A former head of Nigeria’s state-run oil firm is under investigation after almost $10 million in cash was found at a property he owns.
Anti-corruption agency the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said it had seized $9.8 million (9.2 million euros) from a house belonging to Andrew Yakubu.
A further £74,000 ($92,700, 87,300 euros) was also found at the property in the northern city of Kaduna.
Images of the money stacked in neat bundles and allegedly discovered in a safe have featured prominently in the country’s media for several days.
Nigeria is currently in recession and desperately in need of cash, having been hit hard by the slump in global oil prices since mid-2014 that has squeezed revenue and pushed up inflation.
Politics watchers have pointed out the money could have financed a string of much-needed conventional and renewable power projects outlined in the 2017 federal budget.
EFCC spokesman Wilson Uwujaren refused to be drawn on what would happen next. “We are still investigating the matter,”.
“At the end of our investigation we shall decide on our next line of action… Nothing is ruled out.”
In his defence, Yakubu has denied any wrong-doing. He admitted the money belonged to him but said it was a gift from friends.
Yakubu was the group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) from 2012 to 2014, having been appointed by then president Goodluck Jonathan.
In early 2014 the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Lamido Sanusi, outraged Jonathan and his government claiming the NNPC had failed to remit $20 billion in revenue.
The allegation of corruption cost Sanusi his job, officially on charges of “financial recklessness and misconduct”, but his supporters saw the dismissal as politically motivated.
Jonathan and his oil minister Diezani Alison-Madueke repeatedly maintained that nothing like $20 billion was missing.
Yakubu was dismissed in 2014. Critics said he did little to clean up the NNPC’s reputation as one of the world’s most opaque and corrupt state oil firms.
Since coming to power in May 2015, Jonathan’s successor, Muhammadu Buhari, has made it his mission to reclaim what he says were “mind-boggling” sums of looted public cash.
One of his first moves as president was to overhaul the NNPC, by trying to introduce greater transparency and efficiency.
Alison-Madueke has been caught up in the anti-corruption drive.
She is currently facing fraud charges in Nigeria and the prospect of having to forfeit $153 million to the government on suspicion of the sum having been obtained illegally.
A court in Lagos was told on January 6 that the cash was allegedly siphoned from the NNPC and stashed in three bank accounts. Alison-Madueke has rejected the claim.
The former OPEC president has been on police bail in London since October 2015 after being arrested in connection with a British investigation into international corruption and money laundering.
‘No sacred cows’
Buhari’s information minister Lai Mohammed on Sunday announced that some $151 million and eight billion naira ($26.3 million) in stolen state funds had been recovered from just three people.
The $9.8 million found at Yakubu’s house was not part of the new recoveries, he said.
Debo Adeniran, from the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders lobby group, said those responsible should be made an example of and “not go scot-free”.
“They should be put in special cells with their names and former offices boldly written on their prison uniforms so that the young ones can see those responsible for their problems,” he said.
“There should be no sacred cows,” he added.
Denja Yaqub, an assistant secretary with Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), said state coffers had for too long been seen as “an ATM for corrupt officials”.
“Year after year, we continue to lose millions of dollars to a cabal who has held the country hostage because of their greed. This is why Nigeria is not making progress,” he said.