Wednesday, 22 May 2013
Ribadu’s Report Drama: Who Says Jonathan Wants To Fight Corruption? – By Chinedu Ekeke
Give President Goodluck Jonathan hundred years to rule Nigeria, he will not successfully prosecute even one person in his much vaunted fight against corruption. In fact, as a rule, there’ll be a sort of liberalization of corruption under his watch. The image of invincibility he creates about corruption helps him sustain his personal – but nauseatingly pedestrian – idea of corruption being a Nigerian thing that can never be tackled by anybody.
This isn’t one simplistic assumption. I can stake anything for this claim. Mr Jonathan is a creation of the corruption he tells people that he’s fighting. In 2006, he was indicted for false declaration of assets by a Joint Task Force (JTF) on corruption that was set up by Obasanjo’s government. That powerful panel was headed by Nuhu Ribadu (yes, the same Ribadu you know) then as the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The Joint Task Force said Mr Jonathan was in possession of illegally-acquired property such as homes and exotic cars he could not explain within his legitimate income. While he was invited for hearing, he claimed he bought them from his “savings”. Meanwhile, he was a lecturer in the few years following his becoming a deputy governor. Now hear the worth of the properties which were brought from Mr Jonathan’s ‘savings’: a seven-bedroom duplex worth N18 million at Otuke Ogbia LGA acquired in2001; a four-bedroom duplex, valued at N15 million at Goodluck Jonathan Street, Yenegoa, acquired in 2003; and a five-bedroom duplex, at Citec Villas, Gwarimpa II – Abuja, valued at N25 million, also acquired in 2003. There were also two cars: a Lexus Jeep valued at N18 million; and a BMW 7351 Series worth N5.5 million. If you check the dates, the purchases were made starting from 2001, just two years after becoming a deputy to a criminal governor convicted for fleecing Bayelsa state.
So Mr President, a candidate for prison who had no business being in Aso Rock ab initio, became appointed the running mate of Late President Yar’Adua by Obasanjo, the same president whose powerful committee indicted him. This is the core of the matter with corruption under Jonathan. He’s a cheerleader for the corrupt, and he seems, I have observed with deep concern, to always be excited whenever there’s a stage-managed drama to ridicule the outcome of serious probes that indict key members of his government.
It is not that we all do not have a past that we may be ashamed of; it is about having a sad past we still live in and cherish. This president still resides in his past, a past he should not be proud of, but a past he desires, unfortunately, to have every public official under him share from. This is why Mr Jonathan is dangerous for Nigeria. Any country that values decency and is desirous of economic growth cannot afford to have as its leader a man who is an apostle of primitive acquisition of wealth.
In my previous essays, I have insisted, and with proofs, that Nigeria cannot step out of where we are economically if we don’t wage a true war against corruption and impunity. The war I mean isn’t Jonathan’s committee’s setting approach. The war I know is the type that’ll be led by the president himself.
It requires a certain depth of love for country by the head of the country’s government himself. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any sign from Mr Jonathan that he loves Nigeria. If he lays any claim to ’love for country’, then I can wager the reason: enough free oil money to corner.
I don’t know of any administration in either pre or post-independence Nigeria that has been rocked by the weight of financial scandals under Mr Jonathan’s gleeful watch. He simply sets up a committee, and have aides arrange how to mock its outcome.
Last year, the legislature approved for Nigeria N240b for fuel subsidy, and then before the year ran out, Mr Jonathan’s government had already spent over a trillion naira on that without batting an eyelid. Then when it appeared their recklessness had thrust illiquidity upon their faces, they pushed the cost of the roguery of their friends onto Nigerians and titled it subsidy removal. We vehemently refused that, and argued, as every average thinking person would, that the answer lied in prosecuting those who defrauded the Nation of trillions of its revenue, and recovering the funds from them. They pushed their way through. At a town-hall meeting to sell their untruths to Nigerians, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala even delved into the ridiculous when she alluded to the need for us to help them fish out those who sabotage the nation economically. Well, that comment ended up being one of the many jokes, albeit very unintelligent ones, that have been dropping out of her mouth since she joined this government.
