•Ibrahim Magu, Acting Chairman of EFCC
By Tunde Ajaja
ABUJA – The Nigeria Association of Auctioneers has chided the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr Ibrahim Magu, over his announcement that the commission would engage foreign auctioneers to sell the jewellery and houses seized from a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke.
The association noted that it was an insult for the commission to attempt to boycott the over 170 million Nigerians to hunt for auctioneers abroad to dispose of the properties that the former minister allegedly bought illegally with their commonwealth.
“It’s a serious insult to Nigerians and it is the most unfortunate thing any government can do at this critical point in our economy. We kick against it,” he said.
Magu had at the EFCC stakeholders’ conference on crusade against cybercrime fraudsters, which held on Thursday, said the commission had contacted internationally certified auctioneers overseas to auction the $40m (about N14.4bn) jewellery recovered from Alison-Madueke.
He noted that the presence of internationally certified auctioneers would make the process transparent.
He added that the auctioneers would also sell off the luxury houses recovered from the former minister and other suspects.
Alison-Madueke served as a minister during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Magu noted that 242 trailers and tankers from Internet scammers would also be auctioned.
The Federal High Court in Lagos had on September 10, 2019 ordered that the 2,149 pieces of jewellery and a customised gold iPhone, valued at $40m and recovered from the Abuja home of Alison-Madueke be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.
In a ruling, Justice Nicholas Oweibo held that Diezani, through her lawyer, Awa Kalu (SAN), failed to show cause why the items should not be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.
Meanwhile, on October 10, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari disclosed that he had instructed relevant agencies that all forfeited assets be sold and the money be put in the Treasury Single Account.
But, responding to EFCC’s decision to engage foreign auctioneers, the General Secretary, NAA, Isibor Benjamin Abhulimen, who spoke on behalf of the association, said in an interview with our correspondent on Saturday that it was wrong for the EFCC to bring in foreigners to do a job that many Nigerians are competent to do.
He said, “When the President made the pronouncement that all forfeited assets should be disposed, we were all excited and we felt it was a good move.
“We felt there would be transparency because if you invite auctioneers in Nigeria, you have involved the Nigerian public.
“We were therefore surprised to see that Magu invited foreigners to come and do the work we were licenced to do here. Does he want Nigerians to be out of jobs? Members of our association are very angry with that decision and we won’t allow it.”
He said it was ironical for the government to close the borders with the hope of helping Nigerian businesses to grow and then turn around to give jobs to foreigners.
Abhulimen said, “The government closed the borders because they said they wanted local companies to grow, but in the same breath, you are bringing foreigners to come and take over our job. How do you explain that contradiction? Many Nigerians are even better than the foreigners he is talking about.
“Given that we do not have the technical expertise to drill our crude oil, we get foreigners to come and do that for us. But something as common as jewellery, you still call foreigners? That is unacceptable. How do you sell jewellery than leverage the contacts of people who have interest in such items. It seems to us that Magu has an ulterior motive for doing that. We are angry and bitter about it.”
Abhulimen said the association had been discussing the matter since the story broke and that they see it as an insult to the sensibility of every Nigerian. “Does it mean we are incompetent to even help ourselves in this country?” he queried.
He added, “We have very competent auctioneers in all parts of this country. They have online portals where they can synchronise their disposals across the world. We go as far as the United States to connect with auctioneers there to dispose of items.
“Is the EFCC chairman saying we do not have competent people that can sell jewellery in the whole of this country? One good way to sell jewellery is to connect with those who are interested in such items and we know the biggest collectors of jewellery in the world today.
“It seems the EFCC chairman lacks good advisers or he doesn’t know the right thing to do, because what he said and planned to do is an insult to Nigerians and members of our association.
“Let’s even look at the revenue angle; is Magu saying government would rather pay the commission on the sale of those items to foreigners? What then happens to Nigerian firms? It’s a wrong practice. It’s very painful to our association.”
When asked the membership strength of the association, he said, “We have chapters in every state and the Federal Capital Territory. There is no state where we have less than 150 members. And active auctioneers per state is not less than 100. If you do the calculation you would see that we are a large body of professionals.
“Does a foreigner even understand our terrain to come and sell a property here? The properties belong to Nigerians, so it’s an insult to our sensibilities and we won’t allow it. It’s offensive.”
In the case against Diezani, the EFCC had told the judge that the jewellery and the gold iPhone seized from the former minister were reasonably suspected to have been acquired with proceeds of fraud.
According to the schedule attached to an application filed by the EFCC, the jewellery, categorised into 33 sets, include “419 expensive bangles; 315 expensive rings; 304 expensive earrings; 267 expensive necklaces; 189 expensive wristwatches; 174 expensive necklaces and earrings; 78 expensive bracelets; 77 expensive brooches and 74 expensive pendants.”
In an affidavit deposed to by Rufai Zaki, an investigator, the EFCC insisted that the items were beyond Diezani’s “known and provable lawful income.”
Meanwhile, in responding to the issues raised by the auctioneers, the spokesperson for the EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren in a response to Sunday PUNCH’s enquiry, simply said, “The process will be duly advertised and the requirements for all participants specified.” (Punch)