Dubai, Abuja, Kano — Six Nigerians have been convicted by an Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over alleged funding of Boko Haram, investigations by Daily Trust reveals.
Two of the convicts, Surajo Abubakar Muhammad and Saleh Yusuf Adamu were sentenced to life imprisonment while the remaining four, Ibrahim Ali Alhassan, AbdurRahman Ado Musa, Bashir Ali Yusuf and Muhammad Ibrahim Isa were handed ten-year imprisonment respectively.
The convicts, according to a court judgment exclusively obtained by Daily Trust were tried and convicted in 2019.
The court judgment also showed that between 2015 and 2016, the convicts were involved in different cash transfers allegedly in favour of Boko Haram to the tune of USD782, 000.00 even as those close to them said the transactions were for legitimate purposes.
Our correspondents report that for the past 11 years, the issue of Boko Haram funding had remained mysterious and different theories advanced by prominent personalities and groups.
This was probably the first time certain individuals were identified albeit outside the shores of Nigeria. A senior government official confirmed that they were aware of the case.
"They were framed up"
However, families of those affected told the Daily Trust that the victims were "framed up" considering that they had been doing legitimate bureau de change business in the UAE before their arrest.
The conviction of the six suspects was said to have been upheld by the appellate court in the UAE after they lost an appeal earlier filed at a lower court.
According to the judgment, all the accused were charged with funding a terror group (Boko Haram) by facilitating transfers of money from Dubai to Nigeria for alleged terror operations.
Engaging in such an activity is a crime under Article 29, Clause 3 of UAE's Federal Law No 7 of 2017 with regards to anti-terrorism law, documents seen by this paper showed.
How they were arrested, tried
Court documents seen by Daily Trust indicate that arrest warrants from the office of the National Security Bureau were issued against the accused after investigations "confirmed their involvement and membership of the Boko Haram" terror group in Nigeria, and transferring money for that group.
The accused were said to have been apprehended between April 16 and 17, 2017, and their homes searched according to the search warrant issued by the National Security Prosecution office dated April 16, 2017.
Thereafter, interrogation files were prepared for each of them.
The first and second accused were said to have been charged for joining the Boko Haram group in Nigeria knowingly, which is a crime punishable under Article 22/2 of the Federal Law No 7 of 2017 with regards to anti-terrorism punishable by death or life imprisonment.
The third, fourth, fifth and sixth accused were charged with assisting the terror group knowingly, which is a crime under Article 31, Clause 1 of the same law, and is punishable by life imprisonment or jail for not less than five years under the UAE law.
Undercover agents at large
It was gathered that almost all the transactions that landed the six Nigerians now in jail in the UAE were initiated by two undercover Boko Haram agents who are based in Nigeria from where they were facilitating the funding transactions.
One of them, Alhaji Sa'idu who is allegedly based in Nigeria, is said to be a senior undercover Boko Haram member responsible for facilitating the group's access to funds from its sponsors.
Also fingered in some of the transitions is one Alhaji Ashiru, who is said to be "a Nigerian government official" and yet a senior undercover Boko Haram member who facilitated the transfer of misappropriated public funds to the group.
How indicted Nigerians got involved
Families of those affected told our correspondents that their relatives were most likely deceived in the course of their routine bureau de change transactions to the extent that some of the transactions they facilitated turned out to be for proceeds meant for Boko Haram activities.
It was gathered that one of the Boko Haram couriers, Alhaji Sa'idu, would arrange an unidentified or vaguely identified Arab person on a visit to Dubai from Turkey to hand over an amount of money in US Dollars to one of the convicts who would, in turn, advise his Nigerian-based business partners to hand over the Naira equivalent of the amount to him (Alhaji Sa'idu).
A source familiar with the case said, "I think Alhaji Sa'idu is just Nom de guerre who used the gullibility of the victims to achieve his aim. They were into bureau de change business, receiving and sending monies on behalf of others.
"From what I understand, they have been doing the business for long and along the line, they fell into a trap. I am not siding with them or trying to indict them but generally, there is ignorance on their side," he said.
'No fair hearing'
Auwalu Ali Alhassan, an elder brother to two of the convicts; Ibrahim Ali and Bashir Ali said his siblings were not given a fair hearing during the trial, adding that efforts to get the Nigerian government to intervene proved abortive.
According to him, "There was no fair hearing during the court case; no witnesses and they were just convicted to ten years in prison (Ibrahim and Bashir) and those that provided them with the monies were sentenced to 25 years each. They were earlier accused of money laundering and nothing more but along the line, the charge changed to financing terrorism".
On how they responded to the alleged funding of terrorism by their brothers, Alhassan said, "The case was appealed and still the ruling was upheld. We reported back to foreign affairs (here in Nigeria) and they advised us to wait till after the appeal."
