A quartet of scrap metal collectors foraging for food at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic breached a gated duplex in a residential neighbourhood southeast of Abuja city centre and hauled away $4 million cash linked to two federal civil servants, Peoples Gazette can report based on documents and interviews with top law enforcement officials briefed on the matter.
Our masthead learnt how the theft and the revelation that well-heeled Nigerians are still hoarding vast quantities of mysterious cash indoors — despite broadly publicised recoveries of similar salt aways in recent years — startled officials working on the case.
Aisha Sadiq Odariko, a manager in charge of an enterprise risk unit at the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), and Mohammed Kyari Dikwa, a retired permanent secretary at the Federal Ministry of Finance, have been the subject of a sprawling but concealed criminal investigation by federal authorities for their role in stockpiling about $76 million cash of unexplained origin.
At the heart of the investigation is whether Messrs Odariko and Kyari Dikwa conspired to run an expansive fraud ring as federal officials, as well as the whereabouts of the remaining $72 million that Ms Odariko allegedly told a federal agent was left after the burglars stole $4 million from the $76 million stash.
“She told detectives that there was $76 million in the building, out of which the boys stole $4 million,” an official familiar with the investigation said. “While about $2 million was recovered from the burglars, we still need to understand how she and her allies were able to quickly move the remaining $72 million and where they moved it to.”
Mr Kyari Dikwa, from Borno, once acted as accountant-general of the federation under President Muhammadu Buhari and retired from the civil service just before some of the hidden cash was looted. The background of his relationship with Mrs Odariko was unclear, although officials said they were both romantically involved, citing knowledge provided by their driver.
Mr Kyari Dikwa’s public profile touted his role in fostering enduring government reforms like the introduction of Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS), Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS), Treasury Single Account (TSA), Asset Tracing Team (ATT), Whistleblowing Policy, Fiscal Sustainability Plan (FSP) and Strategic Revenue Growth Initiative (SRGI), among others.
He also said he was in charge of revenue and director of funds for a while at the Federal Ministry of Finance. In the private sector, he mentioned Transcorp Hilton and Transition Company of Nigeria as places he had worked, although it was unclear whether he worked there before, during or after leaving service in January 2019.
For two weeks, Messrs Odariko and Kyari Dikwa evaded The Gazette’s request for comment. A media consultant for both of them said running this story could undercut ongoing investigations and legal proceedings over the case, an assertion promptly disputed by two law enforcement officials familiar.
Food is ready
Officials said the tawdry episode began on or around November 8, 2020, when four men broke into a building in Apo, Abuja. The men entered through the rear of the house after separating the barbed wire over the fence perimetre at about 4:00 a.m. in the B14 block of the neighbourhood, The Gazette learnt.
The Gazette heard that the suspects planned the operation after being told by Mrs Odariko’s driver that her boss and her male friend (Mr Kyari Dikwa) were hoarding COVID-19 palliatives in the building.
The driver, identified as Samuel Enebi, told his friends, who toiled as collectors of discarded metal and derivatives around the nation’s capital, that there were bags of food items, including noodles and aromatic rice, in the house which his boss was keeping from the government.
Mr Enebi moored his suspicion to reported discoveries of warehouses holding undistributed COVID-19 supplies across the country at the time.
“It was around the time that people were discovering warehouses with a lot of palliatives that should have been distributed to Nigerians to cope with the hard times,” an official said under anonymity to comment on an active investigation. “So Mr Enebi just assumed his boss and a man he believed to be her lover were storing away food to sell later at heavy profits.”
“The bags were so many that they moved into the building that the driver couldn’t even imagine, let alone suspect, that it was money that they were moving into the building during their regular trips there,” a second official said.
But when the four burglars broke into the building, one of them observed that the storage pattern was too tidy for raw food items, officials said.
“The suspects opened one of the bags and discovered it was filled with dollars,” a source said. “They opened another one and another one and quickly decided they should carry a few bags and leave the scene.”
The suspects later found that they were only able to move $4 million from the building, which they subsequently shared among themselves and a few others who knew about the operation.
“One of the suspects became dizzy and started vomiting at the scene,” an official said. “He never imagined that such money existed anywhere on earth.”
Abba Kyari squad
For several weeks following the operation, Mr Enebi was unaware that his friends shared $4 million from an operation he unwittingly tipped and talked them into. Mrs Odariko had kept the development from her driver while she sought the suspects.
Mrs Odariko, 43, from Okene LGA in Kogi, quickly approached police chief Abba Kyari to help find the fleeing suspects. Mr Kyari, now disgraced and awaiting trial in federal custody, quickly used state resources to track down the suspects.
In a statement to the police, which was purportedly entered on November 9, 2020, Mrs Odariko said there were only four saves in the building, from which the burglars opened two and stole $4 million. She also said the money was in ‘hard currency’, and she couldn’t tell if the suspects had stolen more, nor did she have a hunch about those who might be responsible.
