United States of America’s comprehensive court documents have disclosed how Ogun Gov. Dapo Abidoun was paying U.S. jailed fraudster, Bidemi Rufai, $50,000 per deal as a state political appointee.
A report from the Washington Post states that political observers and cybercrime experts in Nigeria noted the timing of Rufai’s ascent to power — just after he had committed his most successful fraud yet in America.
Abiodun had appointed Rufai as Senior Special Assistant on Special Duties in August 2020 prior to his arrest and conviction by an American court.
“These guys go into fraud, and they use it to go into politics,” said Udim “Manny” Manasseh, who runs FutureLabs, a tech hub that trains Nigerians to use their skills for legitimate business rather than crime.
On Rufai’s phone, investigators later found pictures of him in what appeared to be the November 2020 edition of a magazine called “Gateway Times Nigeria”. In the photos, Rufai was dressed in deep-blue robes and dark sunglasses and identified as a “property merchant.”
The post in WhatsApp messages noted that Dayo Rufai, the publisher, is close friend with Abidemi Rufai but is unrelated to him. Dayo Rufai declined to say whether Gateway Times Nigeria ever published the cover issue featuring Abidemi Rufai.
“Never Mock People in Their Trying Times,” the magazine cover quotes Rufai as saying. Other pictures investigators found showed Rufai in the driver’s seat of the Mercedes SUV he had purchased in the midst of his covid relief fraud.
In May 2021, Rufai was apprehended by U.S. security officials at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport while returning to Nigeria.
Court documents listed that on May 26, 2021, he was indicted on one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, nine counts of wire fraud and five counts of aggravated identity theft.
According to the Washington Post, Governor Abiodun was paying Rufai $2,000 as his official salary as well as the $50,000 cut meant for “introducing people” to him.
The U.S.-based media outlet quoted Rufai’s lawyers telling the federal court.
Both pays were much higher than the average Nigerian earnings in a government circle.
According to a report from Washington Post, Abiodun has gained a reputation in Ogun state as an astute transactional governor while he’s also profoundly referred to as “Mr ten percent” by those within his administration.
It was also stated that Kunle Somorin, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Abiodun, however, refused to respond when contacted for comments.
Rufai appeared before a federal court a day after his arrest on charges alleging he used the identities of over 100 U.S. residents to fraudulently receive more than $350,000 in unemployment benefits from the Washington State Employment Security Department during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
Rufai was sentenced in September 2022 to five years imprisonment for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft by the U.S. district court in Western Tacoma, Washington.
The court also ordered the forfeiture of $604,260, proceeds of wire fraud from Rufai, while he was also ordered to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars to the United States government.
Meanwhile, the Ogun Government on Sunday said Bidemi Rufai did not bring any business to the state during his short stint as a special assistant to Governor Dapo Abiodun.
The state government also debunked a news report that Rufai was being paid $2,000 as an aide to the governor.
An online news medium, People’s Gazette had reported that Governor Abiodun was paying $50,000 to Rufai each time he introduced people to him, along with monthly salary of $2,000.
According to a statement signed by the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Abiodun, Kunle Somorin, Rufai, who was appointed by the governor as his Senior Special Assistant on Housing, never had any close relationship with the governor, prior to his appointment.
According to Somorin, Rufai, like other aides of the governor, was recommended from his ward for the appointment, and not because of any special favour he offered to the governor during his gubernatorial campaigns in 2019.
The statement faulted the claims by the online medium that Rufai was being paid $2,000 salary, which according to it is “outrageous and baseless.”
According to Somorin, salaries and wages of political office holders are fixed by the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission, adding that no member of the government is permitted to any other allowances not known to law.
Somorin added that records in the state never showed that Rufai, while serving in the state, brought a single investor or facilitated any investment from the United States of America, wondering how the former political aide would then be paid $50,000 for a deal that never took place.
He stated: “Bidemi Rufai was appointed as a Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Housing, and was nominated for appointment barely three months before he was arrested.
“He had not resumed formerly and had no official office to transact business. He wasn’t part of the Ogun State Economic Management Team and have got no input into the state government activities.
“His appointment was based on his activities in his ward. He didn’t sit in the State Executive Council meetings and couldn’t have had inputs in policies of the state government.
“The governor had no deal with Rufai on any transaction. He brought not a single one. They can check with the US embassy.”
Somorin noted that Gov. Abiodun being a law abiding person and respecter of the rule of law, immediately suspended Rufai after his arrest for fraud in the United States and later terminated his appointment, even before his conviction for the crime by the US court.
He noted that the current political season in the country is an auspicious time for unscrupulous politicians to attack or sponsor attacks against their opponents, hence, the timing of the concocted story.
He said that the political enemies of the governor, who are perhaps not happy with his rising profile, particularly in terms of the huge foreign investment drive and infrastructural development in Ogun State, might want to play up the issue of Rufai to tarnish his image.
While calling on the people of the state to disregard the report as a mere “attention seeking” gambit, Somorin said Abiodun would rather not be perturbed by the report, but remain focussed on his mission to position Ogun as number one investors’ preferred destination in the country.
“Prince Abiodun would not be distracted by the antics of political traducers in and outside Ogun. The governor will continue to be just, fair, accountable and equitable in the distribution of amenities across the state.”