The hollow denials by the Jonathan regime that it offered what is tantamount to a bribe to a delegation of the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) are making matters worse for the president.

If anybody needed further evidence that the current government in Abuja is paying lip service to the anti-corruption fight, they got it last week by way of the very troubling revelations which suggest , amongst other incriminating and equally troubling details, that, under the orders of the president,  the Pastor Bakare-led outfit was given a whopping sum of fifty thousand dollars ($50.000.00) by, of all people,  the minister responsible for the Jonathan administration’s rehabilitation effort in the Niger Delta (ND), Mr. Orubebe.

The scope and magnitude of the scandal and its implications for the polity cannot be over-emphasised. And whatever made the SNG return the money to the presidency, the citizenry cannot in good conscience shrug this off. Or worse, try to rationalize the bad conduct of those concerned by saying that it is no big deal and that it is the president’s political enemies that are out to tarnish his ‘good’ name. Should Jonathan and his team insist on  remorselessly  engaging in obfuscation and contrived indignation, Nigerians must call their bluff by  insisting that they muster the courage to sue both Sahara Reporters (SR) and the SNG for defamation.

In its account of this sordid episode in a series of damaging  blunders that have come to define the Jonathan presidency, Sahara Reporters  had narrated how Bakare and his group had been invited to Aso Rock, ostensibly in the bid to convince them to have a change of heart and support Jonathan’s presidential ambition, just like the assistance they had staged earlier in support of the man’s acting presidency during the controversy surrounding the late Umaru Yar’Adua’s health. Pastor Bakare, we are told, has come out in his personal capacity to endorse Muhammadu Buhari who is also vying for the presidency in the 2011 elections on the platform of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). 

The SNG has said that when they initially refused to take the  money given to them by Mr. Orubebe, the latter explained that it was a ‘gift’ meant to help them with their transportation  and accommodation needs . After issuing denials that have not really addressed the issue at hand, the Jonathan government has futilely sought to impugn the integrity of both SR and the SNG. ‘’...What I however find intriguing is that there is absolutely no reason to bribe the Save Nigeria Group. When the body on its own volition rose to challenge the sense of drift that had befallen the country over the illness of our late leader, Mallam Umaru Musa Yar’adua, did anyone bribe them? So it is hard to believe that any right thinking person would attempt to do so now.  If a bribe is intended to induce someone to either do something, or to refrain from doing it, what in objective terms would I need to bribe the SNG for at this time? This is a false story that should be dismissed by all right thinking persons’’, wrote the minister of Niger Delta.

Mr. Orubebe’s subterfuge does amount to adding insult to injury. It speaks volumes, though, that he has carefully avoided threatening any court action, probably in the smug expectation that the hapless people of the country, in their traditional tolerance of evil and especially the turpitudes of their soi-disant leaders, will either ignore or soon forget the latest faux-pas of the Jonathan government. This kind of attitude is one of the key factors responsible for the sense of reckless impunity on the part of Nigeria’s ‘big ogas’.

As mentioned above, the alleged bribery has serious implications. The first is that the president’s very generous  ‘gift’ to the SNG is most likely the tip of the iceberg. It is indicative of the sleaze that the Jonathan administration has come to be associated with – a throwback to the kleptocratic tyranny of the former despot, Obasanjo, Mr. President’s mentor and godfather.

The second implication is that Jonathan’s anti-corruption stance is a ruse and that the president and his henchmen have no qualms in corruptly and desperately using state resources in the furtherance of mainly parochial goals of self-aggrandizement.

Importantly also, by their gesture, Jonathan and his allies are sending out an unmistakable message that the campaign against corruption is as good as dead under  the president’s stewardship.

Another implication is that the president has been seriously diminished in the eyes of the world. A situation whereby what should ordinarily be considered  a potent symbol of our legitimate aspirations, namely, the seat of the federal government, has been transformed into a grotesque den for pedestrian transactions, does call for both moral and political sanctions. Like the biblical Christ who chased fornicators , thieves and hagglers from His temple, so should the Nigerian people resolve to cause the dispersion of the present crop of ‘dollar mongers’ and merchants of power from the hallowed precinct of the Nigerian presidency. 

