By Emeka Ugwuonye, Esquire
I could not contain my laughter when I read about the social media controversy over Festus Keyamo’s house in America. For several reasons, it was a relief to me to find out that Keyamo is now a property owner in America, which makes him amenable to the jurisdiction of the United States’ courts.
Timeline is important the understanding how Keyamo made the money he used in purchasing a house in America. The story is full of ironies. In his feeble defence to the allegations of corruption as to how he was able to purchase a house overseas while serving as a minister, Keyamo was reported to have said as follows:
“In 2021, I again wrote to the relevant agencies (by letters dated 22 January 2021), informing them of the movement of those funds out of the country to purchase a property as a better investment decision, instead of the funds lying idly in the account whilst I am in public office,”
He was further reported to have said that the building was about the cheapest of his several properties. He claimed that his flourishing and manned law chambers and his real estate investments are still far more financially profitable than serving Nigeria. He also said that “serving our country is a labour of love.”
I found those claims from Keyamo to be untrue, deceptive and totally misleading. If in 2021, Keyamo wrote his last of a series of correspondence seeking to transfer money that had been lying idle in his account, it is logical to believe he earned the money in 2019 and 2020. He wouldn’t really worry that the money was lying idle if he just earned it. The interval between his first correspondence and the final one in 2021 may have been more than one year. Hence, my assumption that it was in 2019 that Keyamo came upon the money he needed to offload or launder through the purchase of a property in the United States in 2021.
Before I go further, let me state a logical assumption. If the money Keyamo used to purchase the property in the United States was the proceeds of an unlawful transaction, then his purchase of property in America can properly be classified as money laundering. I shall now identify the particular transaction in 2019 from which Keyamo got 230,000 USD.
I was remanded in Kuje Prison in February of 2019 in one of those cases the police filed to keep me from starting the End-SARS protest ahead of when it finally occurred. I was placed in a special cell along with an inmate called GO. They called him that because he was the leader of the Christian inmates and in charge of the prison chapel. He was placed in a special cell as they do high-profile inmates such as politicians and rich people. Because the prison officials treated me like an important inmate, I was placed in the same special cell with this GO. Our cell was next to the cell of Governor Joshua Dariye, another high-profile inmate.
PLEASE NOTE: I was only remanded in prison awaiting trial. I have never been convicted of any offence in my entire life anywhere in the world, including Nigeria where every effort has been made to convict me. But I have been charged more than ten times by Nigerian authorities. So far, I have won all the cases. And in each case, I was charged because I criticized law enforcement. It is important to make that clarification.
One night, around the 19th of February, 2019, a new inmate was brought to the cell I occupied with the GO. The inmate was a man from Pakistan. His name was Muhammad Khalid Khan.
Of course, bringing him to our cell meant that he was viewed as a high-profile inmate or someone with money to pay the officials. As Khan entered the cell and after the warders left and locked us inside, GO and I introduced ourselves to him and began to interview him. It is a standard practice that when you enter a cell, the inmates in that cell would interview you and give you the rules of that particular cell and the rules of custody as well as the rules of the prison. The depth of questioning during the interview depends on the comparative strength and personality of the resident inmates and incoming inmates. I wasn’t interviewed when I entered the cell. My fight with the police was already well-known and the inmates and warders knew of me before I got to the prison.
In the case of Khan, he was told I was a lawyer and he expected I would grill him. The moment I saw him, I knew this was a tough guy in the criminal world which most Nigerians could not imagine. He was quiet and unassuming. Yet, from experience, I knew this was a big fish. I wasn’t really authorized to interview him. But did so out of curiosity. A Pakistani in Nigerian prison is not a frequent occurrence. My initial impression was involved in terrorism financing. So, I grilled Khan in the presence of GO. He told me he was arrested at the airport upon landing in Nigeria. He wasn’t sure about the particular law enforcement agency that arrested him. I knew I could figure it out if he could tell me the offence he was charged with. I knew he must have been charged with an offence because he wouldn’t be remanded in prison without a remand warrant issued by a court. Also, the name of the court (Federal High Court) gave me the idea that this was a drug-related offence or terrorism. He also indicated to me that they were trying to extradite him to America. That gave me the impression that he must be wanted by America either for drug-related offences or terrorism-related financing. But Khan did not really know much about the details of the processes playing around him.