He said following his brothers' arrest, he went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and reported to the then Minister of State, Khadija Bukar Abba Ibrahim and also spoke with the UAE Ambassador to Nigeria and it was agreed that they would be released and send out of the country (UAE).
"This wasn't to be. After they were taken to court they were later charged with terrorism, that those monies they collected were from people linked with a terrorist.
"Our brothers were not accused of terrorism. The ministry requested inquiries trying to use diplomatic relations to secure their release since they were not convicted of terrorism and to seek an explanation from the UAE of what really happened. It was at that point when the COVID pandemic sets in. Till date, the government of the UAE has not provided the information and court proceedings being sought by the Nigerian government.
"We have been to relevant places including the Ministry of Justice and the Diaspora Commission; they keep telling us no response (from the UAE). We even wrote an open letter to the president, which was published in some national dailies but no positive development. The boys are still being held in prison. We are seeing lack of interest from the Nigerian government to secure their release," he said.
How the convicts moved to Dubai
Alhassan explained how his brothers started money exchange business in Kano and later moved to Dubai where they were eventually arrested.
"We realised that the business was booming as more people visit Dubai from Kano and other parts of the world so we decided to ask Ibrahim to move to Dubai as part of our business expansion strategies.
He said on arrival, "Ibrahim started buying things for other businessmen based here at the Kantin Kwari Market, Kofar Wambai and others.
Sometimes, he settled school fees of children studying abroad and also transferred monies to people to Hong Kong or China where they intended to buy commodities. This was all possible because he had a residence permit of the United Arab Emirate," he said.
According to him, Ibrahim later set up a company called Kofar Ruwa General Enterprises that was duly registered in Dubai and which enabled him to transact business and money transfers in Dubai.
"We do send gold and dollars as well for him to sell but later dollar was stopped by the government; so we sent him gold to convert to Dirham (Dubai local currency) for people and because of the status of Dubai being the hub of international business he was doing well.
"He went there in 2015 with his family and they were all having their residence permits as well. He became a trusted ally and respected by many to the point people started keeping their monies with him and it was at this point that his younger brother, Ibrahim Ali, later joined him. He too got papers and was living there peacefully," he said.
He said after two years his brothers were arrested by authorities in Dubai in 2017 and all their belongings got confiscated.
"For three months we didn't know their whereabouts; it was later that we got to know they were moved to Abu Dhabi. The authorities took away about 800,000 USD, equivalents to 3 million Dirham, which was peoples' money brought for safe keep.
"They accused them of collecting stolen monies from people," he said adding: "If you accuse them of wrongdoing they should be arraigned before a court but that wasn't to be till after two years before they were charged to court."
Justice ministry reacts
Contacted, the Attorney - General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami said the Nigerian government was aware of the matter and had written the UAE seeking records of proceedings but was yet to get feedback.
Commenting on claims by families of some of the convicts that different government agencies including the ministry of justice failed to come to their aid, Malami said it was not true that the Nigerian government did not do anything on the matter.
"Nigerian government has written firstly for copies of the proceedings, which will give us the opportunity to see whether justice was done or not. And on whether they have committed the crime, we requested to know who and who are involved so that the Nigerian government will know what to do next.
"Nigerian government is working but it doesn't have the exclusive control, it has to rely on the information provided by UAE. So, it is not in control of the speed of response or action.
"We are working on both the issues that they did not receive a fair hearing and that they were alleged to have supported Boko Haram activities," he said.
On the alleged undercover agents who are said to be at large, Malami said the Nigerian government has instructed all the associated agencies including the financial intelligence unit to profile the allegation.
"Since the relationship involves issues of money between Nigeria and UAE, the Nigerian government has equally instructed the existing agencies of government to embark on an investigation on that and we have gone far.
"We await further intelligence from the UAE, which has relevance to the conviction and trial in order to do what we can as a follow-up to take the next line of action," he said.
The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Nigeria did not respond to Daily Trust's request to comment on the matter at the time of filing this report. A text message seeking a reaction from the embassy was not responded to.
A legal practitioner based in Kano, Barrister Yusuf Muhammed Ahmed said the only option available is for the families of the convicts to approach a Supreme Court in the UAE if there is one.
"Sometimes a case will move from a magistrate court to high court and then to appeal court... All of them would stand on the same judgment only for the Supreme Court to do away with the judgment and order a fresh case," he said.
However, Barrister Ahmed Sani in Abuja said the case could be resolved through diplomatic ways. "If the appeal court in UAE is the final place, Nigeria can use its diplomatic link to save the convicts especially if there is evidence that they did not deliberately make themselves available to ship the proceeds of crime.
"I see some elements of ignorance and greed on the side of the convicts... They should have established the record of the people they were dealing with because ignorance is not an excuse in the eye of law and you know that the Arab countries are not taking it lightly in dealing with monies meant for terrorism funding," he said.