Thanks to the highly successful E! Entertainment reality show, Keeping Up With The Kardashians. The definition of keeping up with the Joneses and any other family, doesn’t necessarily mean, putting up appearances to look hip. These days, keeping up with newsmakers also can be interpreted as knowing the latest gist on them.
In the case of the former first couple of Nigeria, Goodluck and Patience Jonathan, despite leaving Aso Rock Presidential Villa in May 2015, Nigerians haven’t had much stress, staying informed on happenings around the duo. At different times, the public has been regaled with stories of the Jonathan years, majority of which haven’t painted GEJ and Mama Peace as they both are fondly called in bright colours.
For some, the Jonathans don’t inspire, certainly not like the Kennedys did in the U.S leading to the comparison of their time in the White House to the mythical Camelot. Though neither husband nor wife has been convicted for corruption in any court, leaving these mindboggling stories around them in the realm of possibility, the Jonathans share a common reality of being accused of sitting atop an administration that condoned graft.
But in an interesting twist or some would say, a case of predictable reactions, GEJ and Mama Peace have chosen different paths to handling allegations of graft, especially as they play out in the House of Representatives. The ex-president is on the defensive, saying his hands are clean in what could be described as the worst instance of abuse of office in the history of the country-the $1.1 billion Malabu oil deal. OPL 245, gives its yet to be adjudged rightful holder, control over the richest oil field in the country- a large area of 1,958 square kilometers including two deep water fields and reckoned to hold an estimated 9.2 billion barrels of crude oil. So, it’s imperative that Nigerians know if due process was followed in awarding the license. And quite frankly, who the real owner of the license is, even if the appalling chapter in our history was written during the time of the late military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha.
The complicated narrative of the award of OPL 245 to Malabu Oil and Gas is a reminder of the aptness of Adam Smith’s description of the African King in his seminal work, The Wealth of Nations. Never mind, the effusive apologies over how Smith describes the African King, as the absolute master of the liberties of his naked subjects, Mohammed Abacha and the minister of Petroleum in his father’s regime, Dan Etete, fighting over OPL 245, points to the kind of leaders societies on the continent have produced. They are very much like the imperceptive king Smith so derided.
The Malabu Oil deal is a scar on our nation’s conscience, that must be evidently corrected, like is done when cosmetic surgeons apply their scapular on skin disfigurements. The 7th House under Aminu Waziri Tambuwal couldn’t get to the root of the matter. With the 8th House, the member representing Asa/Ilorin West Federal Constituency, Razak Atunwa was given the huge responsibility of unearthing the truth about this deal. But can the lawmaker who is chairman, House Committee on Justice, finally get justice for Nigerians, majority of who live in poverty, bearing the consequences of barefaced corruption?
In fact, Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, who appeared before the committee, told members that the Malabu Oil deal is fraught with many complexities, which have hindered investigations and the resolution of the case. Among the dramatis personae involved in the saga, only Mohammed Abacha and wealthy businessman Oyewole Fasawe have made an appearance before the committee. Mid way into its investigations, the committee in an interim report, recommended that Jonathan as the country’s leader at the time when the Federal Government tried to settle the controversy around the deal, should explain what led to the payout of $1.1 billion. Atunwa during a press conference held in July, described the appearance of President Jonathan before the committee as key to finally resolving the debate around the deal. In the same report, the committee asked for the prosecution of Jonathan’s Petroleum Resources minister, Mrs. Diezani Allison- Madueke for her role in allegedly approving the payment of the settlement sum, through an escrow account she opened alongside former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Muhammed Adoke using two Nigerian banks ( names withheld). Keeping to its pledge, the committee wrote Jonathan in July and two months after, he has not replied. Atunwa, his colleagues and Nigerians may just have become the audience for a re-enactment of the famous play, Waiting for Godot. In the meantime, Jonathan has rejected claims of guilt in the Malabu deal through his media aide, Ikechukwu Eze.
Though the argument from Atunwa has been that Jonthan’s administration made the controversial pay out, for clarity, the best option would have been to ensure an appearance or get detailed submissions from key players in the inglorious episode. At best, denials have been made through the media. For South-South members and PDP lawmakers in Atunwa’s committee, whom are keen on stopping GEJ’s appearance, they have asked if former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s rebuke of Adoke would suffice. The former AGF from an unknown location denied any wrongdoing, saying the transaction was approved by former presidents namely; Obasanjo, the late Umaru Yar’Adua and Jonathan. But Obasanjo promptly warned Adoke to desist from linking him to the controversial deal as he would not participate in any corrupt act.
As Jonathan digs his heels in, refusing to be the first former president to appear before a National Assembly committee, his wife, Mama Peace has sought and received protection from the House, to the consternation of many. The House Committee on Public Petitions, chaired by Uzoma Nkem-Abonta on Tuesday directed six commercial banks to free accounts operated by the former First Lady. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had directed the banks to freeze the accounts over allegations of corruption in the sources of the funds. Condemnations on the directive from the Public Petitions Committee, has put the House on the defensive, with the Majority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila stating, “contrary to reports that the House has not made a decision on freezing of bank accounts. The committee report will be debated on resumption”.
While it is understandable that Gbajabiamila took to twitter in a bid to stop the flow of harsh reactions, the fact is, Abonta gave his ruling based on the explanation from bank officials at the hearing, which showed that EFCC didn’t present a court order freezing Mrs. Jonathan’s accounts. Kenneth Otowo, who spoke on behalf of Union Bank, told the panel that the bank placed Mrs. Jonathan’s account in the financial institution under a ‘precautionary restriction’ following a directive from the EFCC. Counsel for EcoBank, Afam Osigwe, said Mrs. Jonathan’s account could not have been on restriction because there was no court order to that effect. For Diamond Bank, Mrs. Jonathan’s lawyers said three of her accounts in the bank, were frozen. But Mrs. Unoma Ndulue, who represented the bank, said two out of Mrs. Jonathan’s accounts were fully operative while one wasn’t.
Corruption is the root of many evils in Nigeria, therefore making allegations of graft an emotive issue. We all want corrupt ex-leaders getting their comeuppance. Nevertheless, Abonta’s ruling, which is not the same as the final report of his committee on Mrs. Jonathan’s case points to the importance of following due process, no matter the situation. The former First Lady, like many who have petitioned the House deserves fair hearing. More importantly in the eyes of the law, the accused in any matter is innocent until proven guilty.