I tried to know why he was in Nigeria. But he was evasive. I tried to know his exact contacts with America. He told me he had never been to America. I had to draw certain conclusions from that. The only way America would want to extradite a foreigner who has not been to America is if his actions affected victims in America in a serious way.
Normally, in an extradition case, the offence is actually packaged by the foreign government. All there is for Nigeria are some straightforward diplomatic and administrative protocols whereby the Nigerian Ministry of Justice takes the suspect to the federal court and presents the documentation that was formulated by the American Department of Justice. The suspect may not know the details of the offences., except what he could read from the document served on him shortly before he appears before a court. Even the Nigerian government will not know the details of the offences. All they will see in Nigeria is that the United States Government wants this individual extradited based on vaguely described offences.
In a standard criminal case in Nigeria, the prosecutor would draft the charges and file them along with proof of evidence and serve the same on the suspect. So, in a standard criminal trial, the defendant must know the details of the offences he was charged with. But Khan arrived in Kuje without knowing the details of the offences against him. From experience, I knew that he was facing extradition.
Immediately Khan realised that I was a lawyer both in Nigeria and the United States and that I had a deep knowledge of extradition proceedings, he was so happy. He began to seek my help immediately. He wanted me to guide him. I told him flatly that he was facing an uphill task. This was because he was not a citizen of Nigeria. All those constitutional defences a Nigerian citizen could normally invoke to prevent extradition would not be available for a non-Nigerian citizen who finds himself fighting extradition in Nigerian courts. Khan pressured me to link up with lawyers outside the prison to challenge his extradition. I told him there was really no hope for him in that respect. I advised him that his best option was to pursue a diplomatic option since I could see that he was highly connected to the Government of Pakistan. That was actually true because right from the moment he got into the cell, he was able to communicate directly with the Pakistani Ambassador and even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Pakistan.
It was much later that I realised that Khan controlled an international drug trafficking and money laundering network responsible for trafficking narcotics to the US, Australia, Africa and Europe. His money-laundering network was widespread throughout the US, Australia, Canada, Africa, Europe and Asia. And the American government wanted him badly.
Khan was really impressed with my knowledge of things concerning his type of case. He was impressed when he realised I was able to decipher information he did not want to divulge to me. For instance, I knew he was going to be taken to the Southern District of New York. I also could tell that he would be convicted if taken there. I just explained to him the conviction rate of the US District Attorney for the Southern District of New York. I also explained to him that when the DOJ and the State Department go that far to get a suspect, it is because they believe he is a highly valued suspect and they must have excellent evidence against him.
Due to the fact that Khan trusted my judgment and analysis, he kept pressing me to find a lawyer for him in Nigeria that would take his case. Even though I managed to convince him that on points of law and available precedent, he would not win in court on merit, he wanted me to find a way to bribe the court. He made it clear to me that he would pay up to five million dollars in bribes if I could arrange for people to set him free in exchange for that money. I was reluctant to even consider his request. While I was able to discuss the law with him, I was totally clueless when it came to arranging officials that would be able to take money from him and set him free.
Khan promised to give me 100,000 USD upfront if I could help him with that, and 200,000 USD when he would get back to Pakistan. I didn’t want to consider this. Besides, it could be dangerous messing with a man like Khan with an international network of bad guys. So, I politely declined.
However, GO thought otherwise. He thought that the money Khan was offering for help was too much to ignore. When I went to court the following day, GO was alone with Khan. GO convinced Khan that he would find him a lawyer, well connected with the government that would help him. The lawyer GO found for Khan was Festus Keyamo. When I came back from court, I noticed that Khan was avoiding me. He and GO did not want to tell me that they had reached out to Keyamo and that Keyamo had agreed to help Khan.
