Last week’s indictment of US Congressman William Jefferson for bribery and corruption has raised new questions about international scams and attempts to link former Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar to overseas telecommunications deals. Just before Jefferson’s court arraignment last Friday, Abubakar released a statement denying his involvement. He said that Jefferson was name-dropping and using his connections to amass cash from interested companies and potential investors. But after his arraignment, Jefferson told reporters the FBI had given him the money investigators later found stashed away in the freezer compartment of his Washington home. He claimed authorities had entrusted him with thousands of dollars in bills and enlisted his help in a scheme to expose the Nigerian vice president.
Asked how Nigerians are reacting to the latest charges, Ladi Adamu, an instructor in the Mass Communications department of Nigeria’s Amadou Bello University, says Nigerians believe Congressman Jefferson has more to explain than the vice president, even though Abubakar remains entangled in a separate Nigerian oil corruption case of his own.
“I think it’s Jefferson. Why would he be hiding large amounts of money in his house? And where did the money come from? Why would the FBI (the US Federal Bureau of Investigation) want to set him up against Abubakar? The Nigerian government, tell the FBI to do that? I don’t think it’s possible. And I don’t believe the FBI would want to set up the vice president of a country in that manner,” she said.
In his statement, Abubakar said he is “an innocent public official who in the discharge of his functions was exposed to a conman who continuously dropped his name before unsuspecting businessmen to swindle them.” He described Jefferson’s scheme as a “419 scam,” fashioned like the suspicious internet emails that people receive, making mention of famous names, in an attempt to fleece victims into fronting their money and not gaining compensation in return. Many of the scams originate in Nigeria, and Section 419 of the Nigerian legal code specifies how these scams violate the law. That is how the practice got its name. Lami Adamu says she does not think Atiku Abubakar would risk exposing himself to money laundering charges in a foreign country.
“I don’t believe that the vice president would be so careless as to engage in what we call in the Nigerian criminal code as money laundering to be flaunting money in a foreign country. But I do believe that until proven guilty, I don’t think Abubakar has any case to answer,” she says.
Adamu says she believes that the timing of the cases against both Vice President Abubakar and Congressman Jefferson coincides with the stepping up globally of a war against corrupt officials. She notes that Abubakar is a frequent visitor to the United States and credits US law enforcement for not allowing the Jefferson case to disrupt Nigeria’s recent presidential election.
“This will not sever the relationship between Nigeria and the United States. Our relationship goes back a long way. We’re business partners. America buys a lot of oil, going back to the eighties. I don’t think such an issue would sever the relationship. And I would like to say that the FBI was able to minimize the effect it would have on foreign policy,” she said.
Last week’s 16-count US Federal indictment of Jefferson accuses him of accepting more than $500,000 in bribes and attempting to enrich himself through using his position to make business deals in Africa. The Congressman pleaded innocent in court on Friday, but he faces a possible prison sentence of 235 years.