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Mixed Metaphors: Fascinating Money Narratives By Sonala Olumhense

You may not have noticed, but five Nigerians are currently listed among the only 11 black billionaires alive.  The poorest of these eminent persons comes in at a net worth of $1 billion.


Three are women, and among them is a Nigerian.

Topping the list, as if you didn’t know, is Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote.  He lost about $10billion in the past year, poor man, on account of well-reported ups and downs in the international financial system, but he is still worth about $18 billion.

Also of note, five of the 10 richest pastors in the world in 2015 are Nigerians.  They are led by Pastor David Oyedipo of the Living Faith World Outreach Ministry, and he has a net worth of $150 million.

These men and women have made their money in a variety of ways, and some of them are known for a variety of investments, others for their conspicuous spending as well.  The international investigators who assemble these profiles are able to do so because of open sources of reporting.

Regrettably, similar reporting is absent at home in Nigeria, where it might have been possible to establish, among others: profiles of the biggest looters of public funds.  Imagine learning the richest former governor or president; the richest serving governor; the richest former First Lady; the richest current First Lady; the richest former Inspector-General of Police; the biggest bogus contracts awarded in 2014, etc.

Actually, such investigations are not impossible.  The motivation to publish them is what has been absent, partly because people who are of this kind of rich can buy anything, including motivation.

Think about it: last week, a judge sent to jail for two months former Jigawa State governor Sule Lamido, along with two of his sons.  During the ‘stealin-is-not-corruption’ era, Lamido was one of the nation’s richest and most powerful governors.

Also in court last week, courtesy of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), was Ikedi Ohakim, a former governor of Imo State, and Murtala Nyako, who governed Adamawa until his removal last year.

The men appeared in court on charges of money laundering, conspiracy, abuse of office, and misappropriation of public funds.  Ohakim, for instance, is alleged to have paid $2,290,000 in cash for a property in Abuja.  He was reported to the EFCC by a group of persons representing the 27 local government councils of Imo State.

Nyako was arraigned along with one of his sons and others for a staggering fraud of nearly N30billion.   

If you didn’t know, I don’t trust the EFCC because although it is set up as an anti-corruption agency, it has demonstrated a very poor understanding of the concepts of integrity and accountability.  

Up until now, it has not persuaded the public about its competence or its pursuit of justice, with thieving VIPs either celebrating their rottenness as if the commission does not exist, or being ‘let go’ following shoddy prosecution.  Sometimes, it is as if the very strategy was to prosecute to lose.     

Suddenly, however, former governors are appearing in court, and you wonder why.  Any you wonder why only a handful of former governors are being brought before the courts instead of entire locusts of them in courtrooms all over the country.  

You wonder how—don’t you—the EFCC determines which governors should go now, rather than next.  Why, for instance, is Nyako in court when he only left office in 2014?  Why is Senate President Bukola Saraki, who left office in 2011 just like Ohakim, not in court just like Ohakim?  

On the subject of looter-governors, the federal government last week bailed out bankrupt States with a N413 billion intervention package to help them pay salaries and allowances to public sector workers, some of whom were being owed seven months or more.  

If history is any guide, four years from now the EFCC may well be dragging some of the current governors to court, alleging they opted to pay themselves first.  

Part of the problem is that the governors are way too powerful, but the Muhammadu Buhari government can take advantage of the bailout by taking creative measures to enhance accountability.  This is a special opportunity.

Speaking of enhancing accountability, Nigeria’s former Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, seems to be unclear about the distinction between power and responsibility.  

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala held two powerful offices.  She had such a tight grip on everything that many senior government officials she had on lockdown made no progress even when they appealed to their principal.   

Mr. Jonathan may have held the presidency, but it was the Double Duty Minister who held the power of the treasury.  Naturally, the press and the public—in addition to the new government—want to know how they disbursed their good fortune.   

Curiously, she seems unprepared for questions about how the Nigerian economy was managed; where the funds went, when and how.  To be fair, she has not exactly been asked any direct, or tricky, question yet.

But the Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole, speaking in his capacity as a member of the National Economic Council (NEC) announced that in December 2014, the Finance Minister unilaterally approved the withdrawal of over half of the $4.1 billion left in the Excess Crude Account.

Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala dismissed that claim as being “false, malicious and totally without foundation.”  Her explanation: “Decisions on such expenditure were discussed at meetings of the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) attended by finance commissioners from the 36 states.”

Members of the FAAC took exception to that explanation, which they described as misleading.  “FAAC did not and could not have approved, nor took the decision to withdraw the sum of Two Billion U.S. Dollar ($2,000,000,000.00) from the Excess Crude Account,” they responded.

That seemed to have jogged Okonjo-Iweala’s memory.   Oh no, she pleaded last week: it was not the FAAC which had given her authorization, but actually President Jonathan, unilaterally.  She did not say if she understood that was against the law, or if that was how their government was run.   

It is going to get quite interesting when actual questions are framed and put to those who have responsibility to answer them, including Mr. Jonathan.   There are various allegations he spent trillions of Naira on his re-election effort, and his lavish bribes—sometimes in hard currency—were widely documented during the campaign.   

Hopefully, better story-telling, in the form of direct and educated explanations, is forthcoming.  Okonjo-Iweala has already suggested she is being “persecuted,” as if persecution is a defence of illegality.

There is a lot of money to be talked about up ahead, and I personally recommend clearer and improved story-telling.  

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Twitter: @SonalaOlumhense

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