The next day, Keyamo visited the prison in his Landcruiser. I knew that Keyamo came to Kuje, but I did not immediately realise who he came to see. All I knew was that Khan was taken out to meet a visitor and that GO went with him. It was later that night that I realised that Keyamo had promised Khan that he would use his connections in the Buhari government to stop his extradition. I was told that Keyamo charged Khan 280,0000 USD for that. Khan was willing to pay anything. I tried to convince Khan that Keyamo was only trying to dupe him. I felt that with the level of interest the United States Government had in Khan, even the President of Nigeria would not be able to stop the extradition. So, I knew that Keyamo was lying to Khan. He just wanted to take the man’s money. Unfortunately, as I tried to stop Khan from trusting Keyamo, Khan began to see me as someone opposed to his only solution. Also, GO felt that I was about to spoil his opportunity for him to get money. I learnt that GO was to get 50,000 USD for his role in arranging for Keyamo. I later heard that Keyamo gave 50,000 USD to a relative of GO out of the 280,000 USD Khan paid him.
NOTE: The prison environment is an unusual place where things are whispered in hushes. Verification of information cannot be 100%. My reader must consider that in drawing conclusions.
I felt mad when I heard that Khan had actually paid Keyamo. I became more and more critical of the entire deal. GO and Khan conspired with the Officer-in-Charge of the prison to place me in solitary confinement for two weeks where I would not have contact with Khan or any other inmate. They believe I might ruin the whole deal. Of course, Khan settled the officer-in-charge in this whole deal. Even before Khan arrived in our cell, the officer-in-charge was already in his pocket. You won’t know what 10,000 USD cash can do to a Nigerian civil servant if you put it in his pocket until you see how the Officer-in-Charge was fawning toward Khan.
For four weeks, I found myself in the segregation unit of Kuje Prison. It was called Segregation Cell because it was designed to isolate an inmate and keep him away from the prison population. Khan was now being escorted by specially designated inmates and warders for the purpose of ensuring that his path would not cross mine during the 60-minute-a-day period that I was allowed to come out of my cell. But don’t forget that every warder is so easy to compromise. So, segregation or no segregation, I knew what was going on. I discovered it within a relatively short time anyway. So, I knew that Khan continued with the Keyamo charade.
Keeping me in segregation was becoming a problem because I was popular with the junior warders. They routinely flouted the orders given to them to be strict with me. I wasn’t as segregated or as isolated as the Officer-in-Charge had expected. His staff undermined his goal in that respect. Because I was not as isolated as he expected, I had the capacity to reveal to the United States Government that Nigerian prison officials were cooperating with Khan to frustrate his extradition. This was true really because the Officer-in-Charge and GO gave Khan a phone and sim card with which he was communicating with Keyamo and his people in Pakistan. I knew that if I sent to the District Attorney in New York the WhatsApp number Khan was using in Kuje, the FBI would be able to track his WhatsApp chats and that it would cause tremendous panic. And I could so easily do that because inmates had easy access to phones in prison. So, the Officer-in-Charge was really worried about me, especially as he knew that his staff were sympathetic to me. Indeed, they were hostile to their boss, really.
One day, the Officer-in-Charge came to the segregation unit very angry. He was shouting at me. He said: “Barrister Emeka, you are a dangerous man. No other inmate has been able to set my staff against me as you have done. But I will show you that I run this prison”. Honestly, I didn’t see that coming because I was not doing anything in particular to antagonize the warders against their Officer-in-Charge. The warders were acting on their own understanding of events around them.
Two weeks after Keyamo was said to have taken money from Khan, the court granted the government application and ordered that Khan be extradited to the US. It dawned on Khan that I might have been right about Keyamo. But even after the court had ordered the extradition of Khan, a few days before he was to be taken to America, Keyamo still told Khan to bring another 100,000 USD which he claimed was demanded by the Attorney-General in order to stop the extradition. I understood that Khan also gave that additional 100,000 USD to Keyamo.
