The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has arrested a serving senior officer of the Nigerian Air Force in connection with the $2.1bn arms purchase scandal.
It was learnt that the officer, Air Vice Marshal R.A. Ojuawo, was arrested by operatives of the EFCC at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, on his way out of the country.
A top source, who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity on Tuesday, said Ojuawo was arrested while accompanying the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin, to a meeting of the United States Africa Command in Germany on Sunday.
According to Wikipedia, the United States Africa Command, otherwise known as AFRICOM, is one of the nine unified combatant commands of the US Armed Forces, headquartered at Kelley Barracks, Stuttgart, Germany.
It is responsible for the US military operations and military relations with 53 African nations. Its area of responsibility covers all of Africa except Egypt, which is within the area of responsibility of the US Central Command.
The source, who confided in our correspondent, said, “The event, which they were going to attend, was about the activities of the military in the fight against insurgency. AVM Ojuawo was the one that was supposed to deliver the keynote address on behalf of the Nigerian Air Force.
“However, a team of EFCC detectives stormed the airport and refused to allow him travel. All the senior military officers present pleaded with the detectives but they refused to listen. We explained to them that we had invested a lot of time and energy in putting together the report that Ojuawo was supposed to present.
“The Air Force had done feasibility studies on how to rehabilitate Internally Displaced Persons and was going to present the report in Germany.
“We promised them that immediately we were done with the event, Ojuawo would return and visit the EFCC but the detectives said he was a flight risk. How could he flee when he was in the entourage of the CDS?”
It was learnt that Ojuawo had been invited by the commission a few weeks ago and had even visited the Idiagbon House headquarters of the anti-graft agency, where he was interrogated alongside the immediate past CDS, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh (retd.), and was allowed to go.
According to a source in the NAF, Ojuawo was the Director of Operations when Badeh was the Chief of Air Staff.
However, the Director of Information, Defence Headquarters, Brig.-Gen. Rabe Abubakar, said he was not aware of such incident.
The defence spokesman said the EFCC had a good relationship with the military, adding that such an incident was unlikely.
“I am not aware of the incident. It is unlikely that such a thing would happen without my knowledge. My deputy was part of the entourage and he never informed me of such an incident.
“We support the anti-corruption war as patriotic Nigerians and we will not hide such information,” the Defence spokesman stated.
The spokesperson for the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, said he could not confirm the story, stressing that he could not say if the senior Air Force officer was in the custody of the agency.
“I cannot confirm if he was arrested or not. I don’t know if he’s in custody,” he said on the telephone on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Badeh, who has been in the EFCC’s detention for nearly 48 hours, is being probed for contracts totalling $930,500,690.00 which were awarded under his leadership.
It was gathered that the EFCC had subjected him to not less than 18 hours of interrogation since he was detained on Monday.
It was also learnt that the commission would, this week, obtain a holding charge to enable it to detain the former Chief of Defence Staff for more than 48 hours.
The money is said to be part of the $2.1bn, meant for the purchase of arms, which was under the control of the Office of the National Security Adviser, then under the headship of Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.).
Badeh is also said to be answering questions on the non-specification of procurement costs, absence of contract agreements, award of contracts beyond authorised thresholds, transfer of public funds for unidentified purposes and general non-adherence to provisions of the Public Procurement Act.
However, another military source said several of the officers, who were being interrogated by the EFCC, did not have the option of refusing to obey instructions given to them on critical issues because of the tradition of the military.
There were indications that the Federal Government had deployed security operatives in all the international airports to prevent those under investigation from fleeing the country.
The AVM, who has been detained alongside the former CDS, was among some Air Force officers; who were recommended for interrogation by the Presidential Panel on Arms Procurement.
Meanwhile, it was also gathered that the EFCC had interrogated six serving Air Vice-Marshals, including Ojuawo and one A.M. Mamu.
The PUNCH gathered that the six officers were quizzed following statements made by the ex-CDS and the immediate past Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Adesola Amosu.