The fifth implication has to do with the mindset of people in government regarding public money and its devastating effect on the development (or lack of it) of the society. It is bad enough that the ‘easy money’ mentality has fuelled the rampant profligacy that is associated with public service in the country. It becomes unbearable when a senior  government official who is charged with his government’s programmes that are nominally aimed at providing basic facilities for the inhabitants of an ecologically ruined region like the Niger Delta is said to be recklessly dolling out money that could very well have been sourced from the budgetary allocations intended for those programmes. And we are not prepared to accept the self-indicting and reprehensible excuse that Jonathan  and his associates are using the money accruing from the sale of oil that is drilled in his backyard so it does not matter if he bribes in order to get what he wants.

Yet another implication has to do with the attitude of our leaders to the national currency, the naira. The decision by the president and his friends to use the American dollar for transactions, shady or otherwise, on Nigerian soil, is indicative of the contempt they have for our national patrimony. Where is the government’s mantra  which incites citizens to be patriotic and patronize local products? With their ‘dollarized thinking’, it is doubtful that Jonathan and his associates at the National Assembly  are interested in helping put in place fiscal measures that will improve the lives of the majority.

It should be noted that Pastor Bakare’s version of what transpired during his group’s encounter  with the president has been backed by a fellow member, Yinka Odumakin. As has been reported also, before money changed hands, there was a candid conversation with the president and some members of his inner-circle. In that exchange which took place in the wake of Atiku Abubakar’s emergence as the consensus candidate of the Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPLF), the president made it known that he was prepared to use the security forces in order to realize his electoral ambition. It was also hinted to the SNG delegation that the election time-table that the INEC has released for next year’s elections was done in such  a way as to provide the president the opportunity to pressurize the governors into working for his election. Jonathan is said to have told the visibly shocked SNG delegates that an incumbent cannot possibly lose an election! It is apparent that these schemers are so absorbed in their fantasies that they have chosen to close their eyes to the encouraging example of near-by Ghana.

The scary prospect of a president who  believes that an incumbent’s track record should not matter in electoral contests ought to serve as a cautionary tale for all of us. What President Jonathan  and his allies are invariably saying is that the Nigerian voter doesn’t count. What matters is for an  incumbent to rig elections and thereafter, count on the support of the organized civil society and the repression of the security agencies, not to mention other dubious loyalties, in order to legitimize the orchestrated  assault on the sovereign will of the people to choose their representatives. The president’s calculation may be devious but such a tactic had produced tangible but anti-people results in the past when the likes of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC )  and the Christian Association of Nigeria ( CAN) became ready-made tools of blackmail and intimidation against those wanting to protest through mass demonstrations the electoral heists of 2003 and 2007, respectively. This is precisely where Jonathan’s ‘Dollargate’ worries intensely, much more than the other ‘Dollargate’ – the one involving the smuggling on a presidential plane, some years ago,  of a huge sum of money in American currency, by  the erstwhile dictator and his ‘domestic assistant’ at the time, one ‘’Andy’’ Uba,  In that scandal , funds suspected to have been illegally acquired were hauled to the USA to be used in the purchase of merchandise for Obasanjo’s private farm business.

While calling for greater vigilance as the nation enters the election period, it is important to insist on  a transparent probe of President Jonathan’s ‘Dollargate’ scandal . ‘’...The 50 thousand dollar bribery scandal must not be treated lightly or swept under the carpet. The National Assembly and the EFCC must wade into the matter and get to the root of it. We demand a full probe and an immediate resignation of the minister of Niger Delta’’, said Shehu Sani, a human rights and pro-democracy advocate. We concur.

Aonduna Tondu. (aondunatondu@yahoo.com)
 

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