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Former President Goodluck Jonathan, his then defence minister, Aliyu Gusau, former Petroleum Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke and the immediate past Chief of Naval Staff, Usman Jubrin, an admiral, may soon have to answer questions on an alleged N2.4billion house boats rent scandal for the Nigerian Navy.
An ongoing investigation into the conducts of officials of the immediate past administration indicate that Mr. Jonathan instructed Mrs. Alison-Maduekwe to release funds from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to the defence chiefs to rent 13 House Boats to fight oil theft in the Niger Delta.
The boats were hired for N2.4 billion, an amount experts believe is more than enough for the country to buy the boats outright.
Authoritative security sources investigating alleged financial misdeeds of the Jonathan administration said their market surveys showed the boats rented for that princely sum could have been acquired for keeps at N100million each, bringing the total cost to N1.3billion.
Our sources said the decision to rent the boats was taken by the former defence minister, Mr. Gusau, and some of the recently retired service chiefs without seeking the advice of military officers familiar with such procurement, including those on the ground in the Niger Delta area, who were of the opinion that the cost of renting the boats was too high.
The funds to purportedly rent the boat was released at about the same time the federal government controversially postponed the presidential election from February 14 to March 28.
Although the request for the project was made in 2014, there was a sudden rush to make payment in mid-February this year.
It is not however clear whether a part of the money was used for electioneering-related expenses at a time “political cash” was ferried around the country by some contestants.
To kick off the transaction, Mr. Gusau initiated a memo to Mr. Jonathan on October 16 last year. Mr. Jonathan forwarded same to the former Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
In the memo, the former defence minister argued that the deployment of the house boats, under Operation Pulo Shield of the Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta, had been helpful in curbing oil theft and other criminal activities.
But investigators are contesting that claim, saying there was no significant drop in cases of oil theft during the period.
In fact, a top security source said “the claim that the use of the house boats checkmated oil theft is just a lie because this was the same period that oil theft increased”.
When the memo reached Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala’s desk, she essentially agreed to the procurement, but said there was no money and asked that previous allocations to the Nigerian Navy be spent on the project.
She gave the advice in a letter to the chief of staff to Mr. Jonathan on January 7 this year.
That was about three months after the original memo requesting the money was written by Mr. Gusau.
Investigators say they are concerned that even Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala did not query what appears an obvious waste of public funds or question the procedure of the renting which investigators argued was not in line with Nigeria’s procurement regulations, even for military spending.
By February, after the postponement of the presidential election, there was a sudden rush by officials to get funds released for the procurement, investigators say.
On receiving the memo of the then finance minister that the existing allocations to the Navy be used to pay the rent, the former president ignored the advice.
Instead he simply asked Mrs. Alison-Madueke to pay the money to the Nigerian Navy as requested, drawing from his “Security Vote” in a secret NNPC account.
That was what he minuted on the memo on February 16 this year.
On February 17, the former president’s Senior Special Assistant for Administration sent a memo to the then petroleum minister conveying Mr. Jonathan’s approval for the release of N2.4B to the accounts of the chief of naval staff.
The NNPC subsequently paid the money on March 12 this year to the Chief of Naval Staff Operations Main Account number 1010560885 at Zenith Bank, Maitama, with sort code 057080015.
An NNPC source revealed that the money was debited from the NNPC Joint Venture Cash Call Pool account number 023-01571-41-13-4.
Investigators say the manner of release of the funds, which was not appropriated, is another proof that the former president and the former petroleum minister probably kept several secret NNPC accounts for sundry purposes without any oversight or public finance scrutiny.
“This was just a ploy to siphon public resources as it is clear that the cost of purchasing a House Boats was cheaper than the cost of renting,” one of our sources, a military insider, said.
Although Nigeria paid N2.4billion for renting the 13 house boats for about a year, military sources disclosed that the average cost of renting the boats as indicated in military records is merely N15million a month.
“This means that not only did it make more sense to buy, even the cost of renting had been overwhelmingly inflated,” one source said.
Mr. Gusau could not be reached for comments Thursday. He did not answer or return multiple calls seeking comment.
Mr. Jonathan too could not be reached. A spokesperson said the former president is unwilling to speak on any issue concerning his stewardship at this time.
All known telephone numbers for Mrs. Alison-Madueke failed to connect Thursday.