In the heat of the 2015 general elections in Nigeria, Aliko Dangote transferred N200m to a bank account run by Hadiza Bala Usman, a BringBackOurGirls activist, who has been the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority since 2016.
According to Peoples Gazette, the transactions were sent in two tranches from two different bank accounts of Dangote to Usman’s account with Access Bank.
Usman received the first N100m transfer on February 6, 2015; while the second N100m came through three days later on February 9.
The transfers carried ambiguous descriptions that made it difficult to conclude their purpose.
Since November 3, neither Dangote nor Usman clarified the purpose of the transactions to the newspaper despite multiple requests for comments.
Dangote’s spokesperson, Tony Chiejina, declined to confirm or deny his principal initiated the transfers.
But Usman pointedly denied knowledge of the transactions despite being told of the date, amount and the specific bank account with which the funds were received.
“I am not aware of any such payments made to my account,” she told Peoples Gazette.
Even though Dangote and Bala Usman declined to clarify the transactions, at least two sources close to the APC campaign told the newspaper that the N200m was part of the campaign donations channelled to the opposition campaign through proxies like the NPA boss.
Usman largely restricted herself from partisan politics during the 2015 elections.
She was widely known at the time as a key voice in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign for which she was profiled by the Financial Times and other Western media outlets.
Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s former military ruler, was seeking a return to power in the election that was initially scheduled for February 14, 2015 but when the exercise was postponed on February 8, Buhari’s allies flooded the country with claims that the then-ruling Peoples Democratic Party was trying to starve them of funds.
The APC was reported to have exhausted its campaign war chest before the elections were extended for another six weeks until March 28.
The APC was, however, able to sustain the campaign until its victory on March 28, buoyed by alarming rates of insecurity, ineptitude and corruption that characterised the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
Sources told Peoples Gazette that Usman’s rapid rise through political ranks, first as Chief of Staff to Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna and later as MD of NPA was largely as a result of her political mobilisation for the then-opposition party.
“Those who have been grumbling that she was handed a juicy position like NPA even when she did not campaign with us have a minimal understanding of the role she played in 2015,” one of the sources said.
Usman’s account also reflected multiple transfers to other APC players, including Balarabe Abbas Lawal, El-Rufai’s cabinet secretary.
At least nine transactions worth nearly N400m went to Mr Lawal during the 2015 elections.
Dangote himself has long endured allegations of oiling his vast industrial empire by keeping friends with people with policymakers and potential policymakers.
Two weeks ago, the billionaire was widely criticised after his company received a special waiver to export its product through Nigeria’s land borders, which have been closed to all companies since August 2019.