Many Nigerians, including yours sincerely, have been suffering from the malaise of political apathy for quite sometimes. We seem to be uninterested in what public officers do, provided we are comfortable in our respective businesses or vocations. We "hear nothing, see nothing, take no part in political life" and rarely call public officers to account. Instead, we merely criticize or complain about public affairs or governance generally. We excuse and comfort ourselves with the statement that we do not want to get involved in dirty party politics. The result of this state of affairs is that our country is gradually sliding into anarchy under our very eyes, no thanks to the inappropriate actions and inactions of people we trusted with public offices.
A friend recently shared with me a beautiful quote on this subject, credited to the famous American Catholic Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, who said, "The refusal to take sides on great moral issues is itself a decision. It is a silent acquiescence to evil. The tragedy of our time is that those who still believe in honesty lack fire and conviction, while those who believe in dishonesty are full of passionate conviction".
This statement not only describes the tragic reality of our society today but also presented a superior argument on the moral questions many of us were battling with regarding very many disturbing information which, continually come to our knowledge on how some public officials converted their offices into private enterprise. Rather than call these types of public servants (or should we say 'private servants') to account, conventional Nigerian wisdom requires one to keep mute on such "sensitive" information, which, as the saying goes, may 'put sand in someone else's 'garri'. But after reading Archbishop Fulton"s statement, I decided to write this piece in order to purge myself of this 'silent acquiescence' to evil.
After listening to the recent revelations and fireworks between the Hon. Minister of Finance and the suspended Boss of the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) at the House of Representatives Public Hearing on the issues leading to the suspension of the SEC boss, I became convinced that our public service was truly sick and in dire need of a surgical operation. I recalled the many stories one gets to hear in the clubs and social conversations about the atrocities being perpetrated by 'private servants' disguised as public servants in public offices. I recalled one of those occasions we were engaged in a heated argument on an issue that was trending at that time about the legality and proprietary of the Federal Government's sacking of Mrs. Chinelo Amazu as Pencom Director-General. One of the proponents of her sack made a wild allegation about her activities during her stint as Pencom Boss, which I vehemently opposed and dismissed as the mere imagination of a foe. Determined to know the truth, I ventured on personal verification. My findings left me bewildered!
It's public knowledge that Aso Savings & Loans has been in crises for sometimes now. It is also public knowledge that very many Federal Government institutions have their monies trapped in Aso Savings. What was news for me was the peculiar transaction of the Pencom case. I tried to investigate from both Aso Savings and Pencom. The officers at Aso Savings were more forthcoming with information probably because they were under serious pressure from different quarters to cough out public funds taken from many government institutions for which they were, at several points, invited at the Presidential Villa on this issue. The Pencom story was that the mother of the ex Pencom Boss owns a Primary Mortgage Institution, the MGSL Mortgage Bank located at AP Plaza, Adetokunbo Ademola Crescent, Wuse II, Abuja, involved in real estate business. However, the company had been in trouble for some time and required injection of substantial working capital. The daughter had to come to the rescue of the family business with Pencom money.
The ex-Pencom Boss "arranged" a bailout for her mother's PMI through a term deposit of over one billion nairas in Aso Savings at a very low-interest rate for onward lending to MGSL. It was related that either the Auditor General of the Federation or the Accountant General of the Federation queried Pencom on the low-interest rate agreed on the placement. The strategy was to provide liquidity at a very low cost to MGSL and also create the market for the company by asking Pencom staff to buy properties developed by MGSL/ Aso Savings under a staff housing loan scheme.
Naturally, the business went sour probably because it was not meant to succeed in the first place. The story has it that the fund was in fact used by the family to resolve another financial embarrassment involving the mother for failure to pay a debt owed to a prominent billionaire of the Igbo extraction who involved the EFCC to recover his debt. I had no opportunity of knowing what went wrong in that transaction and I was not interested because it was a private affair.
Thus, when Buhari came to power in 2015, it became clear that the Pencom deposit must be returned. Unfortunately, Aso Savings could not fully honor its obligations to Pencom. This situation, which looked like a problem, interestingly created another business opportunity for the Mrs. Amazu's family who used Aso Savings to offer to Pencom an undeveloped plot of land on Airport road at a ridiculously exorbitant price of N1.6 billion. Negotiations naturally began but unfortunately or rather, fortunately, the deal couldn't be consummated until the Federal Government's ouster of Mrs. Amazu and her executive team from Pencom in April 2017.
A high ranking officer of Aso Savings, who pleaded anonymity, explained that since the change of management in Pencom, the Bank had been trying unsuccessfully to resolve the matter through a fund-to-assets swap, which it also offered to other customers. However, the new authorities in Pencom appeared uninterested and had been very uncooperative to close the deal. The officer exclaimed: "It is so surprising the way they are now handling the matter as if they are not civil servants anymore. The attitude towards us has changed, very different from how we had related before!". I tried unsuccessfully to get the Pencom version of the story but what is undisputed is the fact that about Seven Hundred Million Naira of Pencom fund remains unpaid by Aso Savings to date and the sale of plot deal has also not materialized.
Interestingly, however, my efforts to obtain confirmation of the Aso Savings transaction from Pencom was not totally fruitless as I stumbled on some other issues raised in the form of posers. My contact asked why I was interested in the Aso Savings transaction when there are more critical issues where colossal amounts were expended by the ex-pencom boss without any justifiable need apart from favoring family and friends. The officer mentioned example of such white elephant projects as the building of a TV Studio in the Pencom premises awarded to a company owned by a friend of the ex-Pencom boss at a highly exorbitant price like many other media contracts executed by the same company for pencom, as well as the contract for the supply of very expensive LED Display Billboards for Pencom which was paid for but not supplied. The officer refused to divulge more about these issues but assured that "the matter and many more are well known in Pencom".
Whether these allegations are true or not is irrelevant now as based on the law of karma, the evil that men do shall not just live after them but return to them. One of these days, the relevant authorities would unearth the truth from Pencom.
But what is worth noting about the above story is the audacity with which public officials in Nigeria pushes through their private agenda using public funds and facilities. In the case of the ex-Pencom boss, it is easy now to rationalize the apparent desperation, expressed through media comments and clearly sponsored publications, seeking to show that the Federal Government's sack of Mrs. Amazu was illegal and must be reversed. This campaign persisted since April 2017 to date, hoping that the Federal Government would reverse itself on this matter even though Pencom management was merely one out of dozens sacked at the same time by the Government. Now we know that the media hype was merely a desperate effort to retain the vehicle needed to protect private interest using public resources and facilities.
One of the lines in our national anthem is that the labor of our heroes past shall never be in vain. However, some of our compatriots are passionately determined to rubbish these critical legacies of selflessness and keeping of trust in public service, which were bequeathed to us by our founding fathers who sacrificed private interest and comfort to gain our independence from colonialism and put our country on the course of growth and development to a competitive modern nation-state. Nigerians of good conscience must not allow this to happen. We must, in whatever way we can, put a stop to this cancerous attitude in our national life in order to build a great nation for our posterity. As the saying goes, without integrity, your other values don't matter.
By Emeka Samuel