The ambition of Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, Lagos State governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, comes under severe threat, as the rival Action Congress unfurls a hail of information challenging the fidelity of his personal particulars.
Politics, it is commonly said, is war. And last week, the Action Congress (AC) in Lagos State unveiled its latest weapon in its bid to win the state governorship election. For weeks, the weapon’s major components had appeared in newspaper advertisements, providing the public with a surfeit of materials for political gossip. In every way, each component of the weapon carries equal amount of menace, as they all question the integrity and eligibility of Senator Musiliu Olatunde Obanikoro, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
By 20 March, all the parts had been assembled in readiness for the launch. With all the parts fixed, the AC launched the weapon via a letter addressed to the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and published as an advertisement by TheNation. The letter was also copied to the Senate President and Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Frothing with potentially lethal allegations, the letter questioned Obanikoro’s declarations in the affidavit of personal particulars, sworn to at a High Court Registry on 14 December 2006, and the details of his residency in the United States.
The AC alleges that the claims made in INEC Form CF001, a copy of which is in possession of this medium, amounts to perjury. Specifically, Obanikoro is deemed to have given a false response to the question : “Did you change nationality in the past?”
The PDP flagbearer’s answer, according to the form, was: “N/A” (not applicable). The same response was given to the next question: “Have you voluntarily acquired the citizenship of another country? (If yes, what country?)”
The AC, however, contends that Obanikoro holds an American passport No.02531795, issued in Chicago on 16 June 1995. A copy of the description page, obtained by this medium, bears Obanikoro’s photograph and the name Onikoro Mohammed Musiliu Olatunde, which the PDP candidate has admitted he once bore. “In other words, the holder of the said United States of America Passport, Number 025317195 issued in Chicago on the 16th of June 1995, MUHAMMED MUSILIU OLATUNDE ONIKORO is a citizen of the United States of America. The distinguished Senator has not only changed his nationality in the past, he has also voluntarily acquired the citizenship of another country, which country is the United States of America. It is interesting to note, that from the distinguished Senator’s affidavit, Mohammed Musiliu Olatunde Onikoro, is his birth name,” observed the AC.
Curiously, Obanikoro once denied bearing Onikoro. As the Lagos Island Local Government chairmanship candidate of the defunct Grassroots Democratic Movement in 1997, Obanikoro was dragged before the Local Government Election Tribunal by Babajide Damazio, candidate of the defunct United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP). Though unsuccessful, Damazio sought the disqualification of Obanikoro, who had been declared winner by the defunct National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON). In a petition to the tribunal, Damazio alleged that Obanikoro, the first respondent, was ineligible. The second respondent in the suit, with No EP/LND/2/97, was NECON.
One of the grounds on which Damazio based his petition was Obanikoro’s alleged possession of an American passport with the name Muhammed Musiliu Olatunde Onikoro. Damazio also alleged that Obanikoro was called or known as Musiliu Olatunde Onikoro or Mohammed Musiliu Olatunde Onikoro until 15 March 1997, when the election held.
In his defence, Obanikoro denied holding an American passport as well as ever bearing Onikoro. “That whilst it is true that the 1st respondent lived in the United States of America for several years and did acquire his post-secondary education in that country, and was qualified to voluntarily acquire the citizenship, the 1st respondent denies ever acquiring the citizenship of the United States of America and puts the petitioner to the strictest proof thereof...The 1st respondent denies bearing the name Mohammed Musiliu Olatunde Obanikoro as alleged in paragraph 4 (c) of the petition,” the tribunal’s judgement read in part.
Next to attract AC’s suspicion were Obanikoro’s date of birth and age attained on his last birthday. In the copy of INEC form CF001 available to TheNEWS, Obanikoro recorded his date of birth as 28-7-54 and age as 52.
But supplying a slew of documents, including Obanikoro’s official Nigerian passport, diplomatic passport, American passport, birth registration, educational and marriage records, the AC is contending that the PDP candidate was born on 28 July 1960. “It is interesting to note that the distinguished Senator, in his application form for his official passport, in which application form he attached the same passport photograph, as was attached to the affidavit in support of his personal particulars, he, in his own writing, put his date of birth as the 28th of July 1960,” the AC said. The party added that Obanikoro’s official passport Number F0004473, issued on 26 September 2001, in the name of Musiliu Olatunde Mohammed Obanikoro, and his diplomatic passport Number D0002471, issued on 11 October 2001 bear 28 July 1960 as his date of birth.
