When re-election-seeking President Muhammadu Buhari and challenger ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar emerged as their respective party’s candidate for the 2019 presidential election, there was salient national relief that the encounter would feature less acrimony that normally pollutes elections in Nigeria. Both are from the same part of the country, both are of the same religious faith and more importantly, both are of the same ethnic stock.
As t turned out, Nigerians lost their bet for that self-assurance. Tantrums throughout the campaigns totalled up to be child’s play compared to the mutual damaging claims at the election petition tribunal, which will be determined one way or the other in the indefinite future.
In advance of that eagerly awaited moment, more than mere theatricals are going on between Buhari and Atiku Abubakar. In the process, collateral damage is experienced even by their key supporters. Their polemic is best illustrated by one of the fiercest make-or-break battles during the civil war at Ore junction on the Benin-Sagamu road, between Biafra and Nigeria. Everything was thrown into it, such that, since then, any showdown between two sides is related to the Battle of Ore.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was the strongest supporter of Atiku Abubakar, PDP presidential candidate. Obasanjo initially proxied a new political alliance since failing to have his way in the PDP. His new party could not take off, which was no surprise. Throughout his life, Obasanjo had always benefitted from or, in most cases, inherited the glory or achievement of others. To sustain his strong opposition to Buhari’s re-election, Obasanjo publicly endorsed Atiku Abubakar. Ordinarily, such endorsement would have been a mere surprise, given his (Obasanjo’s) unrestrained verbal, administrative, electoral political, economic antagonism against Atiku Abubakar, not only when he (Atiku) was Vice President (both left office in 2007) but also till a few months before the 2019 elections. Even at that time, Obasanjo, let it be known to the observing world that he would not be forgiven by God if he ever allowed Atiku to be elected President of Federal Republic of Nigeria.
It was, therefore, a shock to the observing world when Atiku Abubakar called at Obasanjo’s house at Abeokuta on what Catholic Bishop Matthew Kukah later described as a peace mission, which he said he (Kukah) facilitated, for the reconciliation of the two men. Never in the country’s political history had Nigerians witnessed such blatant somersault. Obasanjo campaigned for Atiku Abubakar more than the candidate canvassed for himself. The same Obasanjo topped it all with series of critical letters to Buhari and released same to the public. Most notably, he cited unspecified allegations of corruption. Which vision did Obasanjo suddenly see? The same Obasanjo who completely destroyed Atiku Abubakar’s reputation, in his (Obasanjo’s) three-part memoirs, as it now turns out, most unfairly?
Buhari’s re-election came with his expressed determination to intensify anti-corruption battle. Suddenly, Obasanjo halted his open critical letters to Buhari. The reason became clear when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission disclosed that its operatives (had) invaded Obasanjo’s library at Abeokuta to confirm the laundering of funds into the institution. Said to be at least N50 million, a fortnight after the exposure, there has been no reaction from either Obasanjo or Obasanjo Library, an unusual further silence.
Sarcastically, what is all the fuss being made by either Buhari, the EFCC or even Atiku Abubakar on the N50 million donation to the Obasanjo Library? The chicken feed only is another installment in the gradual recouping of the same amount handed to each of most members National Assembly in pursuit of the futile third term bid. Did EFCC probe that unauthorised public expenditure? Was it ever part of the budget for that year?
Despite the stunning silence from the Obasanjo side, (i.e. the Library and Obasanjo himself), Atiku Abubakar rose to his defence with the accusation the EFCC probe into the money laundering into Obasanjo Library was meant to silence and embarrass Obasanjo. Whether Atiku Abubakar is right or wrong is not the issue. What he (Atiku Abubakar) cannot deny is that money changed hands. The huge chicken feed (na so?), the timing, the purpose, the effect, etc. These and the potential for criminal trial are the issues.
It was not clear if the EFCC was directed to take action based on security reports or the agency was behaving to type by reading government’s body language to act accordingly. Also, the EFCC probe into alleged money laundering into Obasanjo Library might be another run of the financial crime agency’s notorious political subterfuge of vacillating and later stage-managing arrest/investigation and later withdrawing criminal charges against opposition elements to make them eligible for ministerial jobs or tame them from bidding for National Assembly posts.
Atiku Abubakar implied in his statement that the N50 million was not only a donation rather than money laundering but was also for Obasanjo Library rather than ex-President Obasanjo. What is the difference between Obasanjo and Obasanjo Library? For example, if on misappropriation of Nigeria’s major national assets into a hurriedly formed conglomerate, under the guise of privatisation, the new company then offered N200 million gratis shares to Obasanjo Farms, would the beneficiary be Duro Onabule or Olusegun Obasanjo? If on the other hand, similar number of gratis shares was offered to Intels but was politely rejected, why? That is the difference.
With his statement, Atiku Abubakar might have meant well for two reasons – to discredit EFCC (in effect, Buhari) and to whip up sympathy for Obasanjo perhaps in South-East but surely not in South-West or entire North. Whether the EFCC can be so discredited should be left to law courts to determine, if and when the case is tried.
On the other hand, instead of attracting sympathy for Obasanjo, whatever the good intention of Atiku Abubakar only succeeded in destroying Obasanjo. So cheap to be influenced by N140,000 (N50 million) to shift from hitherto destroying Atiku Abubakar all over the place, to suddenly go back to his vomit? Such must have been the desperation, greed and lack of principle. Here was a man labelling everybody except himself as corrupt. Now exposed as collecting N50 million as donation to a library. If any Nigerian had collected N50 million for his establishment to endorse a candidate, Obasanjo would have led the band chorusing corruption.
