A top Nigerian politician, Ladi Adebutu, who said last week that he had fled Nigeria over threats to his life has been indicted by the Nigeria Police Force for money laundering and vote-buying during the last general elections.
The police said Mr Adebutu, the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Ogun State, deployed two billion naira to induce voters across the state to vote for him and his party during the 18 March election.
The allegation is contained in the interim report of police investigation into a petition written to the Inspector-General of Police by the Ogun State chairperson of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Abdullahi Sanusi.
How trouble began for Mr Adebutu
In the petition dated 18 March, the election day, and addressed to the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, Mr Sanusi accused the PDP candidate of distributing ATM cards preloaded with N10, 000 to induce voters on election day.
The petition has now been investigated by a team led by Mohammed Babakura, a deputy commissioner of police at the criminal Investigation department of the police in Abeokuta.
Mr Adebutu eventually lost the election after polling 262, 383 votes to return second behind Governor Dapo Abiodun of the APC who polled 276, 298 votes. He has however filed a petition before the election petition tribunal to challenge Mr Abiodun’s return.
On 14 May, Bellnewsonline.com published a report in which Mr Adebutu claimed he fled Nigeria over threats to his life. However, the interim report stated that he had told police investigators through his lawyers, following his invitation over the petition, that he was receiving medical treatment abroad.
Mr Adebutu did not respond to calls to his known telephone number on Sunday. But his spokesperson, Afolabi Orekoya, denied the allegation and said Mr Adebutu was committed to seeing out the petition he filed before the tribunal.
The APC chairman had alleged that Mr Adebutu was using Verve ATM credit cards branded in the name of his late mother, ‘Dame Caroline Oladunni Adebutu Endowment Scheme,’ to buy votes in all polling booths. He said the PDP also “stationed Point of Sales (P.O.S) vendors in every polling booth as an easy means to withdraw the cash from the cards.”
The contentious Dame Caroline Adebutu ATM cards
Following the petition, the police said its officers and officials of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) arrested five suspects with hundreds of the credit cards on the election day.
One of the suspects, Adejoke Sanni, a 50-year-old woman of No. 1, Owoseni Street, Alausa Olanbe junction, Ifo, allegedly had in her possession four agent cards each of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Labour Party as well as 131 credit cards. The other four suspects – Hammed Ogunbona (45), Waliu Tiamiyu (35), Owolabi Egunsola (50), and Malik Badmus (41) – who were also card-carrying members of the PDP, were arrested with 52 credit cards and four voters cards, the police investigators said.
After taking statements from the suspects, the investigation team said it also spoke with some POS operators who were also arrested, officials of Verve – the issuers of the credit cards – and Zenith Bank from which vaults the cash were to be drawn.
The team said it also contacted the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit on the various aspects of the investigation.
According to the interim report, Celestina Appeal, the Head of Card Services at Zenith Bank, told investigators that Mr Adebutu, who had been a customer of the bank since 2009, approached the bank in February 2023 saying the Adebutu family planned “to do an endowment scheme in the form of prepaid cards in commemoration of their late matriarch Dame Caroline Oladunni Adebutu.”
Investigators quoted Ms Appeal as revealing that Mr Adebutu requested 200,000 prepaid Verve ATM cards, which the bank produced.
According to the police report in Bellnewsonline.com possession, the Zenith Bank official further explained that each card was loaded with N10,000, summing up to N2 billion, with the fund drawn from Mr Adebutu’s account with the bank.
According to the report, Mr Adebutu ordered the cards on 27 February, 2023, and they were loaded with cash credit on 16 and 17 March 2023 ahead of the 18 March governorship election in which he was a candidate.
“It is pertinent to note that the cards were specifically loaded two days to the gubernatorial elections on 18th March 2023 and on the eve of the election. Also considering that these cards were distributed on elections day, it is safe to infer that the purpose of the prepaid cards was for vote buying,” investigators said.
“This premise is also corroborated by the POS operators who stated that some of their customers who came to withdraw money using the aforementioned cards stated clearly that the cards were given to them as a reward for voting for PDP.
“Drawing from the statements given by the POS operators who are witnesses in this case, several funds withdrawal transactions were carried out before, during and after the 2023 gubernatorial election using the Dame Caroline Oladunni Adebutu Memorial Endowment Scheme prepaid cards containing ten thousand naira each (N10,000.00k). However, not all of the cards could successfully dispense funds.
“Also, inferring from the statement of accounts/transaction history gotten from the POS operators, it has been observed that all the fund withdrawals made using the said cards uniquely had a description ‘BANK CARD’ as against what would ordinarily be the account holder’s name. This lends further credence to the fact that a prepaid card is not tied to any personal account.
“Secondly, a careful observation of the statements of account/transaction history of the POS operators, reveals that a lot of funds withdrawals were done on 18th and 19th March, 2023 which had the description ‘BANK CARD’ as stated above and also has the same band number ‘506109’ which is uniquely assigned to Zenith Bank.
“Therefore, the facts that these prepaid cards were requested on 27th February, 2023 and delivered on 16th and 17th March, 2023 being the eve of gubernatorial elections, and distributed to ‘voters only’ with traceable fund withdrawals being made from the prepaid cards during and after elections, is a clear indicator that the whole act is a calculated attempt at vote buying.”
The report stated that Mr Adebutu has not honoured its invitation to speak on the allegations.
“However, in response to the invitation letter sent to Hon. Ladi Adebutu, a letter was received from EHI UWAIFOH & CO, presenting themselves as legal practitioners representing Hon Ladi Adebutu, on whose instructions they stated that prior to the delivery of the invitation letter, Hon. Ladi Adebutu had left the country for his medicals and will honour the invitation upon his return. A copy of his travel itinerary was attached to the letter.”
Speaking with Bellnewsonline.com on Sunday, Mr Adebutu’s spokesperson, Mr Orekoya, said neither the candidate nor his party was involved in voter inducement at the election.
He said the said cards the police investigated were issued for empowerment of poor people and not for vote-buying, adding that the cards had been in circulation since the final ceremony of the funeral of Mr Adebutu’s mother in January. Mr Orekoya’s claim here contradicts the narrative by Mr Adebutu’s bank which said he ordered the cards days before the governorship elections.
“It was the APC that bought votes and now they are crying foul to confuse the public. We have taken the facts of the elections before the judiciary,” the spokesperson added.
Mr Orekoya, who said the police had yet to inform Mr Adebutu of its interim findings, described the entire case as a ploy to stop Mr Adebutu from pursuing his petition at the tribunal.
Tunde Oladunjoye, the spokesperson of the APC in the state, confirmed that the party wrote a petition to the Inspector-General of Police over alleged vote-buying by the PDP in the governorship election.
“It is foolhardy for someone accused of stealing to be saying you are also a thief. We wrote to the authorities and provided evidence. But our allegation is not new, The NDLEA posted a report on its website about a lady it arrested for vote-buying and Channels TV also carried the report.
“Many of the cards are still outside with people. Some who attempted to withdraw cash from the cards were blocked after the elections. Many have gone to his father’s house to demand the cash and they have been calling for people to return the cards.”
On the alleged threat to Mr Adebutu’s life, Mr Oladunjoye retorted: “Nobody is threatening his life, either he is running from the law or from his creditors.
Many persons – incuding politicians, party agents and voters – were arrested in parts of the country before and during the 2023 general elections for vote buying and related offences. The electoral and security agencies have the responsibility for prosecuting them in court.