The Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee on Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, has declared that so far, there is no strong evidence linking President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor with the ongoing probe of $2.1 billion arms deal fund.
Pastor Oritsejafor of the Word of Life Bible Church in Warri, Delta State came under heavy knocks in 2014 when his private jet was used to smuggle $9.3 million cash into South Africa by two unnamed Nigerians and an Israeli, who is reportedly at large.
The money was reportedly meant for the purchase of military hardware but the South African government confiscated the cash on the grounds that it was not declared at the point of entry and was in breach of the country’s money laundering laws.
The development almost sparked a diplomatic row between Nigeria and South Africa and was one of the low points of the Goodluck Jonathan administration, which at the time, was making frenzied efforts to confront the Boko Haram insurgency in the hopes that it would help the then president secure a second term in office.
Sagay, who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and renowned constitutional lawyer, noted that while the process for the arms purchase was not transparent, the explanation by Oritsejafor that his jet had been chartered was acceptable.
The eminent lawyer, however, added that he could not predict the outcome of investigations of the arms scam, which had led to the prosecution of the immediate past National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, whose office sanctioned the $9.3m cash-for-arms deal.
Sagay said, “The plane was on charter, so he can very well claim that he had no idea what was being taken on board and he probably was not the one that came to that agreement. I am not saying that he knew nothing about it but he had a company and ideally, his employees would be the ones to make all the arrangements but, of course, in reality, given that he was close to the government in power, he must have known.
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“But what they were doing in that transaction was irregular; it wasn’t stealing. They were going to use the money to buy arms. They were not supposed to do it in that manner. They were supposed to do it through normal bank transfers. So, what happened was irregular but I don’t think the money was stolen”.
Reacting to the argument by the Jonathan administration that it resorted to the black market to get military hardware for the Nigerian Armed Forces because western countries had refused to sell weapons to Nigeria, Sagay said, “That was just an excuse as far as I am concerned”.
“I think what happened was that when they had divided all the money meant for arms through Dasuki and found out that Boko Haram was devastating the Nigerian Army, they just looked for money from somewhere to go and buy some arms”, he added.
It would be recalled that Oritsejafor, who was close to the corridors of power at the time, distanced himself from the scandal involving the use of his private jet to ferry such huge amount of cash, insisting that “having leased the aircraft to the Green Coast Produce Company Limited, any transaction undertaken with the aircraft can no longer be attached to me”.