I was released from segregation when the pressure became too much on the Officer-in-Charge. When released from solitary confinement, I was placed in another cell in another custody and forbidden from meeting or speaking with Khan. Initially, Khan agreed to stay away from me. But as Keyamo’s promises did not materialize and things were going in the opposite direction, Khan became desperate to speak with me. He sent inmates to reach out to me to seek my advice.
Less than a week after I came out of solitary confinement, I saw the prison official going to remove Khan from his cell. I understood that move, that mood. All of a sudden, officers were laughing and smiling turned stern-faced. Agents of the US Government had come to the prison accompanied by NDLEA officers to take Khan. As Khan was leaving the prison, he saw me and he began to scream so I could hear him: “I need my money back. I need my money back. Keyamo took my money but failed to deliver”. He actually spoke with Keyamo that morning and Keyamo assured him that everything was alright. I felt pity for him. I knew what was awaiting him outside the prison gate. I knew that in less than 24 hours, he would be in New York before a judge that would remand him. I estimated that in addition to the N380,000 USD that Khan probably paid to Keyamo, he must have paid an additional 130,000 USD to other officials and intermediaries.
Khan is now serving his long prison term in the US. I intend to visit him in the US prison to get the full story and to tell him that Keyamo now has a house in America. He can arrange to get his money back.
Why should I or you believe what I was told about Keyamo in the case of Khan? I had to compare what I heard in the case of Khan with what I had known about Keyamo and his law practice, which he now brags about. The following events made it easy for me to believe what I heard about Keyamo in Khan’s case:
1) In 2011, there was a fee dispute between my law firm in America and the Nigerian Embassy in America. Then the Embassy was headed by Ambassador Ade Adefuye. My firm was in the process of exposing the fact that Ambassador Ade Adefuye connived with several government officials in President Jonathan’s administration to misappropriate 27 million dollars, being the proceeds of the sale of Nigerian Government properties in the United States. To stop me, Ambassador Adefuye sent a message to Mrs. Farida Waziri, the then Chairperson of the EFCC. On a routine visit to Nigeria in February 2011, the EFCC used the DSS to abduct me at the Lagos Airport. Apparently, they had watched-listed my name at the request of Mrs. Farida Waziri and EFCC.
2) I was detained by the EFCC and asked to make a deal that I would keep silent over the matter. I refused. Farida Waziri decided to detain me at their Abuja office, just to please Ambassador Adefuye and allow him and his team time to clean up. I was detained for more than a month before they filed any charge against me. Mrs. Farida Waziri engaged the services of Festus Keyamo to prosecute me. According to Keyamo, Mrs. Waziri said to him: “This man (Emeka Ugwuonye) is a troublemaker, you are the type of person to fight him for me”. Keyamo filed a charge against me at the FCT High Court, accusing me of misappropriating 1. 5 million dollars of the Nigerian Embassy money in Washington DC. No problem! As a lawyer, I was happy to have the opportunity to defend myself in court. But Keyamo did not allow me to defend myself.
3) The day I was granted bail on that charge, Keyamo filed another charge against me at the Federal High Court, accusing me of failure to declare my assets. Keyamo could have amended the charge he filed against me at the FCT High Court to add this new charge. But he wanted to file a separate one-count charge in a different court so that I would have to go through a bail application and remand all over. That was a way of denying me the benefit of bail granted by the FCT High Court. At the Federal High Court, Keyamo failed to appear in court on many dates, thereby delaying my arraignment and bail application. Finally, after three months of abusive detention, Justice Bello got very upset and asked the EFCC team led by Keyamo why such abusive practice. Justice Bello granted me bail and insisted it must be perfected that day. I was finally released on 12 May, having been detained since 14 February.