The push of Nigerians for transparency in the management of their oil revenue led the responsive House of Representatives into setting up an adhoc committee that probed the management of the subsidy regime. Headed by Farouk Lawan, the committee doubled-down on government’s complicity in the subsidy fraud, and even the roles played by key government agencies and parastatals in destroying the country they were set up to serve. But as the committee was at work, Femi Otedola, one of the three closest businessmen to the president (the other two are Aliko Dangote and Aig Aigboje Imoukhuede of Access Bank) was out to rubbish the report and render it useless. He set Farouk up and bribed him with some dollar bills. When it was time to use the ploy in the achievement of its original purpose, Femi Otedola proudly informed Nigerians that he gave bribe to a legislator. There was joy in Jonathan’s presidency. As you read these, Otedola is the president’s Man-Friday, walking freely on the streets and even attending some important state functions with him.
The Jonathan camp changed the narrative. Farouk Lawan’s report was now labeled as lacking in credibility. It was shocking. Nobody talked about why it should be implemented while the culprits in the bribery saga get prosecuted for such massive economic sabotage. Don’t prosecute them since Femi was involved. Just rubbish Farouk and then kill the report.
And then came the Petroleum Revenue Task Force headed by Nuhu Ribadu. It was set up by this same government to look into the affairs of the oil industry from 2002 – 2012. The committee’s report has long been ready. It was formally presented to the president on Friday where another comedy, in the manner of Otedola’s, played out. Mr. Steve Oronsaye, Nigeria’s former Head of Service and Vice Chairman of the Task Force played the spoiler. He was part of the committee but was not attending deliberations until it was time to discuss recovery of funds owed by some companies. He attended the meeting and then scuttled the Task Force’s efforts to recover $1.5billion from Addax Petroleum.
Justifying his well calculated attempt to make nonsense of the report, Mr Oronsaye claimed he was a believer in processes, and that the process that led to the compilation of the report was flawed and so ‘unimplementable’. Oronsaye did not have the courage to tell Nigerians that he accepted appointment into the board of NNPC even while still serving as a member of the Task Force, and that such was a necessary condition to erode his objectivity on the matter. Oronsaye did not have the decency to resign his membership of that Task Force when he took up the board membership appointment. That must be how ‘credible’ people act in the world Mr Oronsaye happened from.
Which leads to the next question: Who appointed Steve Oronsaye in the NNPC board while he was carrying out another task that entailed auditing the same NNPC? Was the presidency not aware of the conflict of interest in that regard? Was Steve the only Nigerian qualified to be a board member of NNPC such that he would need to serve in the committee that probes the corporation a board member of which he is? Mr Oronsaye must have been planted in that Task Force to discredit it.
And if the only issue Mr Oronsaye has with the recommendations is the process in their compilation, and not the recommendations themselves, why did he declare them ‘unimplementable’? One would have thought that the real issue is in whether the recommendations were outside what the Task Force members collectively agreed upon.
My understanding of how this corruption-building administration of Goodluck Jonathan works tells me this was designed to ensure corruption in the oil industry remains blossoming.
The report reveals that between 2008 and 2011, Nigerian oil ministers handed out no fewer than seven discretionary licences and claimed that a total of $183 million (about N28.7 billion in signature bonuses was missing from the deals. The report also claimed that three of the oil licences in question were awarded within the tenure of the present Petroleum Minister, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke. Diezani was indicted by the Task Force. This isn’t the first time she’s being indicted in a probe of this manner.
The whole drama is to rub it on our faces that Goodluck Jonathan is comfortable with corruption. He will neither sack Diezani nor give Nigerians any reason to assert that she is indeed corrupt even in the face of prima facie evidences. And there are always Oronsaye’s and Otedolas who are willing to help out.
Those who are surprised – I wonder who should still be by now, anyway – about the game of deceit in President Goodluck Jonathan’s government may need to take time to study more the man they expect good governance from. A man who desires everybody around him to share from the proceeds of sleaze will not stop the growth of sleaze. What you tolerate you cannot exterminate.
Any leader who doesn’t see as evil the mismanagement of public funds isn’t fit to lead even himself, let alone his household. This is the character that runs today’s Aso Rock. And this is unfortunate.
You can follow @ekekeee on Twitter for more direct engagement.