…COL. AWUSA OPENS CAN OF WORMS
MURPHY GANAGANA, Jos
He was in love with the military and, indeed, had a promising career in the Nigerian Army after being granted a Direct Short Service Commission in the rank of Second Lieutenant on October 4, 1989. Later, he converted to Direct Regular Commission and was deployed to the Nigerian Army Finance Corps (NAFC).
For several years, Lt. Col Paul Awusa successfully navigated and had a smooth sail through the murky waters of military politics until June 26, 2006, when he was nominated Deputy Defence Adviser (DDA) Finance, London, at the Nigerian High Commission, United Kingdom. He was selected among three army officers nominated by Major General Paul Toun (retd), then a Brigadier General and Director of Army Finance and Administration (DAFA), for approval by the Chief of Army Staff.
Can of worms
Eight years after, an obviously aggrieved Awusa who has been forced out of the Army is down and out. He did not mince words when he narrated to Saturday Sun how the Nigerian Defence Mission in UK has been turned into a money laundering mission. He admitted being used by military chiefs to launder over five million pounds of defence fund domiciled in London back to Nigeria for sharing. The money when converted at its current open market exchange rate of N500 to a pound sterling comes to about N2.5 billion. He said his nomination for the post of Deputy Defence Adviser, Finance, London, by General Paul Toun, and approval by General Andrew Azazi, who was then the Chief of Army Staff, and later, Chief of Defence Staff, availed him access to the inner workings of the cabal, which like a wounded lion, battled to yank him off the system for fear of expose of their sleazy deals.
In an exclusive interview with Saturday Sun, Awusa alleged that the Defence Intelligence Agency was a centre of corruption, from where defence funds meant for mission areas were laundered back to the country and shared among members of the cabal. He revealed that he had on several occasions, been asked to illegally repatriate such funds up to 5million Pounds in one instance, in 2008. Among the beneficiaries of the laundered funds, he said, were key military officers, government functionaries and some top flight traditional rulers.
Awusa, who alleged that he was marked for elimination but narrowly escaped with the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua, said he was accused of leaking vital documents concerning the illicit funds to General Azazi, who he described as his brother, while he held sway as the Chief of Defence Staff. He pointed fingers at the cabal for the sudden demise of Azazi, who died when a military helicopter conveying him from a funeral ceremony crashed midway to its destination. Aboard, was the governor of Kaduna State, Patrick Yakowa, who also perished.
His words: “My case has two dimensions. There is the political undertone, the issue of godfather. In this case, the godfathers who were at play were General Sarki Muktar, as NSA coordinating all the groups. General Agwai was there as CDS, and General Yusuf, who was Chief of Army Staff after General Azazi. General Azazi as Chief of Army Staff nominated and approved my movement to the UK. But since these people had problem with him at that point in time, they felt I was a boy to him. When those powers were at play and they saw me as General Azazi’s boy, they wanted to eliminate me at all cost.
“They accused me of revealing official secret to General Azazi from the UK. And what was it? It was because of monies they released for renovation of mission areas when President Olusegun Obasanjo was leaving office. As the Deputy Defence Adviser Finance, in London, I was like Director of Finance in charge of defence at the mission, and UK was the most sensitive of all the missions, more sensitive than the one in Washington. Funds were not used for the purposes they were meant for, it was just laundering business. We were just cashing the money and returning back home, while peanuts were just used for the purposes they were meant for.
“Some of the funds were meant to buy houses, but the houses would not be bought; some for renovation, but the houses were not renovated. They could say they want to buy machinery for the mission area, but the money would be cashed and sent back home for them to share. I was asked to do several of such laundering of illicit funds and I have my documents in the UK. At a point, the DA at that time, General Aminu, raided my house and took some of those documents. But once I lay hands on those things, peoples’ handwritings are there; the documents are there, there is no hiding place for anybody. It’s quite large sums of money, but it comes piecemeal; sometimes 2.5million Pounds, or more. The ones that passed through me, it was not more than 5million Pounds at that time, but it was a very short period.