Mr Kyari’s team arrested the four men who took part in the operation, as well as others, including Mr Enebi, who were identified as having a role in the conspiracy.
Mr Kyari’s team, The Gazette learnt, recovered about $2.1 million from the suspects and tried to set their case up as armed robbery that involved the killing of a pregnant woman. Officials said Mr Kyari took that dimension in order to justify a summary execution of the suspects following recovery of some of the stolen funds.
But some lawyers were tipped off about the matter, and they went to the Force Headquarters to warn Mr Kyari to bury any considerations of extra-judicial deaths of the suspects.
Abba Mundu theatre
Mr Kyari was forced to charge the suspects to court but kept strictly kept the matter secret because Messrs Odariko and Kyari Dikwa did not want their involvement exposed, The Gazette heard.
Seven suspects, Eseoghene Godwin, Godfrey Omamuli, Stephen Obodo, Nasiru Muhammed, Yunusa Egbuku, Ayegba Chapi, and Mr Enebi, were arraigned in October 2021, about a year after the robbery.
Prior to the arraignment, Mr Kyari had already disagreed with Mrs Odariko about the recovered $2.1 million and an additional N31 million sent to a bank account supplied by Mr Kyari.
Three of the suspects escaped from custody when Boko Haram broke into the federal correctional facility in Kuje in July 2022, setting an unclear number of hardened inmates free.
But even before the suspects escaped, the case was long-stalled, largely due to Mr Kyari’s arrest after Peoples Gazette first reported that he had been indicted in the United States for crimes relating to Ramon ‘Hushpuppi’ Abbas’ online fraud syndicate.
After Mr Kyari was forced to charge the matter to court, a man surfaced to identify himself as Abba Mundu, chairman of a purported real estate business that owned the $4 million.
Mr Mundu said he sold 13 properties worth $4 million a day before the break-in, with all the customers paying in cash and in American dollars.
But Mr Mundu, officials said, did not know that Ms Odariko had already informed officials that $76 million was warehoused in the building.
He also failed to present receipts of the transactions that were conducted or the locations of the properties that were sold, and could not tell the court the name of the company or what role Mrs Odariko was playing in the company as a manager at a federal agency.
In documents, Mr Mundu initially introduced himself as the chairman of the so-called company, then later said he was the CEO, and he didn’t know who the chairman of the company was. He also declined to comment on his relationship with Mr Kyari Dikwa.
Officials said Mr Mundu was sent in to stand as the owner of the funds in order to shield Messrs Odariko and Kyari Dikwa from being identified.
“He didn’t understand the role they brought him in to play after the fact,” an official said. “He has entered so many contradictory details that we are investigating.”
Mr Mundu abruptly hung up when reached for comments by The Gazette and did not answer subsequent calls to his line about the matter.
The NDIC did not return calls and messages seeking comments, but a management official unauthorised to comment on the record said the institution considered allegations against Mrs Odariko too grievous and unusual for its staff members.
The Force Headquarters declined comments about Mr Kyari’s role in the matter, and a lawyer for the former police chief could not be reached for comments. A spokesman for the EFCC declined comments for this story.
But anti-graft detectives have continued to work on the case to understand how Messrs Odariko and Kyari Dikwa came about the $76 million.
“Since Abba Kyari has compromised the police’s case on the matter, our own focus now is to unravel how such a humongous amount got into the hands of two civil servants,” an official said. “The maximum amount that could possibly be recovered will be recovered and forfeited to the Nigerian people if found to have been stolen from public coffers.”
The EFCC said it had recovered billions of dollars into the Nigerian treasury since 2015 when former President Muhammadu Buhari launched a botched assault against endemic corruption.
In one operation in April 2017, anti-graft officials said they found $43 million in an apartment in Lagos’ Ikoyi district. Before then, several recoveries received sufficient publicity, including the nearly $10 million found in February 2017 in a slum and linked to Andrew Yakubu, a former head of the state-run oil firm NNPC.
In 2022, Mr Kyari Dikwa’s colleague, former accountant-general Ahmed Idris, was arrested by the EFCC for allegedly stealing over N80 billion through contract fraud and federal racketeering. The anti-graft office subsequently recovered over N30 billion from the loot while he continued to stand trial for his alleged crimes.
Rights attorney and anti-corruption analyst Ken Eluma Asogwa said it was good that the EFCC did not allow the police to short-circuit the investigation but urged a thorough probe and prompt recovery of outstanding funds to Nigeria.
“It is sad to learn that people still keep obscene amounts of money at home when you consider how many millions of Nigerians are out there unable to feed themselves,” Mr Eluma Asogwa said. “This is why we once advised the former president to propose a bill to make it possible for stolen assets to be seized in line with the constitution.”
Mr Eluma Asogwa said a law that allows a more efficient process of discovering stolen funds would be better for the country.
“It might seem intrusive to pass a law that ensures any amount about N5 million is traceable to a legitimate source,” the analyst said. “But consider how bad sustaining the status quo can be for over 200 million poor Nigerians.”