Both Atiku Abubakar and Obasanjo are not as clever as they flaunted proceeds of obscene financial inducement in an election as donation to Obasanjo Library. Has Atiku Abubakar in particular noticed that not a Nigerian has supported his salvage (far beyond rescue) mission for Obasanjo? Which library? The same library completed before Obasanjo left office in 2007? Twelve years later, N50 million was purportedly donated to the same library, particularly on the eve of a presidential election in which the proxy beneficiary of the donation did not hide his vested interest for and against the two leading contestants, respectively.
Donation to Obasanjo Library? Donation my foot, as Obasanjo would have put it against a different beneficiary. Donation to buy books? To pay staff? To maintain the proprietor? Whichever the donation is, it is revenue inflow. Is such revenue exempt from tax purposes? If not, was Atiku Abubakar’s donation to Obasanjo’s Library declared for tax purposes at the end of the financial year concerned? If not, why not? For that reason, Atiku Abubakar was not fair to Inland Revenue Service (he) sharply criticised for listing Obasanjo’s business concerns as tax dodgers. IRS simply performed their duty.
On the other hand, if donations such as to Obasanjo’s library are not taxable (N50 million), then President Muhammadu Buhari must step forward to be confronted by poor tax-paying Nigerians, some of them earning less than fifteen (not fifty thousand) naira per month and not privileged to be collecting N50 million as tax-free donation. Buhari must forget his proposal to increase income tax and allied ones like value added tax. These poor Nigeria’s must resist a blood-sucking tax system in the same society which pampers the Obasanjos of Nigeria to wallow in free this free that of unlimited dimension.
Time there was when Obasanjo, after leaving office, still invited almost 10 northern governors to his Library and solicited donations to construct a mosque to complement a chapel in the library premises. How many Nigerians indulge in sustaining his life desires by living on the nation? He should have either constructed the library through his financial means or forgotten it.
How many Nigerians noted the smart game played by EFCC? Initially, EFCC decoyed Obasanjo by announcing planned probe into power projects under Obasanjo. He least expected that the planned target was the money laundering into the library purse.
From morality to ignominy
A couple of years ago, Winifred Oyo-Ita, as Head of Service of the Federation, was on high moral ground as it emerged that she had warned President Muhammadu Buhari privately against the re-absorption fugitive Abdulrasheed Maina into the civil service. A row had broken out that the man purportedly dismissed from the civil service on account of controversy over pension fund was wanted by EFCC but, instead, had resumed at Internal Affairs Ministry.
The row Winifred Oyo-Ita anticipated indeed broke out except that nobody accepted responsibility. In the midst of that row, it emerged that warning Buhari on the consequence of re-instating Maina had been leaked to a section of the media. From that high moral ground, (though dented by the leak of that conversation to the media) it is today a dramatic fall to ignominy for the same Head of Service, Winifred Oyo-Ita, in hot fire being consumed by allegations of theft of public funds.
By the way, one of the allegations against the certainly outgoing Head of the Civil Service of the Federation is debatable. Influencing award of contracts to friends, relations or cronies is hardly entirely escapable. The euphemism is lobbying. A townsman? A former schoolmate or indeed classmate? A friend’s son or daughter? It is not possible for any such high-ranking public servant not to be approached. It is the reality in any society, especially Nigeria. However, any assistance therefrom should be limited to reasonable level and, of course, not totally at the expense of other competitors.
In short, assistance should be more in casting vote to solve a deadlock. Like five bidders at N5 million, rather than your friend or classmate at N10 million for the same contract far above the others. That is indefensible.
Furthermore, lobbying for (your) beneficiaries every time and especially at the same ministry or, worse still, many ministries all the time, can only eventually irritate those awarding the contracts. For a superior officer not to exercise restraint would only eventually expose junior officers to blackmail and intimidation.
Only failure to restrain herself could have landed Head of Service Winifred Oyo-Ita in trouble. As a former permanent secretary, she too must have yielded to lobbying from former Heads of Civil Service. What destroys, as in this case, is the degree of the lobbying. Self-respect would have saved the day for her.
The other aspect of the allegations against her is fiddling of duty tour allowance and estacode. That is totally indefensible, if true. Fiddling of tour allowance to the tune of scores of millions of naira or tens/hundreds of thousands of dollars? Life is such that the fact that others can be lucky to get away with it does not mean everybody will be so lucky. But, ordinarily, it is risky and criminal. That is strictly if this particular allegation is true.
After such life-long career in the civil service, an erring Winifred Oyo-Ita could be granted her plea for soft-landing to voluntarily retire, whether such plea meant admission of guilt or not. This is provided her sympathisers would not turn round to accuse President Buhari of bias. Buhari may, therefore, exercise some mercy.
How far is that possible when, in the face of overwhelming evidence, Winifred Oyo-Ita’s kinsmen back home in Calabar and, disturbingly, within Cross River government circles, accused unspecified mafia for allegedly creating the problem for her? Such stupid blackmail and desperation could only provoke government to allow the law to take its course by putting her on trial.
If any, did the unseen cabal fiddle the duty tour allowance in local and foreign currencies? Did the cabal deposit the proceeds of theft of public funds into proxy accounts the EFCC rightly or wrongly linked to Winifred Oyo-Ita? Did the cabal collect kick-backs from the contracts extorted from various federal permanent secretaries?
The choice is Winifred Oyo-Ita’s. She must publicly disown her unsolicited advocates parading as her defenders? This will enable her plea for soft-landing (to) be favourably considered by Aso Rock.