“When President Umaru Yar’Adua came in, there were a lot of funds that were coming in for different kind of things and then the money was laundered back to the country. Because they were not comfortable with me and wanted me out, they sent one Roland Ochei, then a Lt. Col but by far my junior, to take over from me with a Visiting Passport, and it was an illegal thing they were doing. You cannot function in a mission area as a diplomat with a Visiting Passport; it is after they have approved your diplomatic passport, when the mission has accepted you as a diplomat that you can function as a diplomat. I was the signatory to the defence account, but they forced me to handover to Ochei. Again, I had applied for a UK driver’s licence with my diplomatic passport, and once you apply with a diplomatic passport, instead of them to return it to you directly, they will return it to the mission area, that is, the Nigeria House. From there, they will call whosoever is concerned to collect his or her passport. Instead of them to give me my passport, they went and hid it just to frustrate me. So, I was stranded there, with no money. And back home, they said I had deserted. When I applied for a standard Nigerian passport to enable me come home, they also refused me. They were doing all these because they didn’t want anything from me to filter to General Azazi. And it all has to do with the mission area funds which were coming through me at that time.
“Some of us have been lucky to be alive up to this moment; it was because of the same factors that General Azazi was killed. But God has been giving us coverage; they’ve not seen any form of threat from anywhere that will force them to take those actions, and since then, I’ve been lying low. When I was arrested and detained, the intention was to eliminate me, but when President Yar’Adua died, that was the saving grace because the NSA was removed at that time. So, the idea of eliminating me quietly wasn’t possible, that was why I was sent to a court martial. And since then, I had not been talking; that was the fear they expressed about General Azazi. That he was talking, and releasing official documents. That is what they told him; that was one of the threats, the accusations, even as NSA. I was with him once over my issue and he asked, Paul, what can I do for you? You know they are also after my life. I have been very silent; this is eight years since I came back from London. Because I was not talking, and I know some of those things, now that I am talking, they can go the extra mile to eliminate me. I have never talked like this before. Now that I am talking, they will come after me”.
His many troubles
Signs that he was headed for a rough path emerged even before he jetted out of the country to London to take his new position. While he was to resume duties September 2006 when the tenure of his predecessor expired, according to a memo addressed to the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) dated July 14, 2006 and signed by General Toun, Awusa did not receive handover notes until January 9, 2007, even though he had reported more than four months earlier. But he was not shocked by the development, as some forces were said to have worked to scuttle his nomination for the foreign mission.
Notwithstanding, Awusa was optimistic that the thick cloud of uncertainty on his tour of duty abroad would evaporate in no distant time, more so, with a confirmation letter issued him by the Office of the Defence Adviser, Nigeria High Commission, London, soliciting cooperation and assistance of relevant organizations including schools, for registration of his children to enable them continue their education, having relocated his family to UK as required of diplomats. The letter dated December 1, 2006, was signed by MA Oladeji, then a Colonel, for the Defence Adviser.
Barely six months after assuming duties for a tour of duty which lasts between two and three years, it was, therefore, a shocker when Awusa got an urgent memo at about 8pm on August 1, 2007, from the Office of Defence Adviser, Nigeria High Commission, London, releasing him to report same day for a course at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, AFCSC, Jaji, Nigeria.
The two paragraph memo dated 1 August, 2007, ref: NHC. DA 01/G reads: “Reference A. DIA/153/1/G dated30 Jul 07. Further to Reference A, I am directed to inform you that you are hereby released to report to the AFCSC, Jaji immediately”. It was signed by VO Adedipe, then a Navy Captain, for the Defence Adviser. Awusa’s diplomatic mission had been abruptly truncated by the Nigerian Army headquarters, with his nomination for Senior Staff Course 30 via a memo dated July 26, 2007 and signed by DJM Igah, a Brigadier General for the Chief of Army Staff. The letter ref: NA230/102/TRG, threatened severe disciplinary action against him if he failed to attend the course.
It reads: “The above-named officer who is currently the DDA London is nominated to attend the above-stated course assembling 1 Aug 07 at the AFCSC, Jaji. Consequently, I am directed to request you to please inform the officer to return to Nigeria and attend the course accordingly. Additionally, the officer is to note that failure to attend the course will attract severe disciplinary action”.
