, as well as living costs, are borne by the Federal Government. He also pays no rent. In spite of the generous perks, Mr. Ogah regularly inflates entitlements and, in many cases, fails to provide receipts or to retire most of his supposed expenditures in violation of rules. On September 2, 2016, acting Finance Attaché, R.E. Otiode, wrote a memo regarding Mr. Ogah’s regular failure to retire expenses. “I am directed to inform you that available records show that you are yet to retire the following advances granted you in the course of official assignments,” stated the memo, which added that retirement of expenses should not take longer than three months. In each of the said cases, Mr. Ogah took the sum of £500 as contingency allowance for trips to Manchester and Northampton on June 28 and July 15, 2016. The sums he took were more than the £200 of local contingency allowance he was entitled to.
Other top officials of the Mission were accused of practicing another strain of financial stunt by overstating invoice payments. For example, the High Commission manually generated an invoice of £10,000 for the use of a VIP suite at London’s Heathrow Airport. The amount represented six times the actual cost of £1,750 per use. A confirmation of the actual cost could be gleaned from a letter signed by E.A. Agom and dated July 11, 2016. The letter stated that the cancellation of the booking of a VIP suite for Mrs. Buhari’s proposed visit to London on July 10, 2016, meant that the High Commission lost £1,750 for the slot, while an additional £200 was charged as penalty for an undeclared passenger on her entourage.
Several sources also disclosed to SaharaReporters that the current leadership of the High Commission only approves the use of High Commission facilities like the Banking Hall, an event venue, for use by Nigerian organizations it deems less critical of the poor service and poor representation of the interest and welfare of Nigerians in the United Kingdom. This development has led to the mushrooming of dubious organizations, operating as rackets, which claim to represent Nigerians in the UK. Nigerian government officials routinely invite these dubious organizations to the High Commission during visits. The groups are silent about the poor representation and services provided by the High Commission.
A clear instance of the administrative decrepitude afflicting the High Commission could be seen in the leadership vacuum created by the acting High Commissioner, Mr. Ogah. Mr. Ogah left London for Abuja between December 12 and 22, 2016, leaving Mr. Hassan M. Hassan to run the Commission as Acting High Commissioner. Mr. Hassan was already scheduled to leave the Mission on December 14, 2016, to undergo ambassadorial screening and subsequent ambassadorial posting. In the end, for the duration of Mr. Ogah’s absence and with the departure of Mr. Hassan, there was no officer duly authorized to run the Mission. More bizarrely, there was no circular to the effect that Mr. Hassan had been appointed acting High Commissioner, a clear contravention of Foreign Affairs rules and regulations, which state that a mission must not be left without a properly designated head at any time.
Is Baba really fighting corruption?