4) Festus Keyamo even forged a court order suggesting that I was detained pursuant to a detention order. Yes, Keyamo forged a court order (I still have the order for posterity). After three months of detaining me unlawfully in Nigeria, I returned to the United States, but this time I had two cases to answer in Nigeria. Many people in the US told me not to return to Nigeria. They said it is an evil land that should be avoided since I was able to return to the United States. But I had to return to Nigeria because I needed to defend those cases. I could not be pushed out of Nigeria by Keyamo and Waziri.
5) Of course, I did not keep quiet. I continued to criticize Farida Waziri for corruption and abuse of powers by the EFCC. In July of 2011, Keyamo filed an application asking the courts to revoke my bail because I was critical of Farida Waziri and EFCC. The courts refused to revoke my bail. When I returned to attend court hearing in November of 2011, Keyamo and Mrs. Farida Waziri conspired to charge me again with an entirely different offence. They claimed that I refused to pay one Nigerian client of my firm who was represented by my firm in New York. They arrested me at the Abuja High Court where I had come to attend court hearings and took me to Lagos. My luggage and everything were still in my hotel. They took me straight from court to the airport and flew me to Lagos. When I got to Lagos, I was detained and charged with refusing to pay the Nigerian client. All these are false allegations. But once a charge has been filed in court, it takes time before you will be able to show that the charges were false. I was detained at Lagos for another two months waiting for a bail hearing and Keyamo did everything to drag and delay my bail hearing. I was granted bail by Justice Christopher Balogun. I returned to the US on 24 December 2011.
6) I now had three EFCC charges lying against me in three different Nigerian courts in two different cities. I had the opportunity of staying away from Nigeria. But I did not want Farida Waziri and Keyamo to force me off Nigeria. So I kept coming to Nigeria to attend court dates. I knew I would defeat Keyamo in court eventually. It would cost money and more, but I would defeat him. So, I refused to stay back in the US.
7) While in EFCC detention in Lagos in December of 2011, I met Senator Festus Ola. He served one tenure as Senator for Ekiti State. Senator Ola was brought to the EFCC cell accused of fraud. Senator Ola’s case was interesting. He was wrongly arrested by the EFCC and he filed fundamental rights enforcement action against the EFCC and won a judgment of 50 million naira. Senator Ola wrote to the EFCC demanding to be paid his judgment amount. According to Senator Ola, Keyamo got wind of the fact that Senator Ola was trying to recover his 50 million judgment. Keyamo contacted Ola and offered to recover the money for Ola if Ola was willing to give him (Keyamo) 33% of the 50 million. Senator Ola turned down Keyamo’s offer. The next day, someone called Ola and told him to come to the EFCC office to collect his 50 million. Ola went as he was invited, only for him to be arrested and taken to Lagos. When Ola met me at the EFCC cell, he told me about his case and right from there we became friends and he requested me to be his lawyer against the EFCC. From Ola’s case, I had a good idea of how Keyamo operated.
8) By the way, according to sources available to me then, I was told that the friendship between Keyamo and Farida Waziri started before she became the head of the EFCC. They all called her Aunty. When Waziri became the head of EFCC, Keyamo went to her to solicit favours for old times. She rewarded Keyamo by giving him EFCC cases.
9) When I came back to Nigeria in February of 2012 to attend trial before Justice Balongun, the judge considered the preliminary objection I had filed. In my application, I requested the court to dismiss the case against me because the events alleged against me occurred in the United States. There was no way the Nigeria court would try an event that occurred in the United States and which was not a crime in the United States. Justice Balogun agreed with me and was clear in his judgment. He even rebuked Keyamo for filing such a frivolous case against me. So, one case was down. I was confident that the same thing would happen to the case they filed against me in Abuja over the alleged 1.5 million case.
10) Both Keyamo and Farida Waziri were aware that they had no case against me because everything they claimed I did wrong occurred in the United States. To ensure that they had something to hold me in Nigeria, they created an offence that could be said to have been committed in Nigeria. While in EFCC detention, they asked me to fill out an asset declaration form. I told them that I did not have all the information there and then. They said: “Okay, Barrister, no problem. Just write it down here that you did not have the information”. I wrote it down. They used that to make a case of failure to declare assets against me. Their case was that when I was asked to declare assets, I refused.
