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Obasanjo’s Unfair Assault On The EFCC By Sonala Olumhense

Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s former leader, has dismissed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as a “toothless bulldog”.  

He was not referring to the EFCC for which he was responsible.  Of that, to which he had appointed Nuhu Ribadu chairman, he told his listeners at his 79th birthday event:

“…When Nuhu was handling EFCC, he handled it in such a way that people coined the saying that 'the fear of Nuhu Ribadu is the beginning of wisdom' …but what made the institution to become a toothless bulldog…”

To be fair to the old man, he did criticize the agency during the infamous era of Farida Waziri, who took over from Ribadu in 2008, describing her as unqualified and incapable.

At his birthday event, he brought with him a rather sharp knife aimed, it would appear, at taking the air out of the momentum the commission is currently gaining. 

In fact, if Ribadu’s EFCC was criticized for focusing on Obasanjo’s enemies and Waziri’s for protecting Umaru Yar’Adua’s friends, the current EFCC deserves commendation for appearing to have no other agenda but justice.  

Perhaps nothing different should have been expected of the commission’s current head, Ibrahim Magu, who was one of those top investigators swept aside by Mrs. Waziri when she assumed leadership in 2008.  Magu not only lost his job, he was almost killed.

But fate would bring him back and to the top of the agency.  Speaking to civil society groups last month, he boldly lambasted some Nigerian lawyers and journalists, accusing them of conniving with criminals to subvert the course of justice and frustrate the war against corruption.

Declaring the days of impunity to be over, he said, “We have no other country than Nigeria.  This war is the war of the people.  Apart from the fear of God, we have no other fear. Apart from the interest of Nigeria, we have no other interest.  And apart from the Rule of Law, we have no other rule guiding the work we are doing today.” 

Were Obasanjo a true statesman, he would have taken off his cap at his birthday and led a rendition of the National Anthem in salute to such courage.  He would have called for support and resources for the agency in order to fortify it as an institution.

Instead, he looked for words of demolition.  It is not difficult for me to speculate as to why he chose such a dishonourable path, but I will leave that to others.  

What is more significant than anything else is that Obasanjo was really referring not to the EFCC, but to President Buhari and his war against corruption.  If the commission was looking for motivation or for a challenge, it now has it.  

I have always said that Nigeria cannot make a meaningful new start until a probe of Obasanjo takes place.   His challenge of the EFCC is that reminder, and such a probe is in the interest of Nigeria’s past and its future. 

Politically, it must never be forgotten that the menace of the Yar’Adua/Goodluck Jonathan years was handcrafted by Obasanjo following the collapse of his third term bid had failed.  He has yet to take responsibility for it.  

Obasanjo’s economic achievements are a myth, and his National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy collapsed at birth.  Despite being handpicked by Obasanjo, President Yar'Adua is on record as lamenting that Obasanjo threw away $10 billion in the power sector alone.

Next, what did “transparent and accountable” Obasanjo do with the billions of dollars in Abacha funds his government recovered?  What did it do with the monumental extra oil revenues that fell on his laps from the Iraq war?  What did it do with the $1 billion per annum accruing to us as part of the 2006 debt relief pact with the Paris Club?   On that point, who is the former top official of the Obasanjo administration that the current Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, told the ICPC in 2006 had collected N60 billion as a commission in the transaction?

And yes, the current administration is reforming the NNPC, but for eight years, Obasanjo served as his own Minister for Petroleum Resources because he claimed he could not find any trustworthy Nigerian for the job.  While he is on his sanctimonious anti-corruption rants, why doesn’t he tell Nigerians how he managed the place?   

During the Obasanjo years, he often took it upon himself to investigate funds and chase cheques, including the June 2004 mismanagement of $100 million federal funds meant for the payment of debts owed our embassies; the July 2004 attempt to defraud his government of about 36m Euros; and the 2005 embarrassment of his government sending a $10 million cheque to pay an International Seabed Authority obligation of only $22,000.  Where are those funds, and did anyone go to jail for their involvement?

What happened to the Obasanjo government investigation of the Okija Shrine scandal of 2004?  Where are the crime control cameras his government budgeted for Abuja and Lagos?  

As corrupt as Nigeria was under Obasanjo, how many people did he send to prison for corruption?  Where are the new roads and bridges he promised Lagosians in 2003 he would build during his second term to resolve the city’s traffic menace?  What happened to the contracts given to various contractors, including foreign firms, to build the Sagamu-Benin City Road?

Criticized by Obasanjo’s own former colleagues at Transparency International during his tenure, his government was lamely telling the world that TI ought to have been looking at what Nigeria had done, not what it had achieved.   

Why does Obasanjo now forget that even Ribadu lamented at the time that nobody was serving a jail term for corruption?  “The principal reason for the failure of our law enforcement agencies is corruption,” Ribadu concluded.

Perhaps Obasanjo also does not know that Ribadu has since told the world that he lacked the political will to fight corruption? 

I could go on for weeks about Obasanjo’s betrayal of Nigeria, as opposed to the legacy of achiever and patriot he is scrambling to build.  

What he should be seeking, as a Christian, is penance.  To that end, I challenge him to advocate changes in various statutes, such as election campaign finance and the electoral law, to attract true patriots—rather than charlatans and hypocrites—into public office.  

I Turn The Page

If you are reading this story in Sunday Punch, you did not buy the wrong newspaper: I hereby announce that I parted company with The Guardian at the end of February.  I will now write for this organization along with Media Trust, as principal publishers of this column. 

I leave behind at The Guardian, where I was on the pioneer staff in 1983, wonderful memories and friends.  As an organization, however, we had grown apart philosophically.  Our relationship spanned February 1983 to February 2016.  

I return to The Punch, where I began my journalism career in 1979, and wrote my first two columns.  I am delighted to find the front door still open to me. I am glad to be home.

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Twitter: @SonalaOlumhense