By Lawrence Olaoye and Evelyn Okakwu with agency reports
The Presidency yesterday absolved Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), of any culpability in the botched arms deal leading to the confiscation of the nation’s $9.3 million by South African authorities.
The Senior Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan on Public Communication, Doyin Okupe, while addressing journalists said, “Oritsejafor has no business in this matter. It is true that he owns the aircraft but there are over 200 private Nigerians who have jets. Apart from those who use it frequently, some give it out to get some money and defray some of the costs. If you put your jet down, you pay money and parking charges every day.”
According to him, the CAN President’s explanation that he had given the aircraft to a private company to manage should suffice.
“He gave the private jet to a company to manage. The company is handing it and these people gave out the plane that is available. What has this to do with Oritsejafor? If I have many cars at the airport and decide to give one to car hire services and he decides to carry somebody having Indian hemp, will you link it up with the man who gave it out?” he queried.
Okupe argued that those criticizing Oritsejafor’s role in the shady deal are not giving due respect to his office as the CAN President. He alleged that those linking the clergyman with the scam owing to his relationship with the President are being mischievous and playing politics with the matter.
“The linking of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor is the most unfortunate thing. To put the very respectable, responsible, honest and sincere President of CAN in this matter is the extreme of mischief. It just shows you what Nigerians do; they go to any extent to politicize everything and every day.
Jonathan’s spokesman also defended the federal government’s handling of the saga, saying all information about it could not be disclosed because of the security implications.
“The Nigerian government cannot share all information about the issues because it is a security matter. It is an issue which we cannot just bring to public domain,” he said.
“I am surprised that Nigerians want to discuss security issues openly and publicly when a war is still going on. These are very serious national security affairs and running a government is not the same thing as running a Shoprite, where everything is on the table and on display.”
Though there are claims that the movement of the funds in the manner it was done was illegal, Okupe insisted that there was nothing shady about the transaction.
“There is nothing shady about the South African deal and the Office of the NSA (National Security Adviser) has done very well. Because at the appropriate time, they came in that, ‘yes, this money belongs to us and this was what it was meant for.’ That explanation itself was okay. There is no hanky panky on this matter,” he said.
After the $9.3 million cash was seized, another $5.7 million was also seized by South African authorities as it was to be wired by a South African firm to Nigeria.
Despite criticism from Nigeria and abroad that further trailed the second transaction, Okupe maintained it was a normal deal. “A company was mandated to do a national security assignment for the Federal Government of Nigeria and because of the extant laws in South Africa, that company was unable to deliver its contractual agreement with the Nigerian government. The company now wants a refund, which is normal”, Okupe explained.