Following the admission by the Nigerian government that the $9.3 million cash, which was seized by South African customs officials, was legitimate and had the stamp of approval of the Nigerian intelligence community, the federal government has opened diplomatic talks with the South African government to reach an amicable resolution of the incident, THISDAY has learnt.
The South African police had on Monday said they had launched an investigation, following the seizure of the $9.3 million cash found stashed in the luggage of two Nigerians and an Israeli who had flown into Johannesburg’s Lanseria Airport in a private aircraft.
The money, which was meant for the procurement of arms, was detained and passed on to the South African central bank, because it was undisclosed, undeclared and above the prescribed legal limit for bringing cash into the country, the country’s customs officials explained.
However, a source from the presidency, who disclosed the government-to-government talks yesterday to some select journalists, also said the federal government had released data and documents on the arms deal to the South African authorities.
According to the source, “The bi-focal diplomatic talks with South Africa are at the governmental level and exchanges by intelligence services of the two nations.”
The source said following the preliminary diplomatic talks, the Bombardier Challenger aircraft, with US registration N808HG, might have been released to the Nigerian government pending the conclusion of a comprehensive investigation by the South African government.
It was further revealed that the high level discussion also covered sharing of vital security information to prove that the deal was legitimate and necessary.
The government’s position was said to have been strengthened by the fact that findings revealed that the South African government had only faulted the non-declaration of the cash by the two Nigerian passengers and the Israeli.
Speaking on the efforts being made so far to resolve the incident, the source said: “Nigeria and South Africa are getting closer to a diplomatic resolution of the incident over the $9.3 million cash. The two nations have opened up discussions.
“The federal government has submitted relevant data and documents on the arms transaction to South Africa and insisted that the transaction was legitimate.
“It also clarified that the funds were not laundered or smuggled for any covert activites. No person will be that audacious to fly into a country in a chartered jet with such a huge amount of cash.
“The technical details on security matters, which necessitated the desk had been availed to South Africa for screening, but a procedural error occurred.”
Based on initial scrutiny of the documents, the source disclosed that the Challenger aircraft has been released to the Nigerian government, pending the conclusion of a full-scale investigation by South Africa.
The source further provided clarification on why South Africa impounded the cash, saying: “There was a procedural error at the airport, the team did not declare the $9.3 million contrary to the aviation and customs laws in South Africa.
“So there was an oversight on the part of the delegation that went to complete the transaction. Nigeria is trying to complete the formalities and we are confident that the cash will be released for the purpose it was meant for.”
He maintained that the movement of cash for the strategic purchase of security equipment by the intelligence service is not new, adding, “It is a global trend. The FBI, KGB, MOSSAD and others do it.”
THISDAY further learnt that the ammunition, which was being procured for the immediate prosecution of the war against Boko Haram, included arms and a military helicopter, and was approved by an intelligence office close to the presidency.
An official in the office informed THISDAY that the matter would soon be resolved and that the decision to use cash instead of routing it through the banking system stemmed from the urgency of the transaction.
He said the purchase of arms from countries like the US and other Western nations often take much longer because of compliance issues.
As a result, certain security organisations resort to the use of cash for the purchase of ammunition from certain defence equipment manufacturers to speed up the process.
Meanwhile, a news report linking the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, with the aircraft was clarified by the cleric yesterday.
In a statement by his aide, Bayo Adewoye, Oritsejafor admitted that he owned some residual interest in the company, Eagle Air, but said he was not the operator of the aircraft.
In the statement, the CAN president said: “The Word of Life Bible Church has been made aware of the recent media interest regarding an aircraft (Bombardier Challenger 600, Registration No N808HG) owned by The Company Eagle Air in which our Pastor, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, holds a residual interest.
“We can confirm that although he holds an interest in Eagle Air, the aircraft in question is not operated by Pastor Oritsejafor.
The aircraft owned by Eagle Air Company, which has confirmed that since 2nd August 2014, the aircraft has been leased to and is operated by Green Coast Produce Limited.”
He explained that this is standard practice in the industry and advised that any and all enquiries in respect of the day-to-day operations of this aircraft should be directed to the management of Green Coast Produce Limited.
He added that he would be happy to help the authorities with any enquiries.
