The biggest news coming out of Nigeria in the past one week has been the shocking cash haul at Osborne Towers, a posh residential building in highbrow Ikoyi, Lagos. All of $43 million, N13 billion, when converted, was reportedly discovered in one of the flats by the anti-graft agency, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
For a nation that has been severely shocked by harvests of scandalous looting of the treasury in the past administration and even now, going by tales trickling out of the inner recesses of this administration, the Osborne incident was still putrid enough to send many Nigerians into a spell of stupefaction.
How could any sane person keep that amount of cash in a residential apartment? How could anyone feel comfortable or safe with such hefty sums? If one person or group of persons had that, there can be no doubt that our country’s recession could have been essentially triggered by large-scale looting, especially as witnessed under the Jonathan administration!
When inquisition first began into the arms scandal, Nigerians thought nothing could ever shock them more than the ugly revelations of the arms probe. I thought so, too, when I did a piece in this column, which I called NIGERIA’S ARMS BAZAAR.
I said then: “If you are a Nigerian living in Nigeria, you certainly would have heard of, or read about, the arms bazaar; what has been appropriately dubbed ‘armsgate’ or ‘Dasukigate,’ named after the man at the centre of the ugly storm: Col. Sambo Dasuki.
“Even if you were not a Nigerian and lived anywhere in the world, you couldn’t have missed the stench oozing out of Africa’s most populous country. It’s a situation that shames our nation and depresses our citizens. Even for a country that has lost its shock absorbers and has been so shocked to the level where not many things shock its people anymore, the news that over $2 billion, earmarked for the purchase of arms under security vote, grew wings and simply flew out of the national coffers, or more appropriately vamoosed from the treasury, has left the ordinary man dazed, stupefied, flummoxed and askance.
“We can’t imagine the Tsunami that has hit the nation with the shocking revelations that are tumbling out that, under the watch of former President Goodluck Jonathan, what we were treated to was a bizarre dance of alleged mass looting of the common till. Indeed, with the way things ran under that administration, with the alleged general lack of fiscal responsibility and decorum, coupled with lack of restraint, if you like, recklessness in the personalisation of office and government positions by some powerful hawks, many certainly suspected that something untoward was going on with the nation’s finances.
“We saw how top hotels in the nation’s capital city of Abuja and other major cities quaked with the dollar power of the men of means, who punctured the serenity of the night with sirens and the gallivanted in the grandeur of power: Big automobiles, champagne binges and, of course, the eye-popping mansions that bespoke of men of cash and power.
“But, no one in his or her wildest imagination could have contemplated the furious attack on the treasury in such cavalier manner, in such gluttonous ravage as we are daily being availed of by preliminary investigations into the armsgate.
“Yet I am told by a senior administration official that what we are seeing is only a tip of the iceberg. He told me on phone: ‘By the time investigations are over, you will be shocked at the level of looting that took place. We are still scratching the surface. The names of those who have looted the country will shock you. You just wait and see!’
“I am already shocked by the much we have heard. I am already heartbroken to read of the billions that went out under spurious circumstances. I am too tongue-tied to hear stories of diversion of public funds from the purpose it was earmarked.”
Now, what do we make of the current Ikoyigate? If a group of people allegedly shared $2 billion, what do we make of the warehousing of $43 million in a single apartment by an individual? Simply, lunacy!
The drama that has trailed the Ikoyi cash haul has been more pathetic than the find itself. First, the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ambassador Ayodele Oke, said the cash belonged to his agency, that it was for “covert operations” of the secret service agency; then Chief Nyesom Wike, the governor of Rivers State, said the money belonged to his state, alleging that his predecessor, Chief Rotimi Amaechi, now Transportation Minister, had stashed the funds away from the state’s gas turbine sales. Fiery and controversial former Aviation Minister, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, had equally joined the fray, alleging the hefty cash find belonged to Amaechi. Fani-Kayode’s position is equally shared by Gov. Ayodele Fayose, governor of Ekiti State. Amaechi has slammed a lawsuit against people (Fani-Kayode and Fayose) who are linking him with the sleazy funds. The two men said they were not intimidated by threats of a lawsuit; they plan to reveal more when the legal fireworks begin. We wait with bated breath!
But the NIA story appears to be the one that has gained more ground with the Buhari government. After the Easter break, the President suspended the boss of the agency, Oke, from office and set up a three-man panel headed by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, with the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, and National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, as members. It has 14 days to submit its report. The committee is also to investigate alleged abuse of office and diversion of funds meant for the upkeep of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the North-East by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Engr. Babachir David Lawal, who has been suspended from office through a statement by presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina.
Babachir’s issue has been lingering in the public domain for a while; the Senate had asked for his suspension and investigation into the allegation that he awarded a bogus contract to a company in which he had interest for grass-cutting, amounting to N248 million. He has vehemently denied the allegation. An investigation by the AGF’s office had earlier cleared him, when it said, in response to the Senate’s demand, that the “SGF was not given a fair hearing.”
The nation waits on Osinbajo’s panel to get to the root of these contentious issues involving two top officials of this administration and bring to light what actually happened. The panel is to find out if the men are being unjustly maligned or if they have betrayed the trust of their high office. It is certainly not an easy task, given the cynicism and skepticism that have greeted the panel in the public domain since it began to sit. Would it deliver justice and would it be believable? That, indeed, is the crux of this piece. Would it not have been more credible to set up an independent, judicial probe panel, rather than an executive-led body? Should the panel not be made to sit in public, given the high interest it has provoked in the public space?
I believe the interests of fair play, transparency and justice, for the accused, the nation and all and sundry will be better served if Osinbajo’s panel is made to sit in public, in the full glare of the media and the general public. There should be nothing ‘closed’ in such monumental issues that have shaken our nation. This is not a military regime, with secret or closed sittings. Democracy is government in the open, government of the people by the people and for the people. If monies meant for the people are allegedly embezzled or diverted, whose interest is served if testimonies and defence can’t be made publicly?
It is my considered view that the credibility of Osinbajo’s panel would be enhanced if all its deliberations are put out for all to see that nothing is hidden, nothing is swept under the carpet. If this is not done, the report is most likely to suffer credibility deficit as some Nigerians are already alleging a planned cover-up. It is not too late to make the probe panel’s sittings open and public.