Recently, a private jet, Challenger model 600, took off from the presidential wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport and landed some hours later at Lauseria International Airport, Johannesburg. The plane had on board three passengers, two Nigerians and an Israeli. It also had a small crew, headed by the pilot, one Captain Ojongbede. In the process of customs and immigration formalities, it was discovered that they were carrying the sum of $9.3million in 100 dollar unused bills; this is equivalent to N1.5billion. The money was stashed away in three bags. The South African Revenue Service (SARS) seized the money. “The money was detained as it was undisclosed/undeclared and above the prescribed limit,” they said. The aircraft was temporarily impounded, but later allowed to return to Abuja. The passengers provided documents as evidence that they were in South Africa officially to purchase weapons for the federal government of Nigeria. After further interrogation about the money, the South African authorities, represented by National Prosecution Authorities (NPA) said, “The explanation was flawed and riddled with discrepancies.” The NPA has obtained a court order to freeze the money.
Another dimension to the saga has indicated that president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor has substantial shares in Eagle Air, the owners of the private jet. The CAN president has denied, unsatisfactorily, any knowledge of the ill-fated transaction.
The entire South African arms purchase scandal has raised several questions about our national security and integrity. First, why did it take more than a week for the episode to be fully exposed? What is the true identity of the principal actors involved in the saga? If indeed (as they claimed) the passengers were working officially for the Nigerian government, why did they break all existing arms purchase protocols? Is it true, as they claimed, that the arms were to be purchased for the intelligence community and if not, who were the arms meant for? Or is everything a lie and the intention to launder the money, as is being alluded to?
We note that the country is presently in a crisis situation and a tightening of security measures is urgently required. There have been worries that the ongoing insurgency in the country is actually sponsored by officialdom. And now, this huge sum finds its way out of the country without proper explanation. If it was for the purchase of arms, for who and for what purpose? This question becomes pertinent as the nation approaches election year. Already, politicians are reeling out vile rhetoric, threatening fire and brimstone.
In our view, such inappropriate behaviour within the nation’s borders is bad enough, but taking the shame of the nation’s nagging corrupt tendencies to far-off lands is stretching indiscretion to the limit. We insist that the government owes the nation more plausible information on what led to the idiocy that played out in South Africa.