11) Because the FCT High Court Judge initially trying the case of 1.5 million dollars against me knew that the case was a pure vendetta, he adjourned it indefinitely. For two years the case did not come up. Keyamo wrote a petition to the Chief Judge accusing the judge of wrongdoing. The case was transferred to another judge, Justice Chizoba Oji. By now, we were in 2015. The first thing I did before Justice Oji was to file a preliminary objection following a similar application as what I made successfully in Lagos. The issues were the same. To block my application, Keyamo claimed that the 1.5 million incident occurred partly in Abuja and he cited the newly enacted Administration of Criminal Justice Act to say that the court could not decide on a preliminary objection until the end of the case. (This is a provision mischievously placed in Nigerian law to enable the state to use abusive prosecution to punish opponents).
12) With the objections of Keyamo and the lies he told the court; the court could not rule on my objection until after the end of the prosecution’s case. I continued to face two major criminal trials. I represented myself till toward the end when I finally was able to bring in a very brilliant and able Jeff Njikonye (SAN) to dispose of the two matters. I was facing the 1.5 million charge at the FCT High Court and I was facing the failure to declare assets charge at the Federal High Court. These are useless cases that Keyamo pursued against me just to punish me. He held me back with these cases for ten years, while collecting money from the Nigerian government for prosecuting these cases.
13) In the 1.5 million cases, Keyamo desperately tried to call witnesses to testify against me. He called Hassan Yusuf, a former official of the Embassy who was familiar with the transaction. But Yusuf could not lie for him. In fact, Yusuf refused to testify against me because he knew I did nothing wrong. Keyamo tried to bring in Mr. Felix Pwol, another former official of the Embassy, but Pwol refused to testify because he knew I did nothing wrong. Keyamo went and brought the poor Professor George Obiozor. He blackmailed the old man into coming to testify for him. But Obiozor’s testimony was favourable to me in the end.
14) On 24 February 2021, the judge of the Federal High Court discharged and acquitted me of the charge, holding that I did not do anything wrong and that the manner in which they tried to get me to declare my assets was manipulative and abusive. They were desperate to set me up. Also, on 2 July, the judge of the FCT High Court dismissed the charges against me concerning the 1.5 million dollars. In other words, in July 2021, the court finally decided on the application I filed in 2012 and repeated in 2015. The court delayed that application for 9 years because Keyamo lied to the courts about the basic facts of the case. The court, in its judgment, observed that the only connection Keyamo was able to show between Nigeria and the alleged offence was that I visited Nigeria and they found me at the Lagos airport. Further, the court wondered: “But if the link with Nigeria was that you found him at the Lagos Airport, why did you bring him to Abuja Court? Is there no court in Lagos?”
I went to this length to show you who Kayemo is, and how he probably made money in 2019, which he probably used to buy a house in America in 2021. Also, I noticed that Keyamo was bragging about his great law practice. I wanted to show you the truth about his law practice and the kind of things he does and on the basis of which he claims to be a great lawyer. If that is it, it then means that being crooked and dishonest is what it takes to be a great lawyer in Nigeria. In fact, in his application to become a SAN, Keyamo must have cited his cases against me as proof that he is a good lawyer. And they made him a SAN for that. Nigerians have a lot to feel ashamed of for having a country like this. Keyamo is a cheap crook, and he knows it. I can reveal more about him if given the opportunity.
For Keyamo to claim to be a successful and honest lawyer is a great irony. The only good thing is that he can now be sued in America so easily. God is bringing him closer to justice. The US is not a jungle where he has thrived. All his life, he would hide behind a powerful institution to commit atrocities. He hid behind Farida Waziri and the EFCC. Now, he can hide behind the president-elect to commit more atrocities. But Nigerians are not as stupid as he thinks. They are watching him.
- Mr. Emeka Ugwuonye, Esquire is an international lawyer based in the United States of America.