Interestingly, Awusa was No. 1 on the list of 52 officers nominated for the course, and was the only officer of the rank of Lt. Col, while the rest were all Majors. He contended that the course is meant mainly for officers of the rank of Majors of Regular Combatants and not Direct Regular Officer to which he belonged. Besides, he was already a Lt. Col and did not require such course for his promotion or professional advancement.
Amazed at the turn of events, Awusa contacted Brigadier General Lartey, who was the Director, Army Finance and Administration (DAFA), and the Defence Adviser (DA), Nigeria High Commission, London, Major General Mohammed Said, for advice. “When I received the course nomination with warning letters from the DAOPs and DIA to report immediately, I phoned the DA since he was not around and told him of the development; I also informed the DAFA accordingly. The DAFA congratulated me on the nomination and told me to proceed for the course immediately. I informed the DA of this development but he advised that I should obey the DAFA and consult him on what to do with the office accounts. When I consulted DAFA, he said I should hand-over to anybody in the office and report for the course”, Awusa narrated.
Unwilling to face the dare consequences, he left London for Nigeria on August 8, 2007 and eventually reported at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College on September 14, 2007, seven weeks after the course had commenced. But the authorities of the institution rejected him for late-coming vide a letter to the Army Headquarters dated September 20, 2007, with ref: AFCSC/75/G, signed by GO Akpolo, a Rear Admiral, for the Commandant.
Part of the letter reads: “Further to Reference A, I am directed to inform you that the above-named officer reported to the College for the Senior Course 30 on 14 Sep 07. The officer however reported 7 weeks behind the assembly date of the course. He cited the need for him to properly handover the affairs of his former office in the United Kingdom to his successor as the reason for his lateness. In line with the College Standing Operating Procedure, the officer cannot be admitted to join the course due to his prolonged absence, which made him to miss several lectures and assessed exercises. Consequently, I am directed to return the officer to unit. AHQ may wish to nominate the officer for the next Senior Course”.
Curiously, the Army Headquarters discarded the Commandant’s advice. Rather than allowing him to continue with his diplomatic assignment in the UK and perhaps, nominate him for the next Senior Course as suggested by the authorities at the AFCSC, the Chief of Army Staff, late Lt. General Yusuf, insisted that Awusa be allowed to continue with the course.
“While the NA appreciates the reasons adduced by AFCSC for returning the officer, especially as it relates to the rules and regulations of the College, the NA however made adequate provisions to cushion the officer’s late attendance for the course. More so, the officer cannot be accommodated on the list of Senior Course 31, as suggested, in view of the large number of NA officers envisaged for the course in 2008. Consequently, it is please requested that the officer be allowed to continue the course and subsequently be assessed on the packages he would be involved”, General Yusuf stated in the letter signed on his behalf by SN Chikwe, a Major General.
With Yusuf’s insistence on Awusa’s participation, the AFCSC succumbed to his request via a letter dated October 18, 2007, ref: AFCSC/75/G. Part of the letter signed by OE Uwadiae, a Navy Captain, for the Commandant, reads: “Reference NA/230/102/TRG dated 28 Sep 07. I am directed to acknowledge the receipt of Reference A regarding the above named officer and to convey the reinstatement of the officer to continue the course. AHQ is therefore kindly requested to direct the officer to rejoin the course without further delay”.
Expectedly, the Headquarters, Nigeria Army Finance Corps promptly complied with the directive in a memo dated November 8, 2007, ref: NA/FIN/37/G/VOL.8/32, releasing Awusa for the course. By this time, he had returned to his duty post in London, but returned to Nigeria and reported at the AFCSC the second time on January 7, 2008, during which he officially appealed for a deferment of his nomination for the course till the end of his diplomatic assignment. In a letter to the Commandant, AFCSC, through the Director, Department of Land Warfare dated January 9, 2008, Awusa made a passionate appeal for deferment of his nomination for the course, citing several reasons.
