By Emeka Ugwuonye
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.
The timeline is important for understanding how Keyamo made the money he used to purchase 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 buy 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 January 22, 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 the cheapest of his several properties. He claimed that his flourishing, manned law chambers and 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 misleading. If, in 2021, Keyamo wrote his last of a series of correspondence seeking to transfer money lying idle in his account, it is logical to believe he earned money in 2019 and 2020. He wouldn’t worry that the money was lying idle if he just made it. The interval between his first correspondence and the final one in 2021 may have been more than one year. Hence, I assumed that it was in 2019 that Keyamo came upon the money he needed to offload or launder by purchasing a property in the United States in 2021.
Before I go further, let me state a logical assumption. Suppose the money Keyamo used to purchase the property in the United States was proceeding with unlawful transaction. In that case, his property purchase in America can correctly be classified as money laundry. I shall now identify the particular transaction in 2019 from which Keyamo got 380,000 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 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 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 February 19, 2019, a new inmate was brought to the cell I occupied with the GEO. The inmate was a man from Pakistan, and his name was Muhammad Khalid Khan.
Of course, bringing him to our cell meant 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, I and GO introduced ourselves to him and began interviewing 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, the rules of custody, and the rules of the prison. The depth of questioning during the interview depends on the comparative strength and personality of the resident 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 expected I would grill him. When I saw him, I knew this was a tough guy in the criminal world that most Nigerians could not imagine. He was quiet and unassuming. Yet, from experience, I knew this was a big fish. I wasn’t 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 stopped 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 accused of a crime 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 told me they were trying to extradite him to America. That gave me the impression that America must want him either for drug-related offences or terrorism-related financing. But Khan did not 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 understand 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 deport a foreigner who has not been to America is if his actions seriously affected victims in America.
Normally in extradition cases, the foreign government packages the offence. 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 the American Department of Justice formulated. 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, file them 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 crimes against him. From experience, I knew that he was facing extradition.
Immediately Khan realized that I was a lawyer in Nigeria and the United States and 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 typically invoke to prevent extradition would not be available for a non-Nigerian citizen 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 no hope for him in that respect. I advised him that his best option was to pursue diplomatic opportunities since I could see that he was highly connected to the Government of Pakistan. That was true because right from the moment he got into the cell, he could communicate directly with the Pakistani Ambassador and even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Pakistan.
Much later, I realized 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 impressed with my knowledge of his type of case. He was impressed when he realized I could decipher information he did not want to divulge. For instance, I knew he would be taken to the Southern District of New York, and 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.
Since Khan trusted my judgment and analysis, he kept pressing me to find a lawyer for him in Nigeria who would take his case. Even though I convinced him that he would not win in court on merit on points of law and available precedent, he wanted me to find a way to bribe the court. He made it clear to me that he would pay up to 5 million dollars in bribes if I could arrange for people to set him free in exchange for that money. I was reluctant even to consider his request. While I could discuss the law with him, I was 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 got back to Pakistan. I didn’t want to consider this. Besides, messing with a man like Khan with an international network of bad guys could be dangerous. So, I politely declined. However, GO thought otherwise. He believed that the money Khan offered 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 returned 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 had come to Kuje, but I did not immediately realize who he had come to see. All I knew was that Khan was taken out to meet a visitor and that GO went with him. Later that night, I realized 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 I was about to spoil his opportunity to get money. I learnt that GO was to get 50,000 USD for his role in arranging for Keyamo. I later heard Keyamo gave 50,000 USD to a GO relative out of the 280,000 USD that Khan paid him.
NOTE: The prison environment is unusual where things are whispered in hushes. Verification of information cannot be 100%, and my reader must consider that in drawing his conclusions.
I felt mad when I heard that Khan had paid Keyamo, and I became increasingly critical of the deal. GO and Khan conspired with the prison officer-in-charge 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 entire 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 a segregation cell because it was designed to isolate an inmate and keep him away from the prison population. Specially designated inmates and warders were now escorting Khan to ensure 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 discover it within a relatively short time anyway. So, I knew that Khan continued with the Keyamo charade.
Keeping me in segregation was becoming problematic 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 remote as he expected, I could reveal to the United States Government that Nigerian prison officials were cooperating with Khan to frustrate his extradition. This was true because the officer-in-charge and GO gave Khan a phone and sim card with which he communicated with Keyamo and his people in Pakistan. I knew that if I sent to the District Attorney in New York the WhatsApp number K 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 phone access in prison. So, the officer-in-charge was worried about me, especially as he knew his staff were sympathetic to me. Indeed, they were hostile to their boss. 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 to antagonize the warders against their Officer-in-Charge. The warders were acting on their 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 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 and 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 began to scream so I would hear him: “I need my money back. I need my money back. Keyamo took my money but failed to deliver”. He spoke with Keyamo that morning, and Keyamo assured him 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 besides the N380,000 USD that Khan probably paid to Keyamo, he must have paid another 130,000 USD to other officials and intermediaries.
Khan is now serving his lengthy prison term in the US. I intend to visit him in the US prison to get the whole story and to tell him that Keyamo now has a house in America. He can arrange to get his money back.