It was an issue Tinubu’s team thought was dead and buried having happened some 30 years ago. But it has now resurfaced and dominated the social media space for the last 48 hours in Africa’s largest democracy.
Between the late 80s and the early 90s, Tinubu came under investigation after funds suspected to be proceeds of drug trafficking were traced to his bank accounts.
Kevin Moss, a special agent of the Internal Revenue Service, said in an affidavit that “There is probable cause to believe that funds in certain bank accounts controlled by Bola Tinubu were involved in financial transactions and present proceeds of drug trafficking therefore these funds are forfeitable to the United States.”
Court records show that alleged Nigerian drug kingpin, Adegboyega Muiz Akande, ran an elaborate network of heroin traffickers in Chicago, Illinois, in the 1980s.
“This investigation has revealed the identity of other individuals including relatives who have worked for Akande with various duties in the distribution organisation. One of these individuals has been identified by the investigation as Tinubu,” the court affidavit adds.
Records also show that Akande took Tinubu to First Heritage Bank where he opened an account for himself and his wife Oluremi in 1989.
Tinubu was said to have revealed in documents that he worked with Mobil Nigeria Limited and his salary was $2,400 and he had no other sources of income.
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But records from his First Heritage Bank account showed that in 1990, Tinubu deposited $661,000 into his individual money market account and in 1991 deposited $1,216,500 into the same money market account.
Mobil representatives told US authorities that even though Tinubu was a treasurer, he had no direct access to the company’s cash and thus could not deposit funds on behalf of the firm.
The investigator said Tinubu’s accounts in First Heritage Bank and Citibank with a balance of about $1.4m were seized in January 1992. He said he had a phone conversation with someone who identified himself as Tinubu.
Tinubu reportedly told him that indeed he knew Akande and his associate, Abiodun Agbele. Tinubu said part of the money belonged to Akande. However, he later made a U-turn, saying he never had any business dealings with them.
Moss, however, argued that the monies found in the accounts were proceeds of crime.
On 18 August 1993, the United States District Court in Illinois found merit in the case but called interested parties to show cause why the sum should not be forfeited.
Politicians know that because poverty has been weaponised, once they take money to the people, they forget. So, I don’t see it affecting Tinubu’s chances.”
Tinubu, his uncle, K.O Tinubu and one Alhaji Mogati, believed to be his mother, subsequently filed a response through their lawyer, Patrick S. Coffey. An agreement was reached that the case would be dismissed with prejudice but the sum of $460,000 would be forfeited to the US authorities while the rest would be handed over to K.O Tinubu, a retired policeman and ex-minister.
As part of the settlement, the Tinubu family or their proxies would not be able to sue the US government in relation to the matter at any time in the future.
Tinubu’s team reacts
With Tinubu now running for President on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the issue has become ammunition for the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and supporters of Peter Obi who is the candidate of the Labour Party.
They also argue that Tinubu’s refusal to attend debates or media interviews is because he does not want to explain issues regarding his controversial past.
But Festus Keyamo, the chief spokesman for Tinubu’s campaign, says the matter was tax-related and had no criminal connection despite the findings of the authorities. He also insists Tinubu was neither charged nor indicted.
Tinubu’s team makes reference to a 2003 letter written by Michael H. Bonner, a legal attaché to the US Consulate, to the Nigerian police who stated that Tinubu was not under investigation and had no record of conviction.
Keyamo, who is a former government prosecutor, says “rather than indict him, these documents exculpate Tinubu”.
He also claims that the main suspects in the case merely shared the same home address with Tinubu and were not his partners in the drug business as alleged by US authorities.
With elections now 100 days away, the main opposition seeks to make a big case out of it and has been sharing the court papers of the case all over social media.
Incidentally, this was a strategy the APC used against former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar in 2019 when he was contesting against President Muhammadu Buhari.
READ MORE Nigeria election: Atiku goes to court
The tag of corruption was attached to Atiku after he was implicated in a US investigation even though he was never charged. This was said to have prevented him from travelling to the US for many years until that election. Atiku went on to lose the poll to Buhari who ran his campaign on anti-corruption.
But could this affect Tinubu’s chances at the polls next year? This remains to be seen since it did not lead to his defeat at the Lagos governorship election in 2003.
In a country with a high rate of illiteracy and where vote buying, religion and ethnicity play a major role in determining the winners of elections, experts tell The Africa Report that the matter would play little role in Tinubu’s electoral fortunes.
‘He’ll weather the storm’
“Politicians know that the people who vote are not listening to this conversation. That is why they take these arguments for granted.
“Politicians also know that because poverty has been weaponised, once they take money to the people, they forget. So, I don’t see it affecting Tinubu’s chances,” columnist and political analyst, Adeniran Adedokun, tells The Africa Report.
Also, Prof. Sani Fage, a political analyst, says Nigerian voters are not that sophisticated to allow such issues to determine how they cast their ballot.
Fage, a lecturer of Political Science at the Bayero University, Kano, adds that Tinubu should be able to weather the storm.
“Voters are more concerned with the personality of the candidate, his religion and ethnicity,” he says.
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