Part of it reads: “I was delighted at my nomination for Senior Course 30 of AFCSC because it will make me a better career officer. However, I wish to appeal for deferment of the course nomination until the end of my foreign diplomatic assignment in London. I took over as the DDA Fin on 9 January 2007 and my family joined me on 2 February, 2007. The nature of the office work coupled with the cost of labour in London does not allow me to leave my family members stranded at any point of my stay there.
When I returned from Nigeria on 10 August, 2007, the DA wrote several memos informing me that I should handover my office to Lt. Col RN Ochei with a visiting visa on or before 17 August, 2007, but I replied by saying he should appeal to ASA for the deferment of the course. However, he replied by saying it is beyond him and that I should meet the DAFA and the College if I want any other thing.
My six children were already schooling in London; two of them in secondary school while the remaining four are in primary school. Now, even if I encourage myself to come back to Nigeria as a soldier, how about the emotional effects on my family who had made up their minds to stay in the UK for the next three years for their studies… Already, each of these children had lost at least one year due to change from the Nigerian school system to the UK. Now, they have to lose another one year to come back because of this issue. What reason will I give for making them to lose two or more years? The moral burden is unquantifiable and this means disaster for me and my family”.
After expressing his dilemma, Awusa had expected a favourable response, more so, with the prompt referral of his appeal for deferment by AFCSC via a letter dated January 21, 2008, to the Army headquarters for consideration. His hope dimmed shortly thereafter. The army authorities were adamant, and directed that he should be deployed within the Finance Corps when he had not completed his tour of duty in London.
Saturday Sun findings indicated that he was eventually deployed to the Nigerian Army School of Finance and Administration (NASFA), a move that was closely followed with several other disciplinary measures which saw him being declared Absent Without Official Leave (AWOL), and eventually a deserter, in line with the recommendations of a Board of Inquiry set up to investigate him in absentia even though the authorities were aware he was in London.
The Army Headquarters claimed Awusa had been repatriated. In a letter to the Defence Intelligence Agency dated December 29, 2008, ref: AHQ/GI/300/201. It reads: “The above named officer Lt Col PY Awusa served as DDA Finance in the UK. He was repatriated following his indictment by the British Police for offences in relation to drunk driving. On return, the officer was nominated to attend Senior Course 30 at the AFCSC Jaji, while on course, he could not cope with the pace of work and was eventually withdrawn and RTU. The officer was thereafter posted and deployed to NASFA but failed to report. He was declared AWOL and subsequently a deserter in line with the recommendations of a BOI that investigated the case. Consequently, the COAS vide reference A approved the declaration of the officer as a deserter. In view of the above, the DIA is requested to liaise with the DA London to retrieve all military accoutrement and government property in the possession of the officer. This is in addition to ejecting him from any official quarters he is currently occupying”. The letter was signed by AS Mustapha, a Colonel, for the Chief of Army Staff.
A few weeks before the directive, the Nigerian High Commission, UK, had contracted a law firm, Sharpfields and Co Solicitors to issue Awusa and members of his family a notice to quit his official residence on 30 Hendon Avenue, Finchley, London, N3 IEU. In a letter dated November 19, 2008, the law firm claimed Awusa’s tour of duty ended August 1, 2007, and that the diplomatic status granted him and that of his family had been terminated with effect from September 6, 2007.
In the same vein, Brigadier General HG Aminu who took over from General Sa’id as Defence Adviser in London had, prior to the quit notice, discreetly seized Awusa’s diplomatic passport. The distraught officer had applied for a UK Driver’s License at the DVLA, London. Following claims by the agency that his diplomatic passport had been procedurally returned to the Nigerian High Commission via the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Awusa requested for release of the passport to him, but the authorities told him it was not in their possession. They also refused issuing him a Standard Nigerian Passport to enable him travel home, despite a directive by the Nigerian Government dated October 13, 2009, to all Nigeria missions to give requisite consular assistance to any Nigerian in need.
Thrown on the street
On January 26, 2010, General Aminu invited Awusa for a meeting at the Nigeria High Commission, London. At the meeting, which preceded a series of others, Awusa was persuaded to visit the DIA headquarters in Nigeria for payment of arrears of allowances owed him. He was told there was lack of funds in London to offset his dues, which included FSA allowances for his period of stay; FSA arrears paid in 2007, outstanding balance for repair of his official residence in 2007, benefits for account holding, among others.
