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Bewitched By Aisha Buhari By Sonala Olumhense

Everyone knows the document now: the Government’s Sentencing Memorandum in the United States case against former Louisiana congressman William Jefferson of 2007

We know the relevant page, and that one line about a June 2002 “170,000 wire transfer from (an) account in Nigeria in the name of Aisha Buhari to an account in the name of The ANJ Group,” for which Mr. Jefferson was the beneficiary.

In November 2009, Mr. Jefferson, was sentenced to 13 years in prison after being convicted on most of the corruption charges he faced.  He had been secretly videotaped by the FBI in mid-2005 receiving a $100,000 bribe in a briefcase, the victim of a sting.  During the process, which the FBI used four different camera angles to record, he said he needed to give someone half a million dollars to help obtain contracts for two American firms.  

The man he was speaking to, unknown to him, was wearing an FBI wire.  And the man who would get the half a million: Atiku Abubakar, then Nigeria’s Vice President.

Atiku, whose wife, former star Nigerian Television Authority reporter Jennifer (Iwenjora) Atiku-Abubakar, lives in his Maryland mansion, denied any relationship with Jefferson.  The United States Securities and Exchange Commission said Siemens paid bribes by the millions of dollars in the quest for Nigerian telecommunications contracts.  It identified Atiku and Jennifer as the likely recipients of approximately $2.8 million of those funds through a bank account in her name in Potomac, Maryland.

Those were the same shark-infested waters centred on Mr. Jefferson’s Nigeria games that one Aisha Buhari played in, a few years earlier

In her case, for some reason, she paid a lot of money to Jefferson.  From Nigeria.  

It was no surprise that the no-retreat-no-surrender Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose, his personal bank accounts frozen by the EFCC, found the inspiration to try to freeze Aso Rock.  

“Even the president cannot claim to be an angel,” he chuckled.  “The estate he built in Abuja is known to us. His wife was indicted over the Halliburton Scandal. When that American, Jefferson, was being sentenced, the President’s wife was mentioned as having wired $170,000 to Jefferson…”

At which point some surprise guests arrived.

It was not surprising that the presidency responded, challenging him to prove that the Aisha of his story is the same as the First Lady.

But it was certainly surprising that former EFCC chairman Ibrahim Lamorde ventured outside the security of the spot where he is hiding from allegations of corruption in his handling of recovered funds, to take the microphone. 

Said Lamorde: “I can tell you authoritatively that the Aisha Buhari named in that case is not President Buhari’s wife…I was the director of operations at the EFCC at the time so I know about the case very well. I can tell you that it is not her. That much we established.”

Also contributing, the pioneer chairman of the EFCC, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, under whom Lamorde had been the said director, confirmed that the agency had established that the woman named in the Jefferson scandal was impersonating Buhari’s wife.  

“She is a different person and has lived in the U.S. for years. She is hardly in Nigeria…One of my plans was to arrest her before I left the commission…”

But perhaps the strangest defender of the honour of the First Lady was Otunba Oyewole Fasawe, who described Fayose’s outburst as “fallacious, baseless, misinformed and defamatory."  He it is who provides the critical link of the present with the past.  

"We were the ones in government, and she was never a member of our party or my business associate,” he said of the First Lady.  “So, how could she have been involved in the first place?”

If you do not know Fasawe, you have to go back to the early PDP Years, when he was first a close ally of Obasanjo, and then of Atiku, two roles that were irreconcilable.

Following an adverse report of the EFCC in 2006, Obasanjo sought the resignation or impeachment of Atiku Abubakar as vice-president.  That report had arisen from a request, by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) in its investigation of Mr. Jefferson, which specifically included the names of Atiku and Fasawe. The US wanted information on American company iGate, especially in connection with one of its Nigerian counterparts, Netlink Digital Television (NDTV).

Fasawe was chairman of NDTV.  

Mr. Jefferson, who had met Fasawe during that year’s Sullivan Summit, introduced NDTV to iGate.  The DOJ, by the way, also wanted to examine bank records concerning payments or transfers of funds from the Petroleum Trust Development Fund (PTDF), which was the key source of the war between Obasanjo and Abubakar.

At the time, President Obasanjo and his aides were accusing Atiku of having used the PDTF like a personal account.  Defending himself, Atiku said that Obasanjo benefited immensely from funds in that and similar accounts, showing journalists photocopies of cancelled cheques that had benefitted Obasanjo, his family, businesses, and communities.  He gave the example of Obasanjo’s Personal Assistant, Mr. Bodunde Adeyanju, who—between 1999 and 2004 alone—made over 100 trips to TIB on Obasanjo’s behalf.  

I provide this background as a refresher on the terrain in those days, but there are two more reasons I do so.  The first is so it becomes clearer what Fasawe means when he—a man who held no political office—claims, “We were the ones in government….”

And of course, in his intervention, Fasawe disclosed he still has millions of dollars tied up in the US over Jefferson, and requested the Nigerian government to help him recover his money.   

My final reason is to underline that, last week, two Nigerians filed a “no opinion” opinion on Aisha Buhari.

Obasanjo and Atiku.

It was no surprise that the First Lady came out swinging for herself, giving Governor Fayose five days to retract his “very wild, unfounded and false allegations and imputations,” or else.

Even SaharaReporters entered the fray, saying its investigation confirmed that this Aisha is not that Aisha.  

All of these narratives must be comforting for the Buharis of Aso Rock.  But they all miss the point, which is that the problem is not whether there are two or more Aisha Buharis.

Think about it: for about 12 years, Nigeria has tangled with hundreds of scandals, although Fayose is obviously unable to tell the first from the second.  Everywhere, the international scandals have led to reparations and prison sentences.  

Everywhere but Nigeria.  

It is clear from the words of two-time EFCC chairman Lamorde that under his watch, the agency could have done much more on the Aisha Buhari file, and hundreds besides.  

It didn’t, because ours is a bogus engagement with corruption, the objective often being just to look busy.  Others travel on straight roads; we go in circles.  

That is what makes an Aisha Buhari of each of us, as we neglect every haunting indictment, right or wrong, such as “The estate he built in Abuja…”  A woman, presumably, who presumably lives in the US pays $170k to the US from a Nigerian account in 2002, and we claim not to know who she is.

We are bewitched by our own conscience and seized by our own trap: free, even if convicted; guilty, even in our absence.

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Twitter: @SonalaOlumhense