Sunday, 26 May 2013
Jonathan: Combating Corruption By Conversation By Sonala Olumhense*
There is a growing clamor for the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Mr. Emeka Wogu, and the Minister responsible for the Niger Delta, Mr. Godspower Orubebe, to resign their appointment, or for President Goodluck Jonathan to kick them out.
Every Nigerian knows they will not resign. But will Jonathan fire them?
Here is a part of the story:
Mr. Wogu chairs the White Paper Committee on the Petroleum Revenue Task Force (otherwise known as the Nuhu Ribadu Committee).
In the days before he received this whitewashing appointment, it turned out that, as part of the ongoing buccaneering in the oil sector, the government had lost N2.7 billion to a company called Pinnacle Contractors.
But none of the fuel for which it was paid twice was ever delivered, and the Coordinating Minister and Minister of Finance , Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, announced Pinnacle to be one of the companies that had not only defrauded Nigeria, but also simply disappeared along with the loot. Like a thief in the night.
Pinnacle Contractors was so good at what it did (or did not do) that it could not even be found in the database of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
A true thief in the night: converting daylight into an ally. Abracadabra!
And then, mysteriously on November 30, just one week ago, Pinnacle Contractors suddenly appeared in the books of the CAC.
And then, just when you were about to say you had seen it all, it turns out that Pinnacle Contractors belongs to Mr. Wogu and his family. This, remember, is the same man Jonathan has charged with reviewing the contentious work of the Ribadu Committee on the oil sector.
Demonstrating equal abracadabra dimensions is the story of Elder Godspower Orubebe, the powerful Minister of the Niger Delta who is so close to the president they might as well be brothers.
Suddenly, Mr. Orubebe is being probed by the House of Representatives.
How? Mr. Orubebe, famous for trying to bribe visiting representatives of the Save Nigeria Group at Aso Rock two years ago, currently resides in an opulent mansion in the Mabushi District of Abuja, a gift he allegedly received from the construction company, Setraco. The spread in Mabushi is said to be a billionaire’s paradise: not because Mr. Orubebe spent a billion on it but because it was allegedly built for him for billions.
Critics, notably in the House, say he did not even declare the property with the Code of Conduct Bureau. Those critics are somewhat unkind: what if the Minister is unsatisfied with the quality of the shopping malls or the soccer pitches? Perhaps he should not declare it as an asset before it has met his discriminating tastes?
Orubebe, anyhow, is alleged to have been taking advantage of his office to collect similar gifts. Representative Odeneye Kehinde, who sponsored the motion in the House, said among others, “The minister’s financial escapades and liaisons are in Dubai and other corruption shelters overseas.”
He also said Orubebe has “paid for so many phantom projects.”
In response, Mr. Orubebe dismissed the allegations as the work of his detractors and mischief-makers and extortionists. It is remarkable how the rich and the powerful always seem to attract to themselves and their exploits such undesirables…jealous people who cannot invent a Setraco of their own?
Seriously speaking, these are bizarre, shameful stories. Were we Ghana or South Africa, or even Niger Republic, I would have agreed with those who say it is in the interest of Mr. Jonathan’s “offensive” against corruption to move the two men sideways until they have cleaned up their records. After all, only the United States fights corruption with more solid uppercuts than Mr. Jonathan’s government, as Mr. Jonathan himself has said.
But it is Nigeria, and it is too much to expect that the government would be embarrassed or concerned by matters as minor as these. Wogu is dealing with allegations relating to a miserly N2.7 billion, and Orubebe with a mansion said to be just “billions.”
These are infinitesimal amounts of money. These are amounts that are far too small to attract the attention or respect of Mr. Jonathan.
As usual, therefore, he should simply ignore these petty issues and keep his cabinet as it is.
There are several reasons for this. By refusing to listen to the public, Mr. Jonathan will once again demonstrate that he is his own man, and not accountable to anybody. That is the stuff of which powerful men are made. An approach of this nature will enable him to focus on the most important element: winning the 2015 re-election race.
Second, at least one of the two men is a personal friend of Mr. Jonathans. No friend of Nigeria’s most powerful man is ever corrupt, for that would suggest that he eats and drinks with corrupt people and is himself corrupt. Mr. Jonathan should simply tell his hecklers, “I don’t give damn!”
But the most important reason why Mr. Jonathan should ignore these complaints is obvious: how can he fire these two men and let others in his cabinet be?
Remember: several have been accused of various acts of corruption, and Mr. Jonathan looked in his pockets, like a man searching for coins, and simply did not find a damn to give.
They said Diezani Alison Madueke, Her Excellency the Minister of Petroleum Resources, was corrupt. Several reports have made a variety of allegations in that regard in the past few years. One of them, 234NEXT newspaper—God rest its soul—did an elaborate, intensive investigation that was so compelling its reporters and editors won at least one international award.
The President rummaged in his pockets, and again, did not find a dime—I mean, damn. The matter died, especially when that pesky NEXT newspaper died. Hallelujah!
Other reports also said that the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke, was corrupt. They alleged that he illegally authorised the transfer of N165 billion federal funds into another one that was being controlled by a felon. They were funds originally paid by to the government for the famous oil block OPL 245. The matter will die.
Earlier in January, Adoke, according to a website which claimed to have dug hard and deep, was also found to be the owner of multi-million dollars in secret bank accounts. And the site published details.
The Minister acknowledged he owned those accounts, but said he owned no such funds.
He may have been telling the truth, but the word will never know because as is his custom, President Jonathan did not give a damn, and he allowed Mr. Adoke to carry on.
This is the background. That history of not giving a damn is yielding us a deteriorating international image—whoever knew that was possible—in the hands of this government.
That is why, in Mr. Jonathan’s own eyes, he has a harmonious, productive cabinet. They are a good team. When they look across the table at each other during each Wednesday’s contract-awarding ritual, each person knows that he or she is part of a story that is funnier than anything in Nollywood. All they have to do is stick together, and like a good soccer team, attack and defend for each other.
They have as a leader a man who tells the time by how much of a damn he does not give: a man who combats corruption with conversation, knowing that when he looks down the table, he will see the tragic figures of Labaran Maku and Allison-Madueke.
In a moment, one will step outside that door and tell Nigerians to shut up, stop complaining and take their medicine like strong citizens. The other will blame the country’s terrible image on the media and the people for their loudmouths.
No, Mr. Jonathan, you do not need to fire any Ministers, because there may not be many left standing. Let your philosophy remain that there is neither corruption nor integrity. That is how the Americans do it, right?
And some Ministers are right in one thing: Unless Nigerians wasn’t to bring some heat, they should simply shut up. They know exactly how we got here.