Unknown to Awusa, it was a ploy to lure him to Nigeria and get him arrested. While the meeting was still on, operatives of a private security firm allegedly contracted by the Defence Adviser invaded his official residence in London to seal it up. The operatives, who thought nobody was at the residence when they visited, were shocked to meet his wife, Debora, at home. In order not to create a scene, they told her, her daughter had a problem at school and her attention was needed. As soon as she hurried out of the residence, they sealed it up after throwing the family’s property on the streets. By the time he returned home after the meeting, Awusa met his wife and seven children standing helplessly with arms akimbo, weeping profusely.
Shocked and confused, Awusa tried to put himself together, picked up the littered items and headed to the home of a man he simply identified as Mr. Ben, a Ghanaian forest officer in London. He went along with his wife and children. They needed a temporary roof over their heads, which Ben, whose wife attended same church with Debora, offered them for some time.
After evicting him from his official residence, Awusa said the Defence Adviser played the Good Samaritan by offering his wife 200 Pounds Sterling for their upkeep with a promise of one week hotel accommodation for his family while he rushed down to Nigeria to receive payment of arrears of the allowances owed him at the DIA. With that, he was told he could return to London and secure another home for his family. He was advised to apply for an Emergency Travel Certificate, ETC, which was speedily granted to enable him embark on the trip.
Another tortuous journey
One week after, precisely on February 2, 2010, Awusa arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, aboard a British Airways aircraft in company with an army officer simply identified as Major Magaji, who at that time, was Deputy Defence Adviser, Library, at the Nigeria High Commission in UK. The duo were handed a consignment of medical items for treatment of the then ailing President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, and Awusa was expecting to be received at the arrival lounge by officials of the DIA and State House Clinic for delivery of the medical items.
But as soon as he alighted from the aircraft, he was jolted to a realization that he had unwittingly walked into a trap when AHB Jibril, then a Major and Officer-in-Charge Provost of the Guards Brigade accosted him at about 5.30 am and declared that he was under arrest. Jibril had led 10 military police officers to the airport in wait for Awusa on the orders on the army provost marshal.
After some other officers took away the medical items in his custody, the military policemen whisked him away to the officers’ mess at the Lungi Barracks in Asokoro, Abuja, where he commenced a journey in detention for over six months. A General Court Marshal convened by Lt. General Abdulrahaman Dambazau, then the Chief of Army Staff to try him on a one count charge of desertion, found him guilty and dismissed him from the Nigerian Army on August 9, 2010, after a trial that lasted over three months.
Evidently, Awusa had resigned himself to fate and wasn’t hopeful of a favourable response from the authorities. But he agonizes over the plight of his family in the UK, where they battle to survive and have no place they could call a home. For eight years, his 44-year-old wife, Debora, has engaged in casual jobs to put food on the table for her six children, all cramped in a room. The children, three male and three female, aged between 21 and 13 years, are yet to come to terms with why they were forcibly evicted from their home and abandoned on the streets of a foreign land by the Nigerian Army, an organization their father, aged 54, had served meritoriously for 32 years. They have been separated from their father, and left stranded in London.
Is the DIA a centre of sleaze where defence funds for mission are laundered back to the country as alleged by Awusa? Saturday Sun asked John Agim, a Brigadier General and Director, Defence Information (DDI), on telephone. His response: “I am not conversant with that case; you will just give me an opportunity to find out from Finance Corps headquarters about him and if I am not satisfied with what I get there, then I can go to DIA, before I can be able to speak with you based on what they say. But based on what you’ve said, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Azazi, was a man in charge of defence at the time he (Awusa) was in London, and General Toun was in charge of finance. So, he had two powerful people that would have protected him. If they allowed him to be tried, then it means that he actually committed an offence”. Agim, however, promised to get back to our reporter after consultations with the DIA and Nigerian Army Finance Corps. He had yet to send any official response at the time of filing this report.