On-going investigations into the circumstances in which five soldiers on a VIP escort duty vamoosed with millions of nairabetween Sokoto and Kaduna state have revealed a new twist into the messy scandal. Top military sources familiar with the findings of the probe panel investigating the incident told Saturday Sun that confessional statements of Major General Hakeem Oladapo Otiki, the General Officer Commanding, GOC of the Nigerian Army 8 Division in Sokoto, who is at the centre of the scandal showed that the stolen money was neither his nor of the Nigerian Army but that of some VIP friends of a Northwest state governor, who personally approached the GOC to help provide security escort for his guests going to Kaduna. Otiki has since been replaced by Major General J.J.Ogunlade as the GOC 8 Division.
According to one of the military sources, leader of the three-man VIP friends of the governor has been identified as Alhaji Aliyu Ado, owner of Habibulah Bureau de Change, (RC 666-411) by Hamdala Hotel, Kaduna. The Defence Headquarters had on Tuesday confirmed commencement of investigation into the circumstances surrounding the stealing of the millions of naira by the fleeing soldiers on July 11. “Investigation is underway to find out what happened and how it happened,” Onyema Nwachukwu, an Army Colonel and Defence spokesperson, said at a press briefing on Tuesday. He said details of the inquiry would be made public upon conclusion, even as he declined to say how long this would be.
Though media reports have speculated the amounts stolen as ranging from N400m to billions, however, findings by Saturday Sun revealed that the exact figure stolen from the VIPs by the rogue soldiers was N65million and $80,000.
A manhunt launched for the soldiers was yet to yield any success as at the time of going to press on Friday night.
The top military chiefs who spoke to this paper on condition of anonymity further disclosed that the GOC also told his interrogators that he agreed to provide the security escort sought by the governor for his VIP friends because he was scheduled to travel to get arms from their armoury in Kaduna. “And that was why he deployed an armoured truck as part of the vehicles for the journey”, one of the sources stated.
While dismissing insinuations that the millions carted away by the fleeing soldiers could have been stolen by Gen. Otiki from operations funds, the Army source also said reports that the GOC got the money from miners operating in Zamfara were far from the truth.
According to the red neck military source, “Major General Otiki’s monthly running cost is N10million and has not even received it for two months now. He also couldn’t have gotten such amount from miners who operate in Zamfara. Gen. Ogunlade was the commander in charge of the troops that cover Zamfara. He also couldn’t have taken such from soldiers salaries or allowances because they are paid directly through their bank accounts.”
Findings by this paper also reveal Gen. Otiki who hails from Ikorodu area of Lagos state has about two years more in service and was primed as one of the likely successors of the current Chief of Army staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai before the scandal. Another favoured army chief tipped for the position of COAS is the newly promoted Lt. Gen. Lamidi Adeosun but he is due to proceed on terminal leave next month, August except that is waived.
Efforts to get the Defence and Army headquarters react to the latest development failed. However, Saturday Sun was able to locate Alhaji Ado, the BDC operator at his Hamdala Hotel business office during the week. When asked about his involvement in the incident, he looked ruffled and said, “I don’t know what you are talking about. It is a rumour. You can go back to where you heard it.”
Two days after, precisely on Thursday when our correspondent called Ado’s mobile phone number, one of his colleagues who picked the call said he was not the one who suffered the loss but his partner. When he was asked to hand the phone over to Ado, the line was cut. By Friday morning, the GSM line has been totally switched off. Though it was gathered that the military probe panel was scheduled to interrogate Alhaji Ado by Thursday, it was not clear yet whether he has been taken in for interrogation or he has deliberately gone underground.
Saturday Sun also learnt that the probe panel may recommend Gen. Otiki for sanction “for indiscretion”, while their report on the involvement of the Northwest state governor and his bureau de change VIP friends may be transferred to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC for further investigation of a possible money laundering case.