Nigeria’s president-elect, Bola Tinubu, whose victory in February is being challenged in court, has been keeping part of his wealth in the United Kingdom, where he and his close associates own at least 20 properties that were mostly acquired when Tinubu was the governor of Lagos State.
Following the 2023 presidential election, Tinubu is scheduled to succeed Muhammadu Buhari as president on 29 May 2023. His opponents claim the elections have been fixed.
The 71-year-old is widely seen as Nigeria’s political kingmaker for his role in the elections of several governors in the country’s southwest region, as well as the election of Buhari, who defeated the incumbent in 2015.
The governors he picked tended to be former directors of companies owned by Tinubu or his son.
Bloomberg first reported on Tuesday that Tinubu’s son, Oluwaseyi, is the main shareholder of Aranda Overseas Corporation, an offshore company that bought a controversial US$10.8 million U.K. property in 2017.
At the time it was bought, Nigeria was trying to confiscate the London house that belonged to a Nigerian oil dealer who was facing corruption charges at home and in the United States, according to OCCRP Nigerian partner Premium Times.
However, OCCRP has uncovered more than a dozen other properties with links to Tinubu, mostly acquired while he served as Lagos State’s governor from May 1999 to May 2007. Tinubu’s spokesman did not respond to email and text messages seeking comment.
“If there are reasonable grounds to suspect these assets were bought with criminal funds then they should be investigated,” said Steve Goodrich, head of research and investigations at Transparency International U.K. “Owning a home via an offshore company has seldom made much sense except for securing secrecy,” he added.
Tinubu’s history is not entirely clean. He was forced to forfeit $460,000 to the U.S. government in 1993 as proceeds of narcotics trafficking, according to the ruling of a U.S. District Court in Illinois.
However, about a year later, Abeeb Holdings Limited, an offshore company registered in Gibraltar with Tinubu as the beneficial owner, bought Flat 9 at 96-100 New Cavendish Street in London.
His connection to Abeeb Holdings Limited has been revealed, thanks to the Register of Overseas Entities, a new measure designed by the U.K. to reveal the true owners of offshore firms that hold property in the country.
In 2011, his son’s Aranda Overseas Corporation bought Flat 10A in the same building. The lease agreement was signed by Tinubu’s associate, Oladipo Eludoyin, a director of Aranda Overseas Corporation.
Eludoyin is also the founding director of Aranda Resources Limited, a Nigerian registered company whose shares are owned by Aranda Overseas Corporation.
OCCRP further found that Eludoyin is the beneficial owner of 17 U.K. properties through three offshore companies registered in the British Virgin Islands.
Eludoyin’s properties were purchased between 2004 and 2007 when Tinubu was governor of Lagos State. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Tinubu was succeeded by Babatunde Fashola, who previously served as his chief of staff. Fashola also had a hand in Aranda Resources Limited. He signed and presented the allotment of shares of Aranda Resources Limited to Nigeria’s corporate registry in December 2001. Fashola’s spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
Following his term as governor, Tinubu remained an influential politician. Local media reported that he picked Babajide Sanwo-Olu and made him governor of Lagos State in 2019, despite entreaties from his party to allow Sanwo-Olu’s predecessor to continue for a second term.
Sanwo-Olu was a director in Aranda Resources Limited until 26 days before his first day in office as governor in May 2019. His spokesperson also did not respond to requests for comment.
Another director of Aranda Resources Limited and Aranda Overseas Corporation, Adegboyega Oyetola, was elected governor of the Nigerian southwestern state of Osun in 2018, and Tinubu was widely credited for his electoral success.
It is not clear when he became the beneficial owner, but when Aranda Overseas Corporation was incorporated in November 1999 in the tax haven British Virgin Islands, the younger Tinubu was 14 and had just been admitted into Milton Abbey School in England for his secondary school education while his father had just spent nearly six months as the governor of Lagos State.