Posts falsely claim Nigerian agents seized illicit cash pile at presidential candidate’s home

A recent Facebook post claimed that Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari ordered the nation’s anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), to seize 400 billion naira in new banknotes (about $876 million) in a raid on the home of the ruling All Progressives Congress’s (APC) presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu. The post further claimed the money was retrieved from an underground bunker on the property. However, the claim is false; the EFCC said the photos showed new banknotes that were being kept in bank vaults in Abuja, adding there was no raid on Tinubu’s home.

“President Buhari ordered EFCC to raid Tinubu’s house, and 400 billion of the new money was recovered from his underground house,” reads a post shared on February 18, 2023, claiming further that the confiscated money was likely the “entire money printed for the whole Nigeria”.

A screenshot of the false Facebook post, taken on February 19, 2023

The post features six photos, including of Tinubu and of men dressed in the jackets of the EFCC. Other photos show what looks like new Nigerian banknotes on the ground and on a metal shelf in a room.

Shared more than 1,000 times, the post was published on a page called “Igbo Times Magazine” that has a history of publishing content critical of the APC and Tinubu.

The page has about 41,000 followers and has been the subject of past debunks by AFP Fact Check (here, here, here,and here).

The page’s transparency record shows it was created on July 28, 2022, as “Dr Yusuf Datti Ahmed” -- the name of Peter Obi’s running mate, Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed. Obi is the Labour Party’s presidential candidate.

A screenshot showing the Facebook account's history, taken on February 19, 2023

The page changed its title to “Dr Yusuf Datti Ahmed ‘Fan Page’” on August 1, 2022, and finally to “Igbo Times Magazine” on October 31, 2022, after being the subject of debunks by AFP Fact Check.

Several other Facebook accounts, including here and here, also shared the same claim.

Tinubu, a veteran political operator, is one of the three leading presidential hopefuls, along with Obi and his former ally and leading opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar.

New banknotes controversy

Nigeria was plunged into a cash shortage after the country’s central bank redesigned 200, 500 and 1,000 naira banknotes and gave people a limited time to exchange their old notes weeks before the elections.

According to Nigeria’s central bank, the policy’s aim was to mop up the bulk of banknotes in circulation from hoarders and “criminals”.

Analysts said the banknotes redesign will also cut down on the prevalence of vote buying in the elections.

But the cash scarcity is causing unrest in parts of the country and leading to false claims.

Debris outside the premises of a local bank in Abeokuta, Nigeria, on February 7, 2023 after a demonstration by angry protesters ( AFP / Seun Adeniyi)

The tensions have fuelled disinformation about the APC especially, including false claims debunked by AFP Fact Check about officials seizing truckloads of old naira notes from Tinubu’s home.

The claim that Tinubu was caught with mountains of new notes in his home is also false.

Money in bank vaults

Using reverse image searches, AFP Fact Check found that the pictures were from events unrelated to Tinubu.

Two of the pictures of stacks of what look like new 200 naira banknotes were shared on Twitter by the anti-corruption police on February 7, 2023. The EFCC said the pictures showed money inside a bank vault in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city.

The commission said a bank official was arrested for “for refusing to load the Automated Teller Machines, ATMs, of the bank despite having ₦29 million of the redesigned naira notes in the branch’s vaults.”

The other two pictures of banknotes were screenshots taken from a video published on YouTube, also on February 7, 2023.

The caption explained that the video showed officials of the EFCC, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and the Central Bank of Nigeria raiding a bank suspected of hoarding 258 million naira (about $560,260) in its vault.

ICPC said two officials at the regional head office of Nigeria’s Sterling Bank where the money was discovered were arrested and “later granted administrative bail while investigation continues”.

Meanwhile, the photo of the men wearing EFCC jackets has been widely used in the Nigerian media to illustrate news reports about the activities of the anti-graft commission, including in reports published in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

A screenshot shows the photo of the EFCC agents published by The Guardian in 2018

It was also used in a report about the arrest of suspected hoarders of the new banknotes by the EFCC in January 2023.

While the anti-graft agency continues to investigate financial crimes and fish out those guilty of hoarding or counterfeiting the new naira notes, EFCC spokesperson Wilson Uwujaren said in an emailed statement to AFP that “no such operation was carried out” at Tinubu’s residence.

Buhari backs Tinubu

President Buhari publicly backed Tinubu a day after the post was published and insisted that the cash crisis was being addressed.

“I am calling on all of you to vote for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu,” Buhari said in a video posted on Twitter on February 19. “He is reliable, and I trust he will build on our achievements.”

The vote to elect Buhari's successor is scheduled for February 25, 2023. You can read AFP Fact Check's Nigeria election debunks here.