Businessman Sambo says he was deceived into receiving illicit payments in his account.
In the past one week, Abubakar Sambo has been battling to save the image of his company, AMA Business Solutions -- an Abuja-based Bureau De Change firm that is in the middle of an extortion and bribery scandal involving some members of Nigeria's House of Representatives.
The 44-year-old businessman sat down with PREMIUM TIMES for a tell-all interview, revealing how an agent of the lawmakers and a university vice-chancellor used his business as a vessel for the scheme. The interview provided more details corroborating our reports on the scandal.
Mr Sambo said his company fell victim to being used as a vessel for the shady deal because he was ignorant of the questionable undercurrent of the transaction. The deal involves an ad hoc committee of the House of Representatives receiving bribes from vice-chancellors of Nigerian federal universities and shaking down the unwilling ones among the heads of the country's higher institutions of learning.
A PREMIUM TIMES investigation had revealed how the House Committee, set up to probe alleged corruption in the personnel recruitment process of federal agencies, launched an extortion ring to collect bribes and shake down unwilling officials.
The report exposed how some vice-chancellors of universities agreed to pay N2 million bribe to the committee through Mr Sambo's account domiciled at Providus Bank.
"There was no reason to suspect anything" - Sambo
When Mr Sambo's phone rang on 16 August, the name that popped up on the screen could not be ignored because it was from a very important client -- Stella Adoga.
Ms Adoga is not a social caller. She works for Lead British International School (LBIS), a big, privately-owned secondary school in Abuja, Nigeria's political capital. By the time they ended their brief telephone conversation, Mr Sambo was upbeat, looking forward to hearing from a man whom Ms Adoga had said would call to buy dollars.
"She (Stella) called me and said that there was one of their clients that wanted to buy dollars," Mr Sambo said. "She said she would give them my number. That's a referral--which is very normal in our business."
What Mr Sambo did not know was that Ms Adoga equally works for Oluwole Oke, the proprietor of LBIS and member of the House of Representatives.
"There was no reason to suspect anything," Mr Sambo said while showing this reporter other transactions between him and LBIS.
Further narrating his experience, the businessman explained that hours after the call from Ms Adoga, he was contacted via WhatsApp by a man who introduced himself as Professor Tanko Ishaya, who said that he got his contact from "Stella (Adoga) from the National Assembly", and would like to know the rates of naira to dollar, and naira to pounds sterling.
The professor later requested the account number of Mr Sambo with the understanding that he would send him money in naira which he would like to convert to dollars. He was given Account Number 5400495458, domiciled in Providus Bank.
Mr Sambo noted that he got a stab of surprise when he started getting credit alerts of N2 million from different sources. He raised his concerns with the two individuals involved; they assured him that the payments were from an association and that the payment to him was structured in that manner.
"Good morning sir, they are sending the money in N2 million tranches," Mr Sambo had in a WhatsApp message informed the UNIJOS vice-chancellor of the unusual inflow of the funds into his account. His concern was not addressed, he said.
"Normally, if a customer is buying dollars, they pay you bulk money. So it was surprising to me, that was why I indicated it to him (Mr Ishaya) in the WhatsApp message," Mr Sambo told this reporter.
Mr Ishaya kept in touch with Mr Sambo to monitor how his colleagues were complying with the payment ahead of the 24 August deadline given them by the lawmakers. "By the weekend, he asked me, how many transfers have you received, I said 10."
"I did not ask many questions because I thought it was the school. I thought he was a staff member of the school because it is the school that I have been dealing with all this while. We did not go into any deal, and I did not ask. I have been dealing with the school for a long time, always selling (dollars) to me, but they never bought (dollars) from me," he said.
The payments into the account continued until 29 August when PREMIUM TIMES published the report of its investigation. At that point, 14 universities had paid into the account. The continued cash inflow from the vice-chancellors into the account beyond the 24 August is indicative of a readjustment of the deadline earlier given by the lawmakers.
Worried by the PREMIUM TIMES story of August 29, Mr Sambo said he immediately contacted both Ms Adoga and Mr Ishaya.
He said while Ms Adoga promised to look into the matter and get his organisation's lawyers to sort things out, Mr Ishaya kept mute. He read the businessman's WhatsApp message but did not respond.
"On Tuesday morning when I saw the article, I called him (Ishaya), but he did not pick up. And I sent him a message. I told him 'What is happening? Why am I seeing my company and my details saying I am fronting for someone?"
Mr Sambo said after reading our report, he printed his bank statement and realised that the payments into his account were actually from universities.
"When messages (credit alert) come in, it does not show like that. It was when I printed my bank statement, that was when I saw the narration. It was the story that made me look at my bank statement," he said.
He said the following day, 30 August, he wrote a letter to Providus Bank asking it to revert all the transfers from the 14 schools that sent money to him. In the letter, he listed the 14 transactions linked to Mr Ishaya.
A lien (restriction) has been put on the Providus account on the order of the Independent Corrupt Practice and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) after the story.
Mr Sambo said the action of the lawmakers and their collaborators in the universities has put his business at risk.
"I have been in the business since 2010. I worked for two different companies. First, Sahara Exchange and then 313 Bureau De Change before I started my own company in 2016. That's all I do. I don't do any other business," he said.
The ICPC had last week announced the commencement of an investigation into the committee.
This followed a petition by PREMIUM TIMES and the Chairman of the controversial House Committee, Yusuf Gagdi (APC, Plateau) to the anti-graft agency to probe the matter.
PREMIUM TIMES called for a thorough investigation with a view to prosecuting culpable individuals in the extortion and bribery scheme
Mr Gagdi urged ICPC to investigate Mr Sambo's account to see if it has any link to any member of his committee.
So far, the ICPC has frozen Mr. Sambo's Providus Account as part of the ongoing investigation into the saga.