In addition, Green Coast, in a statement issued by Dr. Shima Adun said: “A Bombardier Challenger 600 aircraft, Registration No N808HG, was leased to us, Green Coast Produce Company Limited, on the 2nd of August 2014.” Adding that it had since that time been running and managing charter services with the aircraft in accordance and compliance with global best practices.
It further revealed that on the 5th of September 2014 the aircraft was hired from us by a John Ishyaku. The charter to John Ishyaku was upon the following documented terms: a) Depart Abuja-Johannesburg on the 5th of September 2014; b) Return to Abuja on the 6th of September 2014; c) To wait and return with the passengers."
The said terms are normative within the industry," it added.
It went on to state that as with every other aircraft charter company, “our knowledge of the cargo carried on the aircraft was in accordance with the information provided by ABC Limited (name withheld by Gold Coast).
“All cargo was accompanied by passengers who could readily defend the contents. We are not and cannot be privy to any alleged extraneous cargo transported on the aircraft other than that declared in the agreed terms of hire.
“We are not liable and cannot be construed as a party to any alleged infractions, either in Nigeria or South Africa as he case may be, after the hire of the aircraft.
“We issue this statement without prejudice to any statutory or commissioned investigation being conducted or to be conducted in South Africa or Nigeria."
In its clarification, Eagle Air confirmed that the said aircraft has since the 2nd of August 2014 been leased to and is operated by Green Coast Produce Limited”, adding that any and all enquiries in respect of the day-to-day operations of this aircraft should be properly directed to the management of Green Coast Produce Limited.
However, CAN yesterday deplored comments credited to former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, and the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In a statement signed by CAN Director of National Issues, Sunday Oibe, the association said: “Our attention has been drawn to the desperation of some elements working for a particular political party within our society to tarnish the image of the President of Christian Association of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor.
“They are working for the All Progressives Congress and they are not unknown to us. Let Nigerians have this background for them to judge themselves”.
Oibe said: “These shameless characters including a former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, and National Publicity Secretary of All Progressives Congress, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, went to the UK to embark on an image laundering for their political party, the APC.
“El-Rufai had once said there are three sets of Boko Haram in Nigeria: Islamic Boko Haram, Politicians’ Boko Haram and Christians’ Boko Haram which he said are being funded by President Goodluck Jonathan and coordinated by CAN President, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor.
“He went further to claim that the CAN president has been given N50 billion by the president and a jet.
“The same characters went ahead to sponsor a negative report in Sahara Reporters. I had expected that by now no sane mind will take any report by Sahara Reporters serious because it is an online news medium which thrives on falsehood and survives on false propaganda and blackmail.”
Explaining further, CAN restated that the aircraft is owned by Eagle Air but was leased to Green Coast.
“They lease this aircraft and people rent it from them. Anybody in this country will attest to the fact that Pastor Ayo Oritsejfor has been following Chartered Airlines," he said.
Recalling the alleged antics of the former minister against Christianity, Oibe stated that el-Rufai and his group had met and decided to blackmail Oritsejafor because he is an ardent supporter of President Goodluck Jonathan.
“This, he did, to elicit sentiments from the society. We want Nigerians to ponder over this: if Nigeria wants to buy arms, the government knows where to get their weapons. How did Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor come into this?" He asked.
He observed that the report was a well organised, orchestrated plan, all because of their desperation for the 2015 general election, adding, “If not for the blindness and intellectual myopia of some Nigerians, people in the calibre of El-Rufai should not be taken seriously and should not be walking the streets.”
In a related development, Konduga, the Borno State town where over almost 200 Boko Haram terrorists met their waterloo last week was again turned into a battle ground last night as the terrorists returned for a fresh face off with soldiers, security operatives confirmed.
Sources within the said that the insurgents had come to exact revenge following the heavy casualties they recorded last Friday.
A military source added that the attack started about 7pm, even as he said the soldiers were engaging the terrorists in a deadly shootout.
“From the information we have so far, the insurgents were armed to the teeth. They have mortars, anti-aircraft missiles, rocket propelled grenades, assorted guns and an armoured personnel carrier.
“Our men are engaging the terrorists. Their ultimate target is to subdue our men in Konduga so that they can advance to Maiduguri,” he said.
Related story: 2 Nigerians attempt to smuggle $9.3million into South Africa