Also, marriage records obtained from Harris County, Hennepin, Texas, United States, appear to strengthen AC’s position. According to the records, Obanikoro (then Onikoro) married one Jewel M. Weller, aged 18. The records put Obanikoro’s date of birth as 28 July 1960.
“If the distinguished Senator was born in 1954 as he alleges, a fact most improbable, it follows that he was 19 years of age when he finished primary school, and the next year enrolled in Texas State University at 20 in 1981 and married Jewel Weller a year later at the age of 21. It is also most improbable, going by the records, that he completed his primary education at the age of 19 and enrolled in the Texas Southern University four years later, two years after his marriage to Jewel Weller in 1982,” the AC argued. A copy of the form Obanikoro filled for admission into the university also gave his date of birth as 28 July 2004 and his address as 7 Idoluwo Street, Lagos. Curiously, the same address is borne by his registration of birth, which records Obanikoro’s date of birth as 28 July 1954.
Also caught in the headlights of AC’s scrutiny were Obanikoro’s certificates issued by Texas Southern University, where he obtained two degrees in 1981 and 1986 respectively. The PDP flagbearer’s certificates bear the name Obanikoro, though school records only have Musiliu Onikoro as an alumnus. The bearer, who was issued an American passport in 1995, had been issued a Nigerian international passport, with No. B2229384, in 1991. The photograph in the passport is also that of Senator Obanikoro.
To the AC, the senator’s accusers, the certificates bearing Obanikoro could only have been issued by authorities other than the university’s. “How could the distinguished Senator have obtained a degree or degree certificates in the name of Obanikoro when both his school and public records in the United States and, indeed Nigeria from birth, marriage through school and subsequent naturalisation all read Onikoro. The Texas Southern University admits that one Onikoro passed through its portals, but have no records of an Obanikoro doing same about the time in question. The certificates presented by the distinguished Senator, we can safely conclude, are forged,” wrote the AC.
Attracting similar attention is Obanikoro’s failure to participate in the compulsory one-year National Youth Service scheme, prescribed for graduates of Nigeria’s tertiary institutions. While the scheme provides for exemption of persons above the age of 30, the provision was not made until August 1985. Obanikoro, alleged the AC, did not provide INEC with an evidence of participation, implying non-participation, an action, under the law, that makes him ineligible for employment in Nigeria as well as being liable–upon conviction–to a fine of N2,000 or to a jail term of one year or both.
The AC contends that Obanikoro could not have been exempted because he graduated in May 1984, when he was 24 years old. The party also contends that even if the senator was born in 1954, as his recent birth particulars suggest, he could still not have been exempted because the provision came into effect in 1985. “Indeed, the distinguished Senator is not only ineligible for the office of Governor of Lagos State, but must immediately vacate his seat as a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and make himself available forthwith to the National Directorate of the National Youth Service Corps Scheme, for service under the scheme,” insists the AC.
Other documents made available to this magazine contain suggestions that Obanikoro may have had a crime-coated past. While in the US, revealed the documents, Obanikoro used multiple social security numbers, despite the country’s laws permitting the use of just one for a lifetime. But a staff of the public affairs unit of the United States Information Service (USIS) in Lagos told this magazine a person may be issued another social security number if his citizenship is revoked and then restored. She described this as an “extraordinary circumstance.” But there is no evidence to suggest that Obanikoro’s citizenship was revoked at any time.
For instance, when he lived in Chicago, documents show that his date of birth was given as 28 July 1960. His social security number was 454-15xxxx.
Other numbers used were 464-51xxxx, 454-61xxxx, 464-15xxxx and 035-58xxxx, which was also used by one M. Morrophat Onikoro.
US PASSPORT BELONGING TO MUSILIU OBANIKORO
INEC DECLARATION STATING A DIFFERENT DATE OF BIRTH: