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Crimes in progress

September 9, 2007

Emmanuel Nnamdi (“Andy”) Uba, ex-President Olusegun
Obasanjo’s domestic aide, was the instrument used to
quell the whirlwind that was set to sweep away Speaker
Patricia Etteh. That impression was given last week by
several Nigerian newspapers. Embroiled in a scandal
for approving six hundred million naira for the
renovation of two official residences—hers and her
deputy’s—Etteh’s odds of survival seemed slim. But
then Uba stepped in and—from the look of things—bought
her a reprieve.

Mr. Uba’s solution was a political masterstroke of a
predictable, familiar kind. He came up with a plan
that serves the narrow interests of the speaker as
well as the legislators on opposite sides of the feud,
but works against the interests of the Nigerian
people. What was that solution?

One of the most detailed and telling accounts of it
was published in the Punch of September 6. In order to
grasp the import and nature of Uba’s scheme, we ought
to quote at length from the Punch report written by
Sola Imoru and Kemi Obasola. The report began: “A
former Special Assistant to the President on Domestic
Affairs, Dr. [sic] Andy Uba, on Wednesday saved the
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mrs. Patricia
Etteh, from humiliation.”

Right there, the report revealed where Uba’s heart
lies. Forget about saving Nigeria from humiliation,
what matters is securing the comfort of Madam Speaker.

The Punch continued: “Investigations by one of our
correspondents showed that Uba hosted a secret meeting
between Etteh and the key leaders of the Integrity
Group, who wanted to unseat the Speaker. The secret
parley was held at Uba’s mansion at 175, Ibrahim Taiwo
Road, Asokoro Quarters, Abuja.”

Let’s note in passing that Uba, who nine years ago was
a struggling businessman in California, amassed enough
“dividends of democracy” from Obasanjo to afford a
mansion in Asokoro, perhaps Nigeria’s most expensive
real estate stretch. Having noted that, we must hasten
back to the Punch. “A source said Uba’s intervention
was at the instance of the Presidency, which claimed
that the scandal in the House would not augur well for
the stability of the lower chamber. The source alleged
that a top shot in the Presidency had put a call to
Uba on Tuesday night to ‘find a way of reconciling the
warring members in the House, having been instrumental
to their election.’ Based on the directive of the
Presidency, Uba decided to convene the secret

That the Presidency would give Uba the job of
hoodwinking Nigerians speaks volumes about Umaru
Yar’adua’s alleged ethical credentials. If the
Presidency were truly concerned about the “stability
of the lower chamber,” might it not have backed the
removal of a speaker who has excelled in degrading the
office and the chamber? If the Presidency feels that
Uba should be saddled with rescuing the speaker from
her ethical tangle, then what ethical capital does the
current tenant at Aso Rock ascribe to Uba? The clause
that Uba was “instrumental to [the] election” of the
warring legislators speaks volumes about Uba’s
supposed “electoral” powers. Pray, who gave him the
magical mandate to cast the votes for all the
legislators? Are we to decode the exaggerated praise
as acknowledging Uba’s role in April’s electoral

The Punch continued: “Those at the session were Etteh;
her deputy, Babangida Nguroje; the House leader, Chief
Tunde Akogun; the Chief Whip, Bethel Amadi; and his
deputy, Mr. Aminu Tambuwal. Others from the opposing
camp were Mr. Farouk Lawan, Mrs. Lynda Ikpeazu, Mr.
Halims Agoda, Mr. Aliyu Wadada, and Mrs. Mercy Isei.
It was learnt that the emergency meeting, which began
at about 10am, ended around 1.40pm.”

Basically, the dramatis personae were in Uba’s mansion
for this high-powered parley whose goal was not to
advance the nation’s interest but to save a single,
over-indulged politician “from humiliation.” So what
came of this agenda? Let’s turn to the Punch: “A
source said, ‘The two parties decided to sheathe their
swords and halt the impeachment of the Speaker. Those
against Etteh gave her a condition to reconstitute the
membership of some of the committees in the House.
They also asked the Speaker to be mutually
consultative on major issues, especially contracts.’”

Which is to say that, as far as the warring
representatives are concerned, the cessation of
hostilities is a done deal. What was the price for
peace? Etteh is to give juicier committee assignments
to some of her nemeses. And, when next there are
hundreds of millions (perhaps billions) of naira to be
squandered on renovation or other contracts, she must
spread the joy around. Spreading the lucre, that’s the
best way of decoding the awkward euphemism that the
speaker must be “mutually consultative on major
issues, especially contracts.” In fact, for the
impostors gathered in Mr. Uba’s mansion, there can’t
be any more major issue than contracts.

If the speaker and her erstwhile antagonists have
kissed and made up, then how is the resolution to be
sold to Nigerians? With Uba as guardian spirit, the
issue of public manipulation posed little or no
problem. For the specifics of Uba’s political heroics,
we need turn again to the Punch: “But to manage the
scandal, which is already in public domain, the two
groups agreed that a committee should be set up to
investigate the award of the N628m contracts.”
Investigate? More like an exercise in mass deception,
a strategy to deflect the public’s attention from an
unforgivable scandal. According to the Punch, the “two
camps agreed that the committee would just be a mere
smokescreen in order to diffuse tension in the House
and in the country.”

Just in case anybody had doubts about pulling off the
jiggery pokery, the Uba conclave reached back to
recent history for reassurance. The Punch reporters
wrote that “The groups recalled that a former Deputy
President of the Senate, Alhaji Ibrahim Mantu, had
faced a similar crisis but the report of the committee
was never given any serious consideration. The leaders
of the aggrieved members of the House were thereafter
directed to ensure a ‘soft-landing’ for Etteh at the
Wednesday session.”

If anybody is well placed to understand the art of
public deception, it’s Uba. A trusted scion of
Obasanjo’s disastrous political theater that ran for
eight long years, thriving on falsehood, Uba proved a
great apprentice and imitator when he ran for the
governorship of Anambra. Widely despised in Anambra
for his role in the systematic destruction of the
state, alongside Obasanjo and his stormy petrel of a
younger brother, Uba cut a tragic figure when his
handlers sold him as a mini-Obasanjo. His hubris was
checked when, on June 14, the Supreme Court disabused
him of the delusion of being a governor.

It is in character that Uba has emerged from
hibernation to anchor a grand plot to mislead the
Nigerian people. The deal he helped engineer for
embattled Etteh is in keeping with his unimpressive
moral outlook. In fact, his imprimatur on the Etteh
rescue plan is proof, if any were ever needed, that
Uba was an attentive apprentice of Obasanjo’s,
mastering his master’s atrocious brand of ethics.

It was Obasanjo who, in the aftermath of the abduction
of Chris Ngige in 2003, came up with the dictum that
it was “a family affair”. Five years later, Uba has
implied that Etteh’s squandering of the nation’s
scarce resources in pursuit of obscene luxury is a
family affair. When these men speak of family, they
must mean crime families! When hired hoodlums owned
the streets of Anambra, making a bonfire of public
assets, Obasanjo claimed in an angry letter to then
PDP Chairman Audu Ogbe that the perpetrators were
being investigated, and would be tried. It turned out
a diversion, sheer presidential deceit. Today, Uba has
brokered a deal to shield the speaker of the House of
Representatives from the consequences of her mindless
wastage of public funds.

Nigerian students, who make do without basic
facilities, workers, who toil but receive less than
subsistence wages, and the vast majority of Nigerians
who grind out a harsh existence below the poverty
line, ought to wake up to the fact that they’re being
had—or screwed as Americans would say. One of
Obasanjo’s last acts in office was to stiff Nigerians
with higher taxes and fuel prices. One of Yar’adua’s
first acts in his usurped office was to try to sustain
Obasanjo’s callous imposition. Their argument, tacit
or stated, was that the country could not afford the
burden of (alleged) fuel subsidies. But those who rape
Nigeria and its resources have no trouble spending
more than five million dollars to spruce up two
official quarters!

That is the precise nature of Etteh’s crime. And the
effort to cover up this crime is a crime in itself.
Even if the speaker followed all the prescribed
procedures for awarding a contract, she is guilty of
arrogance, insensitivity, and presumption. The
Nigerian state throws petty thieves in jail, some of
them for stealing in order to eat. Why then are those
who throw obscene parties for themselves at public
expense, or who acquire mansions and stupendous bank
accounts by inexplicable means, allowed to walk the
streets as free men and women?

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