The moment the two combatants emerged, it instantly promised to be a thriller. The challenge was thrown by former President Olusegun Obasanjo who scored President Muhammadu Buhari zero in performance for the past three years. Accepting the challenge, Buhari took the opportunity of a ceremony at Aso Rock, where a Buhari Support Group acknowledged his performance in office so far and (unlike Obasanjo) endorsed Buhari to run for a second term. Obasanjo had, some months ago, thumbed down any idea of second term for Buhari.
Thanking the Buhari Support Group, he said their action was all the more encouraging considering the fact that his administration had far less financial resources compared to a former head of state who, Buhari said claimed to have spent N16 billion on power supply. Buhari then contemptuously asked his supporters a couple of time, “Where is the power? Where is the power?” Much as Obasanjo relishes putting contemporaries on the defensive, he, on the other hand, deeply resents being put on the defensive. He lived up to that reputation by instantly, within hours, initially claiming that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had cleared him on allegations, even though Buhari, sarcastically, mentioned no names.
There is public contempt for probes in Nigeria as reports of such exercises end up in shelves without consequent disciplinary action for accused culprits, especially depending on his safe haven. It is, therefore, arguable if Obasanjo should be dignified by EFCC with its decision to investigate the billions of dollars alleged to have been incurred on improvement of power supply during his tenure (1999 to 2007) as elected president. The real concern is how to carry out the investigation without making him attract public sympathy.
Time there was when the EFCC hardly disguised its intention to similarly probe another ex-President, Goodluck Jonathan, obviously by inviting him, which would have subjected the man to graphic “lynching” by world photo journalists. The proposal was condemned in this column, if only because none of his military or civilian predecessors had ever been so humiliated. Instead, the EFCC was advised to interrogate Jonathan, if at all necessary, in his house in Lagos, Abuja, Otuoke (Bayelsa State) or outside the country. Jonathan’s house in Abuja has since been vandalised by those expected to secure the place and nobody is yet to be prosecuted. Since it denied its proposed grandstanding by inviting Jonathan for investigation, has the EFCC made any progress on its suspicion of Jonathan?
It is equally not advisable for the EFCC to dramatise its decision to investigate the N16 billion power explosion. If necessary, Obasanjo should be interrogated in his house(s) or farm(s). In any case, if invited by the EFCC, Obasanjo would call their bluff. Would the EFCC forcefully arrest him thereafter? When a probe panel into land scandal in Abuja invited him, Obasanjo failed to show up on the ground that he was not feeling well.
Not known for allowing himself in a tight corner or on the spot while he delights in putting others under polemical siege, and for a man who mostly ignores criticisms, Obasanjo, within hours, responded rather poorly that he had been cleared by the EFCC (under Nuhu Ribadu) of all the allegations. The same EFCC Obasanjo established and unleashed on political opponents as and when necessary?
Worse still, the same EFCC boss, Nuhu Ribadu, who purportedly cleared Obasanjo of corrupt tendencies, was later to reveal a different verdict to the then American ambassador to Nigeria, Robin Sanders, according to Wikileaks. Ribadu’s verdict was that Obasanjo was more corrupt than the much maligned Sani Abacha. Obasanjo has never responded to that Wikileaks shock. Therefore, which EFCC cleared him?
Meanwhile, for the EFCC to have commandeered the showdown between Buhari and Obasanjo was no more than political opportunism. Were it not for its disgraceful record on such matters, the EFCC might even have been granted the indulgence as an impartial referee. In this case, the referee will be fair to neither President Buhari nor former President Obasanjo. That exactly is the situation between President Buhari and ex-secretary to the government of the federation, Babachir Lawal. After two investigations by the National Assembly and Vice-President Osinbajo, the ex-SGF (Babachir Lawal) remains innocent until proved guilty by the EFCC, the very agency, which claimed with fanfare that its “crack detectives” had commenced investigations into the Babachir Lawal matter. How long ago and what are the findings? If the ex-SGF decided to contest 2019 elections, any rival could easily cite the unsubstantiated allegations to disqualify him.
On the other hand, criticisms continue to mount on President Buhari for allegedly failing to prosecute Babachir Lawal. The situation is not better with EFCC’s lethargy on the controversy over Abdulrasheed Maina of the pension fund scandal. Of what value is EFCC’s self-imposed investigation into the N16 billion power row? With EFCC’s standard performance of such probes without findings, Buhari’s allegation on the billions of naira spent on power supply will stand while Obasanjo will justifiably sustain his alleged innocence. The EFCC, a supposed impartial referee, would have lived up to its reputation of diverting and killing public interest by failing to produce any findings.
It is peculiarly Nigerian to dramatise public probes or investigations. Even if the EFCC produced any findings, nothing, repeat, nothing, should be expected thereafter. Who triggered the almighty EFCC to announce its probe of Halliburton/Siemens corruption allegations? How long ago was that? Even as late as now, what are the findings?
And the same EFCC is deceiving Nigerias with another probe of the N16 billion power expenditure?
If the EFCC seeks to be taken seriously on its investigating prowess, here is a challenge, lest the impression be created that Obasanjo can heave a sigh of relief. There is an outstanding report of a probe conducted by the National Assembly into the finances of the Petroleum Training Development Fund (PTDF), a federal agency. Inadvertently, Obasanjo triggered the probe by instigating Ribadu to probe his (Obasanjo’s) allegation that the then Vice-President Atiku Abubakar deposited PTDF’s financial assets in fixed account at a bank owned by his friend.
Acting on Ribadu’s report, Obasanjo claimed to have removed Vice-President Abubakar from office, clearly, a gross mis-conduct on Obasanjo’s part for violating the Constitution. Even if Abubakar merited removal from office, that power rests only in the National Assembly.
Vice-President Abubakar duly took the matter to the National Assembly, which then set up its probe into the finances of PTDF, with Senator Ndoma Egba as the head. The findings were shocking. With nothing found against VP Abubakar, the panel headed by Ndoma Egba reported that President Obasanjo paid his personal lawyer the sum of N250 million from the PTDF account. Curiously, the panel did not recommend any disciplinary action for that misappropriation of N250 million public fund for personal purposes. It was also claimed that half a million naira was spent in buying a vehicle for a woman friend. Of course, a fall-out was that Senator Ndoma Egba was schemed out of the race for Cross River governorship in the 2015 elections on the platform of the PDP.
Why, therefore, does the EFCC need to wait for its findings on the N16 billion power row to establish that government money was misappropriated? Whether N16 billion naira or N250 million, misappropriation is misappropriation. The Ndoma Egba report on the finances of the PTDF is a public document. The Federal Government should publish it for Nigerias. Did those faulted in the report dispute the findings? Never. Senator Ndoma Egba is alive.
The PTDF probe report is one vital document the EFCC should use to recover all misappropriated funds. The EFCC must show its impartiality by recovering all looted funds, whether at the PTDF or from past ministers, state governors or armed forces personnel.
If only two days ago, at last a former state governor was jailed without option of fine, (after 11 years trial), the least we can expect of EFCC is that every other culprit is disgorged of misappropriated funds.
Distinction for Britain
Whatever its shortcomings, especially during colonial era in Africa and Asia, Britain remains the place in terms of justice and standard in the conduct of public office holders. If, since independence in 1960, an injustice had been done to a part of the country or another, or a minister misled the National Assembly, could the Federal Government be expected to publicly apologise to the offended party or could the the lying minister be expected to resign? That is exactly what the British government and a minister have just done.
The story began from Britain’s colonial period when thousands of its subjects were recruited from Caribbean overseas territories to man essential services in health and public transport sectors. Such were the excitement and rush with which the recruits responded that most of them travelled with their kids and spouses. Never bargaining for British immigration controls later in 1962 and 1971, the new arrivals took essential documentation of their new abode for granted. They were thus diminished as stateless as neither Britons nor former West Indians. Worse still, in the last decade, they lost rights to medical treatment, employment, social security benefits, housing and permanent stay as the government arrogantly created what it called “hostile environment” for these immigrants to make them liable for deportation to their former countries of which they had lost identity for close to 60 years in some cases. Ironically, even their offspring born in Britain enjoyed automatic British nationality, the fallout of which was forced separation of families.
Such was the absurdity that liberal sections of the media took up the matter as a noble cause as many cases of wrong or imminent deportation were exposed, much to the gradual embarrassment of the government as West Indian High Commissioners held protest meetings with the British prime minister. The die was cast. Prime Minister Theresa May had to meet individual heads of West Indian governments after the recent Commonwealth Conference and profusely apologised for the apparent scandal of the handling of the immigration/nationality status of ex-colonial subjects who served Britain in need. Quite humiliating to admit fault but in all humility, Britain owned up.
By the way, the policy leading to the scandal was initiated by May as home secretary (interior minister) before she became Prime Minister two years ago. By the time the scandal broke, May’s successor as home secretary, Amber Rudd, had to carry the can. Taken up in a series of debates in the House of Commons, Ms Rudd apologised for the treatment of the immigrants concerned, with the assurance that all those concerned, over 50,000, would be compensated, not only with the much desired British nationality plus all that go with it but also complete refund of all expenses they might have incurred in their erstwhile futile attempt to regularise their stay in Britain. All these would appear to have made up for whatever mistakes made in the past. But the home secretary was destined for the end of her ministerial career, at least for now.
Both while defending herself in the House of Commons and before a parliamentary committee, later, the minister either deliberately or innocently misled the panel both on when or if at all she knew about the deportation blunder. Civil servants in her office rejected that implied transferred blame on them and, accordingly, leaked all information to the media showing not only she approved but also when she knew. In Britain, a minister misleads parliament at his/her peril. Home Secretary Amber Rudd had to resign with full apology. That high standard puts Britain ahead of most democracies.