Next month, Nigerians will elect a new president from among 18 candidates, but the three front-runners have each been accused of drug trafficking, money laundering, and international tax evasion.
Despite the fact that none of them have ever been charged, which would exclude them from running for office, the high-profile claims have cast doubt on their eligibility.
Auwal Rafsanjani, head of Transparency International’s Nigerian branch, described the decision-making process as “choosing between lousy candidates” and emphasized how rampant corruption has resulted in devastating levels of underdevelopment and poverty in the oil-rich country.
Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party, and Peter Obi of the Labour Party are the three leading candidates.
All three claim to have achieved success legally and reject any misconduct.
Bola Tinubu Papers
The contender who has received the most attention is Mr. Tinubu, a two-term governor of Lagos, the wealthiest state in Nigeria.
There are countless arguments concerning his age, name, health, employment history, and the validity of his university diploma, but the source of his income has drawn the greatest criticism.
Although there are no official statistics, many people think that Mr. Tinubu, 70, is one of Nigeria’s wealthiest leaders.
His residence, which is located in a large complex in Lagos’ affluent Ikoyi neighborhood, is the most prominent example of his wealth. On election day in 2019, observers saw two armored cars that resembled the bullion vans that banks employ to move cash driving through his gates, which was an uncommon sight. The ensuing allegations that he had engaged in vote buying were refuted by his advisors.
But there have been some concerns about his wealth. He claimed to have inherited some real estate in December, which he subsequently put to use, although in the past he claimed to have became a “instant billionaire” while employed as an auditor at Deloitte & Touche.
He claimed to have saved $1.8 million (£1.5 million) from his salaries and other benefits, almost the same sum that was discovered in accounts connected to him in a 1993 legal fight with US authorities.
According to publicly available records, the US Department of Justice claimed that beginning in early 1988, accounts opened in Bola Tinubu’s name contained the proceeds of sales of the illegal drug white heroin.
According to Kevin Moss, the special agent who looked into the operation, Mr. Tinubu was a subcontractor for their main suspect, Adegoboyega Akande.
The agent claimed Mr. Tinubu confessed over the phone that he knew Mr. Akande at first, but later changed his story and claimed he had no business dealings with him.
Although Mr. Tinubu and the other defendants rejected the accusations, the court acknowledged that it had reason to suspect the funds in the bank accounts were the proceeds of drug trafficking. As a result, the court never made a decision about the money’s source.
Instead, Mr. Tinubu made a compromise agreement with the police and forfeited $460,000; he was not directly charged with anything related to the money.
Festus Keyamo, Mr. Tinubu’s spokesman, asserted that the assets confiscated were part of a civil forfeiture rather than a criminal one. Mr. Tinubu has consistently denied any connections to the drug trade.
He also came to an amicable agreement with accountant Oladapo Apara, who had a dispute with Mr. Tinubu, last year.
When Mr. Tinubu was governor, Mr. Apara was a founding member of Alpha Beta Consulting, which still maintains the lucrative contract to monitor taxes in the state of Lagos.
According to the accountant, Mr. Tinubu controlled 70% of the company through proxies, and the firm received a 10% commission on sales, which he calculated to total $3.48 billion between 2002 and 2018.
Mr. Tinubu disputes this, asserting that he does not get commissions on taxes collected by the government of Lagos State.
According to Mr. Apara, he was fired from the company in 2010 after reporting possible financial misappropriation and starting a protracted legal struggle to seek redress.
He claimed that as the company’s creator, he could not be fired and wanted payment from Mr. Tinubu, which led to a legal dispute in 2021.
He also claimed to have written to Nigeria’s financial crimes watchdog in September 2018 to accuse Alpha Beta of tax evasion; however, the actual letter that accompanied the claim has since been removed from his account.
The claims were refuted by Alpha Beta, which also claimed that Mr. Apara had been fired for fraud, which he rejected.
Although Mr. Tinubu has continuously denied having any connection to the company, he participated in an unreported settlement last June that ended the parties’ legal disputes between Alpha-Beta and Mr. Apara.
Mr. Tinubu was questioned by the BBC regarding the settlement, the US claims, and the issues surrounding his riches, but he chose not to respond.
Atiku Abdulkarim the US Senate as well
As the most experienced candidate on the ballot, Mr. Abubakar boasts of his tenure as vice president from 1999 to 2007—the time frame that has generated some criticism.
Olusegun Obasanjo, his former boss, charged him in 2003 of stealing $145 million from the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF).
Mr. Obasanjo, who is not averse to airing his ideas in public against other politicians, included a chapter in his 2014 book My Watch about the alleged wrongdoings of his former deputy.
Mr. Abubakar refuted the allegations, claiming that $145 million was placed in commercial banks to earn interest before being invested in PTDF projects.
The 76-year-old claimed that his first sources of income were farming and home ownership in his native state of Adamawa. He claimed to have had “a good nose for money” from an early age. He was a former customs officer.
He founded an oil-servicing business in the 1980s, which propelled him into the upper class.
His detractors claim he violated a statute that forbids civil workers from working in any private industry other than farming.
The representative for Mr. Abubakar described his endeavor as a type of small company that many government employees operate, such as operating a cab service or